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The Argonautika, the single surviving epic of the Hellenistic period, is a retelling of the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, probably the oldest extant Greek fable. Peter Green's vigorous, readable verse translation captures the speedy narrative move of Apollonios's epic Greek. This multiplied paperback version comprises Green's incisive statement, creation, and glossary.

Alternate spelling: Argonautica, Apollonius Rhodius

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Extra info for The Argonautika by Apollonios Rhodios

Sample text

36 This hexameter epyllion of perhaps between 1,000 and 1,500 lines (Hollis, app. 37 There seems no compelling reason to doubt such a statement. , Erichthonios and the daughters of Kekrops, fr. ). In several respects, then—its hexameter form, its narrative exposition and development of myth, its use of aetiological material—Hékalé reads like a reluctant attempt to emulate Hellenistic epic: reluctant partly because it still falls short in the matter of length, but also, more important (it is often argued), because Kallimachos lived in an age for which the heroic ethos was dead, so that any attempt to resuscitate epic would inevitably have seemed unreal, artificial, a mere exercise in nostalgia.

External social and historical realities make this view so overwhelmingly plausible that we tend to forget one uncomfortable fact: neither Kallimachos nor his presumptive opponents say anything about it. That does not necessarily mean it was untrue. The evidence so far assembled suggests that the tradition of literary dissension was in fact genuine as between short poems (personal, aetiological) and long ones (heroic, mythical), but that the real differences were taken to be literary and stylistic rather than social.

Where allegory bowdlerized myth, rationalization made a remarkably successful job of historicizing it. Epic poetry, it would seem clear, must have found itself at the very heart of this conflict between tradition and innovation. 58 It thus catered not only to antiquarians but also to the great mass of thinking (and now expatriate) Greeks who sought validation for their culture. Since the mythic tradition formed the prime source for that validation, not least through systematic aetiological enquiry, an open avenue existed by which scholars as well as poets in Alexandria (most, of course, fulfilled both functions) could explore and develop the genre in literary terms.

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