Reading Epic: An Introduction to the Ancient Narratives

By Peter Toohey | Go to book overview
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3

HOMER, ODYSSEY

FROM THEILIADTO THEODYSSEY

What happened after the Iliad finished? The events were recounted in a series of oral epics (termed the Epic Cycle and dated to the eighth, seventh, and sixth centuries). They survive only in an outline provided by the ninth century Byzantine grammarian, Photius (Davies 1989 provides a discussion of the Cycle). In fact the Cycle seems to have told also what happened before the Iliad. There was one poem, called the Cypria, which narrated why the gods caused the Trojan war. Much of the remainder of the cycle recounts events following the burial of Hector. We have already mentioned the Aethiopis: it told how the bare-breasted Amazon women came to help the Trojans and of Achilles' death. Next is the Little Iliad (outlining events from the death of Achilles to the fall of Troy) and the Sack of Troy (covering much of the same ground: the building of the wooden horse, the sack of Troy, and the departure of the Greek forces). How heroes such as Odysseus, Menelaus, and Ajax returned home after the war is told in the Nostoi (Returns). The Odyssey comes in here. It retells the 'return' of Odysseus.

The Odyssey alludes to and may have been influenced by much of the cyclic material (Griffin 1977). Simple examples are Demodocus' songs in Odyssey 8: the first and last of his three songs point to the Aethiopis, the Little Iliad, and The Sack of Troy. There are other references such as the 'returns' of heroes like Ajax and Menelaus. There are even references (in Tiresias' predictions of book 11) to what will happen after the Odyssey. A version of that material was put together during the mid-sixth century in the Telegony of Eugammon of Cyrene.

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