Epic in uncharted waters: the genres of Apollonius Rhodius' Argonautica
This thesis explores the generic identity of the Argonautica of the Hellenistic poet Apollonius Rhodius. The strong similarities between the Argonautica and Homeric poetry in terms of language, structure and content have also, inevitably, affected the generic reception of the poem, typically understood as an epic after the Homeric manner. This thesis will attempt to demonstrate that, regardless of the undeniable significance of the Homeric epics as the dominant generic matrix of the Argonautica, Apollonius’ poem consists of a remarkably more nuanced generic layering. An entry point into the decipherment of the Argonautica’s generic identity is offered, as in most works of classical literature, through the poem’s proem. The Argonautica, however, entails the novelty of containing not one but at least three proems which, it will be proposed, affect both the poem’s structure and its generic tissue. With each new beginning, as announced with each proem, readers are invited to recalibrate their generic expectations. It will be argued that the ensuing structure resembles that of Cyclic poetry, with the poem’s separate sub-sections organised as semi-independent poems. Books 1 and 2, which jointly comprise the first sub-section and strongly emphasise Apollo’s contribution to the Argonautic mission, are significantly influenced by the Homeric Hymns; their structure assimilates that of a (Homeric) Hymn to Apollo. Book 3 is structured as a martial epic progressively obtaining elements of didactic poetry which reflect the instructions and assistance which Jason receives from Medea. Finally, Book 4 comprises a double generic articulation, that of a nostos poem for the returning Argonauts and that of a wedding poem for the fleeing Medea, with the two generic structures inscribed in the narrative in parallel, like opposite sides of the same coin. This thesis, which offers the Argonautica’s first systematic study of literary genre in and of itself, will attempt to demonstrate that an in-depth exploration of the Argonautica’s generic identity uncovers hidden layers of meaning and has a profound impact on our understanding of the poem.