Patrick J. Burns

Postdoc at the Quantitative Criticism Lab | Formerly ISAW Library | Fordham PhD, Classics | CLTK contributor

Dice Play and Wordplay in Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica 3.111-128

Abstract for paper delivered at University of Michigan Graduate Student Conference. Why So Serious?: The Past and Its Diversions
April 16, 2011


Medea is the star of Book 3 of Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica. Yet, with the exception of a programmatic mention in the opening lines, she does not appear until 3.248. The opening scene is instead taken up by the intrigue of the Olympian goddesses who plot the love affair of Jason and Medea which will enable the Argonauts to successfully acquire the golden fleece. Apollonius describes in this episode a knucklebones game between Eros and Ganymede, in which Eros defeats his opponent easily. While the story is successful in foreshadowing love’s forceful and duplicitous role in Jason and Medea’s relationship, the knucklebones game between these two figures appears to be Apollonius’ invention. It is my contention that Apollonius introduces Ganymede because of a play on words with Medea’s name, that is, because her name is found inside of his―Γανυ + μήδεα. There is metrical, etymological, and thematic support for this argument. More importantly, however, the play on Ganymede’s name fits into a broader scheme of wordplay on the significant name of Medea throughout Book 3. The early episodes appear specifically to pun on Medea’s name and Greek words for smiling. The wordplay activated by the goddesses’ smiles or through the concealment of her name are part of a general strategy of onomastic play which Apollonius uses to create “subliminal awareness” of Medea in the poem. Through her significant name and the wordplay associated with her name, Medea becomes present in the poem even when she is offstage, so to speak.

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