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Hylas and the Nymphs. Artist: John William Waterhouse [1896] (Public Domain Image)

The Argonautica

by Apollonius Rhodius

tr. R.C. Seaton

with parallel Greek text


Book 1   |    Book 2   |    Book 3   |    Book 4   |   

The Argonautica tells the story of the journey of Jason and the Argonauts to the land of Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece. The story of the Argonauts was a traditional cycle of myths which Apollonius of Rhodes wove into this saga at the turn of the third century BCE. Apollonius, born about 270 BC, was a librarian at the great Library of Alexandria. He composed the Argonautica in his youth, but it got a poor reception in Alexandria. Rejected, he moved to Rhodes where he gained fame as a teacher, and his poem got more respect. Eventually he returned to Alexandria, where the Argonautica was finally acclaimed. Opinions differed in antiquity on the Argonautica; some Romans such as Virgil held it in high esteem. Quintillian and Longinus criticized it as mediocre.

In the Argonautica, Jason is impelled on his quest by King Peleas, who receives a prophecy that a man with one sandal would be his nemesis. Jason, a hero-in-training, loses a sandal in a river, arrives at the court of Peleas, and the epic is set in motion. So Peleas sends Jason off on the ultimate scavenger hunt for 'The Golden Fleece.' Jason assembles an 'A list' of Greek heroes, including Odysseus, Orpheus, Heracles and dozens of others. They journey in a great ship, the Argo, to the eastern end of the Black Sea, essentially to the ends of the earth. This story is also retold for young adults at this site in The Heroes, by Charles Kingsley.

The Argonautica has impacted our culture from the Aeneid to Star Trek. The Golden Fleece has become a byword for 'an unobtainable object.' And who can forget Ray Harryhausen's classic stop motion animation in the 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts?