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Apollonius of Tyre: Medieval and Renaissance Themes and Variations.

The Historia Apollonii was a remarkably popular and long-lived work. Its origins lie out of sight, perhaps in third-century Greek or Latin. Its history can be traced ftom the late fifth century through over forty translations and adaptations, including versions in Old Norse, Danish, Dutch, Greek, Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Old, Middle and Modern English, culminating in its apotheosis in Shakespeare's (and his collaborator's) Pericles of 1609, the point at which Elizabeth Archibald's study ends. She discusses the structure, literary qualities, themes, sources and analogues of the Latin text, including possible originals for the tyrannical Antiochus; mediaeval and Renaissance versions of the story and their treatment of problematic areas of the text (such as what a gymnasium might be); the genre of the tale, and its changing reception. She also gives a text of the Historia based on the magisterial edition of G. A. A. Kortekaas (Groningen, I984), and a parallel translation. Two appendices list known versions of the story down to 1609, with bibliographies and summaries; and allusions, with sufficiently full quotations to show the context and purpose underlying the mention of the tale.

The Apollonius story remains strikingly consistent across all the redactions; even Shakespeare, not noted for his fidelity to fictional sources, changes singularly little. Despite its episodic appearance, Archibald argues that the Historia comprises a single coherent narrative, not a collection of plot motifs. The consistency with which the two parts of the story, Antiochus' incest and Apollonius' wanderings, appear together, confirms their interdependence throughout its history. The tale is held together structurally by its opening and closing riddle episodes, and its contrasting models of good and bad fatherhood and good and bad kingship. Its exemplary function, however, emerges from the work's history as very much secondary to its qualities as story. Apollonius' potential for being a model of Christian patience or good rule or the instability of Fortune is rarely developed: the version in the Gesta Romanorum gives far less in the way of Christian or allegorical interpretation than it provides for most of its tales; and Gower, despite his placing of the story just after his account of the education of a king, does not present it as a mirror for princes.

Archibald's explanation for the popularity and longevity of the Historia looks unexciting, but is all the more convincing for that: it is its |very lack of colour' that allowed it to be developed in different ways for different purposes. The narrative of the Historia is sparse, almost like a summary. It accordingly has the quality of so many paratactic texts, from Genesis to Malory and the traditional ballads, of suggesting more than it says: it grips the imagination precisely because it leaves so much for the imagination to work on. It is not the least remarkable feature of Pericles that it can retain that quality even after Shakespeare's own imagination has worked on it.
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Author:Cooper, Helen
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1992
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