Argonautica, by Apollonius Rhodius, Limited Editions Club (1957)

Argonautica, the only surviving Hellenistic epic, was written by  Apollonius Rhodius in the 3rd century BC.  It is a re-telling of a far older story about the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts to retrieve the Golden Fleece from Colchis. How old we do not know; but we do know that Odysseus referred to it an old story in Homer’s epic, so the story has certainly been around for thousands of years. As written by Apollonius, the story is enthralling adventure; however, its real strength and impact comes from the love story between Jason and the Colchian princess Medea. This study of love is amongst the first in Western epic tradition. As Columbia Professor Moses Hadas says in the introduction, the Argonautica:

is the first sympathetic psychologic description of the rise of love, and it remains unsurpassed in its kind…The essential innovation is not so much that Apollonius tells his love story well, but that he tells it  at such length as to make it central to his epic. 

Argonautica is  based on Homeric epic style and approach, though it is relatively brief compared to Homer itself.  It almost certainly was influenced by Callimachus, as shown by its relative brevity (though Aristotle may claim some influence on its brevity also), its heavy use of aitia, and the extent of Argonautica‘s non-heroic qualities. It’s influence on the Western Canon is substantial, especially on Latin poets including Virgil whose Roman epic, the Aeneid, used Argonautica as a model.

Apollonius Rhodius (lived in the third century BC, we are not sure of precise birth or death years) was librarian at the great library of Alexandria, one of the marvels of the ancient world. Apollonius left us no auto-biographical information about himself, and the few historical sources that do exist with some biographical information on him are incomplete and often at odds. In short, very little is known of him other than he was a Homeric Scholar and that he produced this marvelous work destined to be an all-time classic of the Western Canon.

This edition of Argonautica from The Limited Editions Club is simply outstanding. Planned and designed by Nina and Elako Eliopoulos of the Aspioti-Elka Graphic Arts Company in Athens, it is large in format, 9 3/8″ x 12 3/4″, with many beautifully done classic style illustrations, in  black and brown, by A. Tassos. The eye-catching binding is made of light gray Greek linen divided into panels, with the central panel of the front cover containing a drawing of the Argo by A. Tassos. The page design is attractive with the title in red vertically presented in red outside of the main text block. The original Greek, in Monotype Inclined Greek, is presented on the facing pages from the English translation which is done in Monotype Neo-Didot.  My only complaint is I found the text font, which in practice is essentially a constant italic, tiring to read after some period of time. None-the-less, it is a must have edition for any Limited Editions Club or Fine Press collector, and of course for any lovers of Hellenistic or classic works. I find myself saying this very frequently, but it is hard to believe a book of this quality and scale could be produced for the price it was released at; yet the Macy’s accomplished such month after month for year after year. Even now, one can usually find this in near fine or fine condition from $50-100.

About the Edition

  • Typographic and decorative plans by Nina and Elako Eliopoulos of the Aspioti-Elka Graphic Arts Company in Athens (where the book was composed and printed) and by A. Tassos
  • Translation by Edward P. Coleridge
  • Introduction by Moses Hadas (a well known, leading classical scholar of the twentieth century)
  • Illustrated with drawings in  black and brown by A. Tassos, many as full page illustrations with tint blocks
  • Type is Monotype Neo-Didot with Monotype Inclined Greek on the facing pages
  • Paper made in Greece
  • Binding is a light gray Greek linen divided into panels, and for the central panel of the front cover Mr. Tassos has executed a drawing of the Argo
  • 9 3/8″ x 12 3/4″, 330 pages
  • Limited to 1500 copies, signed by A. Tassos

Pictures of the Edition

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Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Slipcase
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Slipcase
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Cover and Spine
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Cover and Spine
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Spine
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Spine
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Front Cover
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Front Cover
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Cover
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Cover
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Side View
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Side View
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Title Page
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Title Page
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Contents
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Contents
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #1
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #1
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Illustration #2
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Illustration #2
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #7 with Text
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #8 with Text
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #4 with Text
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #9 with Text
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #5 with Text
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #11 with Text
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #6 with Text
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Colophon
Argonautica, Limited Editions Club, Colophon

6 thoughts on “Argonautica, by Apollonius Rhodius, Limited Editions Club (1957)

  1. I agree entirely with Robert regarding the unnecessary use of Greek text on the verso page at the expense of using a small crowded font in English on the recto page. The small italicized type makes for very tedious reading. Bruce Rogers must be rolling about in his grave.

  2. I too like Robert Graves, and when I, Claudius was playing on Masterpice Theatre, I read Graves’ two books from which the Masterpiece Theatre production was taken: I, Claudius and Claudius the God.

    Graves’ novels were well received after their publishing. The success of his books promoted jealousy between Graves and his girlfriend at the time. Somehow she convinced him to commit suicide with her. They went atop a tall building and jumped off. An awning attached to the building broke their fall and they survived.
    She wanted to jump again to complete their pact. Fortunately, Graves desisted, and he lived to be in his 89s.

  3. I have a Fine copy of this LEC, but it iwas too heavy to be housed in a slip case which was being torn apart by the weight of the book. So using very heavy boards, I had a solander made for it which worked out fine. The solander is covered in a red bookcloth about the color red as used on the book.

  4. It does seem as if the LEC just kept producing an astonishing output of fine press books, over 500 with very few that fell short of a standard of excellence few publishers can match in quality and none in variety.

    I have the Heritage Press edition of the Argonautica, and though it is a very fine edition as well, it lacks the wonderful paper and letterpress of the LEC. Based on the Heritage edition, my only criticisms of the work are the choice of italics for the English text, which as Chris points out can be rather fatiguing for extended reading, and the density of the text block itself. Although many would disagree with me, I would have preferred to have foregone printing the Greek altogether and used a somewhat larger font size with more leading, to have opened up the page. These are minor and idiosyncratic quibbles and don’t constitute a major flaw.

    Apollonius’ retelling of the story of Jason and his quest is entertaining, and, as Chris points out, not in the epic mode of Homer at all; although usually classified as an example of “Hellenistic epic,” this seems like a much too specialized genre to me, and I would perhaps consider it to be the father of the Romance. One wonders what Homer would have done with the story. As a very different take on the tale of Jason and the Fleece, Robert Graves’ thought-provoking novel “Hercules, My Shipmate” is highly recommended. Graves uses his mind-boggling knowledge of arcane myth and anthropology to tell the story as actual history, and makes a very compelling case.

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