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La mise en place de la tradition posthomérique à l’époque alexandrine : Apollonios de Rhodes

Mediation vs. force: thoughts on female agency in Apollonius Rhodius' Argonautica

Mediazione vs. forza: considerazioni sul ruolo femminile nelle Argonautiche di Apollonio Rodio
Médiation vs. force : réflexions sur l'action féminine dans les Argonautiques d'Apollonios de Rhodes
Anatole Mori

Résumés

Cet article fait la proposition que l’influence culturelle de la reine ptolémaïque a probablement contribué à formuler à l’époque hellénistique une nouvelle « parole » féminine, y compris dans une poésie alexandrine composée par des hommes. Le sang-froid, la coopération et les autres « vertus argonautiques » sont ainsi manifestés par des figures de pouvoir aussi bien féminines que masculines. Dans le cas d’Héra, son intercession en faveur de ses héros préférés rappelle l’action de son homologue homérique, mais du fait de la marginalisation de Zeus le rôle d’Héra en tant qu’intercesseur (maternel) n’est pas seulement mis davantage en évidence, mais également davantage célébré. En outre, la manière dont Héra exerce l’autorité à travers une série d’ordres indirects contraste favorablement avec le pouvoir puissant, ne comptant que sur lui-même, de Médée, d’Héraclès ou d’autres figures héroïques.

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  • 1 On my view this identification does much to account for the difference between the negative f (...)

1This paper explores two modes of female agency in the Argonautica. I argue that in this epic mediation and maternity typically serve as markers of legitimate authority, such as that of Hera and the Phaeacian queen Arete, both of whom are symbolically identified with Arsinoe II, the sister-wife of Ptolemy II Philadelphus.1 My claim is that Apollonius’ revision of the Homeric Hera owes much to the presence of Arsinoe in his intended audience. The greater portion of my analysis accordingly considers the Hellenistic context of the poem before looking more closely at developments in Hera’s characterization. I then conclude with a brief analysis of Apollonius’ Medea, whose self-interested and unmediated agency strongly contrasts with that of Hera and other dominant female characters in the poem.

  • 2 Argos has requested aid from Chalciope, but the scene is not narrated. See M. G. Planti (...)
  • 3 R. Parker, Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion, Oxford, 1983, p. 181; (...)
  • 4 A few lines later Medea manipulates the Argonauts by mentioning this supplication (4.10 (...)
  • 5 Cf. R. V. Albis, Poet and Audience in the Argonautica of Apollonius, Lanham, MD, 1996, p. 112 (...)

2A few qualifications and definitions are in order. In discussing mediation I use the terms “intervention” and “intercession” more or less synonymously. In the Iliad, Thetis, for example, intercedes on Achilles’ behalf by requesting that Zeus grant the Trojans temporary success in battle (Il. 1.500-530), a portrait of maternal protectiveness that is recalled in the Argonautica when Chalciope supplicates Medea,2 asking her to protect her sons from Aeetes (3.706-7). While intercession may well take the form of supplication, supplication is more often self-interested, whether it is an entreaty to “spare me” (a common event in Homer but entirely absent from battle scenes in the Argonautica) or a request for various types of aid.3 Such requests are often (but need not be) associated with specific physical gestures, as for example when Medea supplicates Arete, repeatedly touching her knees as she begs her not to send her back to Colchis (4.1011-1014).4 My concern here, however, is with the mechanism of intercession, the predominant mode of female agency in the later poem. There are some notable exceptions to which we will return, but in keeping with communal Argonautic virtues, goddesses and women tend to act cooperatively, to dilute their agency, their dynamis, by enlisting allies.5

  • 6 In Homer dynamis is used of strength in combat (Il. 8.294; 13.786, 22.20; Od. 20.237; 2 (...)
  • 7 The association is not always consistent: Hypsipyle is unmarried but politically adept; (...)
  • 8 It is also true that the solar gaze of Helios’ descendants is hard to return: 4.683-84, 727-2 (...)

3I also further distinguish authority from power, both of which may serve as rough translations of dynamis, but whose differences generate much of the dramatic tension of the Argonautica and the Iliad. In both of these epics, physically powerful and individually heroic characters like Achilles and Heracles are distinguished from leaders whose political authority is exercised by and mediated through the community, like Agamemnon, Hypsipyle, or Jason. These two aspects of dynamis may overlap, of course, and such notional boundaries are necessarily flexible:6 the powerful Heracles is the Argonauts’ first choice as leader, while Jason enjoys an aristeia at the end of Book 3, but for the most part power and political authority are inversely proportionate in the Argonautica. This is particularly true of female characters, which tend to be authoritative rather than physically dominant. Those who are politically influential also tend to be married (and mothers) (like Hera and Aphrodite);7 even the virgin warrior Athena has been re-imagined in procreative terms: her main contribution to the voyage concerns the Argo, which she builds and then subsequently shoves through the Clashing Rocks – a supernatural act of naval midwifery. By contrast, Medea, the daughter of the king and a priestess, apparently wields little in the way of political authority; she inclines toward apolitical isolation like her aunt the sorceress Circe. Medea is dangerously powerful, feared rather than celebrated by her own community. The Colchians, who are compared to woodland creatures terrified by Artemis, avoid making eye contact with her as she rides through the town (3.883-6).8

  • 9 M. B. Skinner, “Woman and Language in Archaic Greece, or, Why is Sappho a Woman?”, in N (...)
  • 10 See Goldhill (1995), p. 137-142.
  • 11 J. Redfield, The Locrian Maidens. Love and Death in Greek Italy, Princeton, 2003, p. 26 (...)

4Mythic and poetic narratives generally do characterize the agency of female characters (whether mortal or immortal) as threatening or disruptive.9 In historical, medical, and philosophical texts a woman’s exercise of “manly agency” (andreia) in political or military endeavors is unsurprisingly presented as an unusual and transgressive state.10 Such views encouraged restrictions on women’s activity in most public spheres, and if it is true that some cult rituals capitalized on what was seen as women’s innate instability by allowing them to serve as “patrons of transformation”,11 it is also evident that the embodiment of women – their physical nature as it differs from that of men – precluded confidence in their rational (hence authoritative) agency, particularly in areas regarded as masculine.

5Antiquity is by no means unique, of course, in its restrictive formulation of female agency:

  • 12 L. Meynell, “Introduction: Minding Bodies”, p. 5, in S. Campbell, L. Meynell and S. She (...)

[…]women’s culturally mediated activities of child bearing, mothering, and caring for others (particularly their emotional and bodily needs) positioned them, symbolically, as antithetical to the ideal autonomous agent; hence women and their traditional activities have been invisible in most political, ethical, and epistemological theories in the European tradition.12

  • 13 K. J. Gutzwiller and A. N. Michelini, “Women and Other Strangers: Feminist Perspectives in Cl (...)
  • 14 Ibidem, p. 74.
  • 15 Ibidem, p. 82, n. 45.
  • 16 K. J. Gutzwiller, A Guide to Hellenistic Literature, Malden and Oxford, 2007, p. 190-191. On (...)
  • 17 S. Pomeroy, Women in Hellenistic Egypt. From Alexander to Cleopatra, Detroit, 1990, xvi (...)
  • 18 M. B. Skinner, “Nossis Thêlyglôssis. The Private Text and the Public Book”, p. 124-125, in (...)
  • 19 M. B. Skinner, “Nossis Thêlyglôssis. The Private Text and the Public Book”, op. cit., (...)

6Yet ancient practices and cultural backgrounds did vary, and a rather different set of assumptions about behavior appropriate to women informs Hellenistic poetry than, for example, Athenian drama of the fifth-century. With regard to the latter, whether we assert that female spectators at the Greater Dionysia were included for sacral or excluded for political purposes, it seems fair to say that dramatic festivals in Athens presupposed an audience that was dominated by masculinist perspectives and for whom dramatizations of female agency, whether tragic or comic, were hypothetical “what if?” scenarios and perversions of “how things really and rightly are.” The scripted behavior of female protagonists bore little resemblance to social reality, and the drama, in short, was a locus for expérimentation.13 But with respect to women’s practical agency and its poetic articulation it is clear that something different was going on in third-century Alexandria. Nearly twenty years have passed since Gutzwiller and Michelini commented on the (at that time) new scholarly appreciation for Hellenistic poetry, which “as the product of an age in which women acquired new intellectual freedom, may have been influenced by a female presence in the literary readership”.14 By “female presence” they mean the Ptolemaic queen, for a poem like Theocritus Idyll 15 seems, as they note, to be “an example of a poem designed to please the female monarch”.15 The Alexandrian court poets necessarily sought to please their kings as well,16 but the cultural significance of Arsinoe II and Berenice II should not be underestimated inasmuch as the higher status of women in Ptolemaic Egypt was very much tied to the visibility of the queen.17 What is more, as the population of Greek-speaking women was becoming less “muted” socially and politically in Egypt, a female literary voice was emerging elsewhere in the Mediterranean. Sappho had long served, for better or worse, as the archetypal female artist – particularly for women like Nossis of Epizephyrean Locri, who evidently followed Sappho in circulating her epigrams within a small group of women while preparing a collection for a wider audience.18 While male poets like Meleager and Theocritus favorably acknowledged the style and substance of Nossis’ epigrams, it is perhaps Herodas’ parodic and hostile response that most firmly establishes what had become the identifiable (and hence threatening) contours of a truly female poetic voice.19

  • 20 K. J. Gutzwiller, “Genre Development and Gendered Voices in Erinna and Nossis”, op. cit (...)
  • 21 A. Lardinois, “Keening Sappho. Female Speech Genres in Sappho’s Poetry”, in A. Lardinois and (...)
  • 22 On the range of Helen’s characterization, see N. Worman, “This Voice Which is Not One: Helen’ (...)
  • 23 J. S. Clay, op. cit.; L. M. Slatkin, The Power of Thetis. Allusion and Interpretation in the (...)
  • 24 Characterized by A. Adkins, Merit and Responsibility, Oxford, 1960, as the “quiet” or “weaker (...)

7Unfortunately, as Gutzwiller observes, the achievements of Nossis and other female poets have all but disappeared from the western tradition, “because they were taken up by male poets and incorporated into poetry that was written once again from a masculine perspective”.20 Apollonius’ adaptation of heroic epic can be understood as a harbinger of this kind of stylistic incorporation, although it appears that he and the other (male) Alexandrian poets have been comparatively underserved when it comes to feminist criticism. While the examination of female agency in male-authored poems – even those that that flatter the interests of a queen – is not the same as interpreting poetry written by women or belonging to a traditionally female speech genre,21 it is nonetheless helpful to question how Apollonius adapted narrative agency to suit (as well as challenge) the expectations of his audience. Even the most casual reader of the Argonautica quickly appreciates the differences between its prominent female figures (e.g., Medea, Hypsipyle, Circe, Arete, Hera, Aphrodite, Athena, and Thetis) and the male-oriented action of Homeric epic, as Apollonius ventriloquizes female thoughts and ideas and maps a more female perspective onto a traditionally patriarchal genre. On the other hand, it would be a mistake to argue that female characters in Homeric epic have no power and no agency; the contrast between, for example, the authoritative Helen of the Odyssey and her unhappy Iliadic counterpart suggests that the epic representation of women was never limited to one perspective or mode.22 Homeric portrayals of goddesses are similarly flexible for any number of reasons, but as several foundational studies of Homeric characterization have demonstrated, narratives about the agency of goddesses are typically adumbrated by those of male heroes: Athena’s wrath at Odysseus is crucial to the structure of the Odyssey, and yet the impetus for it remains obscure; the story of Thetis’ procreative power to unseat Zeus’ rule and her wrath at her unfavorable marriage are both subsumed in the tragic narrative of Achilles.23 The Argonautica’s problematic restructuring of the Homeric heroic ethos is thus complemented by an equally problematic enunciation of female agency. In addition, the later epic supplants the Homeric glorification of martial combat with, among other things, a celebration of fairness, moderation, and self-control in scenes of (mostly) successful negotiation, cooperation, and diplomacy.24 Rhetorical displays are crucial in Apollonius’ formulation of authority: both narrator and characters are preoccupied with the art of communication, with knowing when to speak and how much to say.

  • 25 Arsinoe was already a mother, as she had had three sons with her first husband, Lysimachus of (...)
  • 26 See, e.g., S. M. Burstein, “Arsinoë Philadelphos: A Revisionist View.”, in W. L. Adams and E. (...)
  • 27 On royal Egyptian brother-sister marriage, see S. Pomeroy, op. cit., p. 16. On poetic r (...)
  • 28 R. Hunter, The Argonautica of Apollonius: literary studies, Cambridge, 1993, p. 161-162; A. M (...)
  • 29 “Familiarity breeds: Incest and the Ptolemaic dynasty.” JHS 125, 2005, p. 1-34.
  • 30 On the Ptolemaic affinity for tryphe, see also J. Tondriau, “La tryphe: philosophie roy (...)

8This new emphasis on female authority likely owes something (as was earlier suggested) to the prominence of Arsinoe, a cultural patron much celebrated in Alexandrian poetry. The political value of Arsinoe’s (childless)25 marriage to her brother continues to be a point of controversy,26 but the Ptolemies represented this union as a hieros gamos (“sacred marriage”) akin to the consanguineous unions of Isis and Osiris or of Hera and Zeus (Theocr. Id. 17.128-34).27 An additional model (or justification) was the marriage of the epic rulers Alcinous and Arete.28 Homer describes Arete as Alcinous’ niece (Od. 7.53-68), and an Alexandrian scholiast even notes, presumably as a response to the royal marriage, that Hesiod identified Arete as the sister of Alcinous. Sibling marriage was thus a mark of authority, both divine and royal, and while many scholars have worked very hard to rationalize the seemingly awkward choice of the royal epithet “Philadelphus,” the simplest solution may well be the most plausible. As S. Ager29 suggests, neither Ptolemy nor Arsinoe were trying to downplay their marriage: incest and truphe (delicacy, luxury) were symbols of their authority and were deliberately promoted at the time as the “twin pillars of the Ptolemaic royal programme” (p. 25).30

  • 31 For an overview of the debate see R. A. Hazzard, op. cit., p. 82-100, esp. 96-99.
  • 32 The strongest proponent of the “weak Arsinoe” thesis is S. M Burstein (op.cit.). S. Pomeroy, (...)
  • 33 “In the 260s, the Greeks attributed to her a strong influence on Ptolemaic foreign policy whi (...)
  • 34 S. M. Burstein, op. cit., p 208.
  • 35 R. A. Hazzard, op. cit., p. 95-96; S. Pomeroy, op. cit., p. 17-20; J. Rowlandson (ed.), Women (...)
  • 36 “The Foreign Policy of Ptolemy II”, in P. McKechnie and P. Guillaume (eds.), Ptolemy II Phila (...)
  • 37 Op. cit.
  • 38 “The Languages of Praise: 3: Posidippus and the Ideology of Kingship”, in M. Fantuzzi and R.  (...)

9Arsinoe’s political influence has also been the subject of scholarly debate. The exact nature and extent of her involvement in both internal affairs and international negotiations is unclear,31 but there is very little evidence, at least on the Greek side, to prove that Philadelphus shared power with her. Any official power she had was probably limited, although this need not necessarily have curtailed her unofficial influence, particularly with respect to foreign policy.32 Numerous port settlements were named for her, and the iconic image of the deified Arsinoe may have held more sway than she herself did. The Chremonidean decree, recorded in 268 after Arsinoe’s death, probably in 270, states that Philadelphus continued to favor the common freedom of the Greeks “in accordance with the policy of his ancestors and his sister” (ἀκολούθως τεῖ τῶν προγόνων καὶ τεῖ τῆς ἀδελφῆς προαιρέσει, Syll. 3.434-5 = IG II 687).33 S. M. Burstein argues that the reference to Arsinoe’s “policy” was purely honorific and cannot be seen as evidence for a real role in foreign diplomacy.34 But some weigh the Egyptian material more heavily, questioning the limited and largely hostile Greek evidence on the ground that it was prejudiced against female rule.35 Whatever Arsinoe’s political role in life may have been it is clear that both her marriage to her brother and her widespread personal cult were ideologically significant. Votives dedicated to Arsinoe Philadelphus have been found in ports that served the Ptolemaic fleet all over the Mediterranean, and in the words of C. Marquaille36: “Ptolemy used the name of Arsinoe to give an identity, a color to the representation of his empire as a sea power” (p. 58-59). Ptolemy’s admiral Callicrates of Samos dedicated a temple to Arsinoe-Aphrodite-Zephyritis on the coast not far from Alexandria, where Arsinoe was worshipped as a protector of sea travelers (as Euploia) and of the Greek maidens preparing for marriage (as Ourania). The Macedonian poet Posidippus celebrated the dedication of this temple (116, 39, and 119 Austin-Bastianini). As these epigrams show, the goddess Arsinoe was dedicated to the protection of ships and virgins (116.8-9), and with respect to Arsinoe’s “foreign policy,” it is tempting to conclude with Hauben37 that the “proairesis of Arsinoe for the freedom of the Greeks could then be considered as a manifestation of her preoccupation with the maintenance of the Ptolemaic naval empire. The Arsinoe of the decree of Chremonides is no one other than Arsinoe-Aphrodite” (p. 119). As M. Fantuzzi38 observes, Callicrates and Posidippus were particularly interested in these two manifestations of Arsinoe, and so it is not surprising to find that a poem by another member of Posidippus’ literary set would focus on a group of sea travelers who benefit from the intervention of goddesses of marriage and love.

10With Arsinoe in mind both as a member of the audience and as a contemporary analogue for Apollonius’ depiction of authoritative females, I’d like to look more closely at the characterization of Hera. In the Iliad the goddess regularly intercedes on behalf of her favorites, namely the people of Argos and Sparta and Mycenae (Il. 4.52), and in particular the heroes Achilles and Agamemnon, whom, as we are told, “she loved and cared for equally” (Il. 1.195). Their quarrel puts her in a difficult position: to honor Achilles is to destroy the Achaeans (1.558-9), but she acts whenever the battle favors Hector and the Trojans and even goes so far as to assault other gods: sending Athena to attack Aphrodite (21.419-425), and personally striking Artemis with her own bow (21.490-92). For the most part, however, Hera enlists the aid of the other gods (e.g., Athena 5.711-18; Zeus 5.755-6; Poseidon 8. 350-56, 8.198-207) to defend the Achaeans and Achilles (20.112-31), calling on Hephaestus to help Achilles against the river Xanthus (21.328-41), and secretly sending Iris to rouse Achilles for battle while Thetis asks Hephaestus for new armor (18.167-69). Zeus confronts Hera for doing this, mocking her for acting as though she were the “mother” of the Achaeans: ἦ ῥά νυ σεῖο / ἐξ αὐτῆς ἐγένοντο κάρη κομόωντες Ἀχαιοί (Il. 18.359-60). The implication is that while Thetis is justified for protecting Achilles, Hera’s maternal interest is only a foil for her hatred of the Trojans, and indeed she herself professes her hatred of them only a few lines later (18.367). Undaunted and perhaps even in response to this criticism, Hera is later shown to emphasize her motherly attachment to Thetis (and therefore Achilles by extension) when she argues with Apollo about the mistreatment of Hector’s corpse (24.55-63).

  • 39 This is truer of male gods than female. D. C. Feeney, The Gods in Epic. Poets and Criti (...)

11Descriptions of divine machinery are reduced in the Argonautica,39 but Hera still continues to operate in much the same way as she does in Homer: she calls on other gods for aid as she is once again driven to intervene by vengeance that is once again framed as maternal protectiveness – although I think the effect in the later poem is much more favorable. In two lengthy and important scenes she takes action to ensure that Medea will be brought back to punish Pelias: the interview with Aphrodite at the beginning of Book 3 – and here her pseudo-maternal fondness for Jason contrasts with Aphrodite’s vexed relations with her real son Eros – and the audience with Thetis whom, as she tells the goddess, she has raised from infancy (4.790-92). Thus, in both poems claims of motherhood underscore and help to legitimate female intercession and authority. Noticeably absent is Hera’s verbal jousting with Zeus, so prominent throughout the Iliad, although the Ptolemaic association of Hera and Zeus with Arsinoe and Ptolemy makes Apollonius’ choice in this matter easy enough to understand. We never see Hera bickering or cowering in fear before her husband, nor do we see her arming for war or engaging in physical violence: her actions with respect to the gods are limited to acts of persuasion, and the overall effect, in terms of tone, is to elevate her.

12Mortal characters, as it happens, do not see Hera at all (cf. Il. 1.208). Jason does not know the identity of the old woman he carries over the Anaurus; Hera’s agency is mostly hidden from the Argonauts; and it is left to the prophet Phineus to explain that of all the gods the most concerned with Argo’s voyage is Hera (2.216-17). At one point the Argonauts do hear her terrifying, aether-shaking cry of warning about Ocean (4.640-42) – an action that recalls the Homeric Hera who gives voice to the natural world: honoring Agamemnon with portentous thunder during his arming scene at Iliad 11.45-46 and granting speech to Achilles’ horse Xanthus at 19.407. There is a greater divide between the mortal and divine worlds in Apollonius than there is in Homer, but this division serves to highlight the activity of Hera, who enlists many allies and modes of expression in order to bridge that gulf. As Hunter observes:

  • 40 R. Hunter, The Argonautica of Apollonius: literary studies, op. cit., p. 78-79.

The Argonauts’ protecting deity, Hera, works through silent action or suggestion (3.250, 818, 4.11, 1184-5, 1199-1200), through signs (3.931 a talking crow, 4.294 a shooting star, 510 lightning, 640-2 a scream), and through the words and actions of characters. Her only “personal appearances” in the poem are the scene on Olympus which opens Book 3 and her appeal to Thetis in Book 4.40

  • 41 Hera puts courage into Ancaeus 2.865; fear into Medea 4.11.

13The reach of Hera’s hidden agency extends to mind control as well (as is of course true of many gods). In the Iliad the best-known example is Hera’s sexual beguiling of Zeus (14.160), but she also has a habit of putting ideas in the phrenes of her mortal favorites (ἐπὶ φρεσὶ θῆκε). In Book 1 she prompts Achilles to call an assembly and to discover the cause of Apollo’s anger (1.55), and later in Book 8 she prompts Agamemnon to rouse the Achaeans and to prevent the Trojans from burning their ships (8.218). Athena does this kind of thing in the Odyssey, affecting both Odysseus (5.427) and Penelope (18.158, 21.1), but in the Argonautica, interestingly, only Hera and the erotic deities are represented as acting this way: Aphrodite wreaks havoc on Lemnos (1.609-19), Eros is said to affect Medea when she first sees Jason and then later when she plots to kill Apsyrtus (3.275-90; 4.449), and on two occasions Hera prevents Medea from killing herself (3.818, 4.20-23).41

  • 42 For further discussion of this episode see also A. Mori, “Personal Favor and Public Influence (...)
  • 43 R. Hunter, The Argonautica of Apollonius: literary studies, op. cit., p. 70-71.

14All of these aspects of the Homeric and the Apollonian Hera’s modus operandi culminate in the Phaeacian episode in Argonautica Book 4 (esp. 4.1068-1200).42 Arete asks Alcinous to defend Medea from the pursuing Colchians, and when Alcinous tells Arete that he will not send Medea home if she is married, Arete tiptoes out and makes arrangements for a midnight wedding. The scene takes place at night while the couple are in bed, and it has been rightly been understood by Hunter as a revision of Hera’s seduction of Zeus in Iliad 14.43 The same éléments – intercession, marital intimacy, and mental suggestion – are present in both episodes, but in the later epic they are bearing fruit and multiplying. Arete intercedes as a consequence of Hera’s intercession; Arete is in bed with her husband as Hera was with Zeus and as Medea will be with Jason. Most striking is the narrator’s announcement that Hera is praised for affecting Arete (4.1197-1200):

ἄλλοτε δ’ αὖτε
οἰόθεν οἶαι ἄειδον ἑλισσόμεναι περὶ κύκλον,
Ἥρη, σεῖο ἕκητι· σὺ γὰρ καὶ ἐπὶ φρεεσὶ θῆκας
Ἀρήτῃ πυκινὸν φάσθαι ἔπος Ἀλκινόοιο.

Then sometimes
They sang without him [Orpheus] swirling about in a circle,
Hera, honoring you, for you gave Arete the idea
To declare the wise word of Alcinous.

  • 44 On the Egyptian king as intermediary, see further A. Mori, The Politics of Apollonius Rhodius (...)
  • 45 The Transformation of Hera. A Study of Ritual, Hero, and the Goddess in the Iliad, Lanham, (...)

15It is not clear how the chorus know that Hera influenced Arete, or whether we are to reduce “Hera” here to the psychological impulse to get married or to arrange marriages, but by breaking the narrative the vocative reinforces the impression that the intercession of Apollonius’ Hera is to be admired, making it clear that she is not the same as Homer’s rebellious deceiver. In truth it is rather difficult to distinguish the agency of Arete from the agency of Hera in this episode, and the blurring of the two suggests the cultic blurring of the Olympians with their Ptolemaic avatars. It is tempting, moreover, to connect this scene with the agency of the Ptolemies themselves, whose intercession between gods and men is responsible for the stability and prosperity of the world,44 but even apart from such speculation it is apparent that Hera’s agency here is presented more favorably than that of her Homeric machinations. The reference to praise in lines 4.1199-1200 is telling, as is the shift of the beguiling (if that is what is really going on) from Hera to Arete. More importantly, where the deceptiveness of the Homeric Hera is regularly stressed, particularly in connection with the Book 14 Dios apate (Il. 1.545; 14.160, 197, 300, 329, 360; 15.14; 19.97), this emphasis is missing – together with Zeus himself – from the Argonautica. J. O’Brien45 has suggested that the Panhellenic ideology of the Iliad favored Zeus and transformed Hera into a scheming wife (see p. 206), and it seems that the demands of Ptolemaic ideology called in turn for a different transformation, from a scheming wife to an authoritative maternal figure.

  • 46 Phineus (3.555), Jason (3.575), Circe (4.688), and Apollo (2.519) each are said to make a com (...)

16One final point: the supplanting of Zeus’s authority is underscored by Apollonius’ use of the term ἐφετμή (“command”). In Homer we hear of the commands of Zeus (Il. 15.593; 24.570; 24.586), Apollo (5.508), and Thetis (18.216). In the Argonautica, commands are most often said to be issued by kings like Pelias or Aeetes (1.279, 918; 2.210, 615, 763, 1152; 3.390) or, once again, by Hera (4.757, 845, 858-59).46 These variations could be put down to the various exigencies of the plot, but when we learn that Thetis and the Nereids have obeyed the commands of the wife of Zeus, ἀλόχοιο Διὸς πόρσυνον ἐφετμάς (4.967), it becomes clear that the Argonautica is subverting not only Homeric formulae (Διὸς δ’ ἐτέλειον ἐφετμάς (15.593), Διὸς δ’ ἀλίτωμαι ἐφετμάς (24.570), Διὸς δ’ ἀλίτηται ἐφετμάς (24.586)), but also the Homeric dynamic itself.

17I have suggested that the Argonautica explicitly honors Hera for interceding with allies, words, signs, and portents to bridge the divide between gods and mortals; of all the gods it is Hera who, in the extent of her sway and the range of her influence, spanning air and earth and sea, confounds the imagination and calls for praise and celebration. I would now like to conclude with a glance at the implications of this model of agency for Medea, who is undoubtedly the most important character in the epic, not simply because of the attention paid to her psychology but also because of the ways in which her agency contrasts with that of Hera. Medea’s violence, much like that of Heracles, is called into question in Book 4. Near the end of the poem the narrator ponders Medea’s impending destruction of Talus, the bronze giant who guards Rhodes (4. 1673-75):

Ζεῦ πάτερ, ἦ μέγα δή μοι ἐνὶ φρεσὶ θάμβος ἄηται,
εἰ δὴ μὴ νούσοισι τυπῇσί τε μοῦνον ὄλεθρος
ἀντιάει, καὶ δή τις ἀπόπροθεν ἄμμε χαλέπτει,
ὡς ὅ γε χάλκειός περ ἐὼν ὑπόειξε δαμῆναι
Μηδείης βρίμῃ πολυφαρμάκου.

Father Zeus, great terror truly causes turmoil in my mind
If destruction really strikes not only with diseases and wounds
But even someone at a distance harms us,
As he, though bronze, yielded in defeat to
The power of Medea, skilled in spells.

  • 47 Cf. 1.242 “Ζεῦ ἄνα, τίς Πελίαο νόος…;” (“King Zeus, what does Pelias intend?”).
  • 48 R. Hunter, The Argonautica of Apollonius: literary studies, op. cit., p. 87-88: “Hera dominates the (...)

18This address to Zeus at the end of the voyage recalls one that takes place at its outset,47 and links the fate of Talus with that of Pelias, as both of them are killed by Medea’s far-reaching power. Talus is felled by a barrage of curses much as a pine tree, abandoned in the forest, half cut by woodsmen, is felled by night breezes (4.1680-88), a simile that in turn recalls the corresponding description of the strength of Heracles, who is said – in a simile that could be taken to suggest that Heracles outsized strength threatens the Argo – to rip a tree from the ground as a wintry wind destroys the mast of a ship (1.1201-1205). Yet unlike Pelias, Talus’ fate is not tied to Argo’s successful voyage: Talus has not offended Hera or any of the other gods, and the Argonauts were already prepared to search for another harbor, although the narrator notes that they were weary and that the detour would have taken them far from Crete and much prolonged their suffering (4.1649-52). The lack of a pressing reason to kill Talus makes Medea’s single-handed (μούνη 4.1654) assault, her final act in the epic, appear as extreme and unmotivated as Heracles’ self-willed attempt to row the Argo (4.1168-70), and yet it is as beneficial as his killing of the dragon Ladon, an act that similarly saves the Argonauts from further hardship (4.1436-60). Here and elsewhere in the poem Apollonius distinguishes the extremes of power held by autocratic individuals from the benefits of civilized authority that is socially diffused and hierarchically mediated. What is important to note here is that andreia can be transgressive (and/or beneficial) whether a man or a woman exercises it: gender is not the primary determinant for the quality of agency and political authority in the Argonautica. What Apollonius is questioning, it seems to me, is the cost of heroism regardless of who displays it. At the same time, Medea’s reckless self-reliance is contrasted with the representation of Hera as a composite authority figure (let’s call her Arsinoe-Hera-Arete), for with respect to the dynamics of the epic tradition, the querulous, accusatory Medea has effectively supplanted the querulous, accusatory Hera. Hera’s problematic violence in Iliad Book 21 has thus become Medea’s rather more problematic violence in Book 4 (in this episode and against Apsyrtus). Hera disappears from the narrative once Medea is married, perhaps, as Hunter has suggested, because the Argonauts’ nostos is now assured,48 but also, if this reading holds, because the poet wishes to distance this new Hera from her powerful instrument. Medea, like Achilles, her better half in the afterlife (4.814-14), is both mortal and mighty, and her destruction of Talus is a simulacrum of an Iliadic duel, as she uses force, βρίμη (4.1674: “le terrible pouvoir” tr. Vian), to ambush a man of bronze just as she ambushes her own family: her half-brother, her children. Like Heracles Medea is ill suited for married life: she shares in the guilt of the Euripidean tragedy that lies before her, but has no part of the diplomatic authority that is exercised in the Argonautica by men and women, gods and goddesses alike.

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Bibliographie

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DOI : 10.1163/9789004217140_014

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MORI A., “Piety and Diplomacy in Apollonius’ Argonautica”, in P. McKechnie and P. Guillaume (eds.), Ptolemy II Philadelphus and his World, Leiden and Boston, 2008, p. 149-69.
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—, “Acts of Persuasion in Hellenistic Epic: Honey-Sweet Words in Apollonius”, in I. Worthington (ed.), A Companion to Greek Rhetoric, Malden and Oxford, 2006, p. 458-72.

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—, “Writing Epic for the Ptolemaic Court”, in M. A. Harder, R. F. Regtuit, and G. C. Wakker (eds.), Apollonius Rhodius, Leuven, 2000, p. 195-215.

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Notes

1 On my view this identification does much to account for the difference between the negative figuration of Juno in Virgil’s Aeneid and Hera’s comparatively positive portrayal in the Argonautica. See B. F. McManus, Classics and Feminism: Gendering the Classics, New York, 1997, p. 96-107, who draws on the work of G. Duerst-Lahti and R. M. Kelly (eds.), Gender Power, Leadership, and Governance, Ann Arbor, 1995, in order to distinguish “sex-role crossovers” (the appropriation of characteristics normally attributed to a different sex), from “transgendered behaviors” that are appropriate for different sexes yet still affected by gender expectations. As McManus explains, Virgil’s destructive Juno is in keeping with the gender polarization of the Aeneid but contrasts with the “luminous transgendered moments” in the representation of Dido and Camilla (p. 107).

2 Argos has requested aid from Chalciope, but the scene is not narrated. See M. G. Plantinga, “The Supplication Motif in Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica”, p. 113, in M. A. Harder, R. F. Regtuit and G. C. Wakker (eds.), Apollonius Rhodius, Leuven, 2000, p. 105-128.

3 R. Parker, Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion, Oxford, 1983, p. 181; M. G. Plantinga, op. cit., p. 106.

4 A few lines later Medea manipulates the Argonauts by mentioning this supplication (4.1047-49): “you are not ashamed at the sight of me helplessly stretching my hands to the knees of a foreign queen.”

5 Cf. R. V. Albis, Poet and Audience in the Argonautica of Apollonius, Lanham, MD, 1996, p. 112-113, on the predominance of female aid in the Argonautica, esp. in the second half of the poem.

6 In Homer dynamis is used of strength in combat (Il. 8.294; 13.786, 22.20; Od. 20.237; 21.202; 23.1280); cf. discussions of skill in expression (Gorg. fr. 11 l. 87; Dion. Hal. Thuc. 5), the physicality of animals and the young (e.g., Xen. Cyn. 10.17.1; Antiph. 3.2.10) or the body in general (Aristotle; medical writers). It is also used of divine aid to mortals (e.g., Hes. Th. 420 (Hecate); Posidippus 101.2 (Asclepius)); cf. Pindar’s appeal to for the aid of Tolma (“Daring”) and Dynamis (Ol. 9. 82), as well an individual’s ability to help or benefit others (Pl. Symp. 218e1; Xen. Oec. 7.14; Eur. Tro. 1144). Others commonly associate dynamis with political domination by gods (Pind. Ol. 13.83, Nem. 6.3; Eur. Alc. 220, Orest. 1546), monarchs (Aesch. Pers. 174; Hdt. 3.142.9; 3.155.6, and esp. 8.140.30), or states and other political groups (Hdt. 8.143.3; Thuc. 1.21.3; 2.41.2; 2.97.3; 6.16.2; Dem. Olynth. 2.14; Xen. Hell. 4.2.17; 5.2.15; Ar. Lys. 698).

7 The association is not always consistent: Hypsipyle is unmarried but politically adept; Medea’s marriage brings her exile rather than influence.

8 It is also true that the solar gaze of Helios’ descendants is hard to return: 4.683-84, 727-29.

9 M. B. Skinner, “Woman and Language in Archaic Greece, or, Why is Sappho a Woman?”, in N. S. Rabinowitz and A. Richlin (eds.), Feminist Theory and the Classics, New York and London, 1993, p. 125-144: “Language in a patriarchal culture originates with man, who locates himself as discursive subject and positive reference point of thought; woman is relegated simultaneously to the negative pole of any conceptual antithesis and to a subordinate object position. She can be defined only in terms of her alterity, named in a way that inevitably reduces itself to ‘not-man.’ Linguistic transgression, then, must necessarily precede and facilitate her political resistance” (p. 125). See e.g., J. S. Clay’s discussion of the Homeric Hymns: “The permanence and stability of Zeus’ cosmos demands, in turn, a concomitant restriction of the female with her disruptive powers of seduction and her dangerous potential for producing a rival or successor to Zeus” (The Wrath of Athena: Gods and Men in the Odyssey, Lanham, Boulder, New York and London, 2nd ed. 1997, p. 268).

10 See Goldhill (1995), p. 137-142.

11 J. Redfield, The Locrian Maidens. Love and Death in Greek Italy, Princeton, 2003, p. 26. Women were often denied participation in sacrifices, however: M. Dillon, Girls and Women in Classical Greek Religion, London and New York, 2002, p. 236-267.

12 L. Meynell, “Introduction: Minding Bodies”, p. 5, in S. Campbell, L. Meynell and S. Sherwin (eds.), Embodiment and Agency, University Park, 2009, p. 1-21; see further L. Schiebinger, The Mind has no Sex? Women and the Origins of Modern Science, Cambridge, MA, 1989; N Tuana, The Less Noble Sex: Scientific, Religious, and Philosophical Conceptions of Woman’s Nature, Bloomington, 1993.

13 K. J. Gutzwiller and A. N. Michelini, “Women and Other Strangers: Feminist Perspectives in Classical Literature”, p. 71, in J. E. Hartman and E. Messer-Davidow (eds.) (En)Gendering Knowledge: Feminists in Academe, Knoxville, 1991, p. 66-84.

14 Ibidem, p. 74.

15 Ibidem, p. 82, n. 45.

16 K. J. Gutzwiller, A Guide to Hellenistic Literature, Malden and Oxford, 2007, p. 190-191. On differences in the characterization of the monarchy, see most recently Stefano Caneva, “Courtly love, stars, and power. The Queen in Third-century Royal Couples, through Poetry and Epigraphic Texts”, presented at the Groningen Workshop on Hellenistic Poetry in Context (August 2010).

17 S. Pomeroy, Women in Hellenistic Egypt. From Alexander to Cleopatra, Detroit, 1990, xvii-xviii.

18 M. B. Skinner, “Nossis Thêlyglôssis. The Private Text and the Public Book”, p. 124-125, in E. Greene (ed.), Women Poets in Ancient Greece and Rome, Norman, 2005, p. 112-138; K. J. Gutzwiller, “Genre Development and Gendered Voices in Erinna and Nossis”, in Y. Prins and M. Shreiber (eds.), Dwelling in Possibility: Women Poets and Critics on Poetry, Ithaca and London, 1997, p. 202-222. On the extant works of Nossis and other Hellenistic women poets (Anyte, Moero, and Erinna), see J. M. Snyder, The Woman and the Lyre. Women Writers in Classical Greece and Rome, Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1989, p. 64-98.

19 M. B. Skinner, “Nossis Thêlyglôssis. The Private Text and the Public Book”, op. cit., p. 127-128; M. B. Skinner, “Woman and Language in Archaic Greece, or, Why is Sappho a Woman?”, op. cit., p. 216-221, citing O. Crusius, Untersuchungen zu den Mimiamben des Herondas, Leipzig, 1892.

20 K. J. Gutzwiller, “Genre Development and Gendered Voices in Erinna and Nossis”, op. cit., p. 203.

21 A. Lardinois, “Keening Sappho. Female Speech Genres in Sappho’s Poetry”, in A. Lardinois and L. McClure (eds.), Making Silence Speak: Women’s Voices in Greek Literature and Society, Princeton, 2001, p. 74-92.

22 On the range of Helen’s characterization, see N. Worman, “This Voice Which is Not One: Helen’s Verbal Disguises in Homeric Epic”, in A. Lardinois and L. McClure (eds.), Making Silence Speak: Women’s Voices in Greek Literature and Society, op. cit., p. 19-37.

23 J. S. Clay, op. cit.; L. M. Slatkin, The Power of Thetis. Allusion and Interpretation in the Iliad, Berkeley, 1991.

24 Characterized by A. Adkins, Merit and Responsibility, Oxford, 1960, as the “quiet” or “weaker” virtues: see K. J. Gutzwiller and A. N. Michelini, “Women and Other Strangers: Feminist Perspectives in Classical Literature”, op. cit., p. 69-75, on the alteration of gender values in the Hellenistic period.

25 Arsinoe was already a mother, as she had had three sons with her first husband, Lysimachus of Thrace: her second husband (and half-brother) Ptolemy Ceraunus was said to have killed two during the wedding celebration (Justin 24.2-3; Trogus, Prolog. 24.5).

26 See, e.g., S. M. Burstein, “Arsinoë Philadelphos: A Revisionist View.”, in W. L. Adams and E. N. Borza (eds.), Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Macedonian Heritage, Washington, 1982, p. 197-212; E. Carney, “The reappearance of royal sibling marriage in Ptolemaic Egypt”, PP 42, 1987, p. 420-439; R. A. Hazzard, Imagination of a Monarchy: Studies in Ptolemaic Propaganda, Toronto and Buffalo, 2000, p. 81-100; W. Huß, Ägypten in hellenistischer Zeit 332-30 v. Chr., Munich, 2001, p. 306; S. Ager, op. cit.; K. Buraselis, “The Problem of the Ptolemaic Sibling Marriage: A Case of Dynastic Acculturation?”, in P. McKechnie and P. Guillaume (eds.), Ptolemy II Philadelphus and his World, Leiden and Boston, 2008, p. 291-302.

27 On royal Egyptian brother-sister marriage, see S. Pomeroy, op. cit., p. 16. On poetic references to the royal marriage, see Bouché-Leclercq (1903) p. 163 with n. 2. The marriage took place at some point after the removal of Arsinoe I, in approximately 275: Shipley (2000) p. 275; S. A. Stephens, Seeing Double: Intercultural Poetics in Ptolemaic Alexandria, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2003, p. 147. G. A. Hölbl, A History of the Ptolemaic Empire, tr. T. Saavedra, London and New York, 2001, dates the marriage to before 274 (see appendix), while R. A. Hazzard, op. cit., p. 90, dates the marriage to 273/2. On brother-sister marriage see further K. Hopkins, “Brother-sister Marriage in Roman Egypt”, Comparative Studies in Society and History 20, 1980, p. 303-354.

28 R. Hunter, The Argonautica of Apollonius: literary studies, Cambridge, 1993, p. 161-162; A. Mori, “Personal Favor and Public Influence. Arete, Arsinoë II, and the Argonautica”, OT 16, 2001, p. 85-106. See R. A. Hazzard, op. cit., p. 91-92 on the practice of flattering kings by praising Zeus.

29 “Familiarity breeds: Incest and the Ptolemaic dynasty.” JHS 125, 2005, p. 1-34.

30 On the Ptolemaic affinity for tryphe, see also J. Tondriau, “La tryphe: philosophie royale ptolémaïque”, RÉA 50, 1948, p. 49-54; U. Cozzoli, “La truphê nella interpretazione delle crisi politiche”, in Tra Grecia e Roma: Temi antichi e metodologie moderne,Rome, 1980, p. 133-45.

31 For an overview of the debate see R. A. Hazzard, op. cit., p. 82-100, esp. 96-99.

32 The strongest proponent of the “weak Arsinoe” thesis is S. M Burstein (op.cit.). S. Pomeroy, op. cit., p. 17-20, argues for her dominance, although she observes that written evidence supports Burstein’s view. See also G. Longega, Arsinoë II, Rome, 1968; E. Bevan, The House of Ptolemy: A History of Egypt under the Ptolemaic Dynasty, Chicago, 1968 ; G. H. Macurdy, Hellenistic Queens: A Study of Woman-Power in Macedonia, Seleucid Syria, and Ptolemaic Egypt, Baltimore, 1932 (reprint 1985).

33 “In the 260s, the Greeks attributed to her a strong influence on Ptolemaic foreign policy which was now strongly anti-Macedonian and eventually led to the Chremonidean war”, G. A. Hölbl, op. cit., p 40, n. 28 (Syll. I3, 34/35, 41.17). See further M. Fantuzzi and R. Hunter, Tradition and Innovation in Hellenistic Poetry, Cambridge, 2004, p. 380-381; H. Hauben, “Aspects du culte des souverains a l’époque des Lagid”, in L. Criscuolo and G. Geraci (eds.), Egitto e storia antica dall’ ellenismo all’età araba, Bologna, 1989, p. 441-467.

34 S. M. Burstein, op. cit., p 208.

35 R. A. Hazzard, op. cit., p. 95-96; S. Pomeroy, op. cit., p. 17-20; J. Rowlandson (ed.), Women and Society in Greek and Roman Egypt. A Sourcebook, Cambridge, 1998, p. 30-31.

36 “The Foreign Policy of Ptolemy II”, in P. McKechnie and P. Guillaume (eds.), Ptolemy II Philadelphus and his World, Leiden and Boston, 2008, p. 39-64.

37 Op. cit.

38 “The Languages of Praise: 3: Posidippus and the Ideology of Kingship”, in M. Fantuzzi and R. Hunter, Tradition and Innovation in Hellenistic Poetry, op. cit., p. 377-403.

39 This is truer of male gods than female. D. C. Feeney, The Gods in Epic. Poets and Critics of the Classical Tradition, Oxford, 1991, remarks that “Apollonius for long keeps us in suspense as to how (or even, perhaps, whether) he will represent the gods in the narrative” (p. 69); yet he also notes that “Hera is as much part of the narrative as any Argonaut, with speech, gesture, and emotion figured in the text, while Zeus, with whose name she is so often linked as consort, is not with her ever, nor once represented in the narrative” (p. 65).

40 R. Hunter, The Argonautica of Apollonius: literary studies, op. cit., p. 78-79.

41 Hera puts courage into Ancaeus 2.865; fear into Medea 4.11.

42 For further discussion of this episode see also A. Mori, “Personal Favor and Public Influence. Arete, Arsinoë II, and the Argonautica”, OT 16, 2001, p. 85-106, and The Politics of Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica, Cambridge, 2008, p. 127-139.

43 R. Hunter, The Argonautica of Apollonius: literary studies, op. cit., p. 70-71.

44 On the Egyptian king as intermediary, see further A. Mori, The Politics of Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica, op. cit., p. 146-149; on the ideology of Egyptian kingship see S. A. Stephens, Seeing Double: Intercultural Poetics in Ptolemaic Alexandria, op. cit., p. 49-64.

45 The Transformation of Hera. A Study of Ritual, Hero, and the Goddess in the Iliad, Lanham, 1993.

46 Phineus (3.555), Jason (3.575), Circe (4.688), and Apollo (2.519) each are said to make a command at one point.

47 Cf. 1.242 “Ζεῦ ἄνα, τίς Πελίαο νόος…;” (“King Zeus, what does Pelias intend?”).

48 R. Hunter, The Argonautica of Apollonius: literary studies, op. cit., p. 87-88: “Hera dominates the second half of the poem but disappears from the action possibly because the homecoming is assured…”

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Anatole Mori, « Mediation vs. force: thoughts on female agency in Apollonius Rhodius' Argonautica », Aitia [En ligne], 2 | 2012, mis en ligne le 11 juillet 2012, consulté le 22 décembre 2014. URL : http://aitia.revues.org/337 ; DOI : 10.4000/aitia.337

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Anatole Mori

University of Missouri - Columbia

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