Life of Apollonius
For the meagre details of the life of our poet we are mainly dependent on the two epitomes which are appended to the scholia in the Codex Laurentianus:--
I. Ἀπολλώνιος ὁ τῶν Ἀργοναυτικῶν ποιητὴς τὸ μὲν γένος ἦν Ἀλεξανδρεύς, υἱὸς δὲ Σιλλέως, ὡς δέ τινες Ἰλλέως, φυλῆς Πτολεμαΐδος. ἐγένετο δὲ ἐπὶ τῶν Πτολεμαίων, Καλλιμάχου μαθητής, τὸ μὲν πρῶτον συνὼν Καλλιμάχῳ τῷ ἰδίῳ διδασκάλῳ: ὀψὲ δὲ ἐπὶ τὸ ποιεῖν ποιήματα ἐτρέπετο. τοῦτον λέγεται ἔτι ἔφηβον ὄντα ἐπιδείξασθαι τὰ Ἀργοναυτικὰ καὶ κατεγνῶσθαι, μὴ φέροντα δὲ τὴν αἰσχύνην τῶν πολιτῶν καὶ τὸ ὄνειδος καὶ τὴν διαβολὴν τῶν ἄλλων ποιητῶν καταλιπεῖν τὴν πατρίδα καὶ μετεληλυθέναι εἰς Ῥόδον, κἀκεῖ αὐτὰ ἐπιξέσαι καὶ ὀρθῶσαι καὶ οὕτως ἐπιδείξασθαι καὶ ὑπερευδοκιμῆσαι: διὸ καὶ Ῥόδιον ἑαυτὸν ἐν τοῖς ποιήμασιν ἀναγράφει. ἐπαίδευσε δὲ λαμπρῶς ἐν αὐτῇ καὶ τῆς Ῥοδίων πολιτείας καὶ τιμῆς ἠξιώθη.
II. Ἀπολλώνιος ὁ ποιητὴς τὸ μὲν γένος ἦν Ἀλεξανδρεύς, πατρὸς δὲ Σιλλέως, ἤτοι Ἰλλέως, μητρὸς δὲ Ῥόδης. οὗτος ἐμαθήτευσε Καλλιμάχῳ ἐν Ἀλεξανδρείᾳ ὄντι γραμματικῷ, καὶ συντάξας ταῦτα τὰ ποιήματα ἐπεδείξατο. σφόδρα δὲ ἀποτυχὼν καὶ ἐρυθριάσας παρεγένετο ἐν τῇ Ῥόδῳ κἀκεῖ ἐπολιτεύσατο καὶ σοφιστεύει ῥητορικοὺς λόγους, ὅθεν αὐτὸν καὶ Ῥόδιον ἀποκαλεῖν βούλονται. ἐνταῦθα τοίνυν διάγων καὶ ἐπιξέσας αὑτοῦ τὰ ποιήματα, εἶτα ἐπιδειξάμενος σφόδρα εὐδοκίμησεν, ὡς καὶ τῆς Ῥοδίων ἀξιωθῆναι πολιτείας καὶ τιμῆς. τινὲς δέ φασιν ὅτι ἐπανῆλθεν ἐν Ἀλεξανδρείᾳ καὶ αὖτις ἐκεῖσε ἐπιδειξάμενος εἰς ἄκρον εὐδοκίμησεν, ὡς κὰ τῶν βιβλιοθηκῶν τοῦ μουσείου ἀξιωθῆναι αὐτὸν καὶ ταφῆναι δὲ σὸν αὐτῷ τῷ Καλλιμάχῳ.
These two accounts were apparently derived from [p. 2]one common source,1 and seem, in turn, to have been the source of such brief biographies as we find in later mss.
We have further the following notice in Suidas:--
Ἀπολλώνιος Ἀλεξανδρεύς, ἐπῶν ποιητής, διατρίψας ἐν Ῥόδῳ υἱὸς Σιλλέως, μαθητὴς Καλλιμάχου, σύγχρονος Ἐρατοσθένους καὶ Τιμάρχου, ἐπὶ Πτολεμαίου τοῦ Εὐεργέτου ἐπικληθέντος, καὶ διάδοχος Ἐρατοσθένους γενόμενος ἐν τῇ προστασίᾳ τῆς ἐν Ἀλεξανδρείᾳ βιβλιοθήκης.
The date of the birth of Apollonius is quite uncertain. Dates ranging from 296 to 235 b.c. have been assigned by different critics.2 On the whole it is most satisfactory to assume that he was born about 265. We thus allow a sufficient time for the development of the deadly feud which raged between him and Callimachus who died about 240-235. Those who would fix his birth thirty years earlier are prepared to throw over altogether the tradition that he succeeded Eratosthenes as Librarian at Alexandria about 196 b.c. The birthplace of Apollonius is also uncertain. Suidas [p. 3]and Strabo3 describe him as an Alexandrian, whereas Athenaeus4 and Aelian mention also the other tradition that he was a native of Naucratis, a town situated a little to the east of Alexandria. The simplest solution of the difficulty is to assume that he was born at Naucratis, but brought up at Alexandria from his early years. His connexion with Naucratis lends special point to the attack made by Callimachus upon him in the Ibis, as we shall see later.
Apollonius attached himself as a pupil to Callimachus, who was the leading literary figure of the day, and Librarian of the great Alexandrian Library. Couat, in his admirable work La posie Alexandrine, has shown how the Alexandrian savants were divided into the same two classes as the Roman writers in the Augustan epoch, and the French writers in the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. These were the conservatives and the innovators, those who adhered to the ancient poets, and those who sought to introduce newer styles more in accordance with the spirit of the age. Homer was reverenced by all as the greatest of poets, but Homer was imitable by none5 ; and so the Alexandrian school chose generally as models Hesiod,6 with his didactic style and love of mythological speculation, Antimachus of Colophon, the author of the [p. 4]Lyde,7
with his long-drawn elegies teeming with legends little known, and Mimnermus,8 who had given to elegy its passionate erotic tone. Some preferred the poems of Erinna,9
which combined brevity with perfection of artistic form, to the longer and heavier work of Antimachus. Callimachus, in spite of his erudition, was of the latter class. He censures the Lyde as of coarse texture and wanting in subtle delicacy.10 He exhorts poets who would win success to avoid the beaten track,11 to pursue originality of style and form, to cultivate the poetry which consists in short and flawless pieces--odes, idylls, epigrams, and to shun a big book as a big evil.12 To presume to rival the great epics of the past, to challenge comparison with Homer, was an unpardonable sin in the eyes of Callimachus. So too Theocritus says, "I hate all birds of the Muses that vainly toil with their cackling note against the Minstrel of Chios."13
Yet there were not wanting stubborn spirits who would not yield to the sway of Callimachus, authors who essayed mythological and historical epics. Antagoras of Rhodes produced a Thebais, Rhianus of Crete an epic on the second Messenian war, with Aristomenes as its hero. The youthful Apollonius feared not to break away from his master's doctrines and to take as his theme for a heroic epic the quest of the golden fleece. He was still an ἔφηβος, i.e. between the ages of eighteen and twenty, when he gave the first ἐπίδειξις, or formal recitation, probably not of the whole work, which could hardly have been completed, but of parts thereof. Callimachus and his followers, however, were far too strong for him, and his efforts were greeted with ridicule. Callimachus, we may be sure, treated the youthful epic with the merciless sarcasm which he meted out to 'cyclic poems.'14
How long the mortified poet remained to face the mockery of his triumphant critics we know not. His wounded pride must soon have led him to snake off the dust of Alexandria. It was at Rhodes, that great centre of literary Hellendom, that the Alexandrian exile resolved to settle. With dogged determination and unshaken confidence in his powers he set himself, [p. 6]in the intervals of his duties as a teacher of rhetoric,15 to revise and perfect his poem, and soon his labour met with a rich reward. The second ἐπίδειξις, when he recited his completed work at Rhodes, was as striking a triumph as the first at Alexandria had been a failure. The Rhodians exalted him to offices of honour, enrolling him amongst the citizens, whence he is known as Apollonius 'the Rhodian.'
The fame which he had won nerved him with fresh confidence in flinging back with added sting the contemptuous taunts of the Alexandrian dictator.
Rage burned unceasingly in his heart against Callimachus, to whose influence he rightly attributed his first disgrace, and the feud between them stands out as the most bitter in the ancient world of letters. Couat16 has attempted to trace the progress of the quarrel, though the data we have to work on are very slender. But, slender as they are, they suffice to give us glimpses of the venom and rancour which prevailed. One biting epigram by Apollonius17 on his master has been preserved:--
In these lines Apollonius expresses his utter contempt for the affectation and sterility of the author of the *ai)/tia, a poem in four books treating of the causes of various myths and ceremonies. In one of the books the legend of the Argonauts had been introduced, and Callimachus may have charged his pupil with plagiarism from his work. Apollonius, and probably others to whom the literary autocracy of Callimachus was irksome, imputed Callimachus' dislike of a 'big book' to his inability to produce such. To these insinuations Callimachus triumphantly replies in the famous passage at the close of the hymn to Apollo.18 We may have a parody of the opening of this passage in the third book of the [p. 8]Argonautica.19 But Callimachus gave also a practical refutation of the accusation by writing a long epic which gained immediate favour. This was the Hecale, so called from the aged crone who hospitably entertained the hero Theseus when he was going forth to contend against the Marathonian bull. The choice of such a humble theme was another reproof of the presumption of Apollonius. The fresh laurels which Callimachus thus gained in the field of epic poetry must have rendered his supremacy at Alexandria more indisputable than ever, yet the feud with his unrepentant pupil still went on with unabated fury.
The most curious product of the quarrel was the Ibis of Callimachus. The immediate provocation which led to it we know not, but the epigram of Apollonius must still have been rankling in his soul. The work itself has perished, but the poem of Ovid which bears the same name, and which was avowedly an imitation thereof, enables us to judge of the style and contents. Callimachus must have devoted his enemy to destruction in the same way as Ovid does, and we may presume that the whole poem also was obscured with the same mass of caecae historiae drawn from the darkest recesses of the storehouse of legend. Critics have been sorely vexed in trying to determine why Callimachus should have chosen the bird ibis to represent Apollonius. Couat, and Ellis in his Prolegomena to the Ibis of Ovid, have collected the various theories which have been put forward. The ibis, as Plato20 tells us, was sacred [p. 9]to the god Theuth, or Hermes, worshipped originally at Naucratis, which was probably the birthplace of Apollonius. The connexion between the ibis and the god Theuth was very close.21 The god was depicted with the head of the bird, and the bird was regarded as the familiar minister of the god. The filthy peculiarities of the ibis are often mentioned by the ancients,22 and we may be sure that these habits of the bird, a native of Naucratis like Apollonius, were employed by Callimachus as a retort to the scurrilous way in which he had been stigmatized as κάθαρμα. Hermes, amongst his other functions, was the god of thieves, and so Apollonius was probably assailed as a familiar of the god of thieves by reason of his plagiarisms from Homer and Callimachus.23 Conjectures like these are but a groping in the dark, and the key to the riddle has been lost for ever.
There can be little doubt that the honours in this literary warfare were regarded as resting with Callimachus. The struggle was brought to a close by his death, 240-235 b.c. In his epitaph written by himself he claims to have triumphed over spite.24
Apollonius did not return to Alexandria immediately on the death of his great antagonist. He remained for many years at Rhodes, ever bringing the fruits of his ripe experience and grammatical studies to bear upon his well-beloved poem. A dense mist envelops the closing period of his life. Did he pass the rest of his days at Rhodes, as Susemihl maintains, or did he return to Alexandria and become Librarian as successor to Eratosthenes? The first of the two lives is silent on this question; the other, in a sentence introduced by τινὲς δέ φασιν,25 mentions his return and the fact that he became Librarian after a third ἐπίδειξις of his poem at Alexandria. We have furthermore the definite statement in the notice in Suidas that he succeeded Eratosthenes as head of the Library. Though this assertion has been disputed by many critics in modern times,26 I see no valid reason for rejecting it. There is nothing improbable in thinking that there may have been a reaction against the theories of Callimachus after his death, and that the favour accorded to the third recitation of the Argonautica and the appointment of its author as Librarian may have been the outcome of this reaction. The whole chronology of the Alexandrian school is in the most hopeless confusion, and no two critics seem able to agree even approximately about the number, order, and dates of the early Librarians.27 We [p. 11]have seen that the dates assigned for the birth of Apollonius vary over a period of more than half a century, so that the arguments, based on so-called chronology, against Suidas and one of the lives deserve but little attention. Assuming, as we have done, that Apollonius was born about 265, he would have been between the ages of sixty-five and seventy when he succeeded Eratosthenes,28 who was born about 278 and lived to the age of eighty or eighty-two. Apollonius was succeeded by Aristophanes of Byzantium, about whom we are definitely told that he became Librarian at the age of sixty-two. He was born about 255, so we may assume that Apollonius' tenure of the office terminated about 193, which we may regard as approximately the year of the poet's death.
One last tradition concerning Apollonius, recorded at the end of the second life, is that he was buried with Callimachus. Susemihl unnecessarily impugns this statement as involving a desecration of the tomb of Callimachus.29 There may well have been, as [p. 12]Weichert suggests, a place set apart at Alexandria by the Ptolemies for the burial of those who had filled the honoured post of Librarian.30 And so, after life's fitful fever, master and pupil would rest side by side in the silent fellowship of the grave.