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CL7042 The Argonautic Tradition: Mythography, Poetry, History and Art

Module Organiser: Dr Martine Cuypers
Duration: One Term (2016-17: Jan-April)
Contact hours: 22 (1 x 2-hour seminar p.w.)
Weighting: 10 ECTS


In this module we will explore the story of the quest of Jason and the Argonauts for the Golden Fleece in its many incarnations from the Archaic period until the Roman Empire. Our point of departure will be Apollonius of Rhodes’ epic Argonautica (3rd c. BCE), which offers what became, more or less, the ‘canonical’ version of the myth, as well as the commentary notes (scholia) preserved in our Medieval manuscripts on this poem, which preserve much of our information about earlier treatments of the myth by poets, mythographers and (local) historians whose work is no longer extant. Student research in this module will feed directly into a project to produce critical notes on a translation of the Apollonius-scholia (of which a draft will be made available).

In addition to Apollonius’ Argonautica, the Apollonius-scholia, and fragmentary preserved poets, mythographers and historians, texts and topics likely to be covered (selectively) include: the influence of Argonautic myth on the Odyssey; Argonautic topics in Athenian drama (Medea and other, lost, tragedies, satyr-plays and comedies); the Argonauts in Hellenistic poetry (Callimachus’ Aetia and Theocritus’ Idylls 13 and 22); Diodorus Siculus’ Historical Library, Apollodorus’ Library of Greek Mythology and the ‘handbook’ tradition; Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica; representation of the Argonautic myth in art (esp. Attic and South-Italic vase-painting).

The module will provide students with an opportunity to make a direct contribution to research in progress while learning to handle not only ‘standard’ Greek and Latin authors but also less easily accessible evidence (such as fragment collections, scholia, and ancient lexica) and key scholarly resources and tools (RE, LIMC, FGrH/BNJ, etc.).

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module, students will be able to:

  • Discuss in outline the development of the ‘Argonautic tradition’ from the Archaic period to the Roman Empire.
  • Identify and analyse the contextual reasons behind specific interpretations, selections and uses of the Argonautic myth in ancient texts and art.
  • Identify and critically discuss key methodological issues concerning the diachronic study of myth.
  • Confidently use less accessible textual sources such as scholia, ancient commentaries and lexica and fragments.
  • Identify and critically use key scholarly resources for the study of ancient myth such as fragment collections, encyclopedias, handbooks and online tools.
  • Conduct independent research, with proper consideration of sources and scholarship, on a selected topic in the area of Argonautic myth, and present the results of this research clearly and professionally both orally and in writing, with proper use and citation of primary sources and secondary literature.

Introductory Reading

  • Cameron, Alan, Greek Mythography in the Roman World (Oxford 2004).
  • Clarke, Katherine, Making Time for the Past: Local History and the Polis (Oxford 2008).
  • Clauss, James J., ‘The Argonautic Anabasis: Myth and Hellenic Identity in Apollonius’ Argonautica.’ In: Christophe Cusset, Nadine Le Meur-Weissman and Fanny Levin (eds.), Mythe et Pouvoir à l'époque hellénistique (Lyon 2012).
  • Dickey, Eleanor, Ancient Greek Scholarship: A Guide to Finding, Reading, and Understanding Scholia, Commentaries, Lexica, and Grammatical Treaties (Oxford 2007).
  • Dowden, Ken and Livingstone, Niall (eds.), A Companion to Greek Mythology (Chichester and Malden, MA 2011).
  • Fowler, Robert, Early Greek Mythography, 2 vols. (Oxford 2000, 2013).
  • Frazer, James G. (ed., tr.), Apollodorus, The Library (Cambridge, MA 1921).
  • Gantz, Timothy, Early Greek Myth: A Guide to the Literary and Artistic Sources (Baltimore 1993)
  • Hard, Robin (tr.), Apollodorus, The Library of Greek Mythology (Oxford 1997).
  • Lachenaud, G. (ed., trans.), Scholies à Apollonios de Rhodes (Paris 2010).
  • Meuli, Karl, Odysee und Argonautika: Untersuchungen zur griechischen Sagengeschichte und zum Epos (Berlin 1921 [1975]).
  • Nünlist, René, The Ancient Critic at Work: Terms and Concepts of Literary Criticism in Greek Scholia (Cambridge 2009).
  • Race, William H. (ed., tr.), Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica (Cambridge, MA 2008).
  • Trzaskoma, Stephen and Smith, R. Scott (tr.), Apollodorus’ Library and Hyginus’ Fabulae: Two Handbooks of Greek Mythology (Indianapolis 2007).

Last updated 7 March 2017