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Introduction (by Jameson Dunne)Edit

The article "Vergil and Apollonius" by Charles Rowan Beye attempts to establish a broader literary connection between Vergil's Aeneid and Apollonius' epic The Argonautica. Matt points out the use of two techniques of comparison used in the article. The first is technique is similar character descriptions found in the two texts, mainly the analagous roles of Dido and Medea, which in turn implies a similar comparison of Jason and Aeneas. The second is a structural comparison, which is somewhat unique among the articles discussed by the class. It explains why the excordium of Book 7 in the Aeneid is delayed some hundred lines into the book. Beye asserts that Vergil is paying homage to Apollonius' technique of displaying dramatic divisions between the books of his own works.

While Matt's own analysis of Vergil's work does not necessarily disprove Beye's analysis, they are certainly contradictory statements. Matt's argument employs the use of broader cultural metaphors in the Aeneid that Vergil is using to seperate his own work from the classical canon. This desire to set himself apart from Homer is mirrored by Apollonius in the Argonautica, never once mentioning Ithaca, even though it is in close geographic proximity to his story. However, in the Aeneid, Vergil frequently uses imagery of Aeneas bypassing Graecian locations as a whole, implying that his literary work has surpassed the Hellenistic tradition as a whole.

In Matt's analysis, I was dissappointed when he did not clearly display the descriptions from the two works where Dido and Medea are similarly described, though he does use such quotes in his own analysis. I feel like presenting the actual lines for the reader to see endows the analysis with more legitimacy. On the other hand, this article drew its' own very interesting conclusion, which is where the strength of this article really lies. Matt asserts that Vergil and Apollonius share the common desire to set themselves apart from other authors, which shows through choices in storytelling. However, by Vergil doing this, he is ultimately trying to distance himself from Apollonius, as well as the other authors from the classical tradition.

Interpreting the Apollonian Aeneid (by Matt Angelosanto)Edit

I. Virgil and ApolloniusEdit

Charles Rowan Beye, in his piece “Vergil and Apollonius,” presents a compelling argument that Virgil’s Aeneid owes much more to Apollonius’ epic Argonautica than most classicists care to admit or even investigate. Beye notes that one reason for this lack of scholarship is due to the fact that Alexandrian literature, of which the Argonautica is the major surviving piece, is generally dismissed as merely copying the major Hellenistic works that preceded it. But Beye posits that rather than simply reproducing the ancient Greek classics, the Alexandrians reimagined the works of their tradition by giving their literature a new contemporary sensibility. In this way, Alexandrian literature is analogous to the high modernism of the twentieth-century, built on Ezra Pound’s credo, “Only make it new!” Beye argues, albeit rather obliquely, that the Aeneid is in much the same vein as this Alexandrian tradition in that it is an amalgamation of all the literary traditions that preceded it to create something wholly new and fresh. It is ultimately this characteristic of the Aeneid that makes it such a deep and sprawling work: the allusions that Virgil makes to Greek and Alexandrian works encourage and even demand a different reading or interpretation of the Aeneid.


II. Allusion and IntertextualityEdit

Beye establishes this connection between the Aeneid and previous works, with particular emphasis on the Argonautica, by using an intertextual approach. Beye explains that, “When classicists use the word ‘intertextuality,’ they are generally referring to the reader’s engagement with two or more texts, more specifically the interpretation of a later text from the allusions to a previous one.” (Beye, 274) Ancient readers presumably engaged in this approach almost unconsciously since they would have been so well versed in their literary heritage. Modern readers, on the other hand, must actively engage in this intertextual approach.

Beye’s technique most often involves a direct comparison between two lines or sets of lines from the Aeneid and the Argonautica to draw new conclusions about, and thus encourage a deeper understanding of, the former. For example, he discusses a simile from Argonautica 3.756 ff. which describes Medea’s concern for Jason. The simile also appears in Aeneid 8.26, which, “recalls by virtue of the repetition of language” Aeneid 4.522, which describes Dido’s sleepless night just before she embarks on the final tragic scene of her involvement with Aeneas. (Beye, 275) By reading these passages in apposition, Beye is able to draw new conclusions about Aeneas as a character. The sleepless nights that both Dido and Medea experience gives new meaning to Aeneas’ own night scene in 8.26. By experiencing the same nocturnal mental turmoil as the women, Aeneas’ masculine and heroic qualities are undercut, a topic to which Beye returns later in his essay.

But Beye does not limit his approach to simply comparing and contrasting specific lines. He also compares the two works in a much broader scope, as when he compares the narrative structure of the Aeneid to that of the Argonautica. He points out that the exordium at the beginning of Book 7 of the Aeneid doesn’t occur until the thirty-seventh line, rather than occupying its conventional place in the book’s first lines. Beye reads this as a nod to Apollonius, who, “made dramatic book divisions that highlighted the novel aesthetic feature of dividing continuous narrative into books.” (Beye, 281) He goes on to argue that by postponing the exordium, Virgil is highlighting the importance of the divide between Books 6 and 7, where, “saga ends and history begins; exile ends and homecoming begins; some would say the Odyssey ends, the Iliad begins.” (Ibid.)


III. New Conclusions through IntertextualityEdit

Because of my total inexperience with the ancient Greek language, it only makes sense for me to employ a broader intertextual approach to the Aeneid and the Argonautica. I’d also like to move away from the main thrust of Beye’s argument. His evidence makes it clear that the Aeneid owes much to the Argonautica, that the two are similar in many ways. But while Virgil wanted to pay homage to his culture’s literary tradition through allusion to Greek and Alexandrian literature, he also wanted to set his epic apart as a piece that stood alone as a new beacon in literary history.

It can be implied from certain aspects of the Argonautica that Apollonius, too, wished to separate his own literary achievement from those of the past. For an epic that owes so much to the Homeric tradition, it is telling that Apollonius never once mentions Ithaca in the whole of the Argonautica, close though it is to the tale’s setting (Hunter, 174). This could certainly be read as Apollonius consciously separating his epic from those of Homer, in which Ithaca obviously plays such a huge part.

And while Virgil does not go so far as to not mention Ithaca, he does make it a point to write, “Effugimus scopulos Ithacae, Laertia regna, | et terram altricem saevi exsecramur Ulixi,” (We shun the shoals of Ithaca, Laertes’ kingdom, and the land that had once nursed fierce Ulysses, Aen. 3.272-3) thus making a clear distinction between his epic and Homer’s in much the same way that Apollonius does. But, even more importantly, Virgil seems to be divorcing himself from the Alexandrian tradition as well later in Book 3. He writes, “Protinus aerias Phaeacum abscondimus arces | litoraque Epiri legimus portuque subimus | Chaonio et celsam Buthroti accedimus urbem.” (We soon lose sight of the airy heights of the Phaeacians and we skirt the shores of Epirus and we sail into the harbor of Chaonia, approaching the steep city of Buthrotum, Aen. 3.291-3) Virgil clearly has some motive in writing that Aeneas and his crew race past Phaeacia, especially when such a seemingly minute detail could have easily been omitted. It just so happens that a significant portion of Argonautica Book 4 takes place in Phaeacia. I would argue that this is Virgil drawing a line between his own epic and Apollonius’. There is no doubt that Virgil is here paying homage to Apollonius. But it is also clear that the Roman wishes for his work to be distinguished from the Alexandrian’s, to herald the arrival of a new tradition on which future authors may look back and allude to in their own works.


Works CitedEdit

Beye, Charles R. "Vergil and Apollonius." Reading Vergil's Aeneid: An Interpretive Guide, ed. C.G. Perkell, Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999, 271-284.

Hunter, Richard. The Argonautica of Apollonius: literary studies. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

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