Euphemos and the clod of Earth

The Argonautica reaches a climax with the conclusion of the story of Euphemus and the clod of earth (begun in 1552–63). He has had an erotic dream the night before in which he has breast-fed the clod of earth previously given to him by Triton. The clod turns in a young maiden for whom he conceives an over whelming desire. He has sex with her and then laments, because he fears that he might have violated his daughter. The maiden then makes a prophetic speech, concerning his descendants and the future of Libya. Jason then shows skill as an interpreter of dreams and declares that if Euphemus throw the clod into the sea as instructed an island called Kalliste, later to be called, will be created.

The poet himself then takes up the tale and explains the historical connections that lead to the colonisation and establishment of Thera. The subsequent migration from there to Libya under Battos is not mentioned, maybe for a variety of reasons, bearing in mind the complicated political situation of the period. It would, however, have been quite clear to an Alexandrian readership that this story presaged the wide sphere of influence that the Ptolemies exerted over North Africa and the Aegean Islands. A. is working with prehistory in way that Virgil was to understand and develop in the Aeneid, taking the political status quo and using mythology and legend to strengthen its foundation. A.’s chief literary predecessors in recounting these events are Pindar (Pythian 4), who has an extended passage (4.10–15) concerning the clod of earth, Herodotus, who tells the story of the founding of Libyan Cyrene here and his contemporary (and possible rival) Callimachus. The latter wrote a Hymn to Apollo and a Hymn to Delos which share a number of themes with the present passage, chief among which is the selection of an Aegean Island for a particular honour. Asteria (an old name for Delos) is to be the birthplace of Apollo, while Kalliste will be an important step along the way for colonists of North Africa. Both islands are small or come from small beginnings (Call. h. 4.191 νήσος ἀραιή ~ Arg. 4.1734: δαιμονίη βῶλαξ), both poets speak of the islands that they praise as ‘nurses’ (Call. h. 4.10, 48, 274 (of Apollo) γλυκὺν ἔσπασε μαζόν ~ Arg. 4.1758 παίδων ἱερὴ τροφὸς Εὐφήμοιο; see also Theocr. 17.58–9 (of Kos)). It is certain that both islands played an important part in Ptolemaic diplomacy in the Aegean; Delos as a member of the Nesiotic League and Thera as an island where Ptolemaic presence on the island is attested epigraphically from the time of the Chremonidean war (267—1 BC) and was probably continuous till 145 BC. The interrelationship between A. and Callimachus extended beyond the latter’s collection of Hymns. At the beginning of the Aetia, C. describes the Return of the Argonauts and a strange rite carried out on the Island of Anaphe. The Argonauts occur again at the end of C.’s four book collection. There are significant links verbally and in terms of shared material between these passages (e.g. Arg. 4.1730 Αἰγλήτην Ἀνάφης ~ Aetia. fr. 7c.5 ’Αἰγλήτην Ἀνάφην τε) and these will be noted below.