Climate, Weather and Health
History meets Science
Meteorology Beyond Borders
Driving Winds and Wind-Driven meteora in Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica. With an excursus on Lucretius
As has recently been demonstrated, the Flavian poet Valerius Flaccus is deeply concerned in his Argonautica with the functioning of meteorological forces, from the subterranean to the celestial, and he draws on natural philosophical writings in both poetry and prose to create that dimension of his epic (Krasne 2018, 2019). In this paper, I look at a few specific meteorological phenomena and interrogations of the overlap between myth and science that can be found in the poem.
First, I examine two overt references to the behavior of wind, one placed into the mouth of the helmsman Tiphys (Arg.2.59-60), and one an observation by the poet himself (Arg.4.98). Both draw on scientific accounts of wind behavior: in the latter case, we can identify Sen.Nat.5.8.3 as the key intertext, while in the former case, examination of various scientific sources (Thphr.Vent.15-18; Plin.Nat.2.48.129; Sen.Nat.5.8/5.11) and scholarly discussions (e.g., Morton 2001:51ff, Mayhew 2018:189) help to interpret an unclear phrase that may well depend on a lost didactic poem.
The rest of the paper looks at mythological instantiations of the behavior of wind, especially in its production of the fulmen/κεραυνός, prester, and turbo/vertex/τυφών. The defeat of the volcano-generator Typhon (Arg.2.25-28), who is usually linked with presteres in their rare mythologized appearances (Hes.Th.846, Σvet.Pi.P.1.25, Plut.Is.373D), is described in a way that appears to draw on Lucretius’s discussion of the prester (Lucr.6.423-42), although retaining the prester’s traditional fieriness (cf. Bakker 2016). Likewise, the Harpies (Arg.4.454) and the human Phlegyas (Arg.3.124-36), both associated with Typhon, also evoke the prester (cf.Arist.Meteor.371a14-15, Sen.Nat.5.13.3, Thphr.Vent.53), along with other meteorological phenomena.
watch the recorded talk: click the image