The Problem of Hera and the Clashing Rocks

 If A. were a modern editor of his own text, he might perhaps have considered printing πλαγκτάς rather than the capitalisation which all editors (except Seaton 1912) have adopted. The two points at issue are as follows: first, Hera’s statement, ‘I saved them as they crossed through the W/wandering rocks’ is a reference to a speech in the Odyssey made by Circe to Odysseus - it can be no coincidence that Circe has just made an appearance in the Argonautica. Secondly, the use of the terms Clashing and Wandering to describe non-fixed rocks was a matter of some discussion in antiquity. Hera is lying to Thetis in order to get her onside and, courtesy of the poet, winking at learned readers in Alexandria and elsewhere. There is no need to talk of lacunae or to resort to emendation.

Both the poet and the Queen of the Gods are involved in a literary joke, which is meant to deceive Thetis (she actually no indication that it does, though she carries out the required actions) but which would have been apparent to the learned readers who probably knew the Odyssey by heart. Homer calls Hera δολοφρονέουσα (Il. 14.197, 19.97, 106) and at the beginning and throughout this speech that is the predominate trait that she displays: she sits Thetis beside her (ἡ δέ μιν ἆσσον ἑοῖο παρεῖσέ τε), shows her respect (Θέτι δῖα) and shows approval of her previous actions with respect to the attention that Zeus has shown her (Arg. 4.796–7 ἐμέ τ᾿ αἰδομένη καὶ ἐνὶ φρεσὶ δειμαίνουσα / ἠλεύω, ‘in reverence for me and with fear in your heart, you avoided him’). Part of this deceitful approach certainly resides in this skilful opening allusion. ‘Well, I hardly need to repeat how I saved the Argonauts from the Wandering Rocks: you know your Homer as well as I do, and it’s all in there.’ (Green 2008 ad loc.) is an acceptable paraphrase of this artful captatio benevolentiaeThere are indeed traces of Od. 12.37–72 evident in Hera’s opening words and before. Let us compare the two passages: first the present section in its entirety:


"Κέκλυθι νῦν, Θέτι δῖα, τά τοι ἐπιέλδομ' ἐνισπεῖν.

οἶσθα μέν, ὅσσον ἐμῇσιν ἐνὶ φρεσὶ τίεται ἥρως

Αἰσονίδης, οἱ δ' ἄλλοι ἀοσσητῆρες ἀέθλου,

οἵως τέ σφ' ἐσάωσα διὰ πλαγκτὰς περόωντας

πέτρας, ἔνθα πάρος δειναὶ βρομέουσι θύελλαι,

κύματά τε σκληρῇσι περιβλύει σπιλάδεσσιν.

νῦν δὲ παρὰ Σκύλλης σκόπελον μέγαν ἠδὲ Χάρυβδιν

δεινὸν ἐρευγομένην δέχεται ὁδός.

(4.783-832) "Hearken now, lady Thetis, to what I am eager to tell thee. Thou knowest how honoured in my heart is the hero, Aeson's son, and the others that have helped him in the contest, and how I saved them when they passed between the Wandering rocks, where roar terrible storms of fire and the waves foam round the rugged reefs. And now past the mighty rock of Scylla and Charybdis horribly belching, a course awaits them.

Then Od. 12. 69–72.

ἔνθεν μὲν γὰρ πέτραι ἐπηρεφέες, προτὶ δ᾽ αὐτὰς

60κῦμα μέγα ῥοχθεῖ κυανώπιδος Ἀμφιτρίτης:

Πλαγκτὰς δή τοι τάς γε θεοὶ μάκαρες καλέουσι.

τῇ μέν τ᾽ οὐδὲ ποτητὰ παρέρχεται οὐδὲ πέλειαι

τρήρωνες, ταί τ᾽ ἀμβροσίην Διὶ πατρὶ φέρουσιν,

ἀλλά τε καὶ τῶν αἰὲν ἀφαιρεῖται λὶς πέτρη:

65ἀλλ᾽ ἄλλην ἐνίησι πατὴρ ἐναρίθμιον εἶναι.

τῇ δ᾽ οὔ πώ τις νηῦς φύγεν ἀνδρῶν, ἥ τις ἵκηται,

ἀλλά θ᾽ ὁμοῦ πίνακάς τε νεῶν καὶ σώματα φωτῶν

κύμαθ᾽ ἁλὸς φορέουσι πυρός τ᾽ ὀλοοῖο θύελλαι.

οἴη δὴ κείνη γε παρέπλω ποντοπόρος νηῦς,

70Ἀργὼ πᾶσι μέλουσα, παρ᾽ Αἰήταο πλέουσα.

καὶ νύ κε τὴν ἔνθ᾽ ὦκα βάλεν μεγάλας ποτὶ πέτρας,

ἀλλ᾽ Ἥρη παρέπεμψεν, ἐπεὶ φίλος ἦεν Ἰήσων.

Od. 69–72: For on the one hand are beetling crags, and against them [60] roars the great wave of dark-eyed Amphitrite; the Planctae1 do the blessed gods call these. Thereby not even winged things may pass, no, not the timorous doves that bear ambrosia to father Zeus, but the smooth rock ever snatches away one even of these, [65] and the father sends in another to make up the tale. And thereby has no ship of men ever yet escaped that has come thither, but the planks of ships and bodies of men are whirled confusedly by the waves of the sea and the blasts of baneful fire. One seafaring ship alone has passed thereby, [70] that Argo famed of all, on her voyage from Aeetes, and even her the wave would speedily have dashed there against the great crags, had not Here sent her through, for that Jason was dear to her.

  1. ὅσσον ἐμῇσιν ἐνὶ φρεσὶ τίεται ἥρως ~ ἐπεὶ φίλος ἦεν Ἰήσων.
  2. πυρὸς δειναὶ βρομέουσι θύελλαι ~ κύμαθ᾽ ἁλὸς φορέουσι πυρός τ᾽ ὀλοοῖο θύελλαι.
  3. σφ᾿ ἐσάωσα ~ Ἥρη παρέπεμψεν.

These are the major parallels between the two passages. However, as Green 2008 points out, Argo was indeed, in Hellenistic Alexandria, “in all men's minds (Od.12.72)”, and even before these two particular passages, there are more traces of Circe’s speech: Od. 12.47 ἀλλὰ παρεξελάαν, (sailing alongside the Sirens), 12.55 τάς γε παρὲξ ἐλάσωσιν (also the Sirens) ~ Arg. 4.764 τάς γε παρεξελάσῃσιν (the fires of Hephaestus’ forge), and perhaps Od. 12.40 εἰσαφίκηται (Sirens) ~ Arg. 4.777 τρίτον εἰσαφίκανεν (Aeolus and the Winds), ὁπποτέρη δή τοι ὁδὸς ἔσσεται (Circe discusses the alternatives in front of Odysseus) ~ Arg. 4.790 δέχεται ὁδός (Hera talks of the route that leads to Scylla and Charybdis) and lastly Od. 12.61 Πλαγκτὰς δή τοι τάς γε θεοὶ μάκαρες καλέουσι ~ Arg. 4.860 νῆα διὲκ πέτρας, αἵ τε Πλαγκταὶ καλέονται, where the use of καλέουσι / καλέονται seems to signal that there is scope for discussion of what is the correct name.

There is evidence for scholarly debate about the use of the names Symplegades, Cyaneae, and Planctae. as early as Herodotus and judging from the available evidence, (Seaton 1887) it seems that A. generally shows a consistency not found in the tradition at large in the naming of the rocks. The idea that he designed the present usage at 4.786 to reflect a scholarly controversy is reinforced by an instance of Medean rhetoric from a later writer:

Quid, quod nescioqui mediis concurrere in undis

dicuntur montes, ratibusque inimica Charybdis

nunc sorbere fretum, nunc reddere, cinctaque saevis

Scylla rapax canibus Siculo latrare profundo?

(Ovid Met. 7.62–5)

But what of those strange tales of cliffs that clash

in the open sea, Charybdis’ whirling waves

that suck and spew to sink the ships she hates,

and greedy Scylla, girt with savage hounds

baying beside the seas of Sicily?

This reference on the Ovidian Medea’s part to ‘some mountains or other’ (nescioqui . . . montes) must point to awareness on her part (and that of her poet) of an ancient scholarly crux. A. a fully-paid-up Alexandrian poet is doing the same here with Hera’s words. It is part of his method to make visible the process of selection between various Mythic variants, ‘either by referring to a rejected version in the course of telling the selected one or by combining previously competing versions. Intertextuality and the deliberate exploitation of ‘inconsistencies’ and anachronisms’ is not an Ovidian invention’ (Kenney 2001, 273). This scholarly crux may well, also, have been debated on a verbal level: the root ‘πλαγ’ has been explained (note 61) as both to ‘πλάζω’ and ‘πλήσσω.’ (see Fränkel 1968, 543). In a line which presents the most difficult and intriguing textual problem in the whole of the poem, there seems to be no room for doubt that A. would have been aware of all these issues.

Bibliography: Planctae and Symplegades 

Seaton, R.C. The Symplegades and the Planctae The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 8, No. 4 (1887), 433-440.

Vian, F. (Paris 1974–81), text and commentary, 41–46.

Kenney, E. J. (2008) ‘“Est deus in nobis . . .”: Medea meets her maker’, in Papanghelis and Rengakos (2008) (eds.) 363–85.

A Commentary on Homer's Odyssey - Alfred Heubeck, Stephanie West, John Bryan Hainsworth, Arie Hoekstra on Od. 12.55–72.

Hinds, S. (1993 Medea) in Ovid: Scenes from the Life of an Intertextual HeroineMateriali e discussioni per l'analisi dei testi classici No. 30 (1993), pp. 9-47.

Fränkel, H. (1968) Noten zu den Argonautika des Apollonios (Munich), pp. 543 n. 180.