Apollonius of Rhodes: Wikis


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Apollonius of Rhodes
Occupation epic poet, librarian, scholar

Apollonius Rhodius, also known as Apollonius of Rhodes (Latin; Greek Ἀπολλώνιος Ῥόδιος Apollṓnios Rhódios), early 3rd century BCE - after 246 BCE, was a librarian at the Library of Alexandria. He is best known for his epic poem the Argonautica, which told the mythological story of Jason and the Argonauts' quest for the Golden Fleece, and which is one of the chief works in the history of epic poetry.

He did not come from Rhodes, but was a Hellenistic Egyptian. He lived in Rhodes for part of his life and while living there adopted "Rhodian" as a surname.




There are four main sources of information on Apollonius' life: two texts entitled Life of Apollonius found in the scholia on Apollonius; the entry on him in the 10th century encyclopaedia the Suda; and a 2nd century BCE papyrus, P.Oxy. 1241, which provides names of several heads of the Library of Alexandria. Of these P.Oxy. 1241 carries much more weight than the others, as it is by far the closest to Apollonius' lifetime. Other miscellaneous texts provide further information.

Well-established events

  • Birth. The two Lives and the Suda name Apollonius' father as Silleus or Illeus. (The second Life names his mother as "Rhode", but this is unlikely; Rhodē means "Rhodian woman", and is almost certainly derived from an attempt to explain Apollonius' epithet "Rhodian".) The Lives, the Suda, and the geographical writer Strabo say that he came from Alexandria;[1] Athenaeus and Aelian say that he came from Naucratis, some 70 km south of Alexandria along the river Nile.[2] No source gives the date of his birth.
  • Student of Callimachus. The Lives and the Suda agree that Apollonius was a student of the poet and scholar Callimachus. The second Life adds that "some say" Apollonius was buried with Callimachus.
  • Head of the Library of Alexandria. The second Life, the Suda, and P.Oxy. 1241 attest that Apollonius held this post. P.Oxy. 1241 establishes moreover that Apollonius was succeeded by Eratosthenes; this must have been after 247/246 BCE, the date of the accession of Ptolemy III Euergetes, who seems to be the monarch that appointed Eratosthenes. (The Suda says that Apollonius succeeded Eratosthenes, but this is impossible: Apollonius studied with Callimachus, who died ca. 240 BCE; the first Life says Apollonius was contemporary with Ptolemy III; and Eratosthenes held the post until at least 204 BCE.)[3]
  • Removal from Alexandria to Rhodes. The Lives and the Suda attest to this; so does the attachment of the epithet Rhodios "the Rhodian" to his name. What is uncertain is whether he died there, or came back to Alexandria in order to take up the position of head of the Library afterwards.
  • Death. Only the two Lives give information about Apollonius' death, and they disagree. The first says he died in Rhodes; the second says he died after returning to Alexandria.

From this we can conclude that (1) Apollonius was born in either Alexandria or Naucratis; (2) he lived for a time in Rhodes; (3) he held the post of Librarian at least until 246 BCE. From this in turn we may infer that he lived in the early-to-mid 3rd century BCE. Beyond this point lies speculation.

Sensational stories

The Palatine Anthology preserves an epigram, attributed to "Apollonius the grammarian", which mocks Callimachus and his most famous poem, the Aetia ("Causes"):[4]

Καλλίμαχος, τὸ κάθαρμα, τὸ παίγνιον, ὁ ξυλινὸς νοῦς,
   αἴτιος, ὁ γράψας Αἴτια Καλλιμάχου.

Callimachus: trash, cheat, wood-for-brains.
    aitios ("guilty"): the one who wrote Callimachus' Aitia ("Causes").

In addition, multiple sources explain Callimachus' poem Ibis — which does not survive — as a polemic against an enemy identified as Apollonius.[5] Between them, these references conjure up images of a sensational literary feud between the two figures. However, the truth of this story continues to be debated in modern scholarship, with views on both sides. Both of the Lives of Apollonius stress the friendship between the poets, the second Life even saying they were buried together; and some scholars doubt the sources that identify the Ibis as a polemic against Apollonius. There is still not a consensus, but most scholars of Hellenistic literature now believe the feud was enormously sensationalised, if it happened at all.[6]

A second sensationalised story about Apollonius is the account in the Lives of how, as a young man, he gave a performance of his epic the Argonautica in Alexandria. He was universally mocked for it, and fled to Rhodes in shame. There he was feted by the Rhodians and given citizenship. After this, according to the second Life, he made a triumphant return to Alexandria, where he was promptly elevated to head of the Library. It is unlikely that much of this is factual; the story is a mixture of "local boy makes good" and "underdog makes a heroic comeback". Fairytale elements such as these are characteristic of ancient biographies.

The Argonautica

The Argonautica differs in some respects from traditional or Homeric Greek epic, though Apollonius certainly used Homer as a model. The Argonautica is shorter than Homer’s epics, with four books totaling less than 6000 lines, while the Iliad runs to more than 16,000. Apollonius may have been influenced here by Callimachus’ brevity, or by Aristotle’s demand for "poems on a smaller scale than the old epics, and answering in length to the group of tragedies presented at a single sitting" (the Poetics).

Apollonius' epic also differs from the more traditional epic in its weaker, more human protagonist Jason and in its many discursions into local custom, aetiology, and other popular subjects of Hellenistic poetry. Apollonius also chooses the less shocking versions of some myths, having Medea, for example, merely watch the murder of Apsyrtus instead of murdering him herself. The gods are relatively distant and inactive throughout much of the epic, following the Hellenistic trend to allegorise and rationalise religion. Heterosexual loves such as Jason's are more emphasized than homosexual loves such as that of Heracles and Hylas, another trend in Hellenistic literature. Many critics regard the love of Medea and Jason in the third book as the best written and most memorable episode.

Opinions on the poem have changed over time. Some critics in antiquity considered it mediocre.[7] Recent criticism has seen a renaissance of interest in the poem and an awareness of its qualities: numerous scholarly studies are published regularly, its influence on later poets like Virgil is now well recognised, and any account of the history of epic poetry now routinely includes substantial attention to Apollonius.



  • Editio princeps (Florence, 1496).
  • Merkel-Keil (with scholia, 1854).
  • Seaton (1900).
  • Fränkel (1961).
  • Vian (1974–81).



  • Greene 1780
  • Fawkes 1780
  • Preston 1811
  • Way 1901
  • Green 1989


  • Coleridge 1889
  • Rieu 1959, The Voyage of Argo: The Argonautica (London) ISBN 0-14-044085-2
  • Hunter 1998, Jason and the Golden Fleece (Oxford) ISBN 0-19-283583-1

Further reading

  • Beye, C.R. 1993, Ancient Epic Poetry: Homer, Apollonius, Virgil, 2nd ed. (Ithaca) ISBN 0-86516-607-2
  • Clare, R.J. 2002, The Path of the Argo: Language, Imagery and Narrative in the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius (Cambridge) ISBN 0-521-81036-1
  • Harder, M.A., and M. Cuypers (edd.) 2005, Beginning from Apollo: Studies in Apollonius Rhodius and the Argonautic Tradition (Leuven) ISBN 90-429-1629-X
  • Hunter, R.L. 1993, The Argonautica of Apollonius: Literary Studies (Cambridge) ISBN 0-521-41372-9
  • Nelis, D.P. 2001, Vergil's Aeneid and the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius (Leeds)

External links


  1. ^ Strabo 14.2.13.
  2. ^ Athenaeus Deipnosophistae 7.19; Aelian On the nature of animals 15.23.
  3. ^ The Suda entry on Eratosthenes says that Eratosthenes held the post from the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes until Ptolemy V (Suda 2898 s.v. Ἐρατοσθένης.
  4. ^ Pal. Anth. 11.322. The translation given here is modelled on that of H.J. Rose.
  5. ^ E.g. the Suda entry on Callimachus, Suda 227 s.v. Καλλίμαχος.
  6. ^ Thus D.P. Nelis 1999, review of P. Green 1997, Apollonius: the Argonautica (Berkeley), in Journal of Hellenic Studies 119: 187. For a recent summary of contrasting views, see e.g. A. Cameron 1995, Callimachus and his Critics (Princeton).
  7. ^ Pseudo-Longinus On the sublime 33.4; Quintilian Institutio oratoria 10.1.54.
New title Head of the Library of Alexandria Succeeded by

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

APOLLONIUS OF RHODES (RHODlus), a Greek epic poet and grammarian, of Alexandria, who flourished under the Ptolemies Philopator and Epiphanes (222-181 B.C.). He was the pupil of Callimachus, with whom he subsequently quarrelled. In his youth he composed the work for which he is known- Argonautica, an epic in four books on the legend of the Argonauts. When he read it at Alexandria, it was rejected through the influence of Callimachus and his party. Disgusted with his failure, Apollonius withdrew to Rhodes, where he was very successful as a rhetorician, and a revised edition of his epic was well received. In recognition of his talents the Rhodians bestowed the freedom of their city upon him - the origin of his surname. Returning to Alexandria, he again recited his poem, this time with general applause. In 196, Ptolemy Epiphanes appointed him librarian of the Museum, which office he probably held until his death. As to the Argonautica, Longinus' (De Sublim. p. 54, 19) and Quintilian's (Instil. x. 1, 54) verdict of mediocrity seems hardly deserved; although it lacks the naturalness of Homer, it possesses a certain simplicity and contains some beautiful passages. There is a valuable collection of scholia. The work, highly esteemed by the Romans, was imitated by Virgil (Aeneid, iv.), Varro Atacinus, and Valerius Flaccus. Marianus (about A.D. 500) paraphrased it in iambic trimeters. Apollonius also wrote epigrams; grammatical and critical works; and KTLvecs (the foundations of cities).

Editio Princeps (Florence, 1496); Merkel-Keil (with scholia, 1854) Seaton (1900). English translations: Verse, by Greene (1780); Fawkes (1780); Preston (181 I); Way (1901); Prose by Coleridge (1889); see also Couat, La Poesie alexandrine; Susemihl, Geschichte der griech. Lit. in der alexandrinischen Zeit.

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