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What Do Humans Get to Know about the Gods and Their Plans? On Prophecies and Their Deficiencies in Valerius Flaccus' Argonautica

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image of Mnemosyne

This article discusses aspects of the communication between gods and humans in Valerius Flaccus' Flavian epic Argonautica by focusing on the situation of Jason and the Argonauts as well as on the Phineus episode in the fourth Book: although the gods in this poem, and Jupiter in particular, have specific plans for the fate of humans and the development of world history, they do not want humans to know those. As humans therefore receive only scattered and unclear information about the future, they remain uncertain and terrified, while retaining their confidence in the gods. The gods at least save humans from unnecessary, excessive suffering and allow them to entertain an unspecific hope of improvement in the future. Hence Valerius Flaccus' depiction of the attitude of the gods to humans and of its consequences for the lives of humans differs, in different ways, from both Apollonius Rhodius and Vergil and indicates how the poet interprets the general human condition. Recipients of the poem do get some idea of the larger framework in which the action is set (in contrast to characters), but the outlook remains gloomy.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Greek and Latin, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK;, Email:


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