troperville

tools

toys


main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
Literature: The Trojan Cycle
aka: Trojan Cycle
Ever heard of an ancient conflict called the Trojan War? Quite a story, really. And then there's Homer's epics The Iliad and The Odyssey, telling the tale in fourty-eight books and tens of thousands of lines of dactylic hexameter...all of which focus on less than one year of the decade-long conflict, and the years Odysseus spent lost at sea afterwards.

Something's missing — namely, the first nine years of the war, the actual end of the war, and associated myths. Surely they weren't just floating about in the Oral Tradition until some ancient tragedians got ahold of them?

As it happens, they weren't. It turns out that the The Iliad and the The Odyssey were not the only epics which pulled together the tales of the Trojan War. In fact, there were eight:

  • Cypria
  • The Iliad
  • Aethiopis
  • Little Iliad
  • Sack of Ilionnote 
  • Returnsnote 
  • The Odyssey
  • Telegony

We've lost every one of the above except for Homer's epics. Sorry.

But yet we still know of them. References to and quotations from the lost epics have survived in fragments. By an incredible stroke of luck, we have a work titled the Chrestomathy by an unknown Proclus, which actually summarizes the events that take place in each epic.

Thanks to these sources, we know that the epics covered everything from the marriage of Peleus and Thetis to Odysseus's death.

So without further ado, for your perusal, the six lost works of the Trojan Cycle:

    open/close all folders 

    Cypria 
ἦν ὅτε μυρία φῦλα κατὰ χθόνα πλαζόμενα αἰεί
ἀνθρώπων ἐβάρυνε βαθυστέρνου πλάτος αἴης.
—The Cyprianote 

The odd title has absolutely nothing to do with Troynote , and instead suggests that the epic came from Cyprus. Like the following epics, its author is unknown. It is believed to have been written sometime in the sixth century BC.

The Cypria (Κύπρια) opens with Zeus discussing the Trojan War, which has not yet occured. This seems to refer to the myth that Zeus planned the Theban and Trojan Wars in order to relieve the earth of an unsustainable population.

So he encourages events —Strife's interruption at Peleus and Thetis's wedding, the Judgement of Paris— to lead to the Trojan War. The Cypria then follows the abduction of Helen and the Achaean's haphazard attempt to come together and attack Troy.

They get lost, attack the wrong place, and are scattered by a storm. When they finally reconvene, Agamemnon annoys Artemis and is forced to sacrifice his daughter to her (except the goddess relents and whisks her away instead).

At first this second attempt to reach Troy doesn't go well: a warrior, Philoctetes, is bitten by a water snake and left behind on Lemnos because his comrades can't stand the stench of his wounds. So much for No One Gets Left Behind. But eventually the Achaeans do make it to Troy, and the Cypria follows the events of the war up until the last year, which is then related in the Iliad and following epics.

Ancient fragments on the Cypria, including Proclus's summary, are avaliable in English here.

The Cypria likely provided examples of:

Works derived from the myths of the Cypria:

  • Aeschylus's
    • Iphigenia, a lost play on the sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis.
    • Telephos, a lost play likely about Telephos, who was wounded and then healed by Achilles when the Achaeans made their first attempt to sail to Troy.
  • Euripides's
    • Iphigenia in Aulis, recounting how she was lured to Aulis and seemingly sacrificed.
    • Iphigenia in Tauris, following her life after Artemis whisks her away to Tauris.
    • Alexandros, possibly: the play has been lost, but it seems to have followed Paris's life and return to Troy before he set sail for Sparta.
    • Protesilaus, a lost play about the aftermath of Protesilaus's death. His wife, Laodamea, was allowed to converse with him briefly after he died, but he was forced to return to the Underworld. She then made an image of him to love, but when her father burned it, she committed suicide on the pyre.
    • Scyrians, a lost play concerned with Thetis's hiding Achilles among the daughters of the king of Scyros (knowing that if he went to Troy, he would die), and Odysseus's discovery of him there.
    • Telephos, a lost play and Euripides's version of the story of Telephos, also recounted by Aeschylus.
  • Sophocles's
    • The Gathering of the Achaeans, which has also been lost and was probably a satyr play, concerned with the gathering of the Achaeans at Tenedos before setting sail for Troy.
    • Alexandros, a lost play probably similar to Euripides's Alexandros, focused on Paris's childhood and his recognition as a son of Priam.
    • Judgement, yet another lost play, in this case a satyr play on the Judgement of Paris.
    • Odysseus, a lost play about Odysseus's feigned madness and his discovery by Palamedes.
    • Palamedes, a lost play apparently following the aftermath of Palamedes's death (who had tricked Odysseus into revealing his fake madness so that he would fight at Troy).
    • The Shepherds, also lost and thought to have been a satyr play. It followed the Achaean's arrival at Troy and the death of Protesilaus and Kyknos.
    • Troilos, a lost play on the death of Troilos by Achilles.

    Aethiopis 
“τίς πόθεν εἰς σύ, γύναι; τίνος ἔκγονος
εὔχεαι εἶναι;”
—The Aethiopisnote 

The Aethiopis (Αἰθιοπίς) follows after the events of the Iliad, bringing in numerous new Trojan allies to even things out after Hector's death. It seems to have been written sometime in the seventh century BC, but uncertainty remains.

Penthesilea, an Amazon and a daughter of Ares, is the first to arrive to aid Troy. She kills countless Achaeans until Achilles bests her. Achilles then strikes and kills a Achaean soldier, Thersites, for jeering at him about an alleged love for the Amazon.

The Trojans gain another ally with the arrival of Memnon and the Ethiopians. Thetis prophesies to Achilles about a battle with Memnon, who is also of Divine Parentage (the son of Eos, the Dawn) and bears armour crafted by Hephestus.

Achilles successfully kills Memnon and puts the Trojans to flight, chasing them into the city where he is finally killed by Paris and Apollo.

The Achaeans and Trojans then proceed to fight over his body, and Ajax manages to get it back to the Achaean ships, where Thetis arrives with the Muses and the Nereids to lament his death. The funeral games are played, and the epic ends with a quarrel between Ajax and Odysseus over the arms of Achilles.

Ancient fragments on the Aethiopis, including Proclus's summary, are avaliable in English here.

The Aethiopis likely provided examples of:

  • Action Girl: Penthesilea, the Amazon and daughter of the war god, who slaughters the Achaeans unchecked until Achilles slays her.
  • Antagonist Title: Aethiopis refers to the Ethiopians, newly arrived Trojan allies whom Memnon leads.
  • Big Guy Fatality Syndrome: Achilles takes out both Penthesilea and Memnon, only to meet his death by Apollo shortly afterwards.
  • The Cavalry: The new Trojan allies.
  • Custom Uniform: Like the armour Achilles gets in the Iliad, Memnon's armour is also crafted by Hephestus.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Carefully averted with the introduction of new Trojan allies such as Penthesilea and Memnon. Otherwise, considering the Trojans lost thier greatest defender in the Iliad, the remainder of the war would have been this.
  • Death Is Dramatic: Chasing the entire Trojan army into the city, taken down by Paris only with the help of Apollo? Achilles is just that Badass.
  • Divine Parentage: Multiple characters, notably Achilles and the new Trojan allies, Penthesilea and Memnon.
  • Doomed by Canon: Coming to Troy, Achilles was doomed from the start. His life was prophesied to go one of two ways: he would either live a long, uneventful life, or he would die a young, glorious hero at Troy.
  • Due to the Dead: Once Achilles falls, battle rages so that the Achaeans can recover his body. His funeral is followed with the customary funeral games.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Achilles, while chasing the entire Trojan army into the city.
  • Either-Or Prophecy: Achilles's is fulfilled here. He's Doomed by Canon.
  • Ending Memorial Service: The epic ends with the funeral games of Achilles.
  • Immortality: Memnon's mother, Eos, convinces Zeus to grant him immortality after his death.
  • I Love the Dead: Achilles apparently falls in love with Penthesilea after killing her and removing her helm. He kills Thersites for mocking him about it.
  • Invincible Hero: Up until this point, Achilles was this. It takes Apollo to help bring him down.
  • Marked to Die: It's mentioned twice in the Iliad that Achilles would be killed by Apollo, and the summary of the Aethiopis mentions that Thetis prophesied something regarding his battle with Memnon to her son.
  • Meaningful Funeral: Thetis arrives with the Muses and the other Nereids when the Achaeans bring Achilles's body back to the ships.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: The Achaeans fight ferociously to recover Achilles's body.
  • Not So Invincible After All: Achilles.
  • One-Man Army: Achilles. Penthesilea and Memnon also fit until they're killed.
  • Storming the Castle: After killing Memnon, Achilles puts the entire Trojan army to flight, and pursues them into the city.
  • Supernatural Aid: Apollo aids Paris in killing Achilles.
  • Too Powerful to Live: Achilles again, in a non-villainous example.
  • Worthy Opponent: Memnon to Achilles.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: And Achilles knew it.
  • Would Hit a Girl: The Achaeans kill Amazons the same as everyone else.

Works derived from the myths of the Aethiopis:

  • Aeschylus's
    • Memnon, a lost play about Memnon's arrival to aid the Trojans, whom Achilles kills. This leads to Achilles's own death at the hands of Apollo and Paris.
    • Psychostasia, another lost play on the weighing of souls between Achilles and Memnon.
    • The Award of the Arms, a lost play on the contest for the arms of Achilles after his death. Also possibly the first of a trilogy concerned with Ajax's maddness.
  • Part of Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book XII of which included the death of Achilles.

    Little Iliad 
Ἴλιον ἀείδω καὶ Δαρδανίην εὔπςλον,
ἧς πέρι πόλλα πάθον Δαναοὶ θεράποντες Ἄρηος.
—The Little Iliadnote 

The Little Iliad (Ἰλιὰς μικρά) follows, dealing with the question of how the Achaeans will take Troy now that Achilles is dead. Similarly to the Aethiopis, it seems to have been written sometime in the seventh century BC.

With the funeral games of Achilles ended, his armour is given to Odysseus according to Athena's wish. Ajax, who perhaps justly feels he deserved to receive the armour, is enraged by this. Athena drives him insane so that attacks the Achaean's livestock rather than the Achaean leaders themselves, and he eventually commits suicide, leaving the Achaean army short two powerful warriors instead of one.

Odysseus then captures the Trojan seer Helenus, who prophesies what they must do in order to capture Troy. The Achaeans do as he says, sending Diomedes to bring Philoctetes back, whom they abandoned nine or so years ago during the expedition to Troy. Somehow Philoctetes is convinced to rejoin them, where his wound is finally healed. The warrior is quick to kill Paris once he is brought to Troy, and Deiphobus, another prince of Troy, marries Helen.

Odysseus, meanwhile, goes to Scyros where Achilles had fathered Neoptolemus after the Achaean fleet was scattered on its first journey. He brings the boy to Troy and gives him his father's armour, and Neoptolemus sees the ghost of Achilles. Neoptolemus slays another newly arrived Trojan ally, Eurypylus, the son of Telephos.

Because the Achaeans still can't get into the city, Athena inspires Epeios to construct the Trojan Horse. A disguised Odysseus sneaks into Troy to gather information and encounters Helen, who does not alert the Trojans but rather agrees with Odysseus for the Achaeans to take Troy.

Odysseus kills more Trojans on his way out, and then he and Diomedes carry out Helenus's prophecy by stealing the Palladion, a statue of Athena upon which Troy's safety depended.

The major Achaean warriors are hidden in the Trojan Horse and, with all the pieces in place, the Achaeans destroy their campsites and pretend to withdraw for good.

The Trojans believe they are finally freed of the years of war, and they take the Trojan Horse into the city —dismantling part of their wall to do so!— and begin to celebrate.

Proclus's summary ends here, but other works say that the Little Iliad ended with an account of the sack, with slight differences from the account given in the Sack of Ilion.

Ancient fragments on the Little Iliad, including Proclus's summary, are avaliable in English here.

The Little Iliad likely provided examples of:

Works derived from the myths of the Little Iliad:

  • Aeschylus's
    • Philoctetes, a lost play about the Achaeans' attempt to get Philoctetes to Troy.
    • The Phrygian Women, a lost play seemingly part of a trilogy about Ajax's madness.
    • The Salaminian Women, a lost play and possibly the third part of a trilogy about Ajax's madness and suicide.
  • Euripides's
    • Epeios, a lost play likely focused on Epeios, the architect of the Trojan horse.
    • Philoctetes, a lost play (see Aeschylus's version).
  • Sophocles's
    • Philoctetes, yet another version of the story also done by Aeschylus and Euripides.
    • Ajax, a tragedy about the madness of Ajax after Achilles's armour is awarded to Odysseus rather than him, and his subsequent suicide.
    • Lacaenae, a lost play believed to have followed the theft of the Palladium by Diomedes and Odysseus.
  • Part of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Book XIII includes the debate over Achilles's arms and Ajax's subsequent death.

    Sack of Ilion 
ὅς ῥα καὶ Αἴαντος πρῶτος μάθε χωομένοιο
ὄμματά τ’ ἀστράπτοντα βαρυνόμενόν τε νόημα.
—The Sack of Ilionnote 

Next comes the Sack of Ilion (Ἰλίου πέρσις), as Troy finally falls to the Achaeans. This epic also seems to have been composed in the seventh century BC, supposedly by the same writer as the Aethiopis.

The Trojans are puzzled by the giant horse left parked outside the city, and the epic starts with their debate as to what they should do with it. Some want to push it off a cliff, others to burn it, while a third group believe it is an object sacred to Athena.

This third group convinces the others to bring the horse into the city, and the Trojans then celebrate the end of ten years of seige.

During this, two snakes appear and kill Laocoon (a priest of Poseidon) and his two sons. This portent causes Aeneas to leave Troy with his companions.

The Trojans celebrate into the night, and when the city is finally quiet, the Achaean Sinon signals the others with firebrands. The fleet sails back from Tenedos, the warriors inside the Trojan Horse are let loose, and the Achaeans fall upon the city.

Countless Trojans are killed and the Achaeans take hold of the city. The king of Troy, Priam, takes refuge at the altar of Zeus but is slain by Neoptolemus, while Menelaus kills Deiphobus and takes Helen back to the ships.

When Ajaxnote  tears Cassandra from the altar of Athena, he harms Athena's image. For this, the other Achaeans intend to stone him, but he escapes their judgement by also taking refuge at her altar.

In the aftermath, Odysseus kills Astyanax, Neoptolemus recieves Andromache as his war prize, and the remainder of the spoils are divided up. Troy is burned and Polyxena, a daughter of Hecuba, is sacrificed at the tomb of Achilles.

Ancient fragments on the Sack of Ilion, including Proclus's summary, are avaliable in English here.

The Sack of Ilion likely provided examples of:

Works derived from the myths of the Sack of Ilion:

  • Euripides's
    • Hecuba, a tragedy set after the fall of Troy, when Hecuba discovers her son, Polydorus's, death and that Polyxena is to be sacrificed at Achilles's tomb.
    • The Trojan Women, also set after the fall, which focuses on the death of Astyanax and the allotment of captives to the Achaean warriors.
  • Sophocles's
    • Laocoon, a lost play about the death of the priest of Apollo.
    • Ajax the Locrian, a lost play concerned with Ajax, who has dragged off Cassandra and harmed the image of Athena.
  • Part of Ovid's Metamorphoses: The fall of Troy and the aftermath is detailed in part of Book XIII.

    Returns 
δῶρα γὰρ ἀνθρώπων νόον ἤπαφεν ἠδὲ καὶ ἔργα.
—The Returnsnote 

So the Trojan War has come to an end. The next epic in the cycle, the Returns (Νόστοι), deals with the Achaean's respective returns home. Exactly when the epic was completed is very uncertain; it is often dated sometime in the seventh or sixth century BC.

As the Achaeans prepare to set sail, Athena causes Agamemnon and Menelaus to argue about the coming voyage. Agamemnon chooses to wait a few days in order to appease the goddess's anger (who did not approve of the Achaeans' impious behavior during the sack of Troy), while Diomedes and Nestor set out and safely reach their homelands.

Menelaus, the next to set sail, is not as lucky: he ends up in Egypt (most definitely not Sparta by any stretch of the imagination) with only five ships, as the remainder were destroyed during the voyage.

Other Achaeans —Calchas, Leonteus, and Polypoites— try a land route and avoid the dangers at sea. Calchas dies at Colophon and is buried there.

Agamemnon, feeling he has postponed his journey enough, is about to set out when he encounters Achilles, who fortells what will occur and tries to stop them. His group continues regardless and meets with a storm at sea, losing many ships.

The storm was sent by Zeus at the request of Athena, who finally punishes Ajax for his actions in the Sack of Ilion. His ship is among those lost in the storm, and he is killed on the Kapherian rocks.

Neoptolemus is advised by his divine grandmother, Thetis, to make his way home by land. His journey is uneventful, and he briefly encounters the unlucky Odysseus in Maronea. The son of Achilles finally comes to Molossia, a land he and his descendants come to rule.

Both Menelaus and Agamemnon do finally reach their homes, but Agamemnon is murdered by his wife, Clytaemestra, and her lover Aegisthus. His son, Orestes, eventually returns to his home and avenges his father's murder by killing his mother and her lover.

Meanwhile, Odysseus's return home is chronicled in the following epic, The Odyssey.

Ancient fragments on the Returns, including Proclus's summary, are avaliable in English here.

The Returns likely provided examples of:

Works derived from the myths of the Returns:

  • Aeschylus's
    • Agamemnon, a tragedy concerned with the homecoming of the epynomous character and his murder there. The first of Aeschylus's trilogy, the Oresteia.
    • The Libation Bearers, dealing with the reunion of Orestes and his sister Electra, and their avenging of their father. Also the second tragedy of the Oresteia.
  • Euripides's
    • Electra, a tragedy telling another version of the myth behind Aeschylus's Libation Bearers.
    • Helen, a tragedy set during the time Menelaus spends in Egypt. It follows an alternate tradition, where the gods for some reason sent the real Helen to Egypt, and The Trojan War was fought over a phantom (eidolon in Greek).
  • Sophocles's
    • Electra, yet another version of the story.

    Telegony 
γέρων τε ὢν Ὀδυσσεὺς
ἤσθιεν ἁρπαλέως κρέα τ’ ἄσπετα καὶ μέθυ ἡδύ.
—The Telegonynote 

At this point, we've pretty much wrapped up everything regarding the actual Trojan War. The Telegony (Τηλεγόνεια) follows The Odyssey and deals with the legends about the end of Odysseus's life. It was likely composed in the sixth century BC.

The epic begins where The Odyssey left off, and starts with the suitors being buried by their families. After all those years of making his way back home, you would think that Odysseus would want to settle down in Ithaca again, set his kingdom in order, that sort of thing. He faked insanity to try to get out of leaving, after all!

Nope. He makes a few sacrifices and inspects his herds, then he takes off to the land of the Thesprotians. Admittedly, he's trying to fulfill a prophecy Tiresias made in The Odyssey in order to appease Poseidon.

The prophecy, however, did not require that he marry Callidice, the Thesprotian queen.

So Odysseus stays in Thesprotia, has a son, and fights a war there. He leads the Thesprotian forces against the Bryges, but his forces are turned back by Ares until Athena combats the war god. The two are calmed by Apollo.

Who knows what Penelope is up to during all this. Because Odysseus is, after all, in Thesprotia for so long that when Callidice dies and he returns to Ithaca, his son, Polypoites, is old enough to rule the kingdom.

Meanwhile, yet another child of Odysseus exists. Telegonus is the child of the warrior and Circe, and is raised by his mother until he goes out in search of his father. The boy comes to Ithaca but is unaware of where he is, and begins attacking the island.

Odysseus comes out to defend Ithaca and the two fight, neither aware of their relation. Eventually Telegonus slays his father, and only afterwards does he realise his mistake. The boy then brings Odysseus's body, Penelope, and Telemachus to Circe.

Her solution is to make Penelope and Telemachus immortal. The enchantress then marries Telemachus while Telegonus marries Penelope. And everyone lives happily ever after. Except Odysseus.

Ancient fragments on the Telegony, including Proclus's summary, are avaliable in English here

The Telegony likely provided examples of:

  • Abdicate the Throne: Odysseus leaves Thesprotia to Polypoites after the queen dies. Admittedly, he just goes right back to being king in Ithaca.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Odysseus.
  • Antagonist Title: Telegonus could be considered an antagonist of sorts, as he ends up killing his father.
  • Blade on a Stick: Telegonus's weapon... except it's a sting ray barb, not just a blade.
  • Directionless Driver: Telegonus apparently has no idea where he's going.
  • Divine Parentage: Telegonus, the son of Circe.
  • Double Standard
  • Heroic Bastard: The epic is named for Telegonus, after all.
  • Immortality: Telemachus and Penelope recieve it.
  • I Will Wait for You: We can only assume this is what Penelope did as Odysseus disappeared for however many years again.
  • Murder by Mistake: Telegonus didn't know the island he was plundering was his father's, after all! It was all just a huge misunderstanding.
  • Oedipus Complex: Telegonus does end up killing his father, after all.
  • Plunder: What Telegonus is up to when he's not actively looking for his father. This doesn't end well.
  • Romancing the Widow: Telegonus also marries his father's wife.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Accidentally.
  • Tangled Family Tree: By the end of the epic, Telegonus and Telemachus are both each other's stepfathers and stepsons...
    • And Circe and Penelope are both each other's mothers-in-law, daughters-in-law, stepmothers and stepdaughters.
  • Tell Me About My Father: What sets Telegonus off in search of Odysseus in the first place.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Odysseus was fated to die a mild death from the sea... Telegonus sails in and kills him with a sting ray spear. It's not exactly mild, though...
    • The prophecy in question could just as easily be translated as away from the sea. It also says he will die at an old age, surrounded by a prosperous people, which can't really be said about dying from a stingray spear on the beach. This, along with all the other contradictory details, has led quite a few scholars (both ancient and modern) to see the Telegony as a case of Adaptation Decay.

Works derived from the myths of the Telegony:

  • Sophocles's
    • Odysseus Acanthoplex, a lost play where Odysseus tries to avert fate by banishing Telemachus after learning he would be killed by his son. It doesn't work.


Tropes provided by the Trojan Cycle as a whole:


The Three-DeckerPoetryThe Wild Party
Tristram ShandyClassic LiteratureTrue History
TheogonyNon-English LiteratureTrue History
The Trojan WarHollywood HistoryGreco-Persian Wars
Courtly LoveImageSource/LiteratureApple of Discord
The Stormlight ArchiveThe EpicThe Iliad

alternative title(s): The Trojan Cycle; Trojan Cycle
random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
90002
33