Adjusting the dynamics of narrative interest: an experiment on Lemnos

Jason and the Argonauts 2000_featured
Hypsipyle and Jason

In Expositional Modes and Temporal Ordering in Fiction, Meir Sternberg analyses the distribution of exposition in the narrative presentation and the curiosity and suspense which a given distribution generates in the mind of the reader.

Both suspense and curiosity are emotions or states of mind characterized by expectant restlessness and tentative hypotheses that derive from a lack of information; both thus draw the reader’s attention forward in the hope that the information that will resolve or allay them lies ahead. They differ, however, in that suspense derives from a lack of desired information concerning the outcome of a conflict that is to take place in the narrative future, a lack that involves a clash of hope and fear; whereas curiosity is produced by a lack of information that relates to the narrative past, a time when struggles have already been resolved, and as such it often involves an interest in the information for its own sake. Suspense thus essentially relates to the dynamics of ongoing action; curiosity to the dynamics of temporal deformation.
(Sternberg 1978: 65)

What I wish to do in this post is to take the scissors to the Argonautica‘s text and the exposition presented in the Lemnian episode, and, via a narrative deformation, let the reader consider how different expositional distributions might modify the reading experience.

‘Ὦ φίλαι, εἰ δ’ ἄγε δὴ μενοεικέα δῶρα πόρωμεν
ἀνδράσιν, οἷά τ’ ἔοικεν ἄγειν ἐπὶ νηὸς ἔχοντας,
ἤια καὶ μέθυ λαρόν, ἵν’ ἔμπεδον ἔκτοθι πύργων

[660] μίμνοιεν, μηδ’ ἄμμε κατὰ χρειὼ μεθέποντες
ἀτρεκέως γνώωσι, κακὴ δ’ ἐπὶ πολλὸν ἵκηται
βάξις, ἐπεὶ μέγα ἔργον ἐρέξαμεν· οὐδέ τι πάμπαν
θυμηδὲς καὶ τοῖσι τό γ’ ἔσσεται, εἴ κε δαεῖεν.’

A.R. 1.657-63

‘My friends, come, let us give these men gifts to their liking, such things as men ought to take with them on a ship, provisions and sweet wine, so that they might forever remain outside our walls, lest out of need they may come among us and get to know us all too accurately, and an evil report may travel far and wide. For we have done a terrible deed, and it will not be at all heart-cheering to them either, if they were to learn of it.’ (trans. Race)

The speaker is the Lemnian queen, Hypsipyle, her addressees are the Lemnian women, and ‘these men’ are the Argonauts. If that is all the information available, what can we gather from her opening words to the assembled women about the current situation and about Hypsipyle’s thinking?

She has formed and offers a plan to keep the Argonauts by their ship Argo and out of the Lemnian city, Myrine. She suggests giving the men what she thinks men on a sailing expedition like; food and wine. She is concerned that the men might find out something should they get too close. Repetition underscores that fear of a discovery: ‘know us all too accurately’ and ‘if they were to learn of it’. What secret are the women hiding? Why won’t the Argonauts like it? What deed have these women done that they don’t want to get out into the world? Whatever it is, her evaluation of it or her evaluation of how it will be perceived by the men is negative – ‘an evil report’, ‘a terrible deed’, ‘not at all heart-cheering’. ‘Terrible deed’ is William Race’s interpretation of μέγα ἔργον which can be more simply/neutrally translated as ‘great deed’.

Sternberg’s ‘dynamics of narrative interest’ involves the interplay in the reading process between the two dynamics already noted above, ‘curiosity’ and ‘suspense’. We can observe both dynamics in operation in this extract from Hypsipyle’s speech. Readers coming to this experiment with prior knowledge of the Argonautic narrative will have to suspend objections for a time and readers with prior knowledge of another version in another narrative will have to be a little patient before making comparisons between presentations. In this experimental reading adjusting the distribution of exposition, there’ll be no layering with intertexts and no extensive close reading (an experiment in authorial restraint). Instead, we’ll focus on how (re-)arrangement of the exposition alters the reading experience.

The questions I voiced above are questions prompted by an expositional gap and revolve around the great/terrible deed. What have these women done? This curiosity about the past (in Storytime) affects our speculation about how events will play out. Our feeling of suspense (the hypotheses we make related to the narrative future) is affected by the lack of exposition which makes our hypotheses about the narrative past so tentative. Knowing more about what did happen (what the women did/how they behaved in the past) might aid our predictions of what will happen, give us something on which to map out a speculative model of the women’s likely future behaviour (just as Hypsipyle herself is modelling likely reactions based on her experience of men (these men/any men).

Suppose we add the following expositional summary as material available to the reader prior to reading Hypsipyle’s speech.

Though the island was no longer inhabited by men, the women came to prefer farming, herding and wearing armour to their former tasks. Yet still they lived in fear of raiding parties.

Having that information at our disposal allows us to do a little more worldbuilding. In this Lemnian society the women are responsible for agricultural and military activities. They provide for themselves and defend themselves. However, danger from the sea is an ever-present concern. Where are the Lemnian men? What will not be ‘heart-cheering’ to the Argonauts? What hypotheses can we make about the past and about the future? Let’s add that at this point in the storyworld (the women debating a course of action), an initial encounter has occurred and an entente is in place. The Argonauts have made no attempt to enter the city but, due to bad weather, nor have they attempted to sail on. Whatever decision is made in this assembly which the reader observes unfolding in scenic time (on Narrative Duration see Measuring Arrows in Time) will alter the current status quo.

Hypsipyle invites counter-proposals from the assembly and her old nurse Polyxo rises to the occasion.

[675] ‘Δῶρα μέν, ὡς αὐτῇ περ ἐφανδάνει Ὑψιπυλείῃ,
πέμπωμεν ξείνοισιν, ἐπεὶ καὶ ἄρειον ὀπάσσαι.
ὔμμι γε μὴν τίς μῆτις ἐπαυρέσθαι βιότοιο,
αἴ κεν ἐπιβρίσῃ Θρήιξ στρατὸς ἠέ τις ἄλλος
δυσμενέων, ἅ τε πολλὰ μετ’ ἀνθρώποισι πέλονται,

[680] ὡς καὶ νῦν ὅδ’ ὅμιλος ἀνωίστως ἐφικάνει;
Εἰ δὲ τὸ μὲν μακάρων τις ἀποτρέποι, ἄλλα δ’ ὀπίσσω
μυρία δηιοτῆτος ὑπέρτερα πήματα μίμνει.
Εὖτ’ ἂν δὴ γεραραὶ μὲν ἀποφθινύθουσι γυναῖκες,
κουρότεραι δ’ ἄγονοι στυγερὸν ποτὶ γῆρας ἵκησθε,

[685] πῶς τῆμος βώσεσθε, δυσάμμοροι; Ἦε βαθείαις
αὐτόματοι βόες ὔμμιν ἐνιζευχθέντες ἀρούραις
γειοτόμον νειοῖο διειρύσσουσιν ἄροτρον,
καὶ πρόκα τελλομένου ἔτεος στάχυν ἀμήσονται;’

A.R. 1.675-88

‘Let us send gifts to the strangers, just as Hypsipyle pleases, because giving is the better course. But as for you, do you have a plan to reap life’s fruits? Suppose a Thracian army rains down, or some other hostile force, a common occurrence amongst men, just as now this group has arrived unexpectedly. If one of the blessed ones should avert this calamity, still countless more miseries worse than battle await in the future, at that time when the older women will perish, and when you younger ones come childless to hated old age. How will you survive then, poor wretches? Will your oxen spontaneously yoke themselves in the deep fields and drag the earth-cutting plough through fallow-land? Will they reap the corn as soon as summer ends?’

Polyxo raises concerns that Hypsipyle has either not considered or chosen not to voice. Has the reader? We might not have been especially invested in the Lemnian future at this point. We might be wanting Argonauts and adventure but have found ourselves immersed in another story, listening to an unfolding dialogue about this people’s possible extinction. Invasion is a threat, most likely from Thrace, but what is worse, without any male inhabitants these women will be the last of the Lemnians. The old woman Polyxo, whose own time is running out, is the one who looks to the Lemnian future. Her predictions encourage the reader to engage with this new set of characters and to think forward (in hope? in fear?). She goes on to suggest a plan contrary to Hypsipyle’s; take advantage of providence and invite the men in, throw open their gates and ensure their future. Her plan is met with unanimous approval.

What hypotheses are we now forming? Will the two groups come together? Stay together? What will happen to the expedition? What happened to the Lemnian men?

Hypsipyle instructs another Lemnian, Iphinoe, to go the ship and request Jason meet the queen. She adds a further instruction to invite the men to enter Lemnos as friends. The assembly disperses and we track Iphinoe to the ship and hear her repeat (almost verbatim) Hypsipyle’s message. We are told that their response was enthusiastic πάντεσσι δ’ ἐναίσιμος ἥνδανε μῦθος (‘And her favourable speech was pleasing to everyone’, v. 717) and Jason gets ready for his appointment. The narrator also includes a supposition.

Ὑψιπύλην δ’ εἴσαντο καταφθιμένοιο Θόαντος
τηλυγέτην γεγαυῖαν ἀνασσέμεν.

A.R. 1. 718-9

They understood that as Thoas was dead, his only child Hypsipyle was ruling.

Based on the expositional information available to the Argonauts, this is the reported group hypothesis (related to the narrative past). There’s no supplementary hypothesis on why the party that met them at the shore was comprised exclusively of armed women. Still, Hypsipyle is the only child of the old king and that’s why she is in charge. The reader with the same amount of available information might go along with that. How did Thoas die? Where are the Lemnian men?

As Jason gets ready, we can review the situation as presented here. Two groups, one male and one female, have heard and unanimously agreed to a course of action. The next event cued is the meeting of Jason and Hypsipyle where if the presentation follows the pattern of the assembly we might reasonably expect more dialogue and some answers to ongoing hypotheses. Jason takes a long time to get ready. Events are delayed by the insertion of an ecphrasis (a passage of description on a visual work of art). Jason puts on his cloak and verses 721-767 comprise a detailed description of the mythological scenes (a sequence of embedded microfictions) woven into it. This retardation causes no delay in story time but a substantial delay in reading time (possibly generating some tension) until finally Jason gets to the city and escorted by Iphinoe through the throng of admiring Lemnians, he reaches the palace and the queen.

I’m going to reproduce in sections all the exposition from what does turn out to be a fairly long speech by Hypsipyle. This isn’t an especially close or a guided reading. I’ve italicised instances of evaluative language and I leave it for each reader to decide how they empathise or sympathise with the speaker. I’ve also coloured some elements for later comparison.

A. Positioning of Speakers and Framing

ἔνθα μιν Ἰφινόη κλισμῷ ἔνι παμφανόωντι
ἐσσυμένως καλῆς διὰ παστάδος εἷσεν ἄγουσα

[790] ἀντία δεσποίνης. Ἡ δ’ ἐγκλιδὸν ὄσσε βαλοῦσα
παρθενικὰς ἐρύθηνε παρηίδας· ἔμπα δὲ τόν γε
αἰδομένη μύθοισι προσέννεπεν αἱμυλίοισι·

A.R. 1.788-792

Then Iphinoe led him through a beautiful porch and seated him on a gleaming chair before her mistress, who turned her eyes from him, her maiden cheeks flushed red. Still, despite her embarrassment, she addressed him with well-crafted words.

B. Header – Summary Exposition of the Lemnian Situation

‘Ξεῖνε, τίη μίμνοντες ἐπὶ χρόνον ἔκτοθι πύργων
ἧσθ’ αὔτως, ἐπεὶ οὐ μὲν ὑπ’ ἀνδράσι ναίεται ἄστυ,

[795] ἀλλὰ Θρηικίης ἐπινάστιοι ἠπείροιο
πυροφόρους ἀρόωσι γύας; Κακότητα δὲ πᾶσαν
ἐξερέω νημερτές, ἵν’ εὖ γνοίητε καὶ αὐτοί.

A.R. 1.793-797

Stranger, why do you all stay as you are, lingering outside the city-walls? For the city is not inhabited by men. They emigrated and are ploughing the Thracian mainland’s wheat-bearing fields. And of all our misfortune, I shall speak truly that you all will come to know it rightly yourselves.

C. Exposition of former status quo and disruption event

εὖτε Θόας ἀστοῖσι πατὴρ ἐμὸς ἐμβασίλευε,
τηνίκα Θρηικίην οἵ τ’ ἀντία ναιετάουσι

[800] δήμου ἀπορνύμενοι λαοὶ πέρθεσκον ἐναύλους
ἐκ νηῶν, αὐτῇσι δ’ ἀπείρονα ληίδα κούραις
δεῦρ’ ἄγον. Οὐλομένης δὲ θεᾶς πορσύνετο μῆνις
Κύπριδος, ἥ τέ σφιν θυμοφθόρον ἔμβαλεν ἄτην·
δὴ γὰρ κουριδίας μὲν ἀπέστυγον ἔκ τε μελάθρων

[805] ᾗ ματίῃ εἴξαντες ἀπεσσεύοντο γυναῖκας,
αὐτὰρ ληιάδεσσι δορικτήταις παρίαυον,

A.R. 1.798-807

At the time when Thoas, my father, ruled the townsfolk, our men used to go to Thrace on the opposite shore and raid from their ships the homes of its inhabitants. They brought back here plunder beyond reckoning and their women. The plan of the destructive goddess Cypris was set in motion. She instilled in them a heart-rending delusion for now they loathed their wives and surrendered to their folly. They chased their wives out from under their own roofs and compounded this by sleeping with the captive women taken by their spears. The fools!

D. Exposition of resulting change in circumstances

Ἦ μὲν δηρὸν ἐτέτλαμεν, εἴ κέ ποτ’ αὖτις
ὀψὲ μεταστρέψωσι νόον· τὸ δὲ διπλόον αἰεί
πῆμα κακὸν προύβαινεν. Ἀτιμάζοντο δὲ τέκνα

[810] γνήσι’ ἐνὶ μεγάροις, σκοτίη δ’ ἀνέτελλε γενέθλη·
αὔτως δ’ ἀδμῆτες κοῦραι, χῆραί τ’ ἐπὶ τῇσι
μητέρες, ἂμ πτολίεθρον ἀτημελέες ἀλάληντο·
Οὐδὲ πατὴρ ὀλίγον περ ἑῆς ἀλέγιζε θυγατρός,
εἰ καὶ ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖσι δαϊζομένην ὁρόῳτο

[815] μητρυιῆς ὑπὸ χερσὶν ἀτασθάλου· οὐδ’ ἀπὸ μητρός
λώβην ὡς τὸ πάροιθεν ἀεικέα παῖδες ἄμυνον,
οὐδὲ κασιγνήτοισι κασιγνήτη μέλε θυμῷ·

A.R. 1.807-817

We endured this for a long time, hoping that someday they would eventually change their minds again. But the misery ever progressed, layering evil upon evil. Legitimate children were dishonoured in their homes, bastard children were born. Unmarried girls and widowed mothers too would roam about the city just as they were, neglected. Nor did a father pay much attention to his own daughter, even if he saw her with his own eyes being cut down by the hands of a wicked stepmother. Nor did sons, as before, defend their mothers from shameful insults. Nor for sisters did brothers care in their heart.

E. Exposition of events leading to current status quo

Ἀλλ’ οἶαι κοῦραι ληίτιδες ἔν τε δόμοισιν
ἔν τε χοροῖς ἀγορῇ τε καὶ εἰλαπίνῃσι μέλοντο,

[820] εἰσόκε τις θεὸς ἄμμιν ὑπέρβιον ἔμβαλε θάρσος,
ἂψ ἀναερχομένους Θρῃκῶν ἄπο μηκέτι πύργοις
δέχθαι, ἵν’ ἢ φρονέοιεν ἅπερ θέμις, ἠέ πῃ ἄλλῃ
αὐταῖς ληιάδεσσιν ἀφορμηθέντες ἵκοιντο.
Οἱ δ’ ἄρα θεσσάμενοι παίδων γένος ὅσσον ἔλειπτο

[825] ἄρσεν ἀνὰ πτολίεθρον, ἔβαν πάλιν ἔνθ’ ἔτι νῦν περ
Θρηικίης ἄροσιν χιονώδεα ναιετάουσιν.’

A.R. 1.818-826

Plundered girls alone in homes, in dances, in agora and feasts were the object of their interest; until some god instilled in us an overpowering courage that when they returned again from the Thracians we receive them within the towers no longer, that either they would recall again what was right, or leave with their concubines and go somewhere else. So then they requested all the children, as many as were male and still in the city, and went back again to the snowy ploughland of Thrace, and there they dwell even to this day.’

That’s a carefully constructed exposition. She opens with a question and summary explanation of why there is no cause for anxiety. From that opening, she relates in detail an emotionally charged account of the suffering of the Lemnian women culminating in their rise against their oppressors. Her conclusion of the exposition returns to her opening statement, neatly enclosing the whole account. She then proceeds to offer the island to the Argonauts and her throne to Jason.

This is Hypsipyle’s direct speech. This is, using narratological terminology, her focalized account of events; what happened as she saw it and felt it. I haven’t italicised every instance of evaluative language and each reader is free to mark more but what should be clear is that this exposition is markedly a personal account from a character who was an eye-witness to events in the Storyworld. As readers we are alreading immersed in/have been transported to this Lemnian Storyworld but when Hypsipyle speaks here, we project further back and deeper in.

One approach to mapping these mental shifts performed by the reader of a text is Deictic Shift Theory (DST), used by Peter Stockwell as a basis for a cognitive linguistic model of deixis.

DST models the common perception of a reader ‘getting inside’ a literary text as the reader taking a cognitive stance within the mentally constructed world of the text. This imaginative capacity is a deictic shift which allows the reader to understand projected deictic expressions relative to the shifted deictic centre. In other words, readers can see things virtually from the perspective of the character or narrator inside the text-world, and construct a rich context by resolving deictic expressions from that viewpoint. The notion of the shifted deictic centre is a major explanatory concept to account for the perception and creation of coherence across a literary text.
(Stockwell 2002: 46-47)

Thus, when Hypsipyle begins to speak, the deictic centre shifts from the narrator to her. ‘I’ is ‘her’, ‘stranger’ is Jason, ‘you’ are Jason and the Argonauts and so on. We project to her in Myrine at the time of speaking. When she then begins her exposition with ‘At the time when Thoas, my father, ruled the townsfolk’ we shift down the deictic field temporally to back when Thoas was in charge. Borrowing terminology familiar to anyone who has done any computer coding, shifts down are ‘pushes’ and shifts up are ‘pops’. So, when she concludes the exposition with ‘even to this day’- pop – we’re back in her ‘now’.

What’s attractive to me here about this approach is the emphasis on layering, on readers being drawn into texts and down through the levels (like intrepid dungeon crawlers in search of ever greater treasures). Stockwell expands the three prototypical deictic situations of person, place and time (perceptual, spatial and temporal deixis) into six categories, adding relational, textual and compositional deixis.

The instances of evaluative language in Hypsipyle’s speech lie within the category of relational deixis.

Relational deixis – expressions that encode the social viewpoint and relative situations of authors, narrators, characters, and readers, including modality and expressions of point of view and focalisation; naming and address conventions; evaluative word-choices.
(Stockwell 2002: 46)

The Lemnian past which Hypsipyle recreates for her audiences is one in which society has undergone total collapse. Pairings are offered and their normal relationship (according to her social viewpoint) is simultaneously fractured in the utterance. Husbands and wives, fathers and daughters, brothers and sisters; in her account, these familiar and obvious units of family are broken by the dysfunctional male element. She talks of wives, lawful unions, legitimacy versus concubines and bastards (see esp. D above). She draws attention to the callous indifference [her evaluation or my evaluation influenced by reading her event production?] of the Lemnian man who is not only oblivious to wives and daughters wandering the streets like strays but doesn’t bat an eyelid seeing his daughter killed by his new lover (now ‘stepmother’). Projecting, we stand in her shoes, relive the suffering through her recreation, and might well cheer when the Lemnian women send the men back to the land of their lovers. Who needs men like that around?

When Hypsipyle’s speech to Jason ends, we shift back to the extradiegetic narrator who completes his own frame.

Ἴσκεν, ἀμαλδύνουσα φόνου τέλος, οἷον ἐτύχθη

A.R. 1.834-835

So she spoke, glossing over the coming to pass of slaughter which had befallen the men.

Ruh-roh! The Lemnian men did not migrate. The Lemnian men are dead. The queen who began her speech with ‘well-crafted words’ has concealed a mass murder. Where are the Lemnian men? Somewhere in that rich soil of Lemnos? Will the Argonauts make a grisly finding? Is optimism for a harmonious union going to collapse into further violence and bloodshed?

No. The Argonautica’s Lemnian narrative is not a forensic investigation narrative, though my delayed exposition might set it up to appear as one. What does happen? Jason refuses politely the queen’s generous offer (quests need to be quested) but thanks her for ‘heart-cheering’ assistance. He returns to repeat her account to the Argonauts who then enter the city to be ‘entertained’. An indefinite amount of time passes before an annoyed Heracles insists they proceed with the mission. On the Argonauts sail, leaving behind an island of pregnant Lemnian women. Despite the Lemnian men’s ‘migration’, Lemnian survival was ensured. The Argonauts discover nothing, but the reader does. The narrator also gives us his version.

Ἔνθ’ ἄμυδις πᾶς δῆμος ὑπερβασίῃσι γυναικῶν
νηλειῶς δέδμητο παροιχομένῳ λυκάβαντι.
Δὴ γὰρ κουριδίας μὲν ἀπηνήναντο γυναῖκας
ἀνέρες ἐχθήραντες· ἔχον δ’ ἐπὶ ληιάδεσσι
τρηχὺν ἔρον, ἃς αὐτοὶ ἀγίνεον ἀντιπέρηθεν
Θρηικίην δηιοῦντες, ἐπεὶ χόλος αἰνὸς ὄπαζε
Κύπριδος, οὕνεκά μιν γεράων ἐπὶ δηρὸν ἄτισσαν.
Ὢ μέλεαι ζήλοιό τ’ ἐπισμυγερῶς ἀκόρητοι,
οὐκ οἶον σὺν τῇσιν ἑοὺς ἔρραισαν ἀκοίτας
ἀμφ’ εὐνῇ, πᾶν δ’ ἄρσεν ὁμοῦ γένος, ὥς κεν ὀπίσσω
μή τινα λευγαλέοιο φόνου τίσειαν ἀμοιβήν.
Οἴη δ’ ἐκ πασέων γεραροῦ περιφείσατο πατρός
Ὑψιπύλεια Θόαντος ὃ δὴ κατὰ δῆμον ἄνασσε·
λάρνακι δ’ ἐν κοίλῃ μιν ὕπερθ’ ἁλὸς ἧκε φέρεσθαι,
αἴ κε φύγῃ. Кαὶ τὸν μὲν ἐς Οἰνοίην ἐρύσαντο
πρόσθεν, ἀτὰρ Σίκινόν γε μεθύστερον αὐδηθεῖσαν
νῆσον, ἐπακτῆρες, Σικίνου ἄπο, τόν ῥα Θόαντι
Νηιὰς Οἰνοίη Νύμφη τέκεν εὐνηθεῖσα.


There in the preceding year, the male population had been killed by the transgressions of the women; all at once and ruthlessly. For the men rejected their lawful wives, hating them, and held a prickly lust for the captive girls they brought back themselves when ravaging Thrace on the opposite shore. The dread and horrible anger of Cypris was pressing them hard, because for a long time they deprived her of her due honours. Unhappy women, in jealousy sadly unsated! Not only do they destroy their own husbands and their women alongside them in their beds, but every male Lemnian alike, to avoid paying any retribution in the future for the miserable murder.

Alone out of them all, Hypsipyle, the daughter of Thoas, saved the life of her old father, who was then ruler of the people. She put him in an empty chest to be carried across the sea, her means of his escape. And he was dragged ashore by fisherman at the island known then as Oenoe but in later times called Sicinus, after the Sicinus whom the Naiad Oenoe bore after making love to Thoas.

Only the line numbers have been redacted. Otherwise this is the full exposition provided by the narrator. Where could we position this exposition? Immediately after the ‘glossing over the murder’ comment?

Because, you see, there in the preceding year the entire male population had been ruthlessly slain…

A narratorial version immediately countering her own and giving the reader the true location of the Lemnian men just before an unknowing Jason accepts her offer! Now we know what ‘bad report’ Hypsipyle feared. Now Jason is on his way to repeat her version to the men and bring the Argonauts into the city of man-killing women. What hypotheses would we then be forming once the narrator has sounded an alarm? What would we now think of Lemnos’ queen and her speech?

How does the placement of exposition affect the reader experience? This is an open question. My survey of real reader responses so far has been impromptu and singular; a conversation struck up by an inquisitive fellow traveller on a train (made curious by my scribbling on a parallel Greek and English text). I showed them Hypsipyle’s speech, the narrator’s comment, and then supplied the narratorial exposition.

‘Well, if you put that just after she finishes speaking, then she comes across as just a liar.’

‘And if you read her speech later, having already heard the narrator’s version?’

‘Hmm. It’s different. You sympathise with her.’

There is among the Argo’s crew the hero Aethalides, blessed with an ‘imperishable memory of all things’ (A.R. 1.643-4). Mine isn’t, so there is some creativity in that speech reconstruction but the gist remains; a narratorial version immediately following and in response to her own version prompts a stern critique. When our narrator is extradiegetic, capable of moving back and forth in time and space, we’re supposed to trust them.

Indeed, as Lubomír Doležel (1998) has argued, modes of narratorial participation bear crucially on the process by which circumstances and events in storyworlds are “authenticated” (or not) as fictional facts – as things that must be assumed to be true about the storyworld if one is to build up a coherent interpretation of it. As Doležel puts it, “entities [and events] introduced in the discourse of the anonymous third-person narrator are eo ipso authenticated as fictional facts, while those introduced in the discourses of the fictional persons are not” (1998: 149, quoted in Margolin 2005b: 33; cf. Doležel 1980). In other words, fictional facts reported by third-person narrators have an authority, or mark a degree of certainty, lacking in first-person reports given by characters or character narrators occupying specific positions in a storyworld.
(Herman 2009: 67-68)

Let’s go along with that for the moment and though my spoilers have now removed the tension, let’s still be creative readers. What if we were to redact the ‘glossing over the murder’ comment and place this narratorial exposition after the Argo gets underway again?

The Lemnian women waved from the shore where in the preceding year the entire male population had been ruthlessly slain…


A sting in the tail for the reader who put aside suspicions of terrible deeds but might now want to reread the episode for clues?

What about if we were to restore the ‘glossing over the murder’ comment and have the exposition immediately following, as already suggested?

With the narratorial version immediately countering her own and giving the reader the true location of the Lemnian men, now we know what ‘bad report’ Hypsipyle feared. Now Jason is on his way to repeat her doctored version to the rest of the men and bring the Argonauts into the city of man-killing women. What hypotheses are we forming now that the narrator has sounded an alarm? Do we imagine Hypsipyle in her throne room laughing maniacally?

I noted the retardation of the narrative prior to Jason’s audience with Hypsipyle. What if we were to prolong that meeting further by insertion of exposition as he made his way to the city? As he entered the city? As he entered the palace? How does that modify the reader’s expectations? Does it increase the tension? Does it lead to darker or more pessimistic hypotheses? ‘Get out of there, Jason!’ How do we read her speech immediately following a narratorial version of events?

Wherever placed, simply having two expositions in the text is an invitation to compare and contrast them. The ‘fictional facts’ are not being altered by this mental juggling, only their arrangement, and that arrangement (which comes first, how close together, what occurs in the narrative between them) has the potential, I think, to modify the reading experience, even if only to a small degree. The point at which curiosity (about the narrative’s past) is satisfied (and in this case that satisfaction is dependent on a reconciliation of variants) is the point at which we can apply additional information to speculations on ongoing action. As I said, the Argonautica’s Lemnian episode is not a forensic investigation. Nor is it a thriller. One could, however, via strategic redistribution of information, turn up the tension dial. But where does the exposition come in the actual text?

Right at the beginning of the episode, verses 606-26. It’s not delayed exposition but preliminary exposition; that boon for the nervous reader who doesn’t like surprises.

Attempting to ask the historical author about the narrative arrangement would involve procedures unduly macabre. What the Lemnian women did is myth and myths are well-known. Quoting myself citing Lowe in an earlier post:

The Argonautica is a work of the third century BC, a work at the beginning of what Nick Lowe describes as a ‘three-century literary counter-current stretching from Callimachus to Ovid’ and a period in which the reader ‘is credited by the text with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all myth; he can no longer be surprised, so that even if by chance the reader is classically manipulated by a story he does not know, the pretence has to be maintained that he knows it already’ (Lowe 2000: 98).

Suspension of expositional material concerning the slaughter is not going to work. ‘It is known,’ as a Dothraki might say. Rather weary reasoning though. The Argonautica’s narrator is patchy with his information distribution (as discussed in that same earlier post); sometimes very forthcoming, sometimes reticent. If it is known, the experienced reader could nod sagely at the post-speech comment correction and be satisfied that Hypsipyle’s version had not gone unchallenged.

Still refreshers are nice enough, and there is some tension in his summary. The Argonauts have yet to land. There are variant versions which do contain initial violence. Being reminded that these women are capable of incredible carnage can set us thinking along those lines. I suppose what interests me most about the arrangement as it is – preliminary exposition followed post Lemnian Assembly by character exposition – is that in this arrangement it is not her version that is being challenged but his.

Before the Argonauts set foot on the shore, the narrator takes us back in time, gives us his version of events and then brings us up to speed on the current status quo on the island. We learn stuff in advance, stuff that the Argonauts never learn, however long they stay.

‘For we have done a terrible deed,’ translated Race, but a big deed can be good or bad. Who would focalize it as bad, or indeed terrible? Hypsipyle? The Lemnian women? The narrator? Translator privy to preliminary exposition? Who would read it as terrible? The intradiegetic assembly of Lemnian women? The extradiegetic reader privy to preliminary exposition? All possibles, but certainly not the Argonauts. They do not get to read it. All the Argonauts learn is the version Jason tells them, which is the version Hypsipyle told us.

I began with her version to invite suggestions and speculations as to other possible arrangements and where to drop the expositional bomb, or indeed to make it a bomb. I also devoted more text-time to her version, italicising evaluations to encourage closer and immersive reading. I shifted into some DST to encourage further consideration of the concept of projection. The narrator’s preliminary exposition I have simply translated and left for the reader to pick out instances of evaluative language (which are far from being entirely damning) and to find those expressions which correspond to the coloured sections in Hypsipyle’s speech; those points which she picked up on, addressed and modified. What I also hoped to achieve via a stretching of reading time and disproportional treatment is a simulation (poor substitute) for what occurs in the normal reading process.

We spend a lot of time on Lemnos between that preliminary exposition and the meeting of Hypsipyle with Jason. Most of that time is spent in the company of the Lemnian women. There are named characters (Hypsipyle, Polyxo, Iphinoe) who speak and act, who we observe speaking and acting. Projection won’t automatically result in empathy/sympathy but it’s an opportunity that allows for emotional engagement and the projecting that the reader is doing on Lemnos is into the perspectives of the inhabitants and not of the visitors e.g. there is no direct speech from any Argonaut until Jason’s short reply to the queen.

Okay, the modification from ‘murder’ to ‘migration’ is significant but consider what constitutes the bulk of her exposition (in D to E above). That material is not present in the narrator’s exposition but the opportunity is there to insert it. Hypsipyle writes into the gaps.

A literary text may be conceived of as a dynamic system of gaps. A reader who wishes to actualize the field of reality that is represented in a work, to construct (or rather reconstruct) the fictive world and action it projects, is necessarily compelled to pose and answer, throughout the reading-process, such questions as, What is happening or has happened, and why? What is the connection between this event and the previous ones? What is the motivation of this or that character… Most of the answers to these questions, however, are not provided explicitly, fully and authoritatively (let alone immediately) by the text, but must be worked out by the reader himself on the basis of the implicit guidance it affords. In fact, every literary work opens a number of gaps that have to be filled in by the reader through the construction of hypotheses, in light of which the various components of the work are accounted for, linked, and brought into pattern.
(Sternberg 1978: 50)

‘By the reader himself’. Or herself. The narrator’s account left a gap (or offered it) and Hypsipyle filled it. For the Argonauts, her reading is the reading. Our reading depends on how we process two sets of information from two different sources. Which better answers the questions Sternberg poses? How do they each aid or hinder reconstruction of the storyworld? How is their arrangement affecting the questions we raise in the reading process? Who do we trust? How do we feel? Is the deed ‘terrible’ no matter the order of exposition? Murder? Manslaughter? Justified homicide?

Jason and the Argonauts Art of the Predictable

Other versions. Apollonius holds no copyright on the myth. The Argo voyages on other possible worlds with a different crew visiting different lands on its journey to Colchis and back. For example, in the version we find in Pindar Pythian 4, the stay at Lemnos is on the return journey. However, the version of the Lemnian episode I want to look at briefly now is not from antiquity but from 2000AD (though unfortunately not the comic book). At this point in the post, we are approaching with a different set of expectations. We are approaching with the information from the Argonautica and have two sources for the Lemnian deed. We can make predictions.

This version is in the TV movie Jason and the Argonauts, directed by Nick Willing and produced by Hallmark Entertainment. It’s a two-part miniseries which clocks in at 172 minutes. We’re 51 minutes in when the Argonauts reach Lemnos. They are on their way again after another ten minutes but we’re only staying for the exposition. I suggested above how different distributions of information modify the reading experience, so let’s now visit Lemnos in the year 2000 and see how things are done there.

Bringing the reader up to speed, this Argo has been driven to Lemnos by a storm. The storm was sent by Zeus. What grudge does the king of the gods have against the Argonauts? Well he’s annoyed that his wife Hera is so fond of Jason and announces he’s going to test Jason and prove him wanting. A trial of some kind awaits… The crew arrive bedraggled, a man down, and the ship is already in need of repair. They’ve scarcely had time to disembark when warriors are spotted emerging from the undergrowth. ‘Form a phalanx!’

In the Apollonian narrative, following the narrator’s preliminary exposition, we ‘pop’ back to the narrative present but do not shift back to the ship. We stay on Lemnos and watch with the Lemnian women the ship appearing on the horizon. We run to the shore in panic with them. After a temporary entente is put in place, we go to the assembly with them. In this telling, however, we do not leave the Argonauts. There’s no backstory here. We watch with the men this new danger assembling on the shore. We watch with them as another group, now of armed riders, canter into view. We watch as their leader removes their helmet.

Is that Hypsipyle welcoming them? That was my hypothesis but the scene immediately shifts to a courtyard and hypothesis revised. This is Hypsipyle.

‘Welcome. I understand you require some materials of us.’
‘Welcome. I understand you require some materials of us.’

Time elapsed between arrival and audience with the queen? One minute. My mental model of the setting wasn’t quite so moist. My mental model of Hypsipyle wasn’t quite so Natasha Henstridge.

‘Only a few things. Some timber. Sailing cloth.’
‘Only a few things. Some timber. Sailing cloth.’

Jason is polite, and looks a little uncomfortable. He might have been expecting a younger queen, a maiden who blushed at the sight of him. I was. This Hypsipyle is older than expected. This Hypsipyle is self-assured. I am having to revise models and predictions.

[Literary] Schemas have also been used to explain bundles of information and features at every level of linguistic organisation, from the meanings perceived in individual words to the readings of entire texts. Literary genres, fictional episodes, imagined characters in narrated situations can all be understood as part of schematised knowledge negotiation. One of the key factors in the appeal of schema theory is that it sees these knowledge structures as dynamic and experientially developing. In general, there are three ways in which a schema can evolve:

  • accretion – the addition of new facts to the schema
  • tuning – the modification of facts or relations within the schema
  • restructuring – the creation of new schemas

For example, for readers who have only a passing familiarity with science fiction, the SF schema typically has slots such as: spaceships, rayguns, robots (props); scientists, explorers, aliens (participants); extraterrestrial settings or time or space travel (entry conditions); apocalypse, or its cunning avoidance (results); and space battles or laser shoot-outs (sequence of events). As people read more SF, their schemas accrete extra features, such as the time-dilation effects of faster-than-light intergalactic travel, or ‘warp’ engines, or positronic brains, and so on.
(Stockwell 2002: 78-9)

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Where are the Lemnian men? That’s not important now. Hypsipyle wants to talk about her garden. Point of view switches between two cameras as the queen approaches Jason. One camera tracks her as she circles slowly round; the queen seen through Jason’s eyes. The second camera is fixed on him, a stationary figure, and zooms in as she draws closer. It is clear who is in control in this scene.

‘This is when a garden looks best, don’t you agree? A garden should be a little wild. It should be fertile. You should feel the force of creation in it.’

Camera angles, body language, movement, gaze, delivery… the subtext here in the steamy low-lit courtyard is not subtle. Innuendo is not absent from the Argonautica. Ploughing fields and fertile land as sexual metaphors are there to be read in the lines of Polyxo’s speech and when Hypsipyle makes her offer of Lemnos to Jason.

τῶ ὑμεῖς στρωφᾶσθ’ ἐπιδήμιοι· εἰ δέ κεν αὖθι
ναιετάειν ἐθέλοις καί τοι ἅδοι, ἦ τ’ ἂν ἔπειτα
πατρὸς ἐμεῖο Θόαντος ἔχοις γέρας· οὐδέ σ’ ὀίω
γαῖαν ὀνόσσεσθαι, περὶ γὰρ βαθυλήιος ἄλλων
νήσων Αἰγαίῃ ὅσαι εἰν ἁλὶ ναιετάουσιν
A.R. 1.827-31

‘Therefore, all of you stay and reside with us; and if you yourself should wish to live here and would find it agreeable, then truly you would have my father Thoas’ position of honour. Nor do I think you will find fault with our land, for it has deeper soil than all the other islands that lie in the Aegean sea.’ (trans. Race)

What’s missing from this version is any of the preceding exposition. This version is sex and wine.

The dominant model for my Hypsipyle is Nausicaa, the bright and resourceful princess of the Phaeacians. This Hypsipyle is a femme fatale, modelled on the Odyssey’s Circe or Calypso, immortals who threatened Odysseus’ homecoming. They’re hinted at in the Argonautica’s text, offering a shiver of unease for the reader alert to lexical correspondences. For example, there is an echo in Hypsipyle’s ‘well-crafted words’ (μύθοισι αἱμυλίοισι, 792) of Calypso’s beguiling manner, and the phrase employed at Od. 1.56 in Athena’s first direct speech (μύθοισι αἱμυλίοισι ~ αἱμυλίοισι λόγοισιν) – a complaint to Zeus concerning Calypso’s detention of Odysseus on Ogygia. Similarly when Iphinoe escorts Jason to his seat, an experienced reader might find themselves remembering Odysseus’ entrance to Circe’s cottage (Odyssey 10.312-5).

But those are whispers and this is screaming. I’m not sure if revision will resolve my schema or if a new one is required. I’m reminded of From Dusk till Dawn, a movie which initially has the audience adapting a schema for heist/hostage narratives but shortly after the protagonists arrive at the Titty Twister, that schema has to be jettisoned for something completely different that can deal with the undead. I suppose, following from that, Santanico Pandemonium might be a better model for this Hypsipyle. She then is Zeus’ test and the stammering young hero is failing with flying colours. What happened to the Lemnian men?

‘So where are all the men?’ ‘Fighting.’ ‘Oh yeah. Who?’ ‘It’s been so long I have forgotten.’
‘So where are all the men?’ ‘Fighting.’ ‘Oh yeah. Who?’ ‘It’s been so long I have forgotten.’

The clock reads 52:30 as the scene shifts to the Argonauts and Lemnian women bathing together. Exposition? It’s all there in the caption. The men are off fighting someone somewhere. Who cares? On with the ‘bathing’. At this point everyone is happy enough with the situation apart from Atalanta and Orpheus. She thinks the men are all under a spell (sex and wine, Atalanta) and he’s moping over his lost love, Eurydice. The Argo is sailing nowhere. Jason is happy in Sil’s Hypsipyle’s bed. Zeus is amused.

We appear to have reached a similar point in this narrative as in the Argonautica once Jason relays Hypsipyle’s account and invitation to the crew. There it requires the intervention of an angry Heracles who has no interest in the women and wants to get on with the mission. This Heracles loves his bathing.

Something needs to happen. Someone needs to do something. 57 minutes up. Why is Atalanta wandering about at night? What’s this she’s stumbled upon?

‘O most adored goddess, hear us and accept the coming sacrifice, a sacrifice… of MEN!’

BOOM! Arrival, audience, seduction, exposition, entertainment, reveal. In six minutes. So yes, these Lemnian women seduce and sacrifice men to their unnamed goddess in a submerged temple. I’ll let the readers apply their own schemas at this point and speculate as to how the last four minutes of the episode progress. The film itself shouldn’t be too hard to find (though only recommended for the resilient reader).

I kept the intertexts to a minimum here but they will likely appear in the next post which will be a follow-up to this one, looking at textual and compositional deixis in the episode. Fun!


Herman, D. (2009) Basic Elements of Narrative, Oxford.
Sternberg, M. (1978) Expositional Modes and Temporal Orderings in Fiction, Baltimore.
Stockwell, P. (2002) Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction, London.

Further Reading

Doležel, L. (1980) ‘Truth and Authenticity in Narrative’, Poetics Today 1: 7– 25.
Doležel, L. (1998) Heterocosmica: Fiction and Possible Worlds, Baltimore.
Margolin, U. (2005) ‘Authentication’ in D. Herman, M. Jahn, & M.-L. Ryan, eds., Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory, London: 32– 3.

Further Reading on the Web

the living handbook of Narratology – Fictionality

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