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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

D. Snider
A Commentary on the Odyssey of Homer - Part II

From, Homer's Odyssey: A commentary
[Please note that the Table of Contents here published, is created by Elpenor and is not to be found in the print version]

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Page 73

The Cycle. We have often used this word, and some may think that we have abused it; still our object is to restore the Greek conception of these poems, as they were looked at and spoken of by Hellas herself. The idea of the cycle was fundamental in grasping the epics which related to the Trojan War, and this War itself was regarded as a cycle of events and deeds, which the poets sang and put into their poetic cycle. Let us briefly trace this thought of the cycle as developed in old Greece.

I. In two different passages of his Organon, Aristotle calls the epic a cycle and the poetry of Homer a cycle. Now both passages are employed by him to illustrate a defective syllogism, hence are purely incidental. But no instance could better show the prevalence of the idea of a cycle as applied to Homer and epic poetry, for the philosopher evidently draws his illustration from something familiar to everybody. It had become a Greek common-place 350 B.C., and probably long before, that an epic poem, such as the Iliad or Odyssey, is cyclical, and that both together make a cycle.

II. But this idea develops, and expands beyond the Iliad and Odyssey, which are found to leave out many events of the Trojan Cycle. Indeed the myth-making spirit of Greece unfolds new incidents, deeds, and characters. The result is that many poets, after Homer had completed his cycle, began filling the old gaps, or really making new ones that these might be filled by a fresh poem. Hence arose the famous Epic Cycle, which has been preserved in a kind of summary supposed to have been written by Proclus, not the philosopher, but a grammarian of the time of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Meantime, let us carefully distinguish some of our Cycles. The Trojan Cycle is one of events and deeds, in general is the going to and the returning from Troy. The Homeric Cycle is Homer's account, in his two poems, of this Trojan Cycle. Finally the Epic Cycle is the expansion of Homer and includes a number of Epics, which fill out to ultimate completeness the Trojan Cycle. The latter, according to Proclus, is made up of six Epics beside the Iliad and Odyssey, to which they stand in the following relations.

1. The Cypria, which deals with events antecedent to the Iliad, such as the apple of Discord, the visit of Paris at Sparta and the taking of Helen, the mustering at Aulis, the sacrifice of Iphigeneia, and many incidents at Troy. Ulysses, to avoid going to the war, feigns madness (his first disguise) and ploughs the sea-sand; but he is detected by Palamedes who lays his infant Telemachus in the track of the plough. The name Cypria comes from Kypris, Venus, who caused the infatuation which led to the war.

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Cf. Pharr, Homer and the study of Greek * Odyssey Complete Text
Iliad Complete Text * Homer Bilingual Anthology and Resources * Livingstone, On the Ancient Greek Literature
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