The story of Jason and the Argonauts and their quest for the Golden Fleece is one of the oldest and most familiar tales in classical literature. Apollonius of Rhodes wrote the best-known version, in Greek, in the third century B.C.E. The Latin poet Gaius Valerius Flaccus began his own interpretation of the story in the first century of the Christian era, but he died before completing it.
With "The Voyage of the "Argo,"" the acclaimed poet and translator David Slavitt recovers for modern readers the only surviving work of this little-known writer. The result is an engaging rendition of Jason's adventures, of particular interest when compared to the Greek version of the story. While Apollonius' tale offers a subtle psychological study of Medea, Valerius Flaccus' achievement is to present Jason as a more complete and compelling heroic figure. Slavitt, for one, enjoyed the rediscovery immensely -- and he invites his readers to do the same.
"I am content to let my rendition into English speak for Valerius, but for those whom I imagine standing in an aisle of a library or bookstore, trying to decide, I can offer some reassurance. This piece is playful, unpredictable, oddly contrarian, sometimes almost mannerist. Valerius' description in book 8 of Medea's putting the serpent to sleep so Jason can filch the fleece involves a gesture no other Latin poet I know would have thought to try -- a brief moment in Medea's head when she allows herself to feel sorry for the snake... It is this kind of droll surprise that drew me to undertake the translation of a work that is not, I freely confess, well known." -- David Slavitt