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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 Iliad and the The Odyssey were not the only epics that 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.

The Trojan Cycle provides examples of:

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    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.
  • 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.
  • Silly Reason for War: A city was fought over for ten years...because of a jilted husband. That being said, this has a lot of factors to it rather than just being played straight. The Achaean rulers had their hands tied to persecute the war because they all swore to defend Menelaus' marriage. On the Trojans' end, they may have kept Helen despite the threat of war due to the fact that she could give them a claim over Sparta since she was the princess of Sparta - correspondingly, avoiding a Succession Crisis would also explain Menelaus' determination in getting Helen back. As well, Paris stealing away Helen while he was a guest of Menelaus was a breach in Sacred Hospitality, some majorly Serious Business to the Achaeans that was a domain of Zeus himself...And if nothing else, any silliness on its combatants' part for fighting this war can be explained away by the war being ordained by Zeus anyway.
  • 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.
  • Womanliness as Pathos: The Trojan War. The whole thing was started by Eris, the goddess of discord, tossing a golden apple into Olympus "for the fairest". As a result, the goddesses fight over it, resulting in Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena choosing Paris as the 'judge'. Aphrodite bribing Paris with Helen of Sparta, the World's Most Beautiful Woman and the famous 'face that launched a thousand ships', is what gets the war going. This causes the men around Helen, including her husband King Menelaus, to start and sustain a conflict that lasts over a decade while Helen herself remains relatively passive in Troy.

  • 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...
  • 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.
  • Population Control: The Trojan War itself seems to be Zeus' idea of how to keep the world's population down. Protesilaus is just the beginning.
  • 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.

  • 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.

    Little Iliad 
  • 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.

    Sack of Ilion 

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Improvised Weapon: Telegonus's weapon is a sting ray barb, not just a blade.
  • 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.
  • Patricide: 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.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Trojan Cycle, Telegony


The Fall of Troy

The fully shot fall of Troy ifnthe film "Troy" (not shown in theater release) shows war in all its horror.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (13 votes)

Example of:

Main / RapePillageAndBurn

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