‘Fabricating Fate in Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica:
The Case of Polyphemus

Andrew Foster

This paper will explore how Apollonius Rhodes (hereafter AR) repeatedly recounts Polyphemus’ death in Mysia in order to amplify a minor character’s role within his narrative to serve a larger narrative and poetic agenda. I will describe the role “fate” plays within these vignettes as a rhetorical device authorizing a particular version of a mythological tradition and so as an ironically becomes a means of asserting individual poetic authority under the guise of narrative determinism.

In order to show the range of AR’s freedom with regard to creating his particular Polyphemus, I will compare the four times his presence (and absence) is noted within the text (1.40-4; 1.1240-60; 1.1310-48.1464-75) and compare them to Lapith’s role in other versions of the Argonautica as well as an apparently independent mythological tradition. It will quickly become apparent that AR freely molds his Polyphemus into the companion of Heracles who is “fated” to die after founding Chios in Mysia. Once I have established the contours of the poet’s creative autonomy, I will demonstrate how emphatically AR reiterates Polyphemus’ destiny (his destiny in mentioned four separate times in three of the aforementioned passages –1.1240-60 being the exception) while simultaneously alluding to the alternative traditions (e.g. Polyphemus as Hylas’ lover) that suggest a very different destiny in order to underscore the tension between the narrative determinism implied by “destiny” within the fictive world of the Argonautica and the freedom of authorial discretion within the circumstances of the text’s production. Viewed in light of Polyphemus’ “fate,” destiny becomes a highly ironic concept that reveals what it overtly attempts to cloak: the poet’s personal narrative authority.

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