Theogony, The Iliad and The Odyssey are a few of the more well-known Greek epics of the distant past. In keeping with the theme of Balladeer’s Blog I will present a look at the neglected Greek epics, many of which cover other aspects of the Trojan War. Yes, for those readers who think The Iliad is the sole epic regarding that conflict there are other tales that chronicle the mythic events from long before the opening passages of The Iliad. Here is one of those neglected works.
CYPRIA – Credited to either Stasinos of Cyprus (my bet), Hegesias or Homer himself. This epic featured the original recounting of the marriage feast of Peleus attended by several deities. Eris, the goddess of discord (and the central figure in the still-extant quasi-religion called Discordianism) resents not being invited to the celebration. She tosses in the golden apple labeled “For the fairest” which causes the infamous argument among the attending goddesses as to which of them should be given the apple.
The three goddesses – Hera, Athena and Aphrodite – seek out the shepherd Paris at Mount Ida where he tends his flocks and allow him to judge which of them is the fairest and therefore deserving of the apple. Each goddess tries to bribe Paris with gifts they are particularly suited to grant.
Hera, the queen of the Greek deities offers him an Earthly empire to rule. Athena, goddess of wisdom and warfare, offers him glory in battle. Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, offers Paris the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. (For a humorous rendition of The Judgment of Paris see my article about the ancient Greek comedy Dionysalexandros, the comic poet Cratinus’ famous political satire about Pericles)
As everyone knows Paris awards Aphrodite the apple and the designation of the fairest. She fulfills her bribe by causing Helen of Troy, the world’s greatest beauty, to fall in love with Paris when he visits the court of her husband King Menelaus of Sparta. While Menelaus is on a state visit to Crete the treacherous Paris romances Helen and convinces her to flee with him to the city-state of Troy aka Ilium aka Ilion (which is how we arrive at the title of The Iliad). Troy is ruled by King Priam, Paris’ father, who permits Helen and Paris to seek asylum in his kingdom.
The story thus far is pretty well-known, though many people mistakenly think all of these events were first related in The Iliad itself. We now move into less well-traveled territory, beginning with Menelaus learning what Paris and Helen have done and vowing to get his wife back. Menelaus visits Nestor, seeking his help in rallying the various Greek city-states to the cause of retrieving the missing Helen to defend Greek honor against the Trojans of Asia Minor.
Readers are reminded of the purpose of these ancient epics as a combination of entertainment and history (or at least history approved by the people wielding power at the time) when Nestor wastes time regaling Menelaus with unrelated stories of the past. Nestor tells the tales of Epopeus and Lycus’ daughter, of Oedipus, of Herakles and finally the myth of Theseus and Ariadne. Menelaus, no doubt thinking “Did I ASK?” is ultimately pleased when wise old Nestor agrees to accompany him on his mission of lining up allies for the assault on Troy.
As with all mythic tales from all around the world, including from the Koran and the Bible, there are many contradictory versions of events in the different epics. In Cypria, when Menelaus and Nestor seek to enlist King Odysseus of Ithaca, he pretends to be ill to avoid being dragged into the upcoming war. To punish him Menelaus and Nestor take his infant son Telemachus with them in his stead. This of course varies from the version of these events as related in The Odyssey, which depicts Odysseus feigning madness to avoid being drafted into the conflict. (“Corporal Klinger Umpty-Thousand B.C.”) Odysseus fakes insanity by leading a team of oxen through his fields dementedly sowing salt instead of seeds.
In that version Menelaus and Nestor suspect Odysseus is faking his madness so they have the toddler Telemachus placed in the way of his father’s team of oxen. Odysseus comes out of his crazy act in order to save his son and, thus exposed, is dragged into the war along with his kingdom. I repeat, that is the more well-known version of those mythic events.
As Cypria continues the assembled Greek forces, the legendary “thousand ships” launched by Helen’s face, set sail for Troy but accidentally storm and sack Teuthrania by mistake (“D’OH!”). Telephus, the son of Herakles and Princess Auge, tries to inform the Greeks about their error but is accidentally wounded by Achilles in the process. The red-faced Greeks set sail again for Troy but the various fleets are scattered by a storm. Achilles and his men land at Scyros to do repairs and to resupply, during which time the Greek hero romances and marries Deidameia. Telephus, still crippled by his wound, has made his way to Scyros and is healed by Achilles.
The scattered Greek forces link up at Aulis but before they can set sail from there Agamemnon blasphemes against the goddess Artemis, who prevents their sailing by having unfavorable winds directed at Aulis, thereby preventing the Greek ships from leaving.
To appease Artemis the Greeks attempt to sacrifice Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigeneia to her, but Artemis falls in love with Iphigeneia and substitutes a goat for the girl and makes Iphigeneia immortal. With the punitive winds lifted the various Greek navies once again set sail for Troy. During a stopover at Tenedos Achilles feels slighted by a tardy dinner invitation from Agamemnon (“Teenage Girls of Ancient Greece”), thus starting a feud that will have far-reaching consequences for the Greek war effort.
The Greek armies, no doubt having to jog their own memories at this point about why they set sail in the first place, at last arrive at Troy/Ilion/Ilium. The Greeks storm the beaches but the Trojan forces, led by the sea god Poseidon’s son Cygnus, repeatedly prevent the invaders from securing a beachhead.
Achilles at last manages to kill Cygnus and the Greek forces drive off the remaining Trojan forces, who withdraw inside the gates of Troy itself. In the subsequent sacking and raping of the seaside Trojan settlements which closes Cypria Achilles winds up with the woman Briseis while Agamemnon winds up with Chryseis. This, as everyone knows, exacerbates the simmering feud between Achilles and Agamemnon and will carry over into many events of The Iliad.
Many more of these neglected epics are coming up in the days ahead!
UP NEXT: THE EPIC AETHIOPIS, FEATURING AMAZONS AND ETHIOPIANS COMING TO TROY’S AID: https://glitternight.com/2014/01/25/aethiopis-the-ancient-greek-epic/
FOR MORE EPIC MYTHS CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/epic-myths/
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