Apollonius of Rhodes

Infobox Biography
subject_name = Apollonius of Rhodes
(polytonic|Ἀπολλώνιος Ῥόδιος)

image_size =
image_caption =
date_of_birth = early 3rd century BCE
place_of_birth = Alexandria or Naucratis
date_of_death = late 3rd century BCE
place_of_death = Rhodes (or Alexandria?)
occupation = epic poet, librarian, scholar
spouse =

Apollonius of Rhodes, also known as Apollonius Rhodius (Latin; Greek polytonic|Ἀπολλώνιος Ῥόδιος "Apollōnios Rhodios"), early 3rd century BCE - after 246 BCE, was an epic poet, scholar, and director of the Library of Alexandria. He is best known for his epic poem the "Argonautica", which told the mythological story of Jason and the Argonauts' quest for the Golden Fleece, and which is one of the chief works in the history of epic poetry.

He did not come from Rhodes, but was a Hellenistic Egyptian. He lived in Rhodes for part of his life and while living there adopted "Rhodian" as a surname.



There are four main sources of information on Apollonius' life: two texts entitled "Life of Apollonius" found in the scholia on Apollonius; the entry on him in the 10th century encyclopaedia the "Suda"; and a 2nd century BCE papyrus, P.Oxy. 1241, which provides names of several heads of the Library of Alexandria. Of these P.Oxy. 1241 carries much more weight than the others, as it is by far the closest to Apollonius' lifetime. Other miscellaneous texts provide further information.

Well-established events

* Birth. The two "Lives" and the "Suda" name Apollonius' father as Silleus or Illeus. (The second "Life" names his mother as "Rhode", but this is unlikely; "Rhodē" means "Rhodian woman", and is almost certainly derived from an attempt to explain Apollonius' epithet "Rhodian".) The "Lives", the "Suda", and the geographical writer Strabo say that he came from Alexandria; [Strabo [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=Strab.+14.2.13 14.2.13] .] Athenaeus and Aelian say that he came from Naucratis, some 70 km south of Alexandria along the river Nile. [Athenaeus "Deipnosophistae" 7.19; Aelian "On the nature of animals" 15.23.] No source gives the date of his birth.
* Student of Callimachus. The "Lives" and the "Suda" agree that Apollonius was a student of the poet and scholar Callimachus. The second "Life" adds that "some say" Apollonius was buried with Callimachus.
* Head of the Library of Alexandria. The second "Life", the "Suda", and P.Oxy. 1241 attest that Apollonius held this post. P.Oxy. 1241 establishes moreover that Apollonius was succeeded by Eratosthenes; this must have been after 247/246 BCE, the date of the accession of Ptolemy III Euergetes, who seems to be the monarch that appointed Eratosthenes. (The "Suda" says that Apollonius succeeded Eratosthenes, but this is impossible: Apollonius studied with Callimachus, who died ca. 240 BCE; the first "Life" says Apollonius was contemporary with Ptolemy III; and Eratosthenes held the post until at least 204 BCE.) [The "Suda" entry on Eratosthenes says that Eratosthenes held the post from the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes until Ptolemy V ( [http://www.stoa.org/sol-bin/search.pl?db=REAL&search_method=QUERY&login=guest&enlogin=guest&user_list=LIST&page_num=1&field=adlerhw_gr&searchstr=epsilon%2C2898 Suda 2898] "s.v." polytonic|Ἐρατοσθένης.]
* Removal from Alexandria to Rhodes. The "Lives" and the "Suda" attest to this; so does the attachment of the epithet "Rhodios" "the Rhodian" to his name. What is uncertain is whether he died there, or came back to Alexandria in order to take up the position of head of the Library afterwards.
* Death. Only the two "Lives" give information about Apollonius' death, and they disagree. The first says he died in Rhodes; the second says he died after returning to Alexandria.

From this we can conclude that (1) Apollonius was born in either Alexandria or Naucratis; (2) he lived for a time in Rhodes; (3) he held the post of Librarian at least until 246 BCE. From this in turn we may infer that he lived in the early-to-mid 3rd century BCE. Beyond this point lies speculation.

Sensational stories

The Palatine Anthology preserves an epigram, attributed to "Apollonius the grammarian", which mocks Callimachus and his most famous poem, the "Aetia" ("Causes"): ["Pal. Anth". 11.322. The translation given here is modelled on that of H.J. Rose.]

polytonic|Καλλίμαχος, τὸ κάθαρμα, τὸ παίγνιον, ὁ ξυλινὸς νοῦς,
αἴτιος, ὁ γράψας Αἴτια Καλλιμάχου.
Callimachus: trash, cheat, wood-for-brains.
"aitios" ("guilty"): the one who wrote Callimachus' "Aitia" ("Causes").

In addition, multiple sources explain Callimachus' poem "Ibis" — which does not survive — as a polemic against an enemy identified as Apollonius. [E.g. the "Suda" entry on Callimachus, [http://www.stoa.org/sol-bin/search.pl?db=REAL&search_method=QUERY&login=guest&enlogin=guest&user_list=LIST&page_num=1&field=adlerhw_gr&searchstr=kappa%2C227 Suda 227] s.v. polytonic|Καλλίμαχος.] Between them, these references conjure up images of a sensational literary feud between the two figures. However, the truth of this story continues to be debated in modern scholarship, with views on both sides. Both of the "Lives" of Apollonius stress the friendship between the poets, the second "Life" even saying they were buried together; and some scholars doubt the sources that identify the "Ibis" as a polemic against Apollonius. There is still not a consensus, but most scholars of Hellenistic literature now believe the feud was enormously sensationalised, if it happened at all. [Thus D.P. Nelis 1999, review of P. Green 1997, "Apollonius: the Argonautica" (Berkeley), in "Journal of Hellenic Studies" 119: 187. For a recent summary of contrasting views, see e.g. A. Cameron 1995, "Callimachus and his Critics" (Princeton).]

A second sensationalised story about Apollonius is the account in the "Lives" of how, as a young man, he gave a performance of his epic the "Argonautica" in Alexandria. He was universally mocked for it, and fled to Rhodes in shame. There he was feted by the Rhodians and given citizenship. After this, according to the second "Life", he made a triumphant return to Alexandria, where he was promptly elevated to head of the Library. It is unlikely that much of this is factual; the story is a mixture of "local boy makes good" and "underdog makes a heroic comeback". Fairytale elements such as these are characteristic of ancient biographies.

The "Argonautica"

The "Argonautica" differs in some respects from traditional or Homeric Greek epic, though Apollonius certainly used Homer as a model. The "Argonautica" is shorter than Homer’s epics, with four books totaling less than 6000 lines, while the Iliad runs to more than 16,000. Apollonius may have been influenced here by Callimachus’ brevity, or by Aristotle’s demand for "poems on a smaller scale than the old epics, and answering in length to the group of tragedies presented at a single sitting" (the "Poetics").

Apollonius' epic also differs from the more traditional epic in its weaker, more human protagonist Jason and in its many discursions into local custom, aetiology, and other popular subjects of Hellenistic poetry. Apollonius also chooses the less shocking versions of some myths, having Medea, for example, merely watch the murder of Apsyrtus instead of murdering him herself. The gods are relatively distant and inactive throughout much of the epic, following the Hellenistic trend to allegorise and rationalise religion. Heterosexual loves such as Jason's are more emphasized than homosexual loves such as that of Heracles and Hylas, another trend in Hellenistic literature. Many critics regard the love of Medea and Jason in the third book as the best written and most memorable episode.

Opinions on the poem have changed over time. Some critics in antiquity considered it mediocre. [Pseudo-Longinus "On the sublime" 33.4; Quintilian "Institutio oratoria" [http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Quintilian/Institutio_Oratoria/10A*.html#1.54 10.1.54] .] Recent criticism has seen a renaissance of interest in the poem and an awareness of its qualities: numerous scholarly studies are published regularly, its influence on later poets like Virgil is now well recognised, and any account of the history of epic poetry now routinely includes substantial attention to Apollonius.



* "Editio princeps" (Florence, 1496).
* Merkel-Keil (with scholia, 1854).
* Seaton (1900).


* Greene 1780
* Fawkes 1780
* Preston 1811
* Way 1901
* Green 1989

* Coleridge 1889
* Rieu 1959, "The Voyage of Argo: The Argonautica" (London) ISBN 0-14-044085-2
* Hunter 1998, "Jason and the Golden Fleece" (Oxford) ISBN 0-19-283583-1

Further reading

* Anderson, C.R. 2002, "Ancient Poetry", 3rd ed. (London) ISBN 0-86516-607-2
* Simmons, N.J. 2000, "Argonautica of Apollonius" (Cambridge) ISBN 0-521-81036-1
* Montgomery, M.A., and M. Cuypers (edd.) 2002, "Studies in Apollonius of Rhodes and the Argonautica" (London) ISBN 90-429-1629-X
* Montgomery, K.L. 1999, "The Argonautica of Apollonius" (Worcester) ISBN 0-521-41372-9
* Smith, D.P. 2001, "Vergil's Aeneid and the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius" (Leeds) ISBN 0-905205-97-9

External links

* "A Hellenistic Bibliography", with exhaustive bibliographies on Apollonius: [http://www.gltc.leidenuniv.nl/index.php3?m=184&c=119 1496-2005] , [http://www.gltc.leidenuniv.nl/index.php3?m=184&c=212 1496-2005 excluding reviews] , [http://www.gltc.leidenuniv.nl/index.php3?m=184&c=120 2001-2005] , [http://www.gltc.leidenuniv.nl/index.php3?m=184&c=121 editions etc.]
* [http://www.attalus.org/translate/poets.html#apollonius0 Life of Apollonius, from the scholia] at attalus.org


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