Hercules as the Leadership Figure in Poetry of Apollonius

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Throughout the poem, Apollonius redefines what “heroism” means and compares Jason and Hercules to show that Jason is the “new hero.” Apollonius seems to be describing a new type of hero who is young, facially handsome, and sophisticated which is exemplified by Jason compared to the Homeric hero who is old, physically strong, and simple-minded. Apollonius is not wholly supporting Jason but does portray Jason as a more competent hero than Hercules.

At the very beginning, the crew of men chooses Hercules to be the leader; however, Hercules “will not consent, and [he] will forbid any other to standup. Let the hero who brought us together, himself be the leader of the host” (Apollonius, p.12, 345-347).* Hercules immediately defers the position to Jason and “warlike Jason” accepts (Apollonius, p.12, 349). Here, Jason is already established as the leader/hero of the entire poem. The poet does include some scenes that show Jason is not as strong as Hercules. For example, when Jason’s crew lands at Lemnos, Queen Hypsipyle falls in love with Jason and convinces him and the crew to stay, “all but Hercules; for he of his own will was left behind by the ship and a few chosen comrades with him” (Apollonius, p. 18, 853-864). In the end, it was Hercules who convinced the men to come back. This scene shows that Hercules has a stronger will than Jason, as Hercules was able to resist the Lemnian women. Despite this, Apollonius continues to discredit the typical hero by portraying Hercules as a buffoon who only thinks with his fists rather than his brain. Hercules “broke his oar in the middle. And one half he held in both his hands as he fell sideways, the other the sea swept away with its receding wave” (Apollonius, p.21, 1153-1171). At the end of Book 1, Hercules abandons the Argonauts to search for his lover, Hylas, who had been abducted by nymphs. He “hurled the pine to the ground…raising his broad neck he bellows loudly, stung by the maddening fly; so he in his frenzy now would ply his swift knees unresting…” (Apollonius, p.23, 1261-1272). Hercules’ decision to leave shows that he is driven by emotion and his ignorance and physical strength will not help him. Apollonius makes a point here to show that brute force and strength will not always be the solution.

Apollonius continues to describe Jason as a very smart and logical hero. Jason is able to complete most of the tasks with his brain (excluding how Medea would help him), unlike Hercules. He analyzes and thinks through situations with his brain instead of blindly charging into situations. When Aeetes insults the Argonauts, Telamon’s “soul within longed to speak a deadly word in defiance, but Aeson’s son checked him, for he himself first made gentle answer…” (Apollonius, p.44, 382-385). Jason knows better and keeps Telamon in check by flattering the king. Jason is able to seduce and charm people with his words and sophistication several times. For example, Jason needs Medea to stay and help him, so he swears to marry her by “soothing her with gentle converse” (Apollonius, p.53, 1102) which “her soul melted within her to hear his words” (Apollonius, p.53, 1131).

At the end, Jason succeeds in getting the fleece not by mainly slaying monsters and men but by using his head and sophistication (along with Medea’s help). He ushers in the new age of heroes who is young and handsome and is able to succeed with his words and charm. Apollonius characterizes Hercules as a lost, simple-minded man who is past his prime. The poet does not obviously endorse Jason as a person but uses him to endorse this “new heroism” who is more human-like than the traditional Homeric hero as represented by Hercules.


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