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The Trojan War cycle, also widely known as the Epic Cycle, was a collection of eight Ancient Greek epic poems that related the history of the Trojan War. The phrase "Epic Cycle" is sometimes used of a longer cycle that included the Titanomachy, the Theban Cycle, and the Trojan cycle, but is widely used to refer to just the Trojan cycle.

All but two of the epics are lost. They were written in dactylic hexameter verse. In modern scholarship the study of the historical and literary relationship between the two Homeric epics and the rest of the cycle is called Neoanalysis.

Contents

  • The eleven books of the Kypria recount the events leading up to the Trojan War and the first nine years of the conflict, especially the judgement of Paris.
  • The Iliad accredited to Homer picks up after the Cypria and focuses on Achilles and his rage against first king Agamemnon and then the Trojan prince Hector. It ends with the death of Hector, who is killed by Achilles in revenge for the death of his dear friend Patroclus.
  • The five book Aethiopis is said to have been written by Arctinus of Miletus. It covers the arrival of the Trojan allies Penthesilea the Amazon and Memnon, their deaths at Achilles' hands, and Achilles' own death.
  • The Little Iliad, believed to have been written by Lesches, covers the events after Achilles' death including the building of the Trojan Horse.
  • The Iliupersis covers the sack of Troy by the Greeks.
  • The Nostoi ("returns") covers the return home of the main Greek force and the events contingent upon their arrival. The final section was devoted especially to Agamemnon and Menelaus.
  • The Odyssey, also accredited to Homer, covers the end of Odysseus' voyage home and his vengeance on his wife Penelope's suitors, who have devoured his property in his absence.
  • The Telegony covers the life of Odysseus after his return home and his death at the hands of an illegitimate son, Telegonus.

Only the Iliad and the Odyssey survive. The main source for the contents of the lost epics are a complete summary known as the Chrestomathy, possibly dating to the 5th century AD (attributed, incorrectly, to the philosopher Proclus Diadochus). Many other fragments and quotations also survive.

A longer Epic Cycle included the Titanomachy and the Theban cycle, which in turn comprised the Oedipodea, the Thebaid, the Epigoni and the Alcmeonis, as well as the Trojan War cycle.

Reception and influence

The non-Homeric epics in the cycle have always been regarded as later than the Iliad and Odyssey, though there is no reliable evidence for this. In antiquity the Homeric epics were considered to be the greatest works in the cycle. For Hellenistic scholars the authors of the other poems were the neoteroi, "the later poets", and kyklikos ("cyclic") was synonymous with "formulaic": then, and in much modern scholarship, there has been an equation between poetry that is later and poetry that is inferior.

In more recent times it has been argued that the fantastic and magical content of the non-Homeric epics mark them as inferior (Griffin 1977); but it must be remembered that the Iliad and especially the Odyssey could sound just as fantastic if only brief summaries of them survived. It is certain that the poets of the Iliad and Odyssey knew the stories in the rest of the cycle and drew upon them extensively, and it is likely that the Aethiopis in particular was of relatively high quality. Overall it is impossible to tell how good the lost epics were; though some parts, especially the end of the Telegony, sound frankly bizarre in summary.

The tales told in the cycle are recounted by other ancient sources, notably Virgil's Aeneid (book 2) which recounts the sack of Troy from a Trojan perspective; Ovid's Metamorphoses (books 13-14), which describes the Greeks' landing at Troy (from the Cypria) and the judgment of Achilles' arms (Little Iliad); Quintus of Smyrna's Posthomerica, which narrates all the events after Achilles' death up until the end of the war; and the death of Agamemnon and the vengeance taken by his son Orestes (the Nostoi) are the subject of later Greek tragedy, especially Aeschylus's Oresteian trilogy.

Bibliography

Editions

References

  • Griffin, Jasper 1977, "The epic cycle and the uniqueness of Homer", Journal of Hellenic Studies 97: 39-53

Further reading

  • Burgess, J.S. 2001, The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins). ISBN 080187890X (pbk)
  • Davies, M. 1989, The Greek Epic Cycle (Bristol: Bristol Classical Press). ISBN 1853990396 (pbk)
  • Kullmann, W. 1960, Die Quellen der Ilias (troischer Sagenkreis) (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner). ISBN 3515002359 (1998 reprint)
  • Monro, D.B. 1901, Homer's Odyssey, books XIII-XXIV (Oxford: Clarendon Press), pp. 340-84. (Out of print)
  • Severyns, A. 1928, Le cycle épique dans l'école d'Aristarque (Liége, Paris: Société d'édition "Les belles lettres"). (Out of print)

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