Apollonius of Rhodes, also known as Apollonius Rhodius (Latin; Greek Ἀπολλώνιος Ῥόδιος Apollōnios Rhodios), early 3rd century BCE - after 246 BCE, was an epic poet, scholar, and director of the Library of Alexandria. He is best known for his epic poem the Argonautica, which told the mythological story of Jason and the Argonauts' quest for the Golden Fleece, and which is one of the chief works in the history of epic poetry.
From this we can conclude that (1) Apollonius was born in either Alexandria or Naucratis; (2) he lived for a time in Rhodes; (3) he held the post of Librarian at least until 246 BCE. From this in turn we may infer that he lived in the early-to-mid 3rd century BCE. Beyond this point lies speculation.
Καλλίμαχος, τὸ κάθαρμα, τὸ παίγνιον, ὁ ξυλινὸς νοῦς,
αἴτιος, ὁ γράψας Αἴτια Καλλιμάχου.
Callimachus: trash, cheat, wood-for-brains.
aitios ("guilty"): the one who wrote Callimachus' Aitia ("Causes").
In addition, multiple sources explain Callimachus' poem Ibis — which does not survive — as a polemic against an enemy identified as Apollonius. Between them, these references conjure up images of a sensational literary feud between the two figures. However, the truth of this story continues to be debated in modern scholarship, with views on both sides. Both of the Lives of Apollonius stress the friendship between the poets, the second Life even saying they were buried together; and some scholars doubt the sources that identify the Ibis as a polemic against Apollonius. There is still not a consensus, but most scholars of Hellenistic literature now believe the feud was enormously sensationalised, if it happened at all.
A second sensationalised story about Apollonius is the account in the Lives of how, as a young man, he gave a performance of his epic the Argonautica in Alexandria. He was universally mocked for it, and fled to Rhodes in shame. There he was feted by the Rhodians and given citizenship. After this, according to the second Life, he made a triumphant return to Alexandria, where he was promptly elevated to head of the Library. It is unlikely that much of this is factual; the story is a mixture of "local boy makes good" and "underdog makes a heroic comeback". Fairytale elements such as these are characteristic of ancient biographies.
Apollonius' epic also differs from the more traditional epic in its weaker, more human protagonist Jason and in its many discursions into local custom, aetiology, and other popular subjects of Hellenistic poetry. Apollonius also chooses the less shocking versions of some myths, having Medea, for example, merely watch the murder of Apsyrtus instead of murdering him herself. The gods are relatively distant and inactive throughout much of the epic, following the Hellenistic trend to allegorise and rationalise religion. Heterosexual loves such as Jason's are more emphasized than homosexual loves such as that of Heracles and Hylas, another trend in Hellenistic literature. Many critics regard the love of Medea and Jason in the third book as the best written and most memorable episode.
Opinions on the poem have changed over time. Some critics in antiquity considered it mediocre. Recent criticism has seen a renaissance of interest in the poem and an awareness of its qualities: numerous scholarly studies are published regularly, its influence on later poets like Virgil is now well recognised, and any account of the history of epic poetry now routinely includes substantial attention to Apollonius.
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