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The Argonautics of Apollonius Rhodius (tr. Fawkes)/Preface




THE

PREFACE.

 THE author of this poem was the son of Silleus and Illeus. He was born at Alexandria in Egypt, and educated under Callimachus. He received the name of Rhodius, or the Rhodian, either from his mother, whose name was Rhoda, or, more probably, from the city Rhodes. During his stay in this place he finished his Argonautic poem, and founded a school of rhetoric. Ptolemy Euergetes, in whose reign our poet flourished, two hundred and forty-four years before Christ, recalled him from his retirement at Rhodes, and appointed him successor to Eratosthenes in the care of the Alexandrian library. The favours which had been conferred on Callimachus in the court of Ptolemy Philadelphus, were continued to him by his successor Ptolemy Euergetes. So that Callimachus, no less than his scholar, was protected and patronized by his prince. This circumstance, with others, gave occasion to those jealousies and dissensions, which subsisted between these rival poets. Callimachus is supposed to have alluded, in the following lines, to that invidious spirit which prevailed in his scholar.

ὁ Φθόνος Ἀπόλλωνος ἐπ᾽ οὔατα λάθριος εἶπεν
οὐκ ἄγαμαι τὸν ἀοιδὸν, ὃς οὐδ᾽, ὅσα πόντος, ἀείδει.
Call. Hymn. ad. Ap. v. 105.

For Apollonius, anxious to establish his own reputation, and jealous of his master's, had depreciated those more numerous, but lighter productions, in which the Muse of Callimachus excelled; epigrams, hymns, and elegies.

It will be no improper introduction to the following poem to trace the subject of it to its source; nor can we expect to be guided through its intricacies by a safer clue, than that which the ancients have afforded us.

Ino was the wife of Athamas, king of Orchomenos; from whom he was soon after divorced, and married Nephele. But she incurring his displeasure, he restored the repudiated Ino to his bed. By her he had two children, Learchus and Melicerta; by Nephele he had Phrixus and Helle. Ino beheld the children of her rival with a jealous eye. For they, being the eldest, had a prior claim to their father's inheritance. Resolved on their destruction, she concerted the following plan, as most likely to effect it. A grievous famine laying waste the country, it was judged expedient to consult the oracle about the means of suppressing it. Ino having gained over the priests to her interest, prevailed on them to return this answer; that the ravages of famine could no otherwise be suppressed, than by the sacrifice of Nephele's children. Phrixus, who was made acquainted with the cruel purpose of Ino, freighted his vessel with his father's treasures, and embarked with his sister Helle for Colchis. The voyage proved fatal to her; and the sea, into which she fell, was named from her the Hellespont. But Phrixus arrived safe at Colchis; and was protected from the cruelties of his step-mother Ino, at the court of Æetes his kinsman, who bestowed on him his daughter Chalciope in marriage. Upon his arrival he consecrated his ship to Mars; on whose prow was repressed the figure of a ram. This embellishment, it is supposed by some of the historians, gave rise to the fiction, of his having swam to Colchis on the back of that animal, of his having sacrificed it to Mars, and hung up its fleece in the temple of that god. It is this imaginary fleece which is celebrated by the poets for having given birth to the expedition of the Argonauts. A variety of whimsical conjectures have been formed concerning it. Some are of opinion, that it was a book of sheep-skins, containing the mysteries of the chymic art. Others have assured us, that it signified the riches of the country; with which their rivers, that abounded in gold, supplied its inhabitants: and that, from the sheep-skins made use of in collecting the golden dust, it was called the Golden Fleece.

For a further illustration of the subject of this poem, it will be necessary to insert the following history.

Tyro, the daughter of Salmoneus, had two sons by Neptune, Neleus and Pelias: by Cretheus she had Æson, Pheres and Amithaon. The city of Iolcos in Thessaly, which Cretheus built, was the capital of his dominions. He left his kingdom at his death to Æson his eldest son; but made no provision for Pelias. Pelias, however, growing every day more powerful, at length dethroned Æson. And hearing that his wife Alcimeda was delivered of a son, he was resolutely bent on his destruction. For he had been forewarned by the oracle, that he must be dethroned by a prince, descended from Æolus, and who should appear before him with one foot bare. Æson and Alcimeda being informed of the tyrant's intention, conveyed their son to mount Pelion, where he was educated by Chiron. Having attained to maturity, he consulted the oracle; who encouraged him to repair to the court of Iolcos. Pelias, hearing of the arrival of this stranger, and of the circumstance of his appearance with only one sandal, concluded that this must be the person, whom the oracle had foretold. Having made himself and his situation known to his uncle, Jason demanded of him the crown, which he had so unjustly usurped. Pelias was greatly alarmed at this requisition. But knowing that a thirst for glory is the darling passion of youth, he contrived to appease his nephew's resentment by disclosing to him the means of gratifying his ambition. He assured him, that Phrixus, when he sailed from Orchomenos, had carried with him a Fleece of Gold, the possession of which would at the same time enrich and immortalize him. The proposal had its desired effect. Jason signified his acceptance of it, and collected speedily the most illustrious princes of Greece, who were eager to embark in a cause, that was at once advantageous and honourable. Who these heroes were, the route they took, the dangers which they encountered, and the success they met with, are particulars recorded by Apollonius, and on which he has lavished all the graces of poetry.

Such is the history of the Golden Fleece, as delivered down to us by the ancient poets and historians. This celebrated expedition is generally supposed to be the first era of true history. Sir Isaac Newton places it about forty-three years after the death of Solomon, and nine hundred and thirty-seven years before the birth of Christ. He apprehends, that the Greeks, hearing of the distractions of Egypt, sent the most renowned heroes of their country in the ship Argo, to persuade the nations on the coast of the Euxine sea to throw off the Egyptian yoke, as the Libyans, Ethiopians, and Jews had before done. But Mr. Bryant has given us a far different account of this matter in his very learned system of mythology: whose sentiments on this head I have endeavoured to collect, and have ventured to give them a place in this preface. For the novelty of his hypothesis, and the learning and ingenuity with which it is supported, cannot fail to entertain and instruct us.

The main plot, says the learned and ingenious mythologist, as it is transmitted to us, is certainly a fable, and replete with inconsistencies and contradictions. Yet many writers, ancient and modern, have taken the account in gross; and without hesitation, or exception to any particular part, have presumed to fix the time of this transaction. And having satisfied themselves in this point, they have proceeded to make use of it for a stated æra. Mr. Bryant is of opinion, that this history, upon which Sir Isaac Newton built so much, did certainly not relate to Greece; though adopted by the people of that country. He contends, that Sir Isaac's calculation rested upon a weak foundation. That it is doubtful, whether such persons as Chiron or Musæus ever existed; and still more doubtful, whether they formed a sphere for the Argonauts. He produces many arguments to convince us, that the expedition itself was not a Grecian operation; and that this sphere at any rate was not a Grecian work: and if not from Greece, it must certainly be the produce of Egypt. For the astronomy of Greece confessedly came from that country: consequently the history to which it alludes, must have been from the same quarter. Many of the constellations, says our author, are of Egyptian original. The zodiac, which Sir Isaac Newton supposed to relate to the Argonautic expedition, was, he asserts, an assemblage of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

After having enumerated all the particulars of their voyage, the different routes they are supposed to have taken, and the many inconsistencies with which the whole story abounds, Mr. Bryant proceeds to observe, that the mythology, as well as the rites of Greece, was borrowed from Egypt, and that it was founded upon ancient histories, which had been transmitted in hieroglyphical representations. These, by length of time, became obscure; and the sign was taken for the reality, and accordingly explained. Hence arose the fable about the bull of Europa, and the like. In all these is the same history under a different allegory and emblem. In the wanderings of Rhea, Isis, Astarte, Iona, and Demater, is figured out the separation of mankind by their families, and their journeying to their places of allotment. At the same time, the dispersion of one particular race of men, and their flight over the face of the earth, is principally described. Of this family were the persons, who preserved the chief memorials of the ark in the Gentile world. They represented it under different emblems, and called it Demater, Pyrrha, Selene, Meen, Argo, Argus, Archas, and Archaius, or Archite. The Grecians, proceeds the learned writer, by taking this story of the Argo to themselves, have plunged into numberless difficulties. In the account of the Argo, we have undeniably the history of a sacred ship, the first that was ever constructed. This truth the best writers among the Grecians confess, though the merit of the performance they would fain take to themselves. Yet after all their prejudices they continually betray the truth, and shew that the history was derived to them from Egypt. The cause of all the mistakes in this curious piece of mythology arose from hence. The Arkites, who came into Greece, settled in many parts, but especially in Argolis and Thessaly; where they introduced their rites and worship. In the former of these regions, they were commemorated under a notion of the arrival of Da-naus, or Danaus. It is supposed to have been a person, who fled from his brother Ægyptus, and came over in a sacred ship given him by Minerva. This ship, like the Argo, is said to have been the first ship constructed; and he was assisted in the building of it by the same Deity, Divine Wisdom. Both histories relate to the same event. Danaus, upon his arrival, built a temple, called Argus, to Iona, or Juno; of which he made his daughters priestesses. The people of the place had an obscure tradition of a deluge, in which most perished, some few only escaping. The principal of these was Deucalion, who took refuge in the acropolis, or temple. Those who settled in Thessaly, carried with them the same memorials concerning Deucalion, and his deliverance; which they appropriated to their own country. They must have had traditions of this great event strongly impressed upon their minds; as every place, to which they gave name, had some reference to that history. In process of time, these impressions grew more and more faint, and their emblematical worship became very obscure and unintelligible. Hence they at last confined the history of this event to their own country; and the Argo was supposed to have been built, where it was originally enshrined. As it was reverenced under the symbol of the Moon, called Man or Mon, the people from this circumstance named their country Ai-mona, in after times rendered Aimonia.

This extract from the ingenious and learned mythologist will enable the reader to form some idea of his sentiments on this subject.

But whatever disgust the grave historian may have conceived at this unsightly mixture of the marvellous and the probable, the poet needs not be offended at it. Fiction is his province. He may be allowed to expatiate in the regions of fancy without controul, and to introduce his fiery bulls and sleepless dragons without the dread of censure.

The Argonautic expedition has been the admired subject of the Greek and Roman poets from Orpheus, or rather from Onomacritus, who lived in the times of Pisistratus, to those of our author's imitators, who lived in the decline of the Roman empire. To weigh the merits of these ancient poets in the just scale of criticism, and to appropriate to each his due share of praise, is a task too arduous and assuming for an humble editor to engage in. Yet such is the partiality of translators and editors to their favourite; poets, that they wish, either to find them seated above their rivals and contemporaries on the summits of Parnassus, or, if possible, to fix them there. But vain are these wishes, unless the testimonies of the first writers of antiquity concur to gratify them. The reputation of Apollonius can neither be impaired nor enhanced by the strictures of Scaliger and Rapin: the judgment of Quintilian and Longinus may, indeed, more materially affect it. They have delivered their opinions on our author in the following words:

ἐπείτοιγε καὶ ἄπτωτος ὁ Ἀπολλώνιος ἐν τοῖς Ἀργοναύταις ποιητὴς ἆρ' οὖν Ὄμηρος ἂν μᾶλλον ἢ Ἀπολλώνιος ἐθέλοις γενέσθαι; Sect. xxxiii. Longin. de Sublim.

Non contemnendum edidit opus æquali quadam mediocritate. Quinctil. Inst. Orat. L. x. c. 1.

Unfortunately, as it should seem, for the Rhodian, these celebrated strictures wear the double face of approbation and censure. The praise that is conveyed under the term ἄπτωτος, that he no where sinks, is lost in the implication, that he is no where elevated. The expression, non contemnendum opus, apparently a flattering meiosis, is limited to its lowest sense by the subsequent observation, æquali quadam mediocritate. But we must not desert our poet even in this extremity; for, if imitation implies esteem and admiration, Apollonius's noblest eulogy will be found in the writings of Virgil. Those applauded passages in this poet, which are confessedly imitated from our author, may serve as a counterpoise to the sentence of the critics. Apollonius was Virgil's favourite author. He has incorporated into his Æneid his similies and his episodes; and has shewn the superiority of his judgment by his just application and arrangement of them.

But it is not the Mantuan poet only, who has fetched from this storehouse the most precious materials. Valerius Flaccus, who has made choice of the same subject with the Rhodian, has discovered through every part of his work a singular predilection for him. He is allowed to have imitated the style of Virgil with tolerable success; but he is indebted for the conduct of his poem chiefly to Apollonius. It is remarkable, that Quintilian, who has objected mediocrity to our author, has mentioned this his closest imitator in terms of the highest respect. Yet must it be confessed, that the genius of Flaccus seldom soars so high, as when it is invigorated and enlightened by the Muse of Apollonius.

But the admiration, in which this writer has been held by the Roman poets, did not expire with them. The rage of imitation, far from ceasing, has caught congenial spirits in every succeeding period; and the most approved passages in this elegant poem have been diffused through the works of the most admired moderns. It were needless to mention any others than Milton and Camoens. Milton's imitations of Apollonius are, many of them, specified in the notes inserted in Bishop Newton's valuable edition of all that writer's poetical works. Camoens, who has hitherto been known to the English reader only through the obscure and crude version of Fanshaw, has appeared of late greatly to advantage, in the very animated translation of Mr. Mickle. That the refined taste of Camoens was formed on the model of the Greek and Roman poets, is evident throughout the Lusiad; which abounds in allusions to the pagan mythology, and is enriched with a profusion of graces derived from the ancient classics. In the number of these it can be no disparagement to his poem to reckon Apollonius Rhodius; to the merit of whose work Camoens, if I misjudge not, was no stranger. The subject of the Portuguese poem bears a striking resemblance to that which our author has chosen. For the heroes both of Portugal and Greece traversed unknown seas, in pursuit of the wealth with which an unknown country was expected to supply them. Camoens not only alludes to Argo and her demigods, but seems particularly fond of drawing a comparison betwixt the heroes of his country and those of Thessaly.

Here view thine Argonauts, in seas unknown, &c.
B. i. p. 9.
With such bold rage the youth of Mynia glow’d,
When the first keel the Euxine surges plough'd;
When bravely venturous for the Golden Fleece,
Orac'lous Argo sail'd from wondering Greece.
B. iv. p. 172.

And soon after;

While each presaged that great as Argo's fame,
Our fleet should give some starry band a name.

"The solemnity of the night spent in devotion, the affecting grief of their friends and fellow-citizens, whom they were never more to behold; and the angry exclamations of the venerable old man, give a dignity and interesting pathos to the departure of the fleet of Gama, unborrowed from any of the classics." See the concluding note to B. iv.

Apollonius has admitted into his first book, on a similar occasion, most of the above-mentioned particulars, and many others equally interesting. The prayer of Jason, and the sacrifices previous to their embarkation, are circumstantially related. The lamentations of Alcimeda at the loss of her son, the silent grief of Æson his father, and the tears of his friends, contribute to make this parting scene the most pathetic imaginable. Through the whole of this affecting interview Camoens seems not to have lost sight of Apollonius. But, lest it should be said, that a similarity of situations naturally produces a similarity of sentiments; and that we ought not to interpret a resemblance like this, which might be casual only, to be the effect of studied imitation; another passage may be selected from the Lusiad, which is universally admired for its genuine sublimity, and is affirmed to be the happiest effort of unassisted genius. "The apparition, which in the night hovers athwart the Cape of Good Hope, is the grandest fiction in human composition; the invention his own!" See the dissertation prefixed to Mr. Mickle's translation of the Lusiad.

There is a passage in the third book of Apollonius, to which the description of the apparition at the Cape bears a striking resemblance; I mean, the appearance of the ghost of Sthenelus, standing on his tomb, and surveying the Argonauts as they sail beside him. The description of Camoens is indeed heightened by many additional circumstances, and enriched with a profusion of the boldest images. The colouring is his own; but the first design and outlines of the piece appear to be taken from our poet.

But it is time to quit the imitators of Apollonius, and to give some account of his translators.

Dr. Broome, well known in the literary world for the part he took in the translation of the Odyssey, and for his notes annexed to it, has given an elegant version of the loves of Jason and Medea, and of the story of Talus; which are published with his original poems. Mr. West, who has transfused into his version of the odes of Pindar much of the spirit of his sublime original, has presented us in an English dress with one or two detached pieces from our author. Mr. Ekins has translated the third book, and about two hundred lines of the fourth. Had this gentleman undertaken a version of the whole poem, Mr. Fawkes, I am confident, would have desisted from the attempt. The public has long been in possession of several translations by this latter writer. Those of Anacreon and Theocritus are acknowledged to have considerable merit. The work before us was undertaken at the request of Mr. Fawkes's particular friends: and the encreasing number of his subscribers encouraged him to persevere in his design; but the completion of it was prevented by the premature stroke of fate. What part the editor has taken in this work, is a matter of too small importance to need an explanation. But lest his motive should be mistaken, and vanity should be supposed to have instigated what friendship only suggested, he begs leave to add, as the best apology he can offer for engaging in this work; that with no other ambition than to assist his assist his friend, did he comply with his solicitations to become hit coadjutor; and with no other motive does he now appear as his editor, than to enable the widow to avail herself of those generous subscriptions, for which she takes occasion here to make her thankful acknowledgments.

March 27,
1780.