The Language of the Argonautica:
Apollonius wrote his poem using the epic language of Homer. Full details of that may be accessed through this website, together with convenient listings. His style exhibits many features in common with early Hexameter poetry:
- Contracted forms, for example, appear alongside uncontracted – ἄεθλον (15) and ἄθλων (1.1304) ἱερόν (1.960) and ἱρόν (4.1691).
- Apocope of prepositions and preverbs, e.g. of ἀνά in 1061 ἂμ πεδίον Λειμώνιον (cf. Il. 5.96).
- He has old epic forms with initial πτ– (πτόλιν 247; πτολίεθρον 1.186) or double –ππ– (ὁππότε 1.42).
- uncontracted endings such as –αο for masculine genitive singular (46 Αἰσονίδαο) and –άων for feminine genitive plural (1.27 ἀοιδάων). In Book I he has 131 examples of –οιο, 33 of –ου and 42 other cases. His use of –οιο is greater than the Iliad’s. He obviously felt –οιο to be a desirable archaic element in his style.
On the other hand, there are significant differences. He is never a pure imitator but constantly develops the ancient tradition. Ancient readers would have been aware of linguistic innovation throughout the poem. We can do the same by being aware of the following stylistic traits:
- instead of the regular Homeric –οίατο (at 369, 1005 only, in the same context) Apollonius uses the more familiar Classical 3rd plural present optative form in –οιντο (only once in Homer, in the suspect line Il.1.344; see further West’s app. crit.).
- He freely extends the use of the middle voice – without apparent semantic difference – to many verbs that in Homer appeared only in the active.
- and uses the dative case with a greater number of verbs, and more often without prepositions.
- Apollonius often creates new forms by analogy (sometimes false), derived from other verb stems, e.g. futures (such as δαμάσσει 3.353) or presents (e.g. ἀμείρω (3.186).
- New noun forms are found throughout the poem, such as the word for “child” in 697 (πάιν) and for ship 1.1358 (νηῦν) compared with more usual inherited παῖδα and νῆα.
At times the innovations of Apollonius seem intended to make his poetic texture look older, by over-developing formations that he apparently considered archaic:
- Thus, the widespread use of adverbs in –δην (e.g. 826 ἀίγδην, 1.1017 ἁρπάγδην); see further Hulse (2015, 77).
- Putting prepositions after the nouns they modify (postposition) reflects archaic syntax, but Apollonius does this once for every 9 occurrences of a preposition, whereas Homer was more restrained (once out of 13 times).
- Such a longing for archaic ‘feel’ may explain the poet’s indiscriminate deployment of prepositional forms like ἑός that are properly restricted to the 3rd person in older epic usage: Apollonius, liking their antique ring, uses them for all persons(e.g. for 1st person in 99: ἀτεμβοίμην ἑοῖ αὐτῇ).
For more on this topic:
Martin, R.P. 2011. Distant Landmarks: Homer and Hesiod. Princeton: available at:
(see especially pages 13-19.).
The following older publications give more examples of features of Apollonius’ use of language and are still useful:
Rzach, A. 1878. Grammatische Studien zu Apollonios Rhodios. Vienna.
Boesch, G. 1908. De Apollonii Rhodii elocutione. Göttingen.
Lisenbarth, O. 1887. De Apollonii Rhodii casuum syntaxi comparato usu Homerico
Oswald, Michael Matthias F. 1904. The Use of the Prepositions in Apollonius Rhodius, Compared with Their Use in Homer. Notre Dame, Ind., Notre Dame University Press.
Marxer, G. 1935. Die Sprache des Apollonius Rhodius in ihren Beziehungen zu. Homer (Zürich).