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The Same River Twice: The Anaurus-crossing(s) and Narrative Strategy in Apollonius' Argonautica

Keith Penich

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The purpose of this paper is twofold: to address the interpretive dilemma presented by the two passages of the Argonautica in which Jason crosses the Anaurus river (1.8-11; 3.66-73), and to connect Apollonius’ presentation of these passages with a consistent strategy of narrating myths that lie outside the frame of the Argo's voyage. In this strategy, myths of particular programmatic significance are related at multiple points in the epic in short, complementary units. Because the units complement one another, I call the individual units “fragments” and refer to the connected series as a “fragmented myth.”

The specific dilemma as to whether the Argonautica describes two crossings or one has been widely noted (e.g. Levin, Hunter, Campbell), yet to my knowledge has received no concentrated attention. The narrative strategy at work in these passages, on the other hand, has not been noticed. Nonetheless, Massimo Fusillo’s seminal narratological study of the Argonautica has laid a considerable groundwork for my argument with a detailed analysis of the epic’s digressive myths. Another important contribution is Jackie Murray’s analysis of the Argo’s construction, a myth that is narrated in what she calls “micro-narratives” throughout the epic. Finally, Evina Sistakou uses the term “fragment” to discuss Apollonius’ broadly intertextual engagement with past mythopoetic traditions. Her study is thus complementary to mine, which focuses on fragmentation as an intratextual strategy.

Apollonius conceived his epic as a cohesive whole, encompassing the entire voyage of the Argonauts from its beginning to its end. I begin my paper by demonstrating that within this linear and episodic whole Apollonius includes a number of fragmented stories, including myths about the Argo, Phrixus and Helle, and Ariadne. Although these myths are de-centered in the narrative by virtue of their fragmented narration, they all share a programmatic significance in the epic (as Murray has amply demonstrated in the case of the Argo's construction). Based on the poetic effects achieved by their manner of narration, I posit that these fragmented myths form an integral part of the Argonautica’s design. In particular, I show that Apollonius composed these myths in such a way that subsequent fragments complement earlier ones by continuing broken-off narratives, by adding additional focalizing perspectives, and by revealing previously hidden silences. Finally, I argue that the fragmented myths produce a self-conscious poetic commentary on the paradigm of epic fullness.

I will develop this argument principally through the example of the two accounts of Jason crossing the Anaurus, which relate to one another as fragments of a whole narrative. In the first passage, the narrator describes how Jason lost a sandal while crossing the Anaurus river, thus fulfilling a condition of the prophecy that subsequently launches the Argo (1.5-15). The second passage is a speech of Hera, in which the goddess describes how Jason helped her across the Anaurus when she met him in disguise (3.61-75). These paired narratives exhibit a deliberately ambiguous relationship that is characteristic of Apollonius’ treatment of traditional mythopoetic material. By examining the connections between the two passages, however, including a Homeric hapax in the first passage (δημόθεν, 1.7; Od. 19.197) that is explained in the second passage (3.69-72) by means of a complicated intertextuality, I will argue that Apollonius provides a solution to the dilemma, namely that the two crossings are in fact one and the same.

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Hellenistic Poetry

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