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The Trojan Cycle Notes

Classics Notes > Early Greek Hexameter Poetry Notes

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How are the epics of the Trojan Cycle different from Homer's epics?
The Trojan epic cycle was, in all likelihood, composed after the Iliad and Odyssey since they tap into Homeric and pre-Homeric traditions; Proclus even makes it seem like the Cypria and the Aethiopis were written to precede and to follow the action of the Iliad directly, although such a view such be viewed with a degree of scepticism, it is largely right in terms of narrative action. This being the case the degree of difference in the quality of the narrative unity and the details included is clearly evident and it is easy to understand why the Homeric poems were widely celebrated in the ancient world as far superior to their counterparts in the Trojan cycle. The most striking difference between the epics of the Trojan cycle and the Iliad and the Odyssey is that they include fantastic and miraculous details which Homer is very careful to almost wholly exclude from his poems; two notable exceptions are Odysseus' adventures and Glaucus' account of his ancestor Bellephoron but these are accounts given by the characters themselves and the first person narrator does not in any way vouch for their truth. (A comparison to Herodotus, who gives all accounts even if he says he does not believe them himself, perhaps makes this distinction even clearer.) The examples of this in the cyclic poems are numerous, for instance the eye-sight of Lynceus who was able to see all the Peloponnese with one look and saw Castor and Pollux hiding in the hollow tree (Cypria). Also in the Cypria there is the story of the girls of Anius, Oeno, Sperno and Elais who miraculously provided all the food that the Greeks ever needed during their ten year siege of Troy, along with the story of the transformations of Zeus and Nemesis which led to the conception of the egg that contained Helen. Another popular theme is stories of the ways in which Troy could be captured; the Iliou Persis says that the city could only be taken when the Palladion was removed and the Little Iliad says that this would only be possible if the bow of Philoctetes was present. These sorts of assertions are wholly absent from the Homeric poems; the only reference to the fall of Troy is through the implication that once Hector has fallen so will the city and this idea originates in the pathetic appeals of his wife and parents which in no way is a guarantee that this will happen. The cyclic poems lack a subtlety that the need to include amazing and shocking details, which add little to the drama or complexity of the story, betrays. Homer, on the other hand, shows that it is not necessary to include such fantastical details in order to create an exciting and compelling story; his narrative is more firmly rooted in reality as his uncompromising attitude to death shows. The surety that old age will come and death will soon follow is one of the starkest truths of human existence, Homer needs nothing else to terrify and thrill his audience. To this end he has removed from the tradition all reference to invulnerability and the hopes of immortality, even Achilles' famous heel is nowhere to be found nor is his impenetrable armour; in the Iliad human life is defined by the inevitability of old age and death. Sarpedon perhaps best sums up the Homeric ethos on life and death when talking to his compatriot Glaucus: ""Ah my friend, if we could escape this war, and live forever, without growing old, if we were ageless, then I'd

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