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«Remapping the Mediterranean: The Argo adventure Apollonius and Callimachus Version 1.0 May 2007 Susan Stephens Stanford University Abstract: This ...»

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Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics

Remapping the Mediterranean:

The Argo adventure Apollonius and Callimachus

Version 1.0

May 2007

Susan Stephens

Stanford University

Abstract: This paper was written for Culture in Pieces, a Festschrift in honor of Peter

Parsons.

Callimachus and Apollonius were poets writing in Alexandria, a newly established Greek

city on the north east coast of Africa that lacked defining narratives of space, indigenous gods and heroes, or founding families. I argue that both poets turned to the legend of the Argonauts to link Libya and Egypt with Greece as a strategy in crafting a legitimating myth for the Ptolemaic occupation of Egypt. The textual argument focuses on the gift of a clod of Libyan earth to one of the Argonauts in Pindar’s Pythian 4 and at end of the Argonautica, and the Argonaut fragments at the beginning of Callimachus’ Aetia.

© Susan Stephens. susanas@stanford.edu Stephens -- 1 Remapping the Mediterranean: The Argo adventure Apollonius and Callimachus Recent studies have taught us the importance of landscape in the construction of the Greek imagination. Place is an intricate blend of the real and the imagined: composed of a location’s natural phenomena, like mountains and rivers; the divine associations these phenomena inspire, expressed in stories and rituals; and the boundaries imposed by culture that generate categories of inclusion or exclusion.1 Consider, for example, the immensely potent myth of Athenian autochthony and how it is articulated in the funeral oration embedded in Plato’s Menexenus. Autochthony breeds virtue in contrast to the familiar

migrating (and foreign) ancestors claimed by other Greeks:

— ı ı Ú ˜ Ô ı ÚÕ Û

Ú˜ Ì, ÏÙ Ú Ì. ÃÌ Ô ÃÓ Ì ÃÓ Û Ú Ú ÃÓ Ú˜ Ó Ì ƒ,ı Ó,.

So strong and healthy is the nobility and freedom of the city (sc. Athens), and so averse to foreigners in its nature, because we are pure Hellenes and unmixed with foreigners.

For no descendants of Pelops or Cadmus or Aegyptus or Danaus or any others who are foreign in nature, but Hellene in culture live among us. (245c-d)2 If who you were and how you thought of yourself was to a large extent formed by where you lived and the accreted mythologies of that place, some of the earliest surviving Greek poetry provides testimony to the importance of arranging and remembering the stories that delimited local identities. Much of Hesiod, for example, provided a conceptual organization of space and boundaries in the forms of catalogues that linked a specific human group to a place and to its divinities via genealogical (usually matrilineal) descent.3 Foreigners like Cadmus or Aegyptus or Danaus held pride of place in many of 1 Leontis 1995, 17-25; Cole 2004, 7-29.

2 Hall 2002, 214 where the passage is discussed at some length in the context of ‘Hellenic’ identity.

3 West 1985, 1-11, and see the discussion in Hall 1997, 83-88 on “decoding the genealogical grammar.”

–  –  –

In contrast to the places populated by heroes who predated or returned from the Trojan war, or colonies that might boast of a venerable mother city, Alexandria was new, a space that Greeks had only begun to inhabit after 332 BCE. It had no defining narratives of place, no indigenous or founding families, no gods. We can document that the earliest settlers, who were mostly from Cyrene and the Cyrenaica, Macedon and Thessaly, Ionia and islands of the southern Mediterranean, continued to identify not with their new home but with their places of origin.4 They styled themselves, for example, Cyrenean, or Samian or Thessalian. Callimachus offers us some insight into this world in an unplaced fragment from the Aetia when an Athenian resident in the city is found celebrating not a local festival, but the Anthesteria from his home city of Athens (fr.178.1-2 Pfeiffer).

Alexandria specifically lacked origin myths, and we can see this deficiency being remedied in the opening sections of the Alexander Romance, with its narratives of Alexander as the city’s oikist (1.31-33). The first poets of the city—Callimachus, Theocritus, and Apollonius—made important links with earlier Greek poetry by emphasizing the connections of Menelaus and Helen with the local landscape: the opening of the Victoria Berenices, for example, designates the Pharos as Helen’s island, alluding to an alternate version of her elopement to Troy with Paris (fr. 383 Pfeiffer + SH 254.5-6). This Helen was detained in Egypt and returned chaste to her husband while Paris made off only with her eidolon.5 Similarly, Apollonius in a now almost non-existent poem identified Canopus (or Canobus) as the helmsman of Menelaus who fell asleep on the Egyptian shore, where he was fatally bitten by a snake. 6 ‘Canopus’ occurs in the Prometheus Bound (846) as the name of the coastal region of the westernmost branch of the Nile. The original Greek use of the name may have derived from local Egyptian 4 Mueller 2005, 42.

5 Stesichorus apparently recounted this version of the Helen myth, which now survives in Herodotus 2.113-120 and in Euripides’ Helen.

6 Fr. 3 Powell, and see Krevans 2000, 80-4. She notes that P. B. Schmid in his 1947 study of Apollonius’ ktisis-poems already claimed that Apollonius was connecting “Egyptian locales with the earliest cycles of Greek saga.” (78 and n. 32).





–  –  –

These examples, however, also illustrate the limits of this sort of mythic remapping:

Alexandria lacked a past, and attempts to link it with Homer or the heroes of the Trojan war simultaneously reinforced the marginality of the new landscape in relation to old Greece. What Alexandria needed was a myth devoted to its own space that might reverse the inherited hierarchies of place. The argument of this paper is that Callimachus and Apollonius both turned to the legend of the Argonauts with its implicit and explicit links to Libya and Egypt to craft a legitimating myth for Greek occupation of an older, richer culture that might coincidentally serve to legitimate the new rulers, a parvenu line of Macedonians struggling to maintain their hold in Egypt and to extend their sphere of influence in the islands and cities that ringed the Mediterranean.8 In considering how these two early Ptolemaic poets appropriated and shaped the Argo adventure, we can gain some insight into the processes of cultural formation taking place in the early city. This undertaking is complicated by the fact that Callimachus’ Argonauts represent for us truly ‘culture in pieces’—only a handful of fragments from the first book of the Aetia survive.

For that reason, I shall begin with one earlier poem, Pindar’s Pythian 4, then turn to Apollonius’ Argonautica, as reference points in order to establish a baseline for interpretation before considering Callimachus.

The story of the Argonauts and their expedition to recover the Golden Fleece was extremely old.9 Homer in the Odyssey was familiar with a venture that already had many

of the features of the later epic: in book 12, Circe remarks about the Planctae:

Û Ô ı Ô, Ô 7 Canopus, of course, does not occur in the Odyssey, and if he figured in pre-Hellenistic versions of Menelaus and Helen in Egypt, the sources are now lost. Narratives of return were immensely useful in forging genealogical links to the heroic past; each hero might stop in several places before finally reaching his home city.

8 Bagnall 1976, 156-8.

9 For the intersection of the Odyssey and the Argonautica, see West 2005.

–  –  –

The only seafaring ship to pass though that way was the Argo, of interest to all, sailing back from Aeetes. And her too would it have cast immediately upon the great rocks but Hera sent her through, seeing as Jason was dear.

References to Jason or his crew surface in a wide variety of genres ranging from the genealogically shaped poems of Hesiod,10 to Mimnermus' elegies, to Greek tragedy (Euripides' Medea is the most well known), to lost epics, to mythographers like Dionysus Scytobrachion, who was a near contemporary of Callimachus and Apollonius.11 However, the sole surviving intact treatment of the story of the Argonauts before Apollonius comes not from epic, but from Pindar: Pythian 4, one of several victory odes written for the Battiad kings of Cyrene. 299 lines long, it is often described as Pindar’s most 'epic' poem, and would surely have felt at home in the Hellenistic period. It is a dense narrative that tells its story more though allusion to or ellipse of seemingly wellknown events than by recounting them in any detail. Scholars have certainly noted the many overlaps between the Pindar’s epinician and Apollonius’ epic, but usually they belong to a general tally of which writer included which events from some notional whole story. Yet, if Pythian 4 is read as a more central intertext for Apollonius and for Callimachus, in the sense of an earlier work whose meanings form an essential part of the subsequent texts’ signification, we can begin to see how the distinctive elements of one particular colonization myth was adapted to accommodate early Alexandria.

Pindar's narrative was written for Arcesilaus IV, the king of Cyrene, to commemorate his victory in the chariot-race at the Pythian games in 462 BCE.12 At the time of the writing 10 The Libyan adventures seem to have featured in the Megalai Ehoiai (F 253), on which see D’Alessio 2005, 195-9.

11 For a detailed survey consult Dräger 1993.

12 It was the second of two odes that celebrated that victory: the other (Pythian 5) was more typical in length and style.

–  –  –

strategy of Pythian 4 is to present a case for the reinstatement for an exiled member of the aristocracy, Demophilus, as a integral part of the poet's argument. The adventures of the Argonauts are framed by a brief tribute to the victor and a rather longer closing plea for the return of Demophilus. The link between this contemporary political frame and the myth is the figure of Euphemus. He was a member of the crew of the Argo, but also the ancestor of the Battiads of Cyrene. The logic of the juxtaposed parts is that even though Euphemus forgot the instruction of the oracle, the divine will in time was fulfilled. Just so, we may infer, it is the divine plan that Demophilus be reinstated. Arcesilaus can comply or obstruct, but in the latter case can only delay its inevitability.

–  –  –

[Battus was destined] to fulfill the words of Medea in the seventeenth generation on Thera, words that the mighty daughter of Aeetes, the mistress of the Colchians, once breathed from her immortal mouth. She spoke as follows to the demigod crew of spear-carrying Jason. ìHarken, sons of high-spirited mortals and gods. I say that from this sea beaten land (sc. Thera) the daughter of Epaphus (sc. Libya)

–  –  –

In Pindar's account, therefore, the entire adventure of the Argonauts unfolds as an aition, and one with ramifications for the contemporary world of the victor. The specific rhetoric of the aition is the manifest destiny of that Libyan clod, even when, or especially when, the human instruments do not understand the process. The Pindaric dynamic is a movement from a moment shrouded in the mists of the past (the time of the guest-gift of the clod) to the island of Kallistê/Thera (the place where Medea prophesies and from whence Battus sets out for Libya), and from Thera to the cultivated fields of North Africa. The juxtaposition of the disparate prophecies from successive time periods reinforces the inevitability of the events— as if the god were constantly sending reminders.14 And as a result, in Pindar the expedition of the Argonauts assumes cosmic importance, a necessary step in the divinely prompted colonization of North Africa. To take this a bit further, and employ the structuralist arguments of Claude Calame: within Pindar's scheme the union of Jason and Medea serves as a precursor of the reunion of Greece and Libya in the properly submissive hierarchy in which barbarian female--whether women or land--is tamed and plowed and rendered fertile by Greek male conquest. Thus Jason sleeping with Colchian Medea, Euphemus sleeping with the Lemnian woman, who bears the ancestor of Battus, and ultimately Battus and his colonizers sleeping with Libyan women are all linked by divine plan. And in another Cyrenean poem, Pythian 9, divinity actually establishes the paradigm--the whole colonizing chain is begun by Apollo himself taming by conquest and inseminating the eponymous nymph, Cyrene.15 14 Calame points to five distinctive temporal planes (2003, 47).

15 Calame discusses these texts and their ‘isotopies’ in a number of places: see especially 1990, 287-92 and 1993, 38-40 and notes as well as 2003, 54-5.

–  –  –



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