Short on Erotics: Eros as Epic Hero in Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica 3.275-298
Abstract for paper delivered at Desire: From Eros to Eroticism Department of Comparative Literature at the CUNY Graduate Center November 11, 2011
It has been a commonplace of scholarship on Apollonius Rhodius to view his Jason as a particularly ineffectual and weak-willed leader of the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece. He has been seen as “passive in the face of crisis, timid and confused before trouble, tearful at insult, easily despondent” among other things. (Carspecken 1952, 101) Another scholar has gone as far as to call him an “anti-hero.” (Lawall 1966) While much recent work has sought to redeem, or at least excuse, Jason’s heroic deficiencies, it seems only fair to ask: if Jason is not the hero, who is? This paper will argue that early in the third book of the Argonautica, Apollonius presents Eros not as the symposiastic attendant of previous Greek literature, especially the lyric poetry of Ibycus and Anacreon (Breitenberger 2007), but rather as an epic hero. It has been noted (Hunter 1989, Campbell 1994, et al.) that lines 275-298—the scene in which the archer Eros shoots Medea with an arrow, awakening her love for Jason and laying the foundations for her future assistance in the Argonauts’ mission—echo scenes from Homer, specifically Menelaus and Pandarus’ conflict in Iliad 4 and Odysseus’ stringing of the bow in Odyssey 21. The first part of this paper trace the development of the literary Eros, a figure largely defined in Greek lyric poetry, with particular attention to passages apparently imitated or developed by Apollonius. The second part of the paper will then turn to the points of contact between Eros’ aristeia, that is, his moment of heroic success behind the bow, and the Homeric epics. I will look at how Apollonius adapts the lyric Eros for a heroic setting, arguing that Apollonius exploits the blank slate provided by the absence of a personified Eros in Homer to transform him into an unexpected epic hero and an unlikely challenger to Jason’s heroic authority in the Argonautica.
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