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Erzahlung und Beschreibung in den Argonautika des Apollonios Rhodios: ein Beitrag zur Poetik des hellenistischen Epos.

This, like several other books on Apollonius that have emerged recently, are about to emerge, or are in progress, is a revised doctoral dissertation (Trier, 1992). The topic here, as Thiel makes clear in his introduction, is description, or more specifically ecphrasis, in the Argonautica, and indeed the reader will find a meticulously thorough analysis of this aspect of the Hellenistic epic. As the first full-length study on ecphrasis in the Argonautica, the book, as Thiel claims, does fill a gap in Apollonian scholarship.

The work falls into two major sections - Theorie und Methode and Text-analyse - surrounded by an introduction and conclusion. In the first section Thiel looks at ancient (Theon, Hermogenes, Aphthonius, and Nikolaos) and modern (Lessing, Friedlander, Rhode, Norden, Heinze, etc.) theorists on ecphrasis and concludes that there is no "unequivocal and comprehensive definition of this concept" (25) and that the only useful distinction one can make between description and narrative is Heinze's dictum (Virgils epische Technik) hat an ecphrasis involves a break in the narrative. He adds that because a literary phenomenon such as ecphrasis must always be viewed within the poetic of any given author, he approaches Apollonius' descriptive passages in the light of Hellenistic poetic conventions.

The methodology employed is clearly laid out in the first section and vigorously employed, though somewhat infelicitously augmented, in the next. Twenty-five passages in the Argonautica were selected for examination (they are listed on pp. 32-34). These come from a larger group: the twenty identified by Palm (Bemerkungen zur Ekphrase in der griechischen Literatur) and fourteen others added by Thiel, who then eliminated nine of that total on the grounds that they are so brief (from 2.5 to 7 lines in length) that they hardly break the narrative. In his analysis of each passage Thiel considers a range of attributes: exterior form, content, narrative components, metrical peculiarities, language (these are referred to as "structures" to each of which is ascribed a technical term in Greek). Then he examines the function, realism, and action/time of the ecphrasis, each of which can be identified as an instance of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. All twenty-five passages are categorized as nonexcursive (Type A, pure description inside the narrative), excursive (Type B, pure description outside the narrative), or mixed (Type AB, description that breaks through the narrative). The second section, Textanalyse, which comprises the bulk of the book, considers the selected passages under those categories.

Of the twenty-five scenes, eight are identified as Type B (pure excursus), three as Type A (pure nonexcursus), and the remaining fourteen as Type AB (a mixture). In his examination of the eight Type B passages Thiel observes that their arrangement varies from symmetrical to asymmetrical; that the spondeiazon is not a useful factor to consider in the evaluation of this category of ecphrasis; and that hapax legomena, neologisms, and catachreses underscore the difference between Apollonius and his models (aemulatio). Of greater importance, Type B passages possess three important features: "retardation" (i.e., of an important event), a "special function" (e.g., the calming of tempers in the case of Orpheus' song in book 1), and an "overlapping idea" (above all, the all-powerful control exerted by Eros).

Turning to Types A and AB, Thiel modifies the scheme used thus far. First, he divides purely narrative passages into two types: (1) "Motivische Skizze" and (2) "Motivischen Block" (i.e., mere sketches versus unified scenes). Next, considering the categorization of passages within each group, he offers further discriminating factors: a passage can either possess descriptive elements or not, can be characterized as [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] (Nikolaos' definition of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] or [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] (i.e., a passage that contains elements of technical terminology, a digression, or both), and can be designated as either "undetailliert" or "detailliert." Thus, under the second category, "Motivischen Block," there are actually four subgroups (2a, 2b, 2c, 2d): 2a entails the subcategory [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]; the last three are variations of the subcategory [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] (2b being "undetailliert," 2c being "detailliert" with no descriptive element, and 2d being "detailliert" with descriptive elements). Thiel catalogues all seventeen Type A and AB passages under 2b, 2c, and 2d. Thus the categories "Motivische Skizze" (1a and 1b) and "Motivischen Block" (2a) that were just created are immediately dropped from consideration.

A further refinement to the original scheme is added with the appearance of a new major category, Type C: speech, of which there is only one example (Aphrodite's description of the golden ball). Even this sole instance is not pure speech but a mixture of speech (C) and description (B; thus BC). All passages discussed are arranged according to this more elaborate scheme (227-29, with a legend offering eight further distinctions among the passages), which does help clarify a categorization that is rather complex and confusing.

After examining the remaining seventeen passages and comparing his results with his analysis of the first eight, Thiel reaches the following general conclusions:

(1) Passages which are purely or partially narrative (Type A, AB, BC [2b, 2c, 2d]) deal by and large with concrete facts and portray action.

(2) Passages which are purely descriptive (Type B) delay important occurrences, deal by and large with abstract facts, and portray situations.

(3) Type AB, 2d passages (narrative passages that are most descriptive) are closest to Type B, and a high proportion of both types of passages have Eros as a theme. This thematic interest, Thiel argues, reflects a central feature of the longest ecphrasis of the poem: the description of Jason's robe.

Like others who have dealt with Jason's cloak, Thiel examines the organization of the scenes (cf. Argo. 1.721-73). There are seven scenes on the cloak: Cyclops/Zeus, Amphion/Zethus, Aphrodite/Ares, Sons of Electryon/Teleboans, Pelops/Hippodamia, Apollo/Tityus, Phrixus/Ram (730-67). Yet on the basis that the last two scenes begin with a slightly different introductory formula [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] Thiel argues that a new section begins here which looks back to Athena's making of the cloak and instruction in the art of shipbuilding, the introduction to the ecphrasis (721-29). By setting these last two scenes of the cloak opposite the introduction, Thiel identifies [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] as a significant theme (Athena's skill of weaving and shipbuilding counterposed to Apollo's skill of archery), and also places the portrait of Aphrodite looking at her reflection in Ares' shield at the center of the five scenes that are now seen as the core of the ecphrasis and carry, in Thiel's words, the [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] of the cloak (i.e., the power of Eros, craft, and magic over brute force). I find this analysis of the structure of the passage unconvincing. The introductory formula [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] is not sufficiently different from the others [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], in that order) to signal a new beginning; and, since the two scenes are a part of the cloak, a new beginning is inappropriate. Once one includes the final two scenes within the structure of the cloak, the central scene changes, as does the interpretation of the whole.

In addition to challenging the centrality of the Aphrodite scene, I also question the didactic interpretation of the cloak in particular and, by extension, other instances of ecphrasis in the Argonautica. Thiel's reading of the cloak is much influenced by Gilbert Lawall's excellent and influential article "Apollonius' Argonautica: Jason as Anti-Hero" (YCS 19 [1966] 121-69). There (p. 157) Lawall argues, pace Thiel, that Jason was the intended recipient of the [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] of the cloak. Thiei (41) rightly rejects this view and proposes instead that the cloak's [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] is directed toward the reader (other instances of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] among the ecphrastic passages discussed are offered passim). Though I fully agree that the significance of the scenes on the cloak - however they are read, individually or collectively - is meant for the reader to ponder and that the power of love is an important motif both in the cloak and elsewhere in the poem, I never sense that Apollonius has it in mind to instruct the reader qua teacher but would rather appear to explore his various themes qua poet. Even the didactic poets of this era (e.g., Aratus and Nicander) appear to have been more interested in the aesthetics of their poetry than in the imparting of knowledge. [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] as the soul of Apollonian ecphrasis would be very disappointing.

When treating individual lines on the cloak (and other passages discussed), Thiel examines the relationship between the Argonautic text and its models, especially Homeric, and here too he makes good on his promise to approach ecphrasis in the context of contemporary poetics. There are many fine observations made along the way, of which I cite one. Thiel rightly calls our attention to the imitation of Il. 18.592 [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] at Argo. 1.742 [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]; not only will Ariadne's departure with Theseus be used in the seduction of Medea later on in the poem, but a cloak, used by Dionysus and Ariadne, which was passed down to Hypsipyle and given to Jason, will be used to trick Apsyrtus (65).

Despite the criticism mentioned above, I feel that Erzahlung and Beschreibung makes a contribution to Apollonian studies, both in its systematic examination of ecphrastic passages in the Argonautica and in its detailed interpretation of individual scenes. I disagree with some of the interpretations offered and find the format of the argument in general overly regimented, but the questions and points that Thiel raises have stimulated debate in a neglected area of the poem.

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Author:Clauss, James J.
Publication:American Journal of Philology
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1995
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