Sunday 2 February 2014

The Orphic Argonautica

Jason Colavito’s book The Orphic Argonautica: An English Translation represents everything that is good about amateur scholarship and really is a must have for anyone with an interest in the story of Jason and the Argonauts. Not only does it provide a good, readable translation of the titular poem, but it also includes a couple of antique essays on the poem and several other fragments of ancient and medieval writings covering the tale of the Argonauts that would be difficult for most people to find on their own.

I received my copy as a Christmas gift from my father and have just finished slowly reading through it. Although the poem is certainly a secondary source for the story, and probably not a great work poetry, it is still surprising to me that it has never before been published in a full English translation. For most of its short length, the poem follows the tale as put forward by Apollonius in his famous Argonautica, though with a greatly enhanced role for Orpheus, the supposed narrator. However, the poem does vary dramatically in the route of the Argo's homeward voyage, actually having the ship somehow sail up into the North Sea, down past Ireland, and back into the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar.

Colavito accompanies his translation with just enough notes for the casual fan of Greek mythology to have a clear understanding of some of the more obscure references, and briefly covers the interesting history of the poem and the scholarly debate that has surrounded it.

Considering the overall quality of the work, it is actually surprising that the work is self-published. 

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