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Epic Cycle


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A collection of early Greek epics, artificially arranged in a series so as to make a narrative extending from the beginning of the world to the end of the heroic age. Apart from the Iliad and Odyssey (See homer), we possess only meagre fragments of the poems involved, and our knowledge of what poems were involved is itself incomplete. We are best informed about those that dealt with the Trojan War and related events: there were six besides the Iliad and Odyssey, and summaries of their contents are preserved in some Homer manuscripts.2. The poems were composed by various men, mainly or wholly in the 7th and 6th cents. bc. The Cycle is not mentioned as a whole before the 2nd cent. ad. But a Trojan Cycle, at least, seems to have been drawn up not later than the 4th cent. bc.3. The Cyclic poems (this term by convention excludes the Iliad and Odyssey) were sometimes loosely attributed to Homer; but Herodotus rejects this for the Cypria and queries it for the Epigoni, and later writers generally use the names of obscurer poets or the expression ‘the author of (the Cypria, etc.)’. The poems seem to have been well known in the 5th and 4th cents., but little read later.4. The poems known or presumed to have been included in the Cycle were as follows.(1) In first place stood a theogony.(2)Titanomachia.(3)Oedipodia.(4)Thebais. Highly esteemed by Pausanias 3. See seven against thebes.(5)Epigoni. Cited by Herodotus and parodied by Aristophanes. See epigoni.(6)Cypria. The poem dealt with the preliminaries of the Trojan War (wedding of Peleus and Thetis, judgement of Paris, rape of Helen) and all the earlier part of the war down to the point where the Iliad begins. The title seems to refer to the poem's place of origin.(7)Iliad. There were alternative versions of the beginning and end which linked it with the adjacent poems.(8)Aethiopis. The main events were the deaths of the Amazon Penthesilea, Thersites, Memnon, and Achilles. The title refers to Memnon's Ethiopians.(9)Little Iliad. The suicide of Aias 1, the fetching of Philoctetes and Neoptolemus, the Wooden Horse, Sinon, the entry into Troy. The poem must have acquired the name Ilias independently of the Iliad, and then been called ‘little’ to distinguish it.(10)Sack of Troy. The Trojan debate about the horse, Laocoön, the sack of Troy, and departure of the Greeks. Aeneas left the city before the sack, not as in Virgil.(11) Homecomings. The returns of various Greek heroes, ending with the murder of Agamemnon, Orestes' revenge, and Menelaus' homecoming. The Odyssey alludes to these events—so much that it cannot have been intended to accompany the Homecomings—and its poet knew ‘the Homecoming of the Achaeans’, as a theme of song.(12)Odyssey. Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aristarchus 2 put the end of the poem at 23. 296, and so perhaps counted what followed as part of the Telegony.(13)Telegony. An element of romantic fiction was conspicuous here (see odysseus).

2. The poems were composed by various men, mainly or wholly in the 7th and 6th cents. bc. The Cycle is not mentioned as a whole before the 2nd cent. ad. But a Trojan Cycle, at least, seems to have been drawn up not later than the 4th cent. bc.

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