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The Voyage of Argo: The Argonautica

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Written in the third century BC in Alexandria, this is the only full surviving account of Jason's legendary quest for the Golden Fleece. It describes the thrilling adventures of the Argonauts on their voyage to Colchis to plead with king Aeetes for the fleece, his greatest treasure and the Eros-inspired passion felt by his daughter, the beautiful witch-princess Medea, for the scheming Jason. Chronicling a journey that sees Jason and his crew traverse perilous seas, negotiate the treacherous Cyanean Rocks, and confront the lure of the Sirens' song, The Voyage of Argo is a masterful depiction of distinctly human heroism and betrayal caused by love. An eloquent marriage of romance and realism, it tells the definitive version of one of the greatest legends of the classical age: an epic tale of bravery, prophecy and magic.

224 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 251

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About the author

Apollonius of Rhodes

51 books74 followers
Apollonius of Rhodes (Ancient Greek: Ἀπολλώνιος Ῥόδιος Apollṓnios Rhódios; Latin: Apollonius Rhodius; fl. first half of 3rd century BCE), is best known as the author of the Argonautica, an epic poem about Jason and the Argonauts and their quest for the Golden Fleece. The poem is one of the few extant examples of the epic genre and it was both innovative and influential, providing Ptolemaic Egypt with a "cultural mnemonic" or national "archive of images",[1] and offering the Latin poets Virgil and Gaius Valerius Flaccus a model for their own epics. His other poems, which survive only in small fragments, concerned the beginnings or foundations of cities, such as Alexandria and Cnidus – places of interest to the Ptolemies, whom he served as a scholar and librarian at the Library of Alexandria. A literary dispute with Callimachus, another Alexandrian librarian/poet, is a topic much discussed by modern scholars since it is thought to give some insight into their poetry, although there is very little evidence that there ever was such a dispute between the two men. In fact almost nothing at all is known about Apollonius and even his connection with Rhodes is a matter for speculation.[2] Once considered a mere imitator of Homer, and therefore a failure as a poet, his reputation has been enhanced by recent studies, with an emphasis on the special characteristics of Hellenistic poets as scholarly heirs of a long literary tradition writing at a unique time in history.

Alternate spelling:
Spanish: Apolonio de Rodas

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 386 reviews
Profile Image for Mattia Ravasi.
Author 5 books3,483 followers
April 24, 2019
Video review

It's like Home Alone, but with Heracles instead of Macaulay Culkin, and an entirely different plot, setting, concept and theme.
Profile Image for Petruccio Hambasket IV.
82 reviews22 followers
November 12, 2022
Let’s be honest with ourselves here. Apollonius of Rhodes is no Homer. Hell, he’s even miles away from being a Virgil. This 4 book rendition of Jason and the Argonauts is probably the strangest epic poem you will ever encounter. How Apollonius depicts his heroes is astonishing and complex on many levels. For one thing, Jason is the most ‘average Joe’ hero you will ever meet. The entire trip over to Colchis (for the golden fleece) he’s thinking about how he’s gonna make it back to Greece. This is some real gloomy stuff. He’s crying all the time and in general is consumed by a thick nervousness throughout the trip. Even when it’s all smooth sailing (literally), Jason’s anxiety reveals how much he just wants the trip to just be over with. Take this line for example:

” ’Tiphys,’ he said, ‘why do you try to comfort me in my distress? I was blind and made a fatal error. When Pelias ordered me to undertake this mission, I ought to have refused outright, even though he would have torn me limb from limb without compunction. But as things are, I am obsessed by fears and intolerable anxiety, hating the thought of the cruel sea…’ ”.

I mean..... Jesus Christ man. Often times even the other Argonauts are tired of Jason’s seemingly perpetual anxiousness and irresolution. To put it simply, Jason is not really the Classical mythological leader that the situation desperately needs him to be. To prove this point we need just turn to the beginning of the Argonauts voyage. I’m talking about the part where the general group consensus is that electing “Heracles” (Hercules) as the head of the voyage is an obvious choice, despite the fact it was divinely destined for Jason. You know you’re not cut out for the role of great hero when the others around you think there’s a better choice (even if he declines).

Jason’s flimsy courageous traits doesn’t mean the rest of his company is any better. The way Apollonius writes about the various Argonaut ‘pit stop’ activities makes it seem like anyone could have been one. In Book 2 when they come face-to-face with the colliding Cyanean rocks they get caught in such a cold grip of panic they’re practically shitting themselves from fright. Keep in mind, this is after consulting a seer named Phineus who has already mapped out the entire outcome of their trip step by step. The only one who seems to have any real nerve is Heracles, the problem is he’s abandoned early on because his partner (sexual?) gets abducted by nymphs, a loss the miserable Argonauts as per usual consider a devastating tragedy for themselves. (Waterhouse has a nice representation of ‘Hylas and the Nymphs’. Except it was night when he was taken, and there was exact one nymph not seven)

This whole situation is especially disappointing to me considering the Argonaut lineup is absolutely stacked (‘mythologically’ speaking). Practically everyone is the son of some god or another. I mean we’re talking about the likes of: “Heracles”, “Castor”, “Orpheus”, “Peleus” (Achilles’ father), “Telamon” (Ajax’s father), etc. Apollonius had so many great figures to work with and basically threw any representational opportunities in the toilet. No one other than Jason and maybe Medea has any real depth to them; they’re all cardboard side characters (and this has been well documented in academic journals). This roster should be un-dauntingly shredding the terrifying ocean waves and prying the golden fleece from Aeetes’ bloody fists, not shivering and moping every time they spot a new obstacle in their path. Some critics have defined Jason’s unheroic personality in being in accordance with the ‘realism’ genre instead of the epic. Is Apollonius making fun of the old Greek model of manly virtue by depicting his characters in this way? Possibly, but in my opinion Jason’s ‘Everyman’ personality seems more likely to be a rendering of a more contemporary (3rd cen, BC) world view and less a subversion of the old epic framework.

Either way, the real reason everyone reads the Argonautica is basically for Book 3: and this consideration is largely justified. This is of course where the romantic interlude between Jason and the famous witch Medea develops, along with the long awaited landing at Colchis where the golden fleece is located. To save yourself an incredibly pedantic account of hundreds of inconsequential mythological tidbits you may as well read a quick synopsis of the first two books and just skip to this one for the meaty substance. This isn’t to say that Book 1 & 2 don’t have some captivating episodes, it’s just that the majority of the text consists of: rowing, rowing, rowing, rowing, ‘let’s stop to sacrifice and sleep’, rowing, rowing, rowing. The list of geographical areas and biographical info on very obscure figures in Greek history just drones on, and if you aren’t a fan of these types of epic devices it’s easy to get agitated with the author. One of my favourite episodes actually comes from Book 2 when they land on an unidentified port that belongs to a king (“Amycus”) who is an absolute boxing fiend.

“‘Listen, sailormen, to something you should know. No foreigner calling here is allowed to continue his journey without putting up his fists to mine. So pick out your best man and match me on the spot. Otherwise you will find to you sorrow that if you defy my laws you will be brought by main force to obey them.’ “

Even the Argonauts can’t handle someone this blatantly disobeying the laws of hospitality, and Polydeuces exchanges haymakers with the king until the sun sets. In general, I'm confused as to why the great seer “Phineus”, a man who is supposed to be blessed with all knowledge of the past and future, is so worried about his own fate. I mean, couldn’t he just predict that Jason and the rest would come save him from his divine curse? Why is he so worried? Furthermore, it’s mentioned extremely briefly that two members of Jason’s entourage (Zetes and Calais) can literally fly. I don’t know if this was common knowledge in the classical world but their flight came so suddenly that I had to reread the passages to make sure my brain wasn't finally resting in peace. Why can’t they just fly to Colchis and grab the fleece? Why are they sailing in the first place? This would save everyone a tremendous amount of trouble.

If you like the Homeric epics and Greek mythology in general I would give this one a whirl, just note that Apollonius of Rhodes may write in ways that would greatly surprise you. I just wish we had earlier versions of the tale so we could compare it this one.
Profile Image for Carlo Mascellani.
Author 15 books259 followers
February 26, 2021
Poema epico che narra del viaggio compiuto da Giasone e gli Argonauti per la conquista del vello d'oro. Gli elementi tipici dell'epica vi sono tutti: il viaggio, l'esaltazione dei valori ritenuti assoluti per un'epoca e una comunità, la figura dell'eroe, l'amore quale mezzo per la realizzazione del Fato, ahimé anche il tristissimo tradimento compiuto dell'eroe verso la fanciulla che ha provveduto ad aiutarlo rinnegando patria e famiglia (vedi Teseo e Arianna e altri esempi analoghi). Lettura più scorrevole rispetto ad altre opere simili. Personaggi ovviamente stereotipati e fissi, in quanto veri e propri caratteri esprimenti virtù o vizi. Tutela del sistema valoriale dell'epoca praticamente totale.
Profile Image for David Sarkies.
1,780 reviews301 followers
November 3, 2015
A Mythological Pirate Raid
3 November 2015

Well, here I am sitting at home, on a public holiday, writing a review of a book that I have just finished. Well, maybe I should be out doing something else, but sometimes just sitting at home with a hot cup of tea is just as enjoyable. Anyway, apparently there is a horse race on today, a race that apparently stops a nation. So, while everybody else is gathering around food and joining in office pools to get the chance of maybe winning some money, I am going to continue to sit here, on the second year in a row when I don't have to participate in this national event (seriously, it's a horse race) and actually do something that I enjoy doing. In fact if I don't find out who wins that race (though the Guardian app on my phone will no doubt tell me) it is going to be some knowledge that is simply going to have very little effect upon my life.

Anyway, the first thing that I have to say about this version of the book that I read, particularly since I just read another review where the writer suggests that the American cover of a certain book is a lot worse than the original cover (I've noticed that with some books, particularly the Discworld novels – the Kirby covers are so much better than the American covers), is that I found the cover to be rather boring. Basically it is a stone carving of Jason. This cover is so much better:

Argonautica cover

Though I don't remember any scene in the book where the Argo actually flies.

Anyway, I'm sure we are all familiar with the story of Jason and the Argonauts, where Jason is commissioned by the king to sail to the Land of Colchis and steal this golden fleece, so Jason brings together a crew of heroes and makes the perilous journey. Upon arrival he is given some impossible tasks by the king, who then betrays him after Jason successfully completes them, so with the help of the king's daughter Medea they slay the dragon guarding the fleece and then both nick off back to Greece. In fact I remember watching this old 1963 movie in Ancient History in High School based on this story. The one thing that I remember from the movie, other than the pretty cool special effects, was the army of skeletons that came out of the ground whom Jason then fought to the death. However, the one thing that disappointed me is that the movie ended with them sailing off into the sunset – there was no homeward journey.

Anyway, one of the things I like about these modern translations of ancient texts are the introductions because they give you a pretty good rundown of the context of the story. However I have to suggest that I found the introduction in this particular edition to be pretty dull. Okay, Rieu did tell us how back in his student days pretty much nobody liked the Argonautica (and my Classics history lecturer also made a similar observation) and the lecturers would use parts of it as unseens confident in knowing that nobody would have read it. Mind you, if I was studying at Oxford back then, and caught on to this practice, one of the first books I would have read would have been the Argonautica (and I'm sure some of the students would have cottoned on to this as well).

One of the things we must be aware of though, when approaching these ancient stories, is that the characters simply do not exist in a vacuum. These stories aren't like our modern novels where the characters (generally) have no existence prior to the novel or afterwards, and everything we know about the character exists within the novel. Many of these ancient stories are based on well established mythology, so when an ancient would pick up and read one of these epics they would already have a pretty clear idea of the character that the epic is about. As such many of the authors were pretty restricted in how they would create their epics, and in many cases simply tweaked the characters, or explored certain aspects of their personality.

Okay, I would have to say that maybe I have been influenced by the attitudes of many of the scholars when it comes to this book because I would hardly say that it is one of my favourites. However, it is still a rollicking good adventure. In fact this story has everything – heroes, monsters, battles, betrayals, witches, and of course a treasure. What we must remember is that Jason and his crew are little more than pirates. Okay, he is given the task by a king (who in his mind considers this to be an impossible task, namely because he was warned in a dream to beware of the man with one sandal, and the man who happens to rock up at his gates with one sandal is none other than Jason himself – though why the king didn't just kill him is beyond me), but he is still simply travelling to another land with the explicit purpose of raiding it and carrying off its treasure.

The thing with the composition of the Argo is that, unlike the Odyssey, the crew are all heroes. Among the crew we encounter Castor and Pollux (or more precisely Polydeuces, though I prefer the name Pollux much better), the musician Orpheus, and of course Heracles. However Heracles does pose a bit of a problem because he is such a famous character that having him as a part of the crew creates the problem that, more likely than not, he is going to steal Jason's thunder. It's sort of like where you cast a minor actor in a leading role, and then have Patrick Stewart in the supporting cast – it generally doesn't work. However the myth deals with this by having the Argonauts accidentally leave Heracles behind near the beginning of the journey (though Apollonius does make a comment about this because it does seem to be a bit odd).

The story itself is very episodic, much more so than the Odyssey. On the journey up we have Jason and his crew go through various encounters, including getting waylaid by an island of Amazons who killed off all the men and then realised that they need men to procreate so decided that the Argonauts fit that role perfectly. We also have the story of the man who would sit down to eat only to have the harpies dive from the sky, steal all of his food, and then leave again. We have a similar structure on the return journey, though for a while the Argonauts are being chased by the Cholcians. However, once they hit the Mediterranean we suddenly find them taking a very similar route back to Greece that Homer did.

Rieu makes a bit of a comment about this, suggesting that despite the Greeks being very familiar with this region during Apollonius' time, to keep with the mythology of the setting, Apollonius purposely was not very accurate in his descriptions. I'm not really convinced that Apollonius did this on purpose, simply because he was writing about events back in the age of mythology that happened almost two generations prior to Odyssey's travels. Jason isn't following Odysseus, Jason is actually travelling the route prior to Odysseus. Also, what Jason would have encountered as he traversed this route would have been much different to what Apollonius would have seen.

What is interesting is that there are two routes that Jason could have taken, Apollonius's route, and the Orphic route (and considering Orpheus was a member of the crew he probably was much more knowledgeable with the route they took – though it's not as if we have Orpheus' account – the guy is a mythological figure). Anyway, this is the route Apollonius uses:

Apollonius' route

This is the route attributed to Orpheus (which also includes Apollonius' route):

Orphic Route

It is interesting that the Orphic route has them come out in the Baltic Sea and then sail around the coast of Western Europe back to the Mediterranean (and no doubt the Greeks, by the time of Apollonius, had sailed out that far – Herodotus does make mention of somebody circumnavigating Africa). However, it looks as if Apollonius wanted to keep it simple, and by using a similar route to that of Odysseus his readers would have been quite familiar with the area.
397 reviews20 followers
January 13, 2023
This is a great Greek mythological story of Jason who sets sail with sailers on the argo-ship to find the illusive golden fleece. His trip is raught with hair raising adventures.
I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Jesús De la Jara.
712 reviews84 followers
March 12, 2019
Las argonáuticas una de mis obras favoritas de los clásicos griegos, quizás mucha parte de ello tiene que ver con la gran información que aporta sobre la leyenda del gran Jasón que considero muchas veces relegado de los mitos por otros héroes.

Jasón es uno de los pocos héroes en no tener origen divino y aún así destaca sobre los demás sobre todo por su nobleza y capacidad de diplomacia que es lo que resalta en el libro.

Es difícil pensar a veces que este relato muchas veces postergado (es más Apolonio de Rodas es un autor muy tardío, casi con Grecia en decadencia) fue a su vez inspiración de las leyendas más famosas como la Odisea o la Iliada, pues el mito de Jasón ya era muy conocido en ese entonces.

Qué decir de los demás héroes que acompañan a Jasón en tremenda empresa, tales como el mismísimo Hércules. La relación de Jasón con Medea es cosa aparte y se teje una novela dentro del mismo libro.

En resumen una historia fascinante digna de ser narrada que Apolonio de Rodas considero maneja muy bien.
Profile Image for Eddie Clarke.
225 reviews49 followers
September 4, 2022
This was fun. A really stunning translation.

I enjoy how the tale is at once blatant - no interiority here - but also quite subtle. The boys are described as ‘heroes’ but this seems more of a professional category rather than a moral ideal - especially when they are behaving like a pack of lawless pirates on a pretty rackety mission. Apollonius takes Jason down a peg or two: at the start, the Argonauts enthusiastically and unanimously vote for Heracles as leader, but Heracles diplomatically defers to Jason as it’s his quest. The story stops before the full Medea tragedy, but Apollonius signposts future events clearly. The desperate Jason rashly over-promises to the love-struck Medea, and foolishly underestimates her volatile emotional responses.

Otherwise, the boys are super keen on witnessing Medea’s skilful magic (which it has to be said usually involves murder). Interesting how black witchcraft rituals have remained remarkably stable since ancient times - what’s missing is the Christian moral overlay. The attitude seems to be ‘this stuff will work for you if you’re willing to pay the costs and run the risks. Don’t look back.’ The whole mission is of course entirely dependant on Medea’s strategies, both in winning the Golden Fleece and getting home. The boys are pretty much useless and will flop about dying at the earliest opportunity unless they get supernatural assistance. I don’t blame Heracles for bailing out.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
913 reviews940 followers
July 17, 2021
No other version of this will suffice. Not only is the translation simply extraordinary, but the wealth of supplementary material and commentary takes up almost double the space of the text itself, meaning there is more than enough for the amateur. My first reading of this in a prose translation many years ago left me completely cold, this version enthralled, inspired and entertained. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Alp Turgut.
396 reviews123 followers
December 21, 2018
Jason ve Altın Post efsanesini destansı şiir diliyle kaleme alan "Argonautika", Homeros’un izin gitmesine rağmen dize sayısının azlığıyla daha çok Aristoteles’in "Poetica"da tanımladığı sanat tanımına uyan bir eser. Olay örgüsünün oldukça sürükleyici bir şekilde kurgulandığı hikaye "İlyada"dan ve "Medea"dan önce geçiyor. Hak ettiği tahtı alabilmek için Altın Post’u Kolhis’ten çalmakla görevlendirilen Jason’ın Achilles’in babası Peleus, Herakles ve Orpheus’un bulunduğu bir ekiple çıktığı yolculukta aynı "Odysseus" gibi birbirinden sürükleyici serüvenlere tanıklık ediyoruz. Hikayenin kırılma noktası ise Jason ile Kolhis kralı Aetes’in kızı Medea arasında başlayan aşk. Jason’a olan aşkı sebebiyle Aetes’in verdiği imkansız görevi geçmesine yardım eden Medea’nın aşkı uğruna babasına ihanet etmesi ve Argo gemisiyle Jason’ın memleketine dönmesi gerçekten etkileyici. Buna ek olarak, ikilinin arasında yaşanan diyaloglar sayesinde Euripides ve Seneca’nın "Medea" eserindeki olaylar daha çok anlam kazanıyor. Sonuç olarak, Homeros ve Vergilius’un destansı şiirlerinin çarpıcılığını taşıyamasa da sanat tarihine yön veren bir destan olan "Argonautika", her edebiyatın severin göz atmasını düşündüğüm oldukça değerli bir eser.

İstanbul, Türkiye

Alp Turgut

Profile Image for Heather Purri.
37 reviews29 followers
April 4, 2019
The Argonautica (A.K.A. Jason & the Argonauts or Jason & the Golden Fleece) is a Greek epic that is far superior to the Illiad or the Odyssey. Instead of individual glory, the Argonautica is about the importance of bonds between loved ones and keeping one's word. Although the story starts with a painfully lengthy discussion of each crew member, their lineages, and their glorious past deeds, the purpose of that become immediately clear - each crew member is equally important.

- Hercules/Heracles (Yes, that Hercules.) is the most famous crew member and is universally voted as captain. He turns down the honor and encourages the crew to support Jason as the captain, because Jason did the hard work of bringing them all together for the voyage. Jason is touched. Throughout the epic, Jason demonstrates great leadership skills and motivates his crew every step of the way. He's also complimentary, humble, and brave.

Hercules is included in the story to make a point. While Hercules, Achilles, and Odysseus are supernatural warriors and paragons of then traditional masculinity, Jason is a softer soul. He has a need for human connection and dreams of romantic love.

- The epic isn't the Jasonautica, but instead is named after the ship, the Argo. Everyone on the ship-the Argonauts-are heroes. Moreover, the ship is named after Prince Argus, the crew member who built the ship (not named after Jason or Hercules).

- The Argonauts each have their little adventures along the way, although Jason, naturally, has the larger story arch. (Hercules's divine labors are not part of this epic.) They each have their time to shine and help each other succeed without jealousy or bitterness. They also learn all kinds of life lessons together as a group, especially the nature of Fate, prophecies, omens, and the gods. Compared to the Illiad and Odyssey, the gods in the Argonautica are considerably less involved in mortal affairs. Much of the decision-making and responsibility are left up to the humans.

- The epic is best known for the epic romance between Prince Jason and Princess Medea. Jason falls for her hard and fast. His vows to Medea are just as important as his vows to his crew, if not more important. Eros/Cupid nudges Medea in Jason's direction, but Medea seems to have a lot of choice in the matter, because she thinks long and hard about her choice between her family and homeland or Jason. It doesn't hurt that Jason is exceedingly handsome and charming. Medea, powerful and complex woman that she is, helps Jason on his quest. Jason delegates tasks based on his crew members' individual skills; and Medea, who is a priestess, helps the Argonauts with her adept witchcraft and by having the favor of various goddesses. There is a nice balance of masculine power and male gods with feminine power and goddesses.
Profile Image for Coleccionista de finales tristes.
560 reviews33 followers
November 15, 2019
Si bien entretiene al tratarse de aventuras marítimas además de mezclar dioses con humanos está lejos de la calidad de La Ilíada o La Odisea, sin embargo los lectores que apreciaron estas obras sin duda gustarán también de los argonautas.
Profile Image for Malum.
2,201 reviews131 followers
May 3, 2019
Like an ancient Greek Avengers. A bunch of mythological superheroes go on a quest, fight some enemies, and have dealings with the gods.
Profile Image for Pat Settegast.
Author 3 books22 followers
April 22, 2009
Here is an adventure tale that continues to impress itself upon our lives. Though little is known about the author, the story is one of iconic legend accompanied by many a commentary on Hellenic origin myths. The writing is often quite lyrical, and many situations are dealt with in a humorous combination of overstatement and wry remark.

What impressed me the most as I read this book was the author's keen eye for human nature and the dramatic moment. This story is in many ways still as lively and entertaining as when it was written. Part of the success of this work is that Apollonius portrays Jason not as an epic hero but as an ordinary man. This distinction becomes quite clear when Jason is faced by task he must complete to win the Golden Fleece. Ultimately love wins the day, which becomes one of the genuine surprises of this book. The narrative very skillfully changes from a tale of violent conquest into a highly-symbolic romance.

Further, this story is in a way the antipodes of Homer's Odyssey in that Odysseus is fighting to find his way home to his wife while Jason is fighting to find the woman he is destined to marry. In the end, The Voyage of Argo has a great deal to say about the fickleness of love. The passages on Medea's romance still strike the right chords. There are moments that are downright heartbreaking, and one is left wondering at how little people have changed in all these many years.
Profile Image for Paul Haspel.
534 reviews62 followers
August 14, 2022
“Jason and the Argonauts,” for me, was a movie long before it was a book. As a child, I revelled in the special-effects wizardry through which Ray Harryhausen, in his film Jason and the Argonauts (1963), brought to life a vivid array of mythical monsters – harpies, a bronze giant, an army of skeletons, a many-headed dragon – as antagonists for Jason of Thessaly and his crew of adventurers on board the ship Argo. As I grew older, I came to appreciate the nuanced take on classical Greek mythology that the film offered, as embodied by the way the film presents the Argonauts’ adventures as part of a cosmic board game being played by the Olympian gods Zeus and Hera. And I could more clearly understand the ways in which Harryhausen’s film drew upon, and in some ways modified, its source material: an epic poem written in the 3rd century B.C. by Apollonius of Rhodes. The poem’s formal title is Argonautica (Ἀργοναυτικά), though I think the good people at Penguin Books did well to apply the well-loved Jason and the Argonauts title to this 2014 translation of the poem.

Not much is known about Apollonius of Rhodes, except that he worked at the Library of Alexandria during the era of the Ptolemies. His work is associated with the Hellenistic period, the time after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. Alexander’s conquests brought Greek culture and various Eastern cultures together, and an intriguing cultural mix resulted. It is interesting to contemplate how the Argonautica (literally, The Tale of the Argonauts) might incorporate storytelling traditions from other major cultures of the time – Persia or India, for example – along with those of classical Greece.

As Jason and the Argonauts begins, Pelias of Thessaly has consolidated power in his kingdom, in part by imprisoning any potential rivals – including Aeson, father of Jason. Yet Pelias does not feel secure in the crown he wears: “Pelias had received/a prophecy: a miserable doom/awaited him, a murder brought about/by someone he would see come from the country/wearing a single sandal.”

When Jason arrives at Thessaly, wearing a single sandal, Pelias knows that the person who can hurl him from his throne is standing before him. Therefore Pelias assigns Jason what he hopes will be an impossible task: to sail all the way from Thessaly to Colchis – a Black Sea kingdom located in what is now the western part of the Republic of Georgia – and bring back the Golden Fleece. The fleece is the golden skin and wool of Chrysomallos, a winged ram that rescued Phrixus of Boeotia from a murder plot devised by Phrixus’ stepmother. The winged ram carried Phrixus to Colchis, where Phrixus sacrificed the ram and gave the golden fleece to Colchis’ king, Aeëtes. The fleece, for Aeëtes, symbolizes divine sanction of his kingship, and therefore he will not give it up without a fight.

Accepting Pelias’ challenge, Jason oversees the building of a great ship, the Argo, and undertakes the task of finding a crew worthy of this epic quest. The Argonauts (“sea voyagers of the Argo”) who accept the challenge constitute a true All-Star Team of classical Greek worthies, including Orpheus the great musician, Heracles and his companion Hylas, Meleager who hunted the Calydonian boar, the twin half-brothers Castor and Polydeuces (sons of Leda), Argus the shipwright, and Acastus son of Pelias.

The influence of Homer is evident when one reads the Argonautica. Some of the moving scenes in the Iliad and the Odyssey are understated scenes of human emotion – Helen expressing gratitude to Hector, because he is the only Trojan who has been kind to her; the baby Astyanax crying out in fear when he sees the feather plume on the helmet that his father Hector is wearing; Odysseus and his aging dog Argos silently recognizing one another when Odysseus returns in disguise to Ithaca. Apollonius of Rhodes also provides such moments, as when Jason tries to comfort his mother as he prepares to leave on a mission that looks like certain death: “Sudden are the woes/the gods allot to mortals. Strive to bear/your portion of them, though it pains your heart.”

As Heracles – the son of a god, and eventually a god himself – literally and figuratively stands head and shoulders above all other Greek heroes, perhaps it should be no surprise that the Argonauts initially want Heracles to lead the expedition. But Heracles, to his credit, declines the leadership of the Argonauts, insisting that that distinction properly belongs to Jason who organized the voyage: “No, no, let no one offer me this honour./I won’t accept. What’s more, I will prevent/the rest of you from standing for the job./The man who called us here should lead our party.”

Another pre-eminent quality of the Argonautica is its depiction of Jason and other characters in terms of imperfections and uncertainties that make the characters seem quite modern. After the seer Idmon (who had foreseen that he would die on the journey, but elected to sail with the Argonauts anyway) has been killed by a boar in Bithynia, Jason is disheartened, and cannot bring himself to join the other Argonauts over their evening wine: “Jason, however, like a man in sorrow,/minutely scrutinized within himself/All that might leave him feeling still more helpless.”

As in the Iliad, so in the Argonautica, disputes among the heroes on the expedition sometimes threaten to undo the expedition. After the death of Idmon, Idas of Messene, who killed the boar that had fatally wounded Idmon, challenges Jason, accusing him of failing as leader of the Argonauts. An extended quarrel between Jason and Idas follows, while “Orpheus…did his best to calm them./He took up his lyre in this left hand/And played a song he had been working on.”

On their way north towards the straits that lead from the Aegean into the Black Sea, the Argonauts visit Lemnos. That Greek island is known for the “Lemnian crime,” the murder by the Lemnian women of the all the men on Lemnos. Hypsipyle, who managed to save her father from the Lemnian crime, is Queen of Lemnos, and she and Jason feel an immediate attraction toward one another. Jason’s attractiveness to Hypsipyle is emphasized when the poem’s narrator describes how Jason “strode on toward the city like the star/Young brides who are confined to new-built chambers/Watch rising radiantly above their houses.”

The Lemnian women, at Hypsipyle’s urging, accept the Argonauts as lovers and protectors, and Hypsipyle herself has an affair with Jason – though she expresses a fatalistic sense that, sooner or later, the Argonauts will move on, and Jason will leave her to bear alone the children that she has conceived by Jason.

As the voyage of the Argo continues, more and more of the Argonauts’ heroic adventures come to seem more like unheroic misadventures. At one point, the Argonauts, who have helped their hosts and allies the Doliones fight an army of six-armed giants, leave their hosts, only to be blown back off course; they then end up fighting the Doliones, who in the darkness and confusion of night assume that the Argonauts are Pelasgian enemies of the Doliones. The narrator responds to this unfortunate event by setting forth the fatalistic world-view of the poem – “Mortals can never sidestep fate; the cosmic/Net is extended round us everywhere.”

Heracles’ handsome young companion Hylas is kidnapped by a love-struck water nymph; and Heracles, grief-stricken and enraged at the loss of his friend, ends up being accidentally left behind when the Argo sails. While the Argonauts argue over who is at fault for the abandonment of the greatest of their company, Jason again exhibits some of the unheroic qualities that become more and more apparent as the poem goes on: “Jason was so dumbstruck and at a loss/He uttered nothing one way or the other – /No, he just sat there gnawing at his heart,/Feeling the burden of catastrophe.” It becomes increasingly clear, over the course of the Argonautica, that Jason of Thessaly has his limitations as an expedition leader.

Once the Argonauts realize that Heracles has been left behind, Telamon of Aegina accuses Jason of deliberately abandoning the greatest of all Greek heroes. It takes divine intervention – in the form of the sea-god Glaucus coming up out of the sea, holding on to the keel of the Argo, and telling the Argonauts of Hylas’ fate – to get the heroes back on course.

Indeed, deus ex machina interventions, a hallowed tradition in classical Greek literature, are very much in evidence throughout the Argonautica. The goddesses Hera and Athena in particular offer help to Jason and the Argonauts as they make their way through a number of the exciting episodes dramatized in Harryhausen’s film – saving Phineus of Thrace from tormenting Harpies; getting the Argo safely through the Clashing Rocks that have crushed every vessel that has previously tried to pass through; battling the bronze giant Talus; encountering a great serpent that guards the Golden Fleece.

A particularly important example of divine help to Jason comes after the Argonauts’ arrival at Colchis, when the love goddess Aphrodite (at the urging of Hera and Athena) has her son Eros shoot the Colchian princess Medea, daughter of king Aeëtes, with darts of love for Jason. Eros, who is depicted as a spoiled, selfish little boy, accedes to his mother’s request (she has promised him a shiny new toy), and Medea falls immediately and desperately in love with Jason:

[S]he fired scintillating glances over
And over at the son of Aeson. Anguish
Quickened her heart and panted in her breast,
And she could think of him, him only, nothing
But him, as sweet affliction drained her soul.

Medea emerges here as a sympathetic figure: a pawn in a game among gods, compelled by divine forces to fall in love with a man who will become the enemy of her country – to turn traitor in the name of love.

Aeëtes, for all of the reasons stated above, doesn’t want to give up the Golden Fleece; therefore, he assigns Jason the challenge of harnessing two fire-breathing oxen and with them plowing the plains of Colchis. Argus, builder of the Argo, offers to seek Medea’s favour and assistance, and Jason gives his consent, adding, “But, mind you,/If we entrust our homecoming to women,/Our hopes are very pitiful indeed.”

Gaining the fleece, and leaving Colchis, Jason and Medea and the Argonauts take shelter with Alcinoös and Arete at the island of Drépané. Aeëtes has promised to put Medea to death by slow torture if he ever catches her. Alcinoös has decreed that if Medea is still a virgin, he must return her to Aeëtes; if she is not, Alcinoös will shelter and protect her. Accordingly, Jason and Medea, who had hoped for a palace wedding back in Thessaly, must have a hurry-up marriage in Alcinoös’ court:

The truth is, we
The members of the woe-struck tribes of mortals
Never tread the pathways to delight
With confidence. Some bitter anguish always
Shambles along beside our happiness.
Thus, after Jason and Medea’s souls
Dissolved in sweet lovemaking, terror gripped them:
Would King Alcinoös, in fact, deliver
The verdict Queen Arete had described?

The reader of the Argonautica is always thinking ahead to what will happen beyond the bounds of the poem. We know that Jason and Medea will eventually settle in Corinth – that Jason, over time, will seek to improve his situation by divorcing Medea and marrying the princess Creusa (or Glauce) – and that Medea will respond to Jason’s faithlessness by taking a truly terrible revenge, as Euripides chronicles in his play Medea. Harryhausen’s film alludes gently to the unhappy future of these characters, when the film’s Zeus (played by Niall MacGinnis) says that “for Jason, there are other adventures. I have not finished with Jason.”

Today, Jason and the Argonauts come up in all sorts of contexts. Dante Alighieri sends Jason to Hell, assigning him to the First Bolgia of the Inferno's 8th circle where "Seducers and Panderers" are punished, because of Jason's seduction and abandonment of Hypsipyle. Toronto’s professional football team has been called the Argonauts since 1873. Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin, from 1975 to 1988, would give a “Golden Fleece Award” to the federal official who he felt had been most wasteful of public money. The 1982 song “Jason and the Argonauts,” by the British rock band XTC, declares that “There may be no Golden Fleece,/But human riches I’ll release”. And whether one wants to read the Argonautica in its larger mythological context, or for its long-term cultural influence, or simply as a rousing tale of adventure, it is a journey well worth taking.
Profile Image for Daniel Chaikin.
594 reviews57 followers
February 10, 2017
62. The Argonautika (Expanded Edition) by Apollonius Rhodius, translated with Introduction, commentary and glossary by Peter Green
composition: circa 200’s bce,
translation 1997? (notes completed 2008)
format: 490 page paperback, University of California press (I read 383 pages, skipping 60+ page glossary, etc)
acquired: March, from amazon.com
read: Sep 23 - Oct 12
rating: 4

Part 1 - some setting

Homer left me wondering about Jason and his voyage in the Argo with his Argonauts and his quest for the golden fleece. The Iliad and the Odyssey reference the stories...because they have to. It was the children of the Argonauts who fought the Trojan War. And one has to wonder how much of the tales of the Odyssey were taken from Argonauts voyage, if any. But these Homeric epics never get involved enough to write out the story lines. It seems the Jason resides, along with the Calydonian Boar Hunt, in the darker shadows of mythology - fundamental and yet lost along with the oral storytelling past. His story chronicles the first shipboard odyssey aboard the mythical first ship, but it lacks any standard truly ancient version.

What Apollonius created is something far removed from Homer. Apollonius lived in what was maybe the peak of Alexandria's cultural flowering - when that library was collecting all the ancients works. We know the names of several head librarians from the 3rd century BCE Alexandria - Zenodotus, Eratosthenes, Aristophanes of Byzantium, Aristarchus of Samothrace, and Apollonius of Rhodes, our author. These surely must be the most famous librarians in history. Callimachus is credited with writing the first catalogue of the library, but was never a librarian. Apollonius, his student, appears have been chosen over him and there is a mythology of sorts around their rivalry. In a nutshell, Callimachus wrote shorter, original works of poetry, while Apollonius, more a traditionalist, clung to Homer and the epic.

Part 2 - mythical background

The background myth behind the Argonautika is complicated tossed salad of stories involving a golden ram rescuing a brother and sister, Phrixos and Hellé, and racing them off away from Greece proper to the far side of the Black Sea. Hellé falls off a cliff, now named Hellespont after her. Phrixos finds shelter under the barbarian king of Kolchis, Aiëtés, and rewards his ram by fleecing it...hence the golden fleece.

Jason, meanwhile, walks into a trap, one that says a lot about what's not going on in his head. The local king, Pelias, foretold that the Jason, who is the son of Aison from whom Pelias stole his crown, would ruin him, sends Jason off on an adventure sure to kill him. He is to the cross the Black Sea and get the golden fleece and bring it back to Pelias. Unfortunately for Pelias, goddess Hera intervenes. In the various myths Jason will acquire a magical ship built by Argos and the goddess Athena, and acquire a heroic crew that would include Orpheus, Heracles and the fathers of some heroes of the Iliad. He will sail himself and his crew into a barbarian trap in Kolchis and be rescued only because of the emotional swings of the king's daughter, Medea, who decides to help him, use him, or whatever. She saves Jason from sure doom, gets him the fleece, kills her brother, Aiëtés' heir, and thoroughly ruins Aiëtés. It's not clear whether this plays any part in the origin of the word "fleeced".

Part 3 - the actual book

There were several written versions of the Argonautika, and I think other than Apollonius's version they are all lost, although some summaries and commentaries survive. So, depending on how you look at it, we both blessed and stuck with Apollonios's version. And actually there is a lot going for it. I don't know how it stands on poetic grounds, since I read it in translation, but the epic reads quickly. It's an adventure with many curiosities, typically based on the world knowledge of the times. In a sense it's a natural history of the (poorly) known non-Asian world. Apollonios's geography is quite cooked, as he has Jason go up the Danube and come out the Adriatic Sea. Then go up the Po, and through some mythical Swiss lake reach the Rhine, make a u-turn and come out of something like the Rhone. That obviously doesn't fly, but he's trying to match the Odyssey in (mythical) geography and there wasn't anyone around to correct him in the 3rd century bce. But, regardless, Apollonius was influential, and had a huge impact on Virgil, from the Roman era. The Aeneid pulls from this version of the Argonautika freely, using the same phrases and similes. The Argonautika pulls from the Odyssey, and Euripides play Medea and many other sources, but also appears to have many original aspects to it and these then fed into the future literary traditions.

The Argonautika is probably most noteworthy for its anti-heroes. Herakles is essentially humor and quickly dispatched (or the story wouldn't work). Many of the other heroes are noteworthy for silly aspects, and some are simply not so smart. But Jason especially stands out as a fop, a second rate leader at best, only saved by Medea and his guardian goddesses. All this is told straight, it's in there as an understated irony, Alexandrian humor I supposed. It's an irony that stands in a marked contrast the glory sincerely sought by Homer's heroes.

The one aspect that most disappointed me by Apollonius was his women. First of all he kicks Atalanta off the Argo(!). He gives some brief sorry explanation. Medea has some original and creative aspects, and probably is his most important creation especially with her psychological complexity and emotional wavering, but this is not Euripides' dominant force of a character. This is a emotionally vulnerable woman struck down by Aphrodite for a second rate hero, eventually strung out to dry by her own silly decisions. Homer's women of the Odyssey are all notable for their strengths, and the Athenian tragic Greek poets of the 5th century wrote wonderfully terribly strong female characters. That's all gone here. Apollonius sees women simply as a lesser sex.

Part 4 - translation

A note about the translator, Peter Green. The translation is merely one part of this physical and quietly beautiful book. The notes are actually longer than the text. They are another whole book, 200 pages of really nicely done commentary. And then there is a 60 page glossary that is, simply, wonderful. I actually tried to read it, and made it about 12 pages in (I was still on 'A' and all the names were blending together because they were too similar. So, I gave it up.). Finally his bibliography has it's own format that identifies whether the book was actually cited in the notes, or is an un-cited reference. What I'm trying to say is this was a labor of love. I was very impressed.

In summary...

Right, so what was my overall impression? I really liked the beginning, the rapid moving story, and the extensive notes there to slow me down. But I felt like Apollonius got a bit lost along the way trying to get all his odd story details in. By the time I got to the last book (there are four) I was ready to just rush through it and be done. But, for 50 pages of text there were 70 pages of notes, and I simply found that, all those notes, overwhelming, regardless of how I tried to break them up. I'm glad I read this, but I hope I don't read it again. I now feel very well prepped for Virgil.
Profile Image for Steven "Steve".
Author 3 books3 followers
January 15, 2023
An excellent translation of the Hellenistic classic following a troubling hero, a boatful of demigods, and a troubling young lady.
Profile Image for Nesli.
258 reviews34 followers
June 27, 2019
Medea'nın öyküsünü özellikle merak ettiğim için okumak istemiştim Argo gemisinin yolculuğunu. Fakat kısa bir eser (188 sayfa) olmasına rağmen okuma sürem çok uzadı. Medea'nın Eros'un attığı ok ile büyülenip Iason'a aşık olması ve ardından Medea etrafinda gelişen olaylar dışında kitaptan keyif almadim. Apollonius çok fazla araya girerek hikayenin akıcılığını engellemiş bana göre. Fakat Euripides'ten Medea'yı okuyup, Euri'nin yanlı bakış açısından hoşlanmadıysanız (benim gibi) bu kitaptaki lirik kısımları etkileyici bulabilirsiniz.
Profile Image for Mel _ hum.litt.
12 reviews14 followers
September 7, 2022
Se potessi gli darei 15 stelle.

Ero tentata di non scrivere una recensione. Ho pensato che tanto non la legge nessuno, che gli stranieri che danno due stelline a questo libro non se la meritano, e altri pensieri vari. Alla fine ho deciso di farlo per la me di 13 anni che ha letto questo poema e non ricorda nulla della lettura e per la me di 17 che lo ha riletto innamorata di Medea.

Questo poema epico è un capolavoro. Che lo leggiate per studio o per interesse personale non potete non rimanere stupiti dalle capacità espressive di Apollonio. Ma andiamo per ordine.

1) Non è Omero, va bene, ma certo che non è Omero. Apollonio vive molti secoli dopo Omero, il mondo greco è drasticamente cambiato, gli uomini non sono più liberi cittadini ma sudditi. La visione di Omero è epica nel senso proprio del termine, ottimista, crede nelle capacità dell'uomo. Apollonio è pessimista, il mondo è un luogo in cui gli esseri umani vagano senza meta. Il rinnovamento interno che Apollonio fa all'epica è strabiliante, perché prende l'epica e la svuota e la rende altro.

2) Lo stile di Apollonio è l'unione di epica, lirica e tragedia. Le similitudini sono davvero amalgamate alla storia, a differenza di quelle omeriche che non sono di così ampio respiro. Ma poi utilizza tecniche moderne come quella dello scorcio (perché la formularità non è più necessaria e quindi si possono saltare alcune scene ritenute inutili) e del discorso indiretto legato.

3) L'analisi dei sentimenti dei personaggi è così moderna da far paura. Per la prima volta nell'epica viene dato uno spazio così ampio all'amore e, come ha detto qualcuno di più esperto di me, è la prima volta che l'amore viene visto come una parabola che ha un prima e un dopo. Vi sfido davvero a leggere le Argonautiche e a non riconoscere il vostro primo amore nell'amore passionale di Medea per Giasone. L'amore di una ragazzina, giovane e ingenua, che divampa e brucia tutto quello che c'è attorno. E Medea stessa da ragazzina diventa donna adulta attraverso tradimenti e spargimenti di sangue fino a "crearsi un cuore malvagio".

4) Per quanto l'Odissea sia il primo viaggio dell'eroe formale (molto più dell'Iliade), a me sembra che le Argonautiche siano ancora più moderne da questo punto di vista. Un po' perché Giasone è un eroe riluttante, che non ha voglia di portare a termine la sua missione, un po' perché c'è l'arco di Medea che si inscrive perfettamente nel viaggio dell'Eroina. Se il passaggio nel Bosforo non è un varco della soglia, cos'altro lo è?

Mi fermo qui, perché non mi basterebbe un saggio per dire tutto quello che penso di questo poema e in particolare del personaggio di Medea, dei suoi tre monologhi e del suo arco di trasformazione. Vi invito di caldamente a leggere le Argonautiche perché vi stupiranno (e non date retta alle recensioni degli stranieri che "boh non mi è piaciuto perché Giasone è noioso").
Profile Image for Alaina.
6,112 reviews215 followers
September 21, 2020
Jason and the Golden Fleece was somewhat interesting and entertaining. In it, you will meet Jason and his crew. Without know much about Jason to begin with, and my brain slowly melting away from my crazy work day, I found the story just okay.

The beginning started off pretty great but with all the extra side notes I got easily confused and lost. Maybe it's just because today was not the day to dive into this book and I still somehow made it through.. or maybe I just wasn't invested into Jason to begin with. He kind of reminded me of the cartoon version of Hercules. Like just a little bit.

I feel like things started to pick up for me once we met Medea. There was just something about her and their love in a way that woke me up. Even for a little bit. I mean don't get me wrong - I love most of the Greek Gods/Heroes mentioned in this book but for some reason it didn't work for me today. Maybe I will re-read this later in life and my opinion might change.
Profile Image for Lee Foust.
Author 7 books148 followers
December 29, 2021
In a way it's impossible to put an ancient classic on the 5-star scale, at least for me, since, as a writer myself, I feel like they must be read simply to understand something of the history of the forms in which we writers work. Aesthetically speaking, however, I will say that the Argonautica is a bit rough. It falls between the pristine and beautiful innocence of the orally transmitted Homeric epics and the refined Latin cursus of the extra-literary Aeneid. If anything, the Argonautica reminded me of much medieval literature with its encyclopedic travelogue of the Mediterranean. The first book seemed an information dump--characters, situation. The second book seemed like mostly travelogue with one slightly interesting story, but it's wholly without drama and of course one is anxious to get to Medea and the Golden Fleece. Book three is the most dramatically satisfying as we do get to the heart of the story and finally the text seems to loose itself in the drama. then book four is again a bit clunky as the main drama has passed and again we're on the sea filled with random, learned information about geography, cities, and civilizations--with some semi-interesting episodes of escape on the return trip.

Thus, to a modern reader, the information dumps are a bit of a slog, and the exposition is way too obvious to please, but the heart of the story and the character of Medea, her betrayal of her father for love, and her guilt over it, are all pretty engrossing, even if, in the end, that's only a chunk and not at all the whole of the tale.

What I did notice about the whole thing, and which endlessly fascinated me, is how utterly female the epic is. I swear it reads like a female writer's postmodern sendup of classical epos. The first people the Argonauts meet is a race of women who've slain all their men because the men got too sexually obsessed with the slave girls they stole. Then there's a sea nymph who runs off with one of Herakles' buddies and marries him (rape!), which is how H. gets separated from the crew and drops out of the story. Up on Olympus the only gods concerned with the Argonauts are Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite--this latter who then spurns on her son Eros to make Medea fall in love with Jason and give this "glowing," but otherwise rather bland and quite timorous hero, his only chance of completing his quest theft. I mean, he has to do it as ordered, but it's not a super noble enterprise, is it? Circe, another witch demigoddess, purifies the murderous lovers of the murder of Medea's brother (who caught up with them as they escaped and wanted to take them back to dad to receive justice). Then, at the end, in the final escape from any kind of comeuppance, the goddess tells Jason to stop despairing and lamenting and push on in order to honor the mother who bore him. The Argonauts read this augury as a reference to their ship, the Argo itself, which has carried them in its womb all this time.

So, Iin the end, we have a group of pretty much interchangeable, rather fearful, pessimistic, and not very vivid "heroes," controlled by goddesses, who are helped by women without men to take a journey to the East where they precipitate a drama between a woman (the text's most interesting and vividly drawn character) and her father, a dangerous situation that only other demigoddesses and important female advisors can fix enough to give them a happy homecoming. Fascinating.

PS Yes, I did read this 1919 Loeb Classics edition I picked up when a used bookstore minion back in the 1980s and I've had for years. It's a prose translation I imagine literal enough to aid those reading the original in a learning situation, but not so great for the casual reader. I know there are better modern verse translations, I just can't afford to buy them now and I've been wanting to read this for a very long time. I hope one of those modern verse versions comes my way cheaply enough I can grab it one day for a second reading. Or a philanthropist out there can simply send me one. Thanks in advance!
Profile Image for Keith Davis.
1,069 reviews9 followers
June 5, 2015
It is hard to pin down why Argo is not a particularly satisfying read. It is unfair to compare any author to Homer, although the style, antiquity, and subject matter of this book invite the comparison. Apollonius is at his best when he is describing scenes like Medea's indecision over whether to go to Jason or obey her father. Unfortunately long sections of the book read like this line from page 180. "Later on, the Bacchiadae, whose native place was Ephyra, settled there too, and the Colchians crossed to an island opposite, only to leave it at a later date and pass over to the Ceraunian Mountains where the Abantes lived, to join the Nestaeans, and so reach Oricum." Beg pardon?

The biggest let down for me was Jason himself. He may be the subject of one of the most popular heroic legends of Ancient Greece, but he doesn't come across as much of a hero. He frequently despairs of completing his quest and returning home and one of his crew men has to encourage him, when as captain he should really be the one encouraging his crew. Most of the great deeds of the journey are performed by other heroes, such as the defeat of the harpies by Zetes and Calais or Tiphys steering the ship through the clashing rocks. Jason's greatest moment, passing the trail of Aeetes, is only made possible by the magic of Medea, not by Jason's cleverness, courage, or strength. Jason is basically just the guy whose existence sets the story in motion and then the other characters provide the great accomplishments.
Profile Image for Sara Jesus.
1,110 reviews104 followers
November 24, 2021
Apollonius de Rhodes foi antecessor de Homero, considera-se que Virgílio inspirou-se neste poema épico para criar Dido (especialmente no livro II, Jason e Medeia). A saga de Jason e os Argonautas, apesar do seu inicio lento, não deixa de representar uma jornada fascinante de coragem e traição. Possui todos os elementos de uma grande aventura: a viagem marítima, o desafio e uma historia de amor.

O livro II, em que é apresentado a Medeia e realizado o desafio da lã dourada, é sem duvida o mais belo. Medeia é uma personagem fascinante, e tenho pena de a verem apenas como uma bruxa e não como a mulher traída. Sem ela, Jason jamais teria tido sucesso em completar a tarefa. Não voltaria a sua terra. A sobrinha de Circe e os argonautas são os verdadeiros heróis desta obra.
Profile Image for Catriona.
177 reviews216 followers
April 1, 2020
My first ancient text and I really enjoyed it! The introduction and explanatory notes were extremely helpful and though I'm sure I missed out on a few references I still had a great time with the story. Definitely one to reread in the future and has spurred me on to tackle the Odessy!
Profile Image for RS Rook.
401 reviews9 followers
January 21, 2023
The beginning of this was kind of a slog, but the focus on Medea towards the end was much more engaging. In part this is because the author begins to concentrate more on her internal struggles with her choices and their consequences, which I found more interesting than the random adventures at the beginning. Also Medea's stakes are more personal, which raises the emotional stakes.

If you're already interested in classical literature or Ancient Greece this is worth picking up, but if you are just looking for an entertaining read you might be better of with Edith Hamilton's retellings or something similar.
Profile Image for Karl Hallbjörnsson.
612 reviews53 followers
February 1, 2020
A wonderful adventure! Been meaning to read this for a long time and it did not disappoint. The text itself is also very intriguing in terms of history, place and interpretation, something I'd like to look into some more.
Profile Image for Alex Pler.
Author 6 books216 followers
January 30, 2020
"Entonces hubieran abandonado todos allí la vida, anónimos y desconocidos, sin gloria entre los mortales, los mejores de los héroes en medio de una empresa vana, de no ser porque se compadecieron de ellos con angustia por su impotencia las ninfas protectoras de Libia, las que en otro tiempo bañaron y ungieron a Atenea en las aguas de tritón, al acogerla cuando surgió resplandeciente de la cabeza de su padre."
Profile Image for Naopako dete .
118 reviews42 followers
April 5, 2017
Nije kao Homer, ali je beskrajno krativno. Ima delova koji su me uvlačili u sebe, ali ima i onih koji strče iz celine i pomalo smetaju.
Profile Image for Vicky Hunt.
800 reviews50 followers
June 15, 2019
From the mists of ancient days long past, comes the tale of the Greek hero Jason and his 56 heroic friends.
They set sail on the inland sea towards the Bosporus to claim the ‘golden fleece’ with which to allay a family curse that has hung over Jason. This task is supposed to result in his death, and was given him by one King who wanted him dead. By securing the fleece he is to secure release from the King; and in doing so, engage the wrath of another King.

The Argonautica is a story that was written by one of the librarians of the famed library of Alexandria of ancient times. Though Apollonius of Rhodes was no Homer, he does not disappoint with this adventure-filled journey. His words aren’t quite as flowery, but the plot is very eventful.

Early after hearing of this mission, we are given the list of men who valiantly answer Jason’s call to journey with him on the sea. I found this part much more interesting than I should have… probably. Just those little glimpses of the time, like that of Pelius, who had been living in exile from his home city, as had his brother.

"After them came the sons of Aeacus, not both together, nor from the same spot; for they settled far from Aegina in exile, when in their folly they had slain their brother Phoeus. Telamon dwelt in the Attic island; but Peleus departed and made his home in Phthia."

Since Jason is an only child much weeping attends their leave-taking. And, great are the number of witnesses who are there to say goodbye. We are told up front that Canthus & Mopsus the seer are to die in Libya. Idmon already knew of his coming death by augury. But, Tiphys the Helmsman's death doesn't seem to be foretold, and die he will. As they sail away from the shores of home, we catch a glimpse of a Centaur and his wife on the beach. They are waving to the ship, with the son of the exile in hand. It seems they made their way to the mainland when they heard that the exiled young father would be departing, just to allow him to catch a glimpse of his son Achilles.

"And there came down from the mountain-top to the sea Cheiron, the centaur, son of Philyra, and where the white surf broke he dipped his feet, and, often waving with his broad hand, cried out to them at their departure, “Good speed and a sorrowless home-return!” With him was his wife, bearing Peleus' son Achilles on her arm and she showed the child to his dear father."

We are just getting our feet wet in the adventure now, for there is much to come. There is an encounter with the Lemnian women who had slain all their unfaithful men. Then comes the abduction of young Hylas by nymphs while Tiphys urges them to depart to catch the winds. Jason and crew depart the island, unknowingly leaving Heracles and Polyphemus behind in their search for Hylas. As soon as they take note of the missing, in their grief they start to turn back risking the winds. But, Zetes and Calais stopped the search. We are informed that in the future, Heracles will punish these two for stopping the search, but he will survive, as will Polyphemus who is destined to found and build a city there among the Mysians.

"But the journey is not to be shunned, the toil is hard for those who venture.”

Wars are fought, and victories are gained, like in the contest with the arrogant Bebrycians and the 'accidental' nighttime battle with the hospitable Doliones. Oops! You never know who you are fighting in the dark it seems. But, with a favoring wind they soon steer through the eddying Bosporus. There they hear the prophecy of the aged Phineus. In return for delivering him from the Harpies, he explains how they should make it through the Cyanean rocks into the Black Sea, by first sending a dove through.
“For they are not firmly fixed with roots beneath, but constantly clash against one another to one point…”

I was enthralled by the picturesque descriptions; like when they arrived at Ares, the Island of the birds.

“And half of them rowed in turn, and the rest covered the ship with spears and shields. And as when a man roofs over a house with tiles to be an ornament of his home and a defence against rain, and one fits firmly into another, each after each; so they roofed over the ship with their shields, locking them together. And as a din arises from a warrior-host of men sweeping on when lines of battle meet, such a shout rose upward from the ship into the air. Now they saw none of the birds yet, but when they touched the island and clashed upon their shields, then the birds in countless numbers rose in flight hither and thither. And as when the son of Cronos sends from the clouds a dense hailstorm on city and houses, and the people who dwell beneath hear the din above the roof and sit quietly, since the stormy season has not come upon them unawares, but they have first made strong their roofs; so the birds sent against the heroes a thick shower of feather-shafts as they darted over the sea to the mountains of the land opposite.”

When our voyagers meet the sons of Phrixus on the island, their kinsmen, we learn the backstory of the Golden Fleece… which I am never sure was worth all that trouble, until near the end when it is actually put to use. But, first they have to win the fleece. Aphrodite sends her erstwhile son Eros to save Jason by the love of King Aeetes’ daughter Medea. It seems dear old Dad is not such a dear. He not only does not intend to allow Jason to have the fleece, but he sets him another impossible task to obtain this… first impossible task.

“I have two bulls with feet of bronze that pasture on the plain of Ares, breathing forth flame from their jaws… I yoke them and drive them over the stubborn four-acre field of Ares; and quickly cleaving it with the share up to the headland, I cast into the furrows the seed, not the corn of Demeter, but the teeth of a dread serpent that grow up into the fashion of armed men; them I slay at once, cutting them down beneath my spear as they rise against me on all sides. In the morning I yoke the oxen, and at eventide I cease from the harvesting.”

“There is not so much profit, I believe, in counsel as in the might of our hands.”

“Pitiful indeed is our hope when we have put our return in the keeping of women.”

The day was finished and Jason's contest was done, and so it seems that the good counsel was at least as helpful as the might of their hands, and that they did well by placing their hope in the keeping of women. But, the question remains: Is Medea justified in placing her hope and future in the hands of a sailor who has promised to marry her?

Sadly, she soon becomes a political exile on the ship, as her Father continually sends men to force the men to return her. He so wants revenge upon his own daughter that he sends her brother to capture her. Later a neighboring king is being strong-armed into extraditing Medea back to King Aeetes, when the King's wife warns Jason that her husband will not send Medea back if Jason and Medea are already married. So, they move the wedding ahead to that very night, instead of waiting to get home to his family.
“It was there, at that time, did the Argonauts spread a mighty couch; and thereon they laid the glittering fleece of gold, that so the marriage might be honoured and become the theme of song ... the sacred cave of Medea, where they spread the fine and fragrant linen and brought these two together.”

The confusing return journey has left much speculation over the centuries. Numerous maps have been speculated, in an attempt to rectify the geography. Apollonius had a poor understanding of the world outside the Mediterranean, as did most of the Greeks of that age. This rough attempt to map a journey around terra incognita was much like Sci-fi writers today attempting to describe a space journey through the universe. In this way, the book speaks of the unknown ancient worlds...the blank map. That is a priceless feat… to bring a reader from the twenty-first century back in time, to experience first-hand the unknown perils of a map that is now printed in every school-age child’s mind.

"I divine that our mother is none else than our ship herself; for surely she bore us in her womb and groans unceasingly with grievous travailing.”

No… we will not need a ship to make that journey. This is highly readable ancient Greek. I read it in the Kindle and Audible (not quite whisper-synced) and enjoyed the narration as well as the translation of the text by Seaton.

“Now when dawn the light-bringer was touching the edge of heaven…”
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March 9, 2022
This review is of the translation by Peter Green.

One particularly interesting aspect of the Argonautika (Ἀργοναυτικά), the epic poem composed sometime during the 3rd century BCE by Apollonios Rhodios (Ἀπολλώνιος Ῥόδιος), is its protagonist Jason (Ἰάσων)'s decidedly unheroic temperament: protagonist he may be, but his actions are condemned not only by the text but also by contemporary audiences and critics. In the end he dies alone and forgotten, killed by the very ship that once brought him glory. Cold-blooded murder is hardly heroic; breaking your promise to and abandoning the woman who saved your life multiple times over is the furthest thing from it. To the modern audience Jason is certainly not a hero, but to an ancient Greek audience, he would have been a perfect example of one.

The Argonautika relates one version of the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece (χρυσόμαλλον δέρας*). The Ancient Greek word hero (ἥρως) did not refer, as does the Modern English equivalent, someone possessing great moral and noble qualities who is often viewed as a role model. The ancient Greek concept of a hero was more akin to the modern concept of a celebrity: someone who is famous either through coincidence, parentage, or some interesting act. A hero is not necessarily someone whose position you envy, nor someone to be admired. Often heroes died tragically, even as their names lived on; often being related to a hero brought either misfortune or outright tragedy���to say nothing of being married to one. The vast majority of the Argonauts die young, tragically, or painfully; many are cursed, several are punished by divine forces, and their families frequently suffer.

But enough about that. This is Peter Green's translation, originally published in 1997, then republished a decade later in an expanded edition with further notes and commentary in 2007 (this edition). Green's introduction and commentary are by far the most valuable aspect of this text—as I've found is typical with Green, his scholarship outweighs his translation, bless him (although this particular translation is one of his best). The Argonautika is no Iliad—although an Odyssey comparison would likely be more apropos—and the actual unadulterated text has much less appeal to the casual reader. Now, Peter Green is absolutely and delightfully catty ("Some of the conventions established by the Chicago Manual of Style," he notes, "regularly violate every logical principle of discourse for the sake of one easy all-purpose rule-of-thumb"), which is something I do truly adore about him. For example, from his introduction:
Nor have I ever forgotten that the Argonautika is an epic poem, though the two other translations most commonly used, the late E.V. Rieu's Penguin and R.L. Hunter's version for World Classics, tend to make readers (as I have found) do just that, being written in flat and businesslike prose. Rieu turns the Argonautika (as he did just about everything else he touched, including the Four Gospels) into a kind of boys' adventure story, while Hunter, on his own account, seems to have had no higher aim than to provide an updated replacement (as trot or pony) for R. C. Seaton's Loeb.
Look, the way to my heart is dunking on Rieu's terrible, terrible translations, okay? Leave me alone.
I should, perhaps, also say a word about the spelling of proper names in this volume. My original idea was to eradicate the all-pervasive Latinization of Greek names that still largely persists in modern scholarship.
Good boy. (It continues:
The task proved surprisingly difficult. Many names (Herodotos, Polybios) required only minimal adjustment, but there were others—such as Loukianos (Lucian) and Kirké (Circe)—that almost literally set my teeth on edge by their oddity. For Aristotle, Hesiod, Homer, and Pindar, I retained the familiar form, and I have stuck to Aelian (rather than making him Ailianos), since he was, after all, a Roman to the extent of bearing the first name Claudius. In some cases I compromised; in a few cases I abandoned the struggle altogether. I couldn't, for instance, face calling my main character Iason rather than Jason. [...] So, like many others, I have ended up inconsistent in my usage.
but I can't really blame him.) As I've already said, Green's translation of the Argonautika is far better in terms of accuracy than his translation of, say, Catullus's or Ovid's poetry, for example.

But I digress. Here are lines I.V-XIV in Green's translation:
For Pelias heard it voiced that in time thereafter  5
a grim fate would await him, death at the prompting
of the man he saw come, one-sandaled, from folk in the country:
and not much later—in accordance with your word—Jason,
fording on foot the Anauros's wintry waters,
saved from the mud one sandal, but left the other  10
stuck fast in the flooded estuary, pressed straight on
to have his share in the sacred feast that Pelias
was preparing for Poseidon his father, and the rest of
the gods, though paying no heed to Pelasgian Hera.
For the Ancient Greek text I have copied essentially verbatim from Perseus (although I refuse to use their lexicon, because it's terrible).
 τοίην γὰρ Πελίης φάτιν ἔκλυεν, ὥς μιν ὀπίσσω  5
μοῖρα μένει στυγερή, τοῦδ᾽ ἀνέρος, ὅντιν᾽ ἴδοιτο
δημόθεν οἰοπέδιλον, ὑπ᾽ ἐννεσίῃσι δαμῆναι.
δηρὸν δ᾽ οὐ μετέπειτα τεὴν κατὰ βάξιν Ἰήσων
χειμερίοιο ῥέεθρα κιὼν διὰ ποσσὶν Ἀναύρου
10ἄλλο μὲν ἐξεσάωσεν ὑπ᾽ ἰλύος, ἄλλο δ᾽ ἔνερθεν  10
κάλλιπεν αὖθι πέδιλον ἐνισχόμενον προχοῇσιν.
ἵκετο δ᾽ ἐς Πελίην αὐτοσχεδὸν ἀντιβολήσων
εἰλαπίνης, ἣν πατρὶ Ποσειδάωνι καὶ ἄλλοις
ῥέζε θεοῖς, Ἥρης δὲ Πελασγίδος οὐκ ἀλέγιζεν.
This is probably the most technically accurate translation by Peter Green that I've ever read. (I mock because I love, I promise.) The majority of the rest of the epic continues in a similar fashion. For lack of a better word, I'd call this translation more professional than the rest of Green's translation work I've read; sometimes a more colloquial tone is appropriate to adopt in translation, but rarely is this the case when translating ancient Greek epic poetry. It's only barely appropriate when translating Catullus's poetry. (Martial is a different question, but honestly, fuck Martial.)

*I.e., χρύσεος (of gold) + μαλλός (wool), δέρος (hide, fleece).
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