Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns, and Homerica

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The Ionic School

The Ionic School of Epic poetry was, as we have seen, dominated by the Homeric tradition, and while the style and method of treatment are Homeric, it is natural that the Ionic poets refrained from cultivating the ground tilled by Homer, and chose for treatment legends which lay beyond the range of the "Iliad" and "Odyssey". Equally natural it is that they should have particularly selected various phases of the tale of Troy which preceded or followed the action of the "Iliad" or "Odyssey". In this way, without any preconceived intention, a body of epic poetry was built up by various writers which covered the whole Trojan story. But the entire range of heroic legend was open to these poets, and other clusters of epics grew up dealing particularly with the famous story of Thebes, while others dealt with the beginnings of the world and the wars of heaven. In the end there existed a kind of epic history of the world, as known to the Greeks, down to the death of Odysseus, when the heroic age ended. In the Alexandrian Age these poems were arranged in chronological order, apparently by Zenodotus of Ephesus, at the beginning of the 3rd century B.C. At a later time the term "Cycle", 'round' or 'course', was given to this collection.

Of all this mass of epic poetry only the scantiest fragments survive; but happily Photius has preserved to us an abridgment of the synopsis made of each poem of the "Trojan Cycle" by Proclus, i.e. Eutychius Proclus of Sicca.

The pre-Trojan poems of the Cycle may be noticed first. The "Titanomachy", ascribed both to Eumelus of Corinth and to Arctinus of Miletus, began with a kind of Theogony which told of the union of Heaven and Earth and of their offspring the Cyclopes and the Hundred-handed Giants. How the poem proceeded we have no means of knowing, but we may suppose that in character it was not unlike the short account of the Titan War found in the Hesiodic "Theogony" (617 ff.).

What links bound the "Titanomachy" to the Theben Cycle is not clear. This latter group was formed of three poems, the "Story of Oedipus", the "Thebais", and the "Epigoni". Of the "Oedipodea" practically nothing is known, though on the assurance of Athenaeus (vii. 277 E) that Sophocles followed the Epic Cycle closely in the plots of his plays, we may suppose that in outline the story corresponded closely to the history of Oedipus as it is found in the "Oedipus Tyrannus". The "Thebais" seems to have begun with the origin of the fatal quarrel between Eteocles and Polyneices in the curse called down upon them by their father in his misery. The story was thence carried down to the end of the expedition under Polyneices, Adrastus and Amphiarus against Thebes. The "Epigoni" (ascribed to Antimachus of Teos) recounted the expedition of the 'After-Born' against Thebes, and the sack of the city.

The Trojan Cycle

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 in the foregoing pages 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.