Six epics with the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” made up the Trojan Cycle–The “Cyprian Lays”, the “Iliad”, the “Aethiopis”, the “Little Iliad”, the “Sack of Troy”, the “Returns”, the “Odyssey”, and the “Telegony”.

It has been assumed that the poems of the Trojan Cycle are later than the Homeric poems; but, as the opposite view has been held, the reasons for this assumption must now be given. 1) Tradition puts Homer and the Homeric poems proper back in the ages before chronological history began, and at the same time assigns the purely Cyclic poems to definite authors who are dated from the first Olympiad (776 B.C.) downwards. This tradition cannot be purely arbitrary. 2) The Cyclic poets (as we can see from the abstract of Proclus) were careful not to trespass upon ground already occupied by Homer. Thus, when we find that in the “Returns” all the prominent Greek heroes except Odysseus are accounted for, we are forced to believe that the author of this poem knew the “Odyssey” and judged it unnecessary to deal in full with that hero’s adventures. [1112] In a word, the Cyclic poems are ‘written round’ the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey”. 3) The general structure of these epics is clearly imitative. As M.M. Croiset remark, the abusive Thersites in the “Aethiopis” is clearly copied from the Thersites of the “Iliad”; in the same poem Antilochus, slain by Memnon and avenged by Achilles, is obviously modelled on Patroclus. 4) The geographical knowledge of a poem like the “Returns” is far wider and more precise than that of the “Odyssey”. 5) Moreover, in the Cyclic poems epic is clearly degenerating morally–if the expression may be used. The chief greatness of the “Iliad” is in the character of the heroes Achilles and Hector rather than in the actual events which take place: in the Cyclic writers facts rather than character are the objects of interest, and events are so packed together as to leave no space for any exhibition of the play of moral forces. All these reasons justify the view that the poems with which we now have to deal were later than the “Iliad” and “Odyssey”, and if we must recognize the possibility of some conventionality in the received dating, we may feel confident that it is at least approximately just.

The earliest of the post-Homeric epics of Troy are apparently the “Aethiopis” and the “Sack of Ilium”, both ascribed to Arctinus of Miletus who is said to have flourished in the first Olympiad (776 B.C.). He set himself to finish the tale of Troy, which, so far as events were concerned, had been left half-told by Homer, by tracing the course of events after the close of the “Iliad”. The “Aethiopis” thus included the coming of the Amazon Penthesilea to help the Trojans after the fall of Hector and her death, the similar arrival and fall of the Aethiopian Memnon, the death of Achilles under the arrow of Paris, and the dispute between Odysseus and Aias for the arms of Achilles. The “Sack of Ilium” [1113] as analysed by Proclus was very similar to Vergil’s version in “Aeneid” ii, comprising the episodes of the wooden horse, of Laocoon, of Sinon, the return of the Achaeans from Tenedos, the actual Sack of Troy, the division of spoils and the burning of the city.

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