Tuesday, July 28, 2015

TFBT: Second Randoms Notes on Argonautica Book 3

The Hour 25 Book Club will host a discussion on Apollonius Rhodius Argonautica Book 3, via Google+ Hangout on Tuesday, August 11 at 11 a.m. 

You can find R.C. Seaton’s translation of the text online for free here, or you can read any other edition you prefer.  Here is my first random notes in preparation for August 11;  

I just thought the followinger were beautiful and dreadful;
 (283) “and he shot at Medea; and speechless amazement seized her soul. But the god himself flashed back again from the high-roofed hall, laughing loud; and the bolt burnt deep down in the maiden's heart like a flame; and ever she kept darting bright glances straight up at Aeson's son, and within her breast her heart panted fast through anguish, all remembrance left”  (297) “Love the destroyer;”…“shone the son of Aeson for beauty and grace; and the maiden looked at him with stealthy glance, holding her bright veil aside, her heart smouldering with pain; and her soul creeping like a dream flitted in his track…” 

Some where I got the impression the sovereignity of Colchis was dependent on ownership of the Golden Fleece, sort of like King Nisus of Megara’s purple lock of hair [HYGINUS, FABULAE 198] .  But I haven’t seen that mentioned yet in the Argonautica.  What I have seen is “the heart of ruthless Aeetes” (492).  Aeetes who would have killed his future son-in-law and bringer of the golden fleece “Phrixus, who surpassed all strangers in gentleness and fear of the gods” (584) if the gods hadn’t stopped him.  Aeetes who had “bitter foes the Sauromatae” on his borders and feared the betrayal of his relatives.    Now admitted this all predisposes King Aeetes to be leary of Jason and the Argonauts, but what if he’d said “Yes, that nasty old goat skin is yours!”  In that case, the neighboring nasty tribe would have been vanquished, his son and heir would have survived making his crown more secure and he would have gotten rid of Medea.  Bad decision little influenced by the gods I think.  [i] 

I keep seeing examples of indecision standing on the threshold or some other liminal spot.  (525)“refrain and abide in your ship a little longer as before, for it is better to forbear than recklessly to choose an evil fate.”  (647). “she desired to go to her sister, and crossed the threshold. And for long she stayed there at the entrance of her chamber,” 

(663) “Thrice she made the attempt and thrice she checked herself, the fourth time she fell on her bed face downward,”  Doesn’t Apollo warn off some warrior three times in The Iliad and on the fourth attempt the guy ends up face down in the dirt?

[i] Do all the kingdoms adjoining the Black Sea kill strangers?  As in the Land of Taurians where Iphigenia sacrificed strangers to Artemis.  HYGINUS, FABULAE 120  and  Hdt. 4.103


  1. I've read an opinion that the purpose of the Prometheus scene in Book 2 is to show the reader what suffering gods cause and so to prepare him for the suffering of Medea in the lines cited by you:


  2. Maya,

    First, thanks for the reference! I will have to look at apa site more closely. The translation I read did not suggest that "she causes Prometheus himself to scream in agony," But I will be re-reading it this weekend in another translation so I will be on the look out.

    There are so many things here I am confused about; Prometheus' connection without reference to his nearness to Colchis, the legends of various other peoples around the Caucasus Mountains, Aeetes and his brother Perses of Tauri all being so excited about killing strangers. They got that bad blood from their mother no doubt Perseis (Miss Destruction). And something I wondered about from the get go but never saw any mention of; South of Prometheus stand a tree with gold fruit gardened by a dragon; across the universe stands his brother Atlas and another tree with golden fruit guarded by a dragon. What are we to think of that coincidence?

  3. "The dark earth shook and rumbled underneath the Titan root when it was cut, and Prometheus himself groaned in the anguish of his soul."
    This is from Theoi.com; I think it implies that Medea did cause pain to Prometheus by collecting the plant, and that for her this was one of the ethical boundaries to be crossed. Flaccus repeats the motif in his Argonautica, apparently forgetting that he had already released Prometheus two books before.
    Apollonius' Argonautica seems to be the earliest surviving Greek source to locate Prometheus in the Caucasus. I've always thought this location to be a tribute to the parallel Caucasian myths; it will be funny if it is actually due to the dramatic necessities of Apollonius' plot.
    The coincidence you mentioned is very interesting. I had wondered why Apollonius had reverted to an earlier version of the myth - Prometheus uncoupled from the succession prophecy, hence having nothing to offer in exchange for his freedom and doomed to stay bound and suffer forever. Was it mere Hellenistic-age pessimism or something more profound? You may be right that Apollonius' cosmology requires a suffering giant plus a tree with golden fruit guarded by a dragon at both the western and the eastern ends of the Cosmos. I also mention now that the Argonautica seems to be the earliest extant source portraying Prometheus as a giant. Nothing in Hesiod or Aeschylus makes it necessary for him to be larger than a human, and in Aristophanes, he is definitely human size.

  4. If you are right, then taking away the golden "fruit" of the tree (i.e. the fleece) threatens not only the independence of Colchis but the stability of the Universe.
    Apollonius' world, like the world of Winnie the Pooh, has West and East Poles. By snatching the fleece, the Argonauts of Apollonius dismantle 50% of the East Pole. Those of Flaccus also release Prometheus, destroying the East Pole entirely.

  5. To check for any references to the West Pole in the Argonautica, I've just searched its text for the name of Atlas. So I found that in Book 4, the Hesperides lament the mayhem done by (the Argonaut) Heracles.

  6. Maya,

    You shared; ""The dark earth shook and rumbled underneath the Titan root when it was cut, and Prometheus himself groaned in the anguish of his soul."
    This is from Theoi.com; I think it implies that Medea did cause pain to Prometheus by collecting the plant, and that for her this was one of the ethical boundaries to be crossed." Okay I totally missed that in my reading. Gee's what a monster she is! I wonder if Prometheus ever got his revenge?

    Interesting that you refer to the West and East Poles. Atsma, in his Titans article says "Koios' alternate name, Polos ("of the northern pole"), suggests he was the Titan of the pillar of the north. His brothers Hyperion, Iapetos, and Krios, on the other hand, presided over the west, east, and south respectively." Oceanus being outside the universe and neutral in this and the Titanomachy. Atsma's proposal is based on next to nothing and I would suggest that Hyperion is east being the sun god and all and Iapetus west. So if we dependent on the elder titans and their rebellious sons to pin down the map of the universe as you pointed out when Prometheus is freed, the snake slain and fleece picked the stability of the Universe is endanger. However, maybe that's not the only thing defining the universe. Hephaestus built his buddy Helios palaces on both sides of the universe; East and West. We don't know what happen to Krios sons after the war, maybe they are guarding the pole North and South. (Hmm, Atsma believe Iapetus' son "MENOETIUS (Menoitios) The Titan god of violent anger and rash action as his name would suggest. Zeus blasted him into Erebus with a thunderbolt, where he became a bondsman of King Hades." That is to say he guarded the cattle on the Western edge of hell.) Atsma bases this on a coincidence of names and logic by analogy.

  7. In Apollonius' version, Prometheus will never be in a position to execute revenge. In Flaccus' version, he may be. However, I think it is unlikely. No one known myth portrays Prometheus as a deity with real power in human affairs able and willing to inflict retribution. His cult was modest even in Athens because people knew that if they disrespect him, nothing bad would happen to them. In Aeschylus' plays, he considers revenge against Zeus but at the end of the day abstains from it.

    I would not condemn Medea so much. If she had not protected Jason, he would try to do the tasks anyway and would die. When someone's life is at stake, many barriers fall. Bone marrow donation must be painful (esp. the classic procedure with bone puncture), yet even babies are recruited as donors to save older siblings with leukemia. Or what today is everyday situation in hospitals of the developed world: "Unfortunately, we could not save your husband... now, would you please sign that little organ donation form?" In the latter case, no physical pain but maybe much emotional suffering.
    To me, Medea's monstrosity in this scene is that she does not try to talk to Prometheus, to explain and apologize. Apparently, for her all life forms other than Jason have ceased to exist.

    Atsma must have done a technical error in the Titans article, because Iapetos and Hyperion in their respective articles are in the correct positions suggested by you.

    I am all for the identification of Menoetius the Titan with Menoites the cowherd of Hades, because I like happy endings. I actually believe that Hesiod invented the Titan based on the cowherd. After all, the myths (folktales) of Heracles are much older and more authentic than the Theogony. I wonder, why did Hesiod introduce Menoetius? To show that Zeus' thunderbolt is not just firework? Or to bring the number of Iapetos' sons to four? An author named W. Hansen says, "The fettered gods of Greece and Scandinavia are part of a larger myth in which the gods constrain four supernatural adversaries: Prometheus and his three brothers, and Loki and his three monstrous children."