APOLLONIUS RHODIUS: ARGONAUTICA, BOOK IV

Ed. by Richard Hunter

CUP (2015) p/b 359pp £22.99 (ISBN 9781107636750)

It is more than pleasant to welcome this detailed commentary by a distinguished scholar on Argonautica IV, which follows on from H.’s earlier commentary on Book III (1989), itself a book which any user of this later volume should ideally have to hand, since references to it are inevitably frequent. H.’s Introduction is relatively concise at 27 pages: for example, there is nothing on ‘Reception’ (laus Deo), it does not discuss earlier commentaries, and the brief section on the MSS does little more than warn us that the text remains doubtful in many places, with papyri and scholia attesting ‘to many ancient variants’, while new papyri finds ‘regularly warn against overconfidence’.

H.’s text relies on the Bude edition of Vian (1974-81). In keeping with this, the apparatus criticus is commendably selective, and doubters are directed to Vian for further information. H. had earlier referred to the ‘preliminary edition’ (proekdosis) of the poem, referred to in the scholia, which, at the least, says H., warns us that a ‘date of publication’ cannot be sought in the same way as is possible with a modern literary work, even if it does not imply the existence of Mooney’s (vide infra) ‘double recension’. To anticipate, one notes that in the bibliography (pp. 321-33) it might have been helpful to give details of W.H. Race’s Loeb Library edition (2008, replacing R.C. Seaton, 1912) and G.W. Mooney’s complete edition of 1912, to which of course H. refers when appropriate.

That said, the Introduction includes an account of the contents of the Fourth Book, followed by a detailed description of the Argonauts’ return itinerary (accompanied by a two-page map which is clarity itself: o si sic omnes!), together with the sources used, including Herodotus, Timaeus and Timagetos (4th century BC), which Apollonius (3rd century BC) had at his disposal. This in turn is followed by a section entitled ‘Odyssey and Argonautica’: by moving the Argonauts from the Adriatic to the Western Mediterranean, it was possible for them to visit sites that Odysseus was to visit after them, but where of course he had already been (this ‘Prequel’ concept is not original to H: it is meat and drink to ‘Receptionists’): for this subject, Apollonius looked to Pherecydes, Herodorus of Heraclea and (again) Timaeus. But the debt to the Odyssey is not limited to a tour of the sites: ‘at every level of motif and language, Arg. is saturated with the Homeric heritage’.

While this may not be thought to be especially novel, the next chapter—‘Apollonius and Callimachus’—is more thought-provoking, as H., assisted now by Harder’s outstanding commentary on Aitia (2012), discusses the intertextual relationship with Callimachus. H. tentatively suggests an alluring, if unprovable, picture of a kind of continuous poetic dialogue between the two, working in close proximity, and even revising their work in response to the poetry of the other. Further (dense textual) argumentation suggests that, if borrowing existed, it was more likely to be Apollonius who was the borrower. It will be seen that this effectively disposes of a ‘quarrel’ between Apollonius and Callimachus, a concept to which Mooney was devoted to a well-nigh absurd extent. Finally, H. briefly considers the Apollonian hexameter, basically repeating himself from 1989: he rightly refers in a footnote both to West (1982) and to the (long, detailed, and wholly admirable) account of Apollonian metre given in an appendix by Mooney in his edition, to which the student would do well to have access (as s/he would for the other equally detailed appendix on the alleged ‘double recension’).

This is the first Anglophone commentary to appear for over a century since Mooney’s (which, as noted, was of the entire poem), and (need one say?) is of the distinguished quality which one might expect to see from a Regius Professor. In a brief review, it is impracticable to do more than to give three (purely textual) examples. First, at line 59 there is a notorious crux where, according to the MS tradition, a main verb is lacking. Mooney adopts a most unlikely conjecture, without comment; H. lists the various suggestions, shows their implausibility, points out the importance of the only word—given in the MSS—which is open to alteration, and accepts that a line may simply have dropped out. Secondly, after line 348, the MSS offer a line which is irrelevant ad loc.; H. points out that it has been repeated from Book 2.1186, where it is in place, and adds that a papyrus fragment, which could have settled the matter, is annoyingly unhelpful: Mooney’s text and notes ignore the problem. Finally, at line 786, ‘the most difficult and intriguing textual problem in the whole poem’, where the text as reported says what is not the case (i.e. that Hera ‘saved’ the Argonauts at a particular dangerous location), H. sets out the difficulties (ignored) and the solutions proposed by other scholars, explains the unexpected presence of Thetis (again ignored by Race and Mooney), and persuasively suggests that there is a one-line lacuna.

With Harder’s Aitia, Hornblower’s Lycophron (2015), and now Hunter’s Argonautica IV, Anglophone scholars of Alexandrian literature have been superbly served at the highest level of scholarship in the past three years (and let us not forget Hollis’s Hecale [1990]). Perhaps it is asking too much to hope for an updated version of Gow’s Theocritus, itself now over 60 years old?

Colin Leach

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