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Literature / The Trojan Cycle

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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 forty-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 hold 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 
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  • 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. Modern novelizations of the Trojan Cycle include The Song of Troy by Colleen McCullough (who is perhaps most famous for the Masters of Rome series) and The War at Troy and Return from Troy, both by Lindsay Clarke.

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


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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 occurred. 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 Achaeans' 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:

  • The Alliance: The Achaeans, thanks to the pact Helen's suitors swore. The Trojans are quick to call upon their own allies, as well.
  • Apple of Discord: The golden apple Strife uses to cause, well, strife, inscribed with the word "καλλίστῃ" ("for the fairest").
  • Arranged Marriage: Iphigenia is lured to Aulis with the lie that she is to be married to Achilles.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Both Helenus and Cassandra prophesied some amount of what would happen from the very start. This foreknowledge does not help the Trojans in any way.
  • Blasphemous Boast: Agamemnon's claim after killing a deer. See Disproportionate Retribution, below.
  • The Cassandra: Obviously.
  • Cassandra Truth: It seems the Trojans don't pay much mind to what Helenus or Cassandra warn, as they accept Paris and Helen back and settle down to wait out the siege...
  • Depopulation Bomb: The Trojan War itself. Protesilaus is just the beginning.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Agamemnon claims to surpass Artemis; she forces him to sacrifice his daughter. Perfectly reasonable, right?
  • Divine Date: Peleus's marriage to Thetis.
  • Human Sacrifice: Artemis demands that Agamemnon sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, before she allows the Achaeans to sail to Troy. (Then she changes her mind and snatches her away to Tauris.)
  • Immortality: Either only Polydeuces is immortal, or he and Castor share their immortality.
  • Living MacGuffin: Helen.
  • Loophole Abuse: Cinyras promises to send fifty ships to aid the Achaeans. Forty-nine of the ones he sends are made out of clay.
  • Love Goddess: Aphrodite.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Helen and Paris.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Odysseus fakes insanity to try to get out of taking part in the Trojan War, but is found out by Palamedes.
  • Plunder: The Achaeans attack the surrounding countryside during the siege.
  • Prequel: It is believed that the epic was composed after the The Iliad.
  • Red Shirt: Protesilaus, the first to die at Troy.
  • RevengeSVP: Eris doesn't take not being invited to the wedding well.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Paris takes advantage of Menelaus's hospitality to steal most of his property and his wife, Helen.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: Helen again. Also, in the Judgement of Paris, he is to decide which of the three goddesses is the fairest.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Averted. The Achaeans are quick to raze the surrounding countryside once the siege begins.

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 Achaeans' arrival at Troy and the death of Protesilaus and Kyknos.
    • Troilos, a lost play on the death of Troilos by Achilles.

“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, a non-antagonist example.
  • Worthy Opponent: Memnon to Achilles.
  • Would Hit a Girl: The Achaeans kill Amazons the same as everyone else.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: And Achilles knew it.

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.
  • Led Zeppelin's Achilles Last Stand

    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 he attacks the Achaeans' 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:

  • Arranged Marriage: Helen's marriage to Deiphobus was this.
  • Bolivian Army Cliffhanger: According to Proclus's summary, the epic ends with the Trojan guard down and the Achaeans poised to ravage the city.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Why the Achaeans need to find Neoptolemus and Philoctetes, and capture the Palladion.
  • The Chosen One: It's prophesied that Troy won't fall to Greece without the aid of Neoptolemus and Philoctetes.
  • Continuity Snarl: The sack narrated in this epic is slightly different from the one in the Sack of Ilion. Aeneas, for instance, is captured by the Achaeans and taken by Neoptolemus, and the son of Achilles is the one to kill Astyanax.
  • Darkest Hour: The people of Troy have entered theirs.
  • Dead Person Conversation: When Neoptolemus receives Achilles's armour, he sees the ghost of his father.
  • Dramatic Irony: Oh so much.
  • Driven to Suicide: Ajax.
  • Guile Hero: Odysseus.
  • Hollywood Healing: Philoctetes has been wounded for nine years. He arrives at Troy and suddenly, he's healed. Though this is justified since the ones doing the healing are children of Asclepius, the dude whose healing prowess is so good he can literally bring back the dead.
  • Insane Equals Violent: Ajax, who briefly goes mad and attacks the Achaeans' plundered flock.
  • The Infiltration: Odysseus's recon of Troy.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: The Achaeans' feigned retreat.
  • Made a Slave: Many after the sack, such as Hecuba and Andromache.
  • The Medic: Machaon, who successfully heals Philoctetes's nine-year-old wound. Justified, since Machaon is the son of Asclepius the God of Healing.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: They come back for Philoctetes! So it's all good, right?
  • One Sided Battle: Probably the case when the Achaeans emerge from the Trojan Horse.
  • Playing Both Sides: Helen seems to be doing this. When she realises the Achaeans are going to take the city, she's perfectly happy to let them.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: The sack of Troy.
  • Red Shirt: Probably plenty of people, particularly the Trojans Odysseus slays on his way out of Troy.
  • Right Under Their Noses: When Odysseus sneaks into Troy.
  • Romancing the Widow: When Paris is killed, the Trojans don't conclude that maybe they should finally return Helen. Nope; Paris's brother, Deiphobus, marries her instead.
  • Schmuck Bait: The Trojan Horse, built tall enough that the Trojans need to dismantle part of their wall if they want to get it into the city.
  • Seers: Helenus.
  • Sniper Duel: Occurs between Philoctetes and Paris. Philoctetes wins, mortally wounding Paris with his Hydra venom arrows.
  • Sole Survivor: A surviving quotation from the epic specifies that Aeneas was spared (odd considering that the Achaeans slew all the men of Troy) and was taken by Neoptolemus.
  • Starts with a Suicide: Namely, Ajax's.
  • Take Up My Sword: Neoptolemus is given Achilles's armour and brought to aid the Achaeans against Troy.
  • Trojan Horse
  • Turn Coat: It seems Helen couldn't care less about Troy after Paris is killed.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What ever happened to Philoctetes? Remember him, from the Cypris? Apparently he's just been chilling on Lemnos for nine years, with a wound that refuses to heal...
  • Would Hurt a Child: A quotation from the epic describes Neoptolemus throwing Hector's child, Astyanax, from the walls.
  • You Killed My Father: Paris killed Achilles (with Apollo's help). Neoptolemus arrives at Troy and nearly immediately kills Paris.

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 siege.

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 receives 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 available 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.
  • The Aeneid by Virgil is basically a Fan Fic of the whole cycle, but it starts with the Trojans' debate over what to do with the Horse and follows Aeneas after he leaves.

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 Achaeans' 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 available in English here.

The Returns likely provided examples of:

  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Agamemnon's. Aegisthus is his cousin.
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution: Athena, being rather displeased with Ajax, asks Zeus to send a storm to destroy him. Zeus obliges.
  • Boring Return Journey: Very averted for several important Achaeans. Diomedes and Nestor actually gets one of these due to managing to be one of the few Achaean rulers that did not happen to anger a god over their actions during the last decade of war.
  • The Cassandra: Cassandra, who was given to Agamemnon as a slave, is also killed.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Clytaemestra is unhappy with Agamemnon for (seemingly) sacrificing their daughter, Iphigenia. Orestes takes revenge for his father by killing Clytaemestra.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Death hasn't stopped Achilles from chatting with people yet. This is the third epic in a row, and he died way back in the Aethiopis.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: This epic depicts...the returns of the Achaeans back home, of course. Though this title does undersell it a tad and the Achaeans' mileage varies heavily in actually getting home.
  • Home Sweet Home: At least some of them reach it.
  • The Homeward Journey: Naturally.
  • Hostile Weather: Athena gets Zeus to send a storm after the Achaeans.
  • Karmic Death: The Achaeans couldn't kill Ajax, since he took refuge at the temple of Athena. Athena, however, has no qualms about punishing him.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Clytaemestra and her lover's murder of Agamemnon.
  • No Sense of Direction: Menelaus somehow ends up in Egypt.
  • Red Shirt: All the random Achaeans killed in the storms at sea.
  • Revenge: Athena taking revenge on Ajax, Clytaemestra taking revenge on Agamemnon, Orestes taking revenge on Clytaemestra, etc.
  • Rightful King Returns: A lot of important Achaeans were kings, after all.
  • Seers: Calchas, Cassandra. Achilles's ghost also warns of things to come.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Orestes, who kills his mother.
  • The Underworld: Several fragments and references seem to imply that there was some passage dealing with Hades, perhaps showing Agamemnon and the others killed arriving in Hades (as the suitors are shown in The Odyssey).
  • You Can't Go Home Again: For some of the Achaeans, notably Ajax. Many others experience difficult homecomings.
  • You Killed My Father: So Orestes kills his mother.

Works derived from the myths of the Returns:

  • Aeschylus's
    • Agamemnon, a tragedy concerned with the homecoming of the eponymous 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.

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.
  • 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:

  • Adaptation Distillation: There were likely varying versions of these stories in the Oral Tradition. Writing them down distilled them into the versions remaining today (though a lot of variety still exists).
  • Because Destiny Says So: Comes up a lot.
  • The Dead Have Names: Considering what we know of The Iliad and The Odyssey, this was likely true throughout the Trojan Cycle.
  • Divine Parentage: A lot of the characters.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: A lot.
  • Götterdämmerung: In the sense that the Trojan War pretty much marked the end of an age of demigods and heroes.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: The Trojans are defending themselves...and by doing so, are defending a wife-stealing hospitality-abusing jackass. The Achaeans are honorbound by oath and Zeus (hospitality was one of his domains) to get said wife back, no matter how silly any of them might think all of them dying to get a single woman back is (World's Most Beautiful Woman she may be).
  • Hero Antagonist: Hector, Penthesilea, Memnon... many Trojan heroes and allies, really.
  • Heroic Lineage: Naturally.
  • Honor Before Reason: Possibly the entire reason the story happened - the Achaean rulers were former suitors of Helen that all swore an oath to defend the marriage of Helen and her chosen husband, and Paris making off with her definitely qualified under that. That being said, there may have been a far more pragmatic reason for the war occurring as Menelaus became king of Sparta through marrying Helen, who was the princess of Sparta. Therefore without Helen, Menelaus would have no claim to the Spartan throne while the Trojans would, making for a Succession Crisis waiting to happen. This view is reinforced by the fact that in some versions, Helen marries Paris' brother Deiphobus after Paris' death. This makes no sense in the context of a romance but indicates that the Trojans are staking a claim to Sparta.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters
  • Narrative Poem: Just like The Iliad and The Odyssey, they're all written in dactylic hexameter. Kinda comes with the territory, being epics.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The Siege of Troy is known as having happened for ten years...but technically, it wasn't actually a siege, as a siege is a military operation where forces completely surround an area to cut off its occupants from supplies while as per the text, Troy continuously received reinforcements and communicated with allies throughout the so-called siege.
  • Oral Tradition: Where these myths came from.
  • Rated M for Manly: Ten years of men fighting and sometimes even the gods themselves have to hold them back! While The Dead Have Names gives it a coating of War Is Hell as well, it's still got a lot of pure, unrestrained masculinity with stuff like Achilles killing so many men that he angers the god of a nearby river who's getting polluted with corpses.
  • Red Shirt: Probably a huge number of figures, Achaeans and Trojans alike.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The major characters are often royalty: Menelaus, the king of Sparta; Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae; Odysseus, the king of Ithaca; Hector, the prince of Troy; Penthesilea, the queen of the Amazons; Memnon, the king of the Ethiopians; etc.
  • The Siege: Naturally, though instead of the outright good guys holding out, the Trojans are really just characters that are under siege, along with the Achaeans who are besieging them. Also, the siege wasn't really a successful implementation of a siege as Non-Indicative Name can explain.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Troy was a real city and was actually destroyed and rebuilt several times...mainly because it was very rich and its neighbors wanted some plunder.
  • Warrior Prince: Multiple, mainly the sons of Priam and notably Hector, a prince of Troy and its greatest defender.

Alternative Title(s): Trojan Cycle, Telegony


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