Intertextual journeys : Xenophon’s Anabasis and Apollonius’ Argonautica on the Black Sea littoral




Clark, Margaret Kathleen

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This paper addresses intertextual similarities of ethnographical and geographical details in Xenophon’s Anabasis and Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautica and argues that these intertextualities establish a narrative timeline of Greek civilization on the Black Sea littoral. In both these works, a band of Greek travellers proceeds along the southern coast of the Black Sea, but in different directions and at vastly different narrative times. I argue that Apollonius’ text, written later than Xenophon’s, takes full advantage of these intertextualities in such a way as to retroject evidence about the landscape of the Black Sea littoral. This geographical and ethnographical information prefigures the arrival of Xenophon’s Ten Thousand in the region. By manipulating the differences in narrative time and time of composition, Apollonius sets his Argonauts up as precursors to the Ten Thousand as travellers in the Black Sea and spreaders of Greek civilization there.

In Xenophon’s text, the whole Black Sea littoral becomes a liminal space of transition between non-Greek and Greek. As the Ten Thousand travel westward and get closer and closer to home and Greek civilization, they encounter pockets of Greek culture throughout the Black Sea, nestled in between swaths of land inhabited by native tribes of varying and unpredictable levels of civilization. On the other hand, in the Argonautica, Apollonius sets the Argonautic voyage along the southern coast of the Black Sea coast as a direct, linear progression from Greek to non-Greek. As the Argonauts move eastward, the peoples and places they encounter become stranger and less recognizably civilized. This progression of strangeness and foreignness works to build suspense and anticipation of the Argonauts’ arrival at Aietes’ kingdom in Colchis. However, some places have already been visited before by another Greek traveller, Heracles, who appears in both the Argonautica and the Anabasis to mark the primordial progression of Greek civilization in the Black Sea region. The landscape and the peoples who inhabit it have changed in the intervening millennium of narrative time between first Heracles’, then the Argonauts’, and finally the Ten Thousand’s journey, and they show the impact of the visits of all three.