Navigating the universe: cosmology and narrative in Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica
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This thesis is a study of the influence of cosmology on Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica, an epic hexameter poem written in Alexandria in the 3rd century BC. I examine ancient Greek ideas of cosmogony and cosmology, which range from the earliest extant Greek texts (Homer and Hesiod) to contemporaries of Apollonius (Aratus). My argument is that cosmology is deeply embedded in the text, and that Apollonius creates a nexus of cosmic intertexts which provides a scientific and intellectual backdrop against which the events of the narrative take place. The narrative’s events all occur within a cosmos, which is alluded to throughout the epic; the reader sees snap-shots of the development of this cosmos alongside the development of the Argo’s journey, which creates an analogous progression between the two. Particularly salient for this thesis is the connection to Empedoclean ideas of love and strife as cosmic forces, as these comprise two of the major themes of the narrative. Accordingly, a key point of contact between narrative and cosmology lies in these forces, as the narrator consciously recalls them and the cosmos they control in the process of weaving his narrative. The three passages I examine all focus on this cosmic system, as the cosmic backdrop evolves and changes alongside the narrative itself. The cosmic analogy, therefore, is not static but changes in line with the narrative. This study will form the only extended analysis of cosmology in the Argonautica. The influence of cosmological material on the text (within the wider issue of philosophical influence) has attracted marginal attention, scholars often noting some of the more overt connections without a great deal of analysis. Works that acknowledge the presence of cosmological material at sporadic points include: Fränkel (1968); Hunter (1989 and 1993), Clauss (1993 and 2000); Levin (1970 and 1971). More detailed studies of aspects of cosmological material in the Argonautica include: Bogue (1979); Nelis (1992); Kyriakou (1994); Pendergraft (1995); Murray (2014); Santamaría Álvarez (2014). These studies all confirm the importance of cosmological ideas on the text, but focus on a particular manifestation of these ideas. This thesis will build on these ideas in an attempt to create a cohesive study of cosmology throughout the narrative and consider how this material affects our reading of the narrative itself and its poetic agenda, along with how this use feeds into Apollonius’ poetic values and contemporary poetic trends in general. The thesis is divided into three main chapters, in which I examine three key passages of the Argonautica to make my argument. In Chapter One I examine Orpheus’ song (1.496-511), in which the cultic bard Orpheus calms a fight between two Argonauts by singing a cosmogony. The song establishes cosmic forces that run analogous to the forces at work in the narrative and demonstrates how the growing influence of love in the cosmos parallels the increased reliance on love for the success of the Argonauts’ mission. In Chapter Two I examine Jason’s cloak (1.721-767), a passage that comprises the only extended ecphrasis in the Argonautica. The images woven into his cloak continue the cosmic theme begun in the song of Orpheus, since they demonstrate the world in a later stage of development, as human and divine events unfold and time progresses towards the Argonauts’ contemporary world. In Chapter Three I examine Eros’ sphere (3.129-141), an intricate toy offered to him by Aphrodite in exchange for his shooting Medea with an arrow to make her fall in love with Jason. The ball’s shape and its details both suggest that what Eros holds in his hand is some sort of divine three-dimensional model of the universe. I have chosen these three passages because a cosmological mode of reading is particularly strong in them; they bring to the forefront the cosmological undertone which underlies the wider narrative. My conclusion is that the three passages are all connected throughout the narrative by their cosmic material, material which underscores the Argonauts’ narrative and facilitates them anchoring their time to the grand timeframe of the cosmos. Both cosmic and narrative events run concurrently, as the evolution of the cosmos from its origins to the Argonauts’ present day runs alongside the evolution of the narrative. This duality shows how the Argonautic poet employs cosmology and in doing so creates a continuous parallel narrative that runs throughout the text. Since he uses three connected parallel narratives (song, garment, and toy), the reflective capacity of the passages is not merely a one-off, but consecutive, as all three comprise different moments in the same cosmic scheme. The boundaries between parallel narrative and main narrative are thus broken down in the passages as the narrator establishes the idea that cosmology does not only run parallel to the events of the narrative, but prefigures them and enriches the reader’s understanding of the narrative world. In sum, the cosmic readings of the passages demonstrate that what the narrator is drawing the reader towards is a cosmic subtext that is unfixed and undergoes change.