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Magie und Ritual bei Apollonios Rhodios, von Ingo Schaaf

Studien zu ihrer Form und Funktion in den Argonautika

Reviewed by Paul Ojennus

Ingo Schaaf offers an extensive and detailed examination of the treatment of magic and ritual in the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes. This study fills an important gap in contemporary research on Apollonius, and it promises to place the scholarship on magic in the Argonautica on the same level that geography now enjoys. Schaaf argues that comparison the text of the Argonautica and other evidence for magic and ritual in the third century demonstrates that Apollonius approaches these subjects with the same kind of scholarly precision that he brings to the study of the texts of Homer, geography, or medicine. He also places Apollonius’ interest in magic and ritual in its Alexandrian context, in particular arguing that his frequent references to Dionysus and Dionysian ritual corresponds to the importance of that god in the religious program of the Ptolemies. Schaaf is inclusive in his search for comparanda to the practices described by Apollonius, often referring to Classical drama and the Greek Magical Papyri, when Hellenistic parallels are lacking, as they often are. This approach cuts both ways: on the one hand, it provides a much more global view of Apollonius’ place within magical and religious thought throughout antiquity, and it provides what context there is for Apollonian descriptions that are otherwise hard to parallel. On the other hand, it tends to obscure potential distinctions between Apollonius’ research on actual magical or ritual practices and literary references by or to Apollonius.

Schaaf organizes the work into seven sections: an introduction, discussing the state of the scholarship on the topic, and discussions of the terminology and methods he proposes to employ. Most important here is the note on the difficulty of drawing a clear line between “magic” and “religion”, especially in the Hellenistic period. The next four sections are each devoted to one of the four books of the Argonautica, following the text in strict order. This promises ease of reference for those who know the epic well, but also means that thematically related discussions can be widely separated, e.g., the two subsections on Orpheus occur at the beginning of chapter 2 and near the end of chapter 5; later discussions usually reference earlier ones, but forward references are less consistent. In particular, this arrangement makes Schaaf’s overall argument about the importance of Dionysian ritual appear less forceful than it is. A concluding section reviews the findings of the research, and an extensive and well-organized bibliography, index of ancient authors referenced, and a topical index completes the book.

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