The Ancient Library

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On this page: Epos (continued)



in close imitation of the style and metre of Homer. But not one of them succeeded in coming even within measurable distance of their great master. The favourite topics of these writers were such fables as served either to introduce, or to extend and con­tinue, the Iliad and Odyssey. They were called cyclic poets, because the most impor­tant of their works were afterwards put together with the Iliad and Odyssey in an epic cycle, or circle of lays.1 The Cyprian poems (Cyprta), of Staslnus, of Salamls in Cyprus (776 b.c.), formed the introduction to the Iliad. These embraced the history of the period between the marriage of Peleus and the opening of the Iliad. At about the same time Arctinus of Miletus composed his ^StMOpls in five books. This poem started from the conclusion of the Iliad, and described the death of Achilles, and of the Ethiopian prince Memnon, the contest for the arms of Achilles, and the suicide of Ajax. The Destruction of Ilium, by the same author, was in two books. By way of supplement to the Homeric Iliad, Lesches of Mytllene, either about 708 or 664 b.c., wrote a Little Iliad, in four books. This embraced the contest for the arms of Achilles, the appearance of NeoptolSmus and Philoctetes, and the capture of the city, The transition from the Iliad to the Odyssey was formed by the five books of Nostoi (The Return of the Heroes), written by Aglas of Troezen. The TelegQnla, by Eugammon of Gyrene (about 570), continued the Odyssey. This was in two books, em­bracing the history of Odysseus from the "burial of the suitors until his death at the hands of his son Telgg5nus. These poems and those of the other cyclics were, after Homer, the sources from which the later lyric and dramatic poets drew most of their information. But only fragments of them Temain.

A new direction was given to epic poetry in Greece Proper by the didactic and genealogical epics of Hesiod of Ascra, about a hundred years after Homer. Hesiod was the founder of a school, the productions of which were often attributed to him as those of the Ionic school were to Homer. One of these disciples of Hesiod was Eumelus of Corinth (about 750 b.c.), of the noble j family of the Bacchl&dse. But his poems, like those of the rest, are lost.

The most notable representatives of mythi-

1 [Or perhaps because their style and treat­ment was conventional and without originality, another meaning of the word cydicus.}

cal epic poetry in the following centuries are Pisander of Camlrus (about 640 b.c.), and PanySsis of Hallcarnassus (during the first half of the 5th century). In the second half of the 5th century Choerllus of Samos wrote a Perseis on the Persian wars; the first attempt in Greece at a historical epic. His younger contemporary, Antlmachus of CSl6phon, also struck out a new line in his learned ThebCKs, the precursor and model of the later epic of Alexandria. The Alex­andrians laid great stress on learning and artistic execution in detail, but usually con­fined themselves to poems of less magni­tude. The chief representatives of the Alexandrian school are Calllmachus (about 250 b.c.), Rhianus, Euphorion, and Apol-lonius of Rhodes. The latter made the futile attempt to return to the simplicity of Homer. His ArgOnautlca is, with the exception of the Homeric poems, the only Greek epic which has survived from the ante-Christian era. In the 200 years be­tween the 4th and 6th centuries A.D., the mythical epic is represented by Quintus Smyrnaeus, Nonnus, Colluthus, Tryphlo-dorus, Musseus, and the apocryphal Orpheus. Nonnus, Colluthus, and Tryphio-dorus were Egyptians. Nonnus and Musseus, alone among these writers, have any claim to distinction. The talent of Nonnus is genuine, but undisciplined; Musseus knows how to throw charm into his treatment of a narrow subject. The whole series is closed by the IVtctca, of Joannes Tzetzes, a learned but tasteless scholar of the 12th century A.D.

As Homer was the master of the mythical, so Hesiod was the master of the didactic epic. After him this department of poetry was best represented by X8no-phanes of C5l6phon, Parmenldes of El8a, and EmpSdficles of Agrigentum, in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. In the Alexandrian period didactic poetry was much taken up, and employed upon the greatest possible variety of subjects. But none of its repre­sentatives succeeded in writing more than poetic prose, or in handling their intract­able material with the mastery which Vergil shows in his Georgics. The period produced the astronomical epic of Aratus of Slcyon (about 275 b.c.), and two medical poems by Nicander of Colophon (about 150). Under the Roman Empire more didactic poetry was produced by the Greek writers. Maximus and the so-called Manetho wrote on astrology. Dionysius Periegetes on geo­graphy, Oppian on angling, and an imi-

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