Little IliadPreviously Balladeer’s Blog examined Cypria and Aethiopis, two of the neglected Greek epics. Cypria recounted the events leading into The Iliad while Aethiopis picked up the tale of the Trojan War after the death and funeral of Hector at the end of The Iliad. The neglected epic I’m examining today is Iliad Minor, the next in line chronologically. The author is speculated to have been either Lesches, Thestorides, Diodoros, Kinaithon or even Homer himself.

ILIAD MINOR – Also called Iliad Mikra and The Little Iliad this neglected epic opens up with the  casting of lots between Odysseus and Aias (Ajax), the two heroes who recovered the corpse of Achilles to prevent it from being desecrated by the Trojans at the end of Aethiopis. The prize they are gambling for is the armor of the late Achilles.

Odysseus wins due to the secret interference of the goddess Athena, as always an admirer of Odysseus’ shrewd and resourceful nature. Aias, in the level-headed way of people in ancient myths goes insane from losing the armor and sabotages his own people’s war effort by poisoning the cattle the Greeks have been raising to help feed the massive army besieging Troy. Next Aias kills himself and, because of his act of sabotage Agamemnon denies him the funeral honors of a hero. Therefore he is buried instead of cremated on a pyre.

Calchas, the Greek seer, foretells that in order to win the war the Greeks must sail to Lemnos and recover Philoctetes, the archer who wields the arrows of Herakles. Philoctetes had been one of Herakles’ male lovers and thus had earned the enmity of Hera, whose hatred of her husband Zeus’ most famous bastard son was legendary. With Herakles himself now safely raised to godhood on Mount Olympus and safe from further harassment by Hera the goddess took to tormenting the mortal associates of Herakles. To that end she had created a particularly venomous snake and made it bite Philoctetes when the Greek forces paused at Lemnos for supplies on their way to Troy.

Philoctetes had been left behind since he would presumably die soon from his horrible wound but Hera’s power made the snake’s venom act slowly, and Philoctetes had been lingering in agony ever since the Greeks had left him. The Greeks are stunned to learn that the archer is still alive and Odysseus, Diomedes and others sail to retrieve him and the arrows of Herakles. At Lemnos Philoctetes is reunited with his former allies and Herakles appears to him, instructing him to return to Troy with Odysseus and company. Herakles further stated that once there the sons of Asclepius, the god of medicine, would be able to cure him of the horrible snakebite.

Philoctetes, still suffering, allowed himself to be taken to the assembled Greek army besieging Troy. Once there the sons of the medicine god Asclepius examined him. Those sons, Machaon and Podalirius, were the Greek army’s doctors and – no doubt after hanging out in The Swamp while drinking martinis and exchanging bon mots – cured him. Philoctetes takes to the field with his comrades-in arms and eventually challenges Paris – the abductor of Helen and thereby the cause of the Trojan War in the first place – to single combat. Philoctetes riddles Paris’ body with arrows in an example of overkill since Herakles’ arrows were soaked in the poison blood of the slain Hydra and even a scratch from one of them is deadly to any mortal man.

With Paris dead, his beautiful wife Helen, still within the walls of Troy, is fought over by the Trojans Deiphobus and Helenus (Aeneas). Deiphobus wins the reluctant Helen and Helenus, in a fit of pique, slips out of Troy determined to live in solitude on Mount Ida. Odysseus captured Helenus enroute to Mt Ida and tortured him for information. Helenus – himself a seer like Calchas – offered three new prophecies to be fulfilled if the Greeks were to defeat the Trojans. One – the Greeks must steal the Palladion, a wooden statue of Pallas Athena which was considered “the luck of Troy”. Two – the bones (or in some versions just the shoulder blade) of Pelops of the House of Atreus must be dug up at Pisa and brought to Troy. Three – Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles must be brought to fight alongside the Greeks.

While Odysseus sails to enlist Neoptolemus to the Greek cause to avenge his father’s death a Mycenaean crew sails to Pisa, disinters the bones (or shoulder blade) of Pelops and brings them ( or it) to Troy. 

Odysseus presents Achilles’ armor to Neoptolemus, who dons it and joins the other Greeks in the field. While the various quests have been going on to recover the bones of Pelops and Neoptolemus himself, the newest Trojan ally Eurypylus (son of Telephus) had been leading his army of Mysians against the Greeks and had been defeating them over and over again. In the next battle Eurypylus – who had been bribed into joining the Trojan side by King Priam offering him the hand of the prophet Cassandra in marriage – is slain in combat by Neoptolemus, who is driven by a vision of his dead father’s ghost.

Next Odysseus and Diomedes slip into Troy disguised as beggars and, with Helen’s help, steal the Palladion and return to the Greek lines, killing various Trojans along the way. The goddess Athena, in some versions speaking to Odysseus through the Palladion, inspires him with the idea of the Trojan Horse. The Greek Epeius oversees the construction and we’re back in familiar territory. The Greek armies conceal their most capable warriors in the hollow horse, make a great show of burning their camps and sail away, seemingly offering the gigantic wooden horse as a token of surrender.

The prophet Cassandra advises the Trojans against accepting the Trojan Horse with the immortal words “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” Per Apollo’s curse nobody believes Cassandra’s prophecies so the Trojans ignore her advice and bring in the gigantic construct. That night with the Trojans asleep the Greek soldiers emerge from the Horse and take Troy, allowing their returned comrades in through the breach in the city walls the Trojans made to bring in the Trojan Horse.



© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.   


Filed under Mythology


  1. Pingback: AETHIOPIS: THE ANCIENT GREEK EPIC | Balladeer's Blog

  2. Nice additional info on the Trojan war

  3. I never knew all these things happened outside the Iliad itself.

  4. Im no pro, but I feel you just crafted an excellent point. You obviously know what youre talking about, and I can actually get behind that. Thanks for being so upfront and so sincere.

  5. Mason

    I used to think all of this was in just one book the Iliad.

  6. Eleea

    This is like a Greek Lord of the Rings.

  7. Ortega

    This is interesting to see how many epics the story of the Trojan War was spread out over.

  8. F Brown

    Your wrap ups of these are educational.

  9. Oralee

    I like how you summarize these epics.

  10. Israel

    Odysseus was my favorite!

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