Apollonius Rhodius
BornEarly 3rd century BC
DiedLate 3rd century BC
Occupation(s)Epic poet, librarian, scholar

Apollonius of Rhodes (Ancient Greek: Ἀπολλώνιος Ῥόδιος Apollṓnios Rhódios; Latin: Apollonius Rhodius; fl. first half of 3rd century BC) was an ancient Greek author, best known for the Argonautica, an epic poem about Jason and the Argonauts and their quest for the Golden Fleece. The poem is one of the few extant examples of the epic genre and it was both innovative and influential, providing Ptolemaic Egypt with a "cultural mnemonic" or national "archive of images",[1] and offering the Latin poets Virgil and Gaius Valerius Flaccus a model for their own epics. His other poems, which survive only in small fragments, concerned the beginnings or foundations of cities, such as Alexandria and Cnidus places of interest to the Ptolemies, whom he served as a scholar and librarian at the Library of Alexandria. A literary dispute with Callimachus, another Alexandrian librarian/poet, is a topic much discussed by modern scholars since it is thought to give some insight into their poetry, although there is very little evidence that there ever was such a dispute between the two men. In fact almost nothing at all is known about Apollonius and even his connection with Rhodes is a matter for speculation.[2] Once considered a mere imitator of Homer, and therefore a failure as a poet, his reputation has been enhanced by recent studies, with an emphasis on the special characteristics of Hellenistic poets as scholarly heirs of a long literary tradition writing at a unique time in history.[3]



The most reliable information we have about ancient poets is largely drawn from their own works. Unfortunately, Apollonius of Rhodes reveals nothing about himself.[4] Most of the biographical material comes from four sources: two are texts entitled Life of Apollonius found in the scholia on his work (Vitae A and B); a third is an entry in the 10th-century encyclopaedia the Suda; and fourthly a 2nd-century BCE papyrus, P.Oxy. 1241, which provides names of several heads of the Library of Alexandria. Other scraps can be gleaned from miscellaneous texts. The reports from all the above sources however are scanty and often self-contradictory.

Main events

A coin showing Ptolemy III Euergetes, who may have been a pupil of Apollonius

Sensational stories

Ancient biographies often represent famous poets as going into exile to escape their ungrateful fellow citizens. Thus for example Homer was said to have left Cyme because the government there would not support him at public expense (Vit. Herod. 13-14), Aeschylus left Athens for Sicily because Athenians valued him less than some other poets (Vit. Aesch.), while Euripides fled to Macedonia because of humiliation by comic poets (Vit. Eur.). Similarly Vitae A and B tell us that Apollonius moved to Rhodes because his work was not well received in Alexandria. According to B, he redrafted the Argonautica in such fine style at Rhodes that he was able to return to Alexandria in triumph, where he was rewarded with a post in the library and finally a place in the cemetery next to Callimachus. These stories were probably invented to account for the existence of a second edition of Argonautica, indicated by variant readings in ancient manuscripts.[15]

Until recently modern scholarship has made much of a feud between Callimachus and Apollonius. The evidence partly rests on an elegiac epigram in the Palatine Anthology, attributed to "Apollonius the grammarian". It blames Callimachus for some unstated offense and mocks both him and his most famous poem, the Aetia ("Causes"):[16]

Ancient sources describe Callimachus's poem Ibis — which does not survive — as a polemic and some of them identified Apollonius as the target.[note 1] These references conjure up images of a sensational literary feud between the two figures. Such a feud is consistent with what we know of Callimachus's taste for scholarly controversy and it might even explain why Apollonius departed for Rhodes. Thus there arises "a romantic vision of scholarly warfare in which Apollonius was finally driven out of Alexandria by a triumphant Callimachus".[18] However, both of the Lives of Apollonius stress the friendship between the poets, the second Life even saying they were buried together; moreover Callimachus's poem Ibis is known to have been deliberately obscure and some modern scholars believe the target was never meant to be identified.[19] There is still not a consensus about the feud, but most scholars of Hellenistic literature now believe it has been enormously sensationalised, if it happened at all.[note 2]


Apollonius was among the foremost Homeric scholars in the Alexandrian period. He wrote the period's first scholarly monograph on Homer, critical of the editions of the Iliad and Odyssey published by Zenodotus, his predecessor as head of the Library of Alexandria. Argonautica seems to have been written partly as an experimental means of communicating his own researches into Homer's poetry and to address philosophical themes in poetry.[20] It has even been called "a kind of poetic dictionary of Homer", without at all detracting from its merits as poetry.[21] He has been credited with scholarly prose works on Archilochus and on problems in Hesiod.[22] He is also considered to be one of the period's most important authors on geography, though approaching the subject differently from Eratosthenes, his successor at the library and a radical critic of Homer's geography. It was a time when the accumulation of scientific knowledge was enabling advances in geographical studies, as represented by the activities of Timosthenes, a Ptolemaic admiral and a prolific author. Apollonius set out to integrate new understandings of the physical world with the mythical geography of tradition and his Argonautica was, in that sense, a didactic epic on geography, again without detracting from its merits as poetry.[23]

His poetry



Main article: Argonautica

The Argonautica differs in some respects from traditional or Homeric Greek epic, though Apollonius certainly used Homer as a model. The Argonautica is shorter than Homer's epics, with four books totalling fewer than 6000 lines, while the Iliad runs to more than 16,000. Apollonius may have been influenced here by Callimachus's brevity, or by Aristotle’s demand for "poems on a smaller scale than the old epics, and answering in length to the group of tragedies presented at a single sitting" (the Poetics).

Apollonius' epic also differs from the more traditional epic in its weaker, more human protagonist Jason and in its many digressions 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.[24] 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.


A handful of fragments are all that survive of his other work, mostly ktiseis (κτίσεις) or 'foundation-poems', apparently dealing with the mythical origins of cities, a theme that Apollonius also touches on in Argonautica (as for example in the foundation of Cius, 1.1321-23). The fragments have been given considerable attention recently, with speculation about their authenticity, about the subject matter and treatment of the original poems, their geo-political significance for Ptolemaic Egypt, and how they relate to Argonautika.[25]


Poetic style

Apollonius's poetic skills and technique have only recently come to be appreciated, with critical recognition of his successful fusing of poetry and scholarship.[34]


  1. ^ E.g. the Suda entry on Callimachus, Suda 227 s.v. Καλλίμαχος.
  2. ^ For different views of the feud see for example M. Lefkowitz 2011 "Myth and History in the Biography of Apollonius" in A Companion to Apollonius Rhodius (Brill, 51-71); P. Green, 1997, The Argonautika (Berkeley, 1-3); D.P. Nelis 1999 review of Green's book, in Journal of Hellenic Studies 119: 187. For a summary of contrasting views, see e.g. A. Cameron 1995, Callimachus and his Critics (Princeton, 214-228).



  1. ^ S. Stephens, Ptolemaic Epic, 96-8.
  2. ^ W. Race, Apollonius Rhodius: Argonautica, ix-x
  3. ^ T. Papanghelis and A. Rengakos, Editors' Introduction, xi-xii.
  4. ^ M. Lefkowitz, Myth and History in the Biography of Apollonius, 52
  5. ^ M. Lefkowitz, Myth and History in the Biography of Apollonius, 57
  6. ^ Strabo 14.2.13.
  7. ^ Athenaeus Deipnosophistae 7.19; Aelian On the nature of animals 15.23.
  8. ^ M. Lefkowitz, Myth and History in the Biography of Apollonius, 56-7.
  9. ^ A.W. Bulloch, Hellenistic Poetry, 587.
  10. ^ A. Bulloch, Hellenistic Poetry, 586
  11. ^ M. Lefkowitz, Myth and History in the Biography of Apollonius, 57
  12. ^ A.W. Bulloch, Hellenistic Poetry, 586
  13. ^ M. Lefkowitz, Myth and History in the Biography of Apollonius, 58, 61
  14. ^ E. Sistakou, In Search of Apollonius' 'Ktisis' Poems, 314.
  15. ^ M. Lefkowitz, Myth and History in the Biography of Apollonius, 59-61
  16. ^ Pal. Anth. 11.322.
  17. ^ Palatine Anthology 11.275, cited by W. Race, Apollonius Rhodius: Argonautica, 484
  18. ^ R. Hunter, Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica, Book III, 6.
  19. ^ A. Cameron, Callimachus and his Critics, 228.
  20. ^ Dee Clayman, Timon of Phlius 2009 ISBN 3110220806 pp 187-200.
  21. ^ A. Rengakos, Apollonius Rhodius as a Homeric Scholar, 244, 265.
  22. ^ W. Race, Apollonius Rhodius: Argonautica, xi
  23. ^ D. Meyer, Apollonius as a Hellenistic Geographer, 273–74, 277, 283.
  24. ^ Pseudo-Longinus On the sublime 33.4; Quintilian Institutio oratoria 10.1.54.
  25. ^ E. Sistakou, In Search of Apollonius' 'Ktisis' Poems, 312-13.
  26. ^ E. Sistakou, In Search of Apollonius' 'Ktisis' Poems, 327-28.
  27. ^ R. Glei, Outlines of Apollinian Scholarship 1955-1999, 15.
  28. ^ Stephanus's entry is quoted from the translation in W. Race, Apollonius Rhodius: Argonautica, 477.
  29. ^ E. Sistakou, In Search of Apollonius' 'Ktisis' Poems, 323.
  30. ^ W. H. Race, Apollonius Rhodius: Argonautica, 480-81.
  31. ^ E. Sistakou, In Search of Apollonius' 'Ktisis' Poems, 336.
  32. ^ E. Sistakou, In Search of Apollonius' 'Ktisis' Poems, 313
  33. ^ W. H. Race, Apollonius Rhodius, 473
  34. ^ A. Rengakos, Apollonius Rhodius as a Homeric Scholar, 265.


  • Bulloch, A.W. (1985), "Hellenistic Poetry", in P. Easterling; B. Knox (eds.), The Cambridge History of Classical Literature: Greek Literature, Cambridge University Press
  • Cameron, A (1995), Callimachus and His Critics, Princeton
  • Green, P. (1997), The Argonautika, Berkeley
  • Hunter, R. L. (1989), Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautika, Book III, Cambridge University Press
  • Lefkowitz, Mary R. (2011), "Myth and History in the Biography of Apollonius", in T. Papaghelis; A. Rengakos (eds.), Brill's Companion to Apollonius Rhodius (2nd, revised ed.), Brill
  • Meyer, Doris (2011), "Apollonius as Hellenistic Geographer", in T. Papaghelis; A. Rengakos (eds.), Brill's Companion to Apollonius Rhodius (2nd, revised ed.), Brill
  • Papanghelis T.D.; Rengakos A. (2011), "Editors' Introduction", in T. Papaghelis; A. Rengakos (eds.), Brill's Companion to Apollonius Rhodius (2nd, revised ed.), Brill
  • Race, William R. (2008), Apollonius Rhodius: Argonautica, Loeb Classical Library
  • Rengakos, Antonios (2011), "Apollonius Rhodius as a Homeric Scholar", in T. Papaghelis; A. Rengakos (eds.), Brill's Companion to Apollonius Rhodius (second, revised ed.), Brill
  • Sistakou, Evina (2011), "In Search of Apollonius' Ktisis Poems", in T. Papaghelis; A. Rengakos (eds.), Brill's Companion to Apollonius Rhodius (2nd, revised ed.), Brill
  • Stephens, Susan (2011), "Ptolemaic Epic", in T. Papaghelis; A. Rengakos (eds.), Brill's Companion to Apollonius Rhodius (2nd, revised ed.), Brill

Further reading

  • Albis, Robert V. 1996. Poet and Audience in the Argonautica of Apollonius. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
  • Beye, Charles R. 2006. Ancient Epic Poetry: Homer, Apollonius, Virgil, With a Chapter on the Gilgamesh Poems. Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci.
  • Beye, Charles R. 1982. Epic and Romance in the Argonautica of Apollonius: Literary Structures. Carbondale: Univ. of Southern Illinois Press.
  • Clare, Ray J. 1996. "Catullus 64 and the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius: Allusion and Exemplarity." Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 42:60–88.
  • Clare, Ray J. 2002. The Path of the Argo: Language, Imagery, and Narrative in the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius. Cambridge, England: Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • Clauss, James J. 1993. The Best of the Argonauts: The Redefinition of the Epic Hero in Book One of Apollonius’ Argonautica. Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press.
  • DeForest, Mary Margolies. 1994. Apollonius’ Argonautica: A Callimachean Epic. Leiden, South Holland: Brill.
  • Endso, Dag Ostein. 1997. "Placing the Unplaceable: The Making of Apollonius' Argonautic Geography." Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies. 38.4: 373-386.
  • Harder, M. Annette, and Martine Cuypers, eds. 2005. Beginning from Apollo: Studies in Apollonius Rhodius and the Argonautic Tradition. Louvain, Belgium: Peeters.
  • Heerink, Mark A. J. 2012. "Apollonius and Callimachus on Heracles and Theiodamas: a Metapoetical Interpretation." Quaderni urbinati di cultura classica 101:43-58.
  • Hunter, Richard. 1989. "Introduction." In Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica Book III. Edited by Richard Hunter, 1–12. Cambridge, England: Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • Hunter, Richard. 1993. The Argonautica of Apollonius: Literary Studies. Cambridge, England: Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • Kauffman, Nicholas. 2016. "Monstrous Beauty: The Transformation of Some Death Similes in Apollonius' Argonautica." Classical Philology 111.4: 372-390
  • Knight, Virginia H. 1995. The Renewal of Epic: Responses to Homer in the Argonautica of Apollonius. Leiden, South Holland: Brill.
  • Krevans, Nita. 2000. "On the Margins of Epic: The Foundation-Poems of Apollonius." In Apollonius Rhodius. Edited by M. Annette Harder, Remco F. Regtuit and Gerry C. Wakker, 69–84. Louvain, Belgium: Peeters
  • Mori, Anatole. 2008. The Politics of Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica. Cambridge, England: Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • Nelis, Damien P. 2001. Vergil’s Aeneid and the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius. Leeds, England: Cairns
  • Noegel, Scott. 2004. "Apollonius' Argonautika and Egyptian Solar Mythology." Classical World 97.2: 123-136.
  • Papanghelis, Theodore D., and Antonios Rengakos, eds. 2008. Brill’s Companion to Apollonius Rhodius. 2d rev. ed. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.
Preceded byZenodotus Head of the Library of Alexandria Succeeded byEratosthenes