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Summary of The Epic Cycle
By Proclus

The Epic Cycle of poems from the ancient Greek-speaking world included the complete story of the Trojan War. All of these except the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer have been lost. But we still have remains of the lost poems in these summaries by Proclus, whose date is unknown.

From the English translation by H. D. Evelyn-White, 1914


First comes the Kypria, attributed to Stasinus of Cyprus. Its contents are as follows:

Zeus plans with Themis to bring about the Trojan war. Strife arrives while the gods are feasting at the marriage of Peleus and starts a dispute between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite as to which of them is fairest. The three are led by Hermes at the command of Zeus to Alexandrus [Paris] on Mount Ida for his decision, and Alexandrus, lured by his promised marriage with Helen, decides in favor of Aphrodite.

Then Alexandrus builds his ships at Aphrodite's suggestion, and Helenus foretells the future to him, and Aphrodite orders Aeneas to sail with him, while Kassandra prophesies as to what will happen afterward. Alexandrus next lands in Lakedaemon and is entertained by the sons of Tyndareus, and afterward by Menelaus in Sparta, where in the course of a feast he gives gifts to Helen.

After this, Menelaus sets sail for Crete, ordering Helen to furnish the guests with all they require until they depart. Meanwhile, Aphrodite brings Helen and Alexandrus together, and they, after their union, put very great treasures on board and sail away by night. Hera stirs up a storm against them and they are carried to Sidon, where Alexandrus takes the city. From there he sails to Troy and celebrates his marriage with Helen.

In the meantime Kastor and Polydeukes, while stealing the cattle of Idas and Lynkeus, were caught in the act, and Kastor was killed by Idas, and Lynkeus and Idas by Polydeukes. Zeus gave them immortality every other day.

Iris next informs Menelaus of what has happened at his home. Menelaus returns and plans an expedition against Ilium with his brother, and then goes on to Nestor. Nestor in a digression tells him how Epopeus was utterly destroyed after seducing the daughter of Lykus, and the story of Oedipus, the madness of Herakles, and the story of Theseus and Ariadne. Then they travel over Hellas and gather the leaders, detecting Odysseus when he pretends to be mad, not wishing to join the expedition, by seizing his son Telemachus for punishment at the suggestion of Palamedes.

All the leaders then meet together at Aulis and sacrifice. The incident of the serpent and the sparrows takes place before them, and Kalchas foretells what is going to befall. After this, they put out to sea, and reach Teuthrania and sack it, taking it for Ilium. Telephus comes out to the rescue and kills Thersander, the son of Polyneikes, and is himself wounded by Achilles. As they put out from Mysia a storm comes on them and scatters them, and Achilles first puts in at Skyros and marries Deidameia, the daughter of Lykomedes, and then heals Telephus, who had been led by an oracle to go to Argos, so that he might be their guide on the voyage to Ilium.

When the expedition has mustered a second time at Aulis, Agamemnon, while at the chase, shoots a stag and boasts that he surpassed even Artemis. At this the goddess is so angry that she sends stormy winds and prevents them from sailing. Kalchas then tells them of the anger of the goddess and bids them sacrifice Iphigeneia to Artemis. This they attempt to do, sending to fetch Iphigeneia as though for marriage with Achilles.

Artemis, however, snatches her away and transports her to the Tauri, making her immortal, and putting a stag in place of the girl upon the altar.

Next they sail as far as Tenedos, and while they are feasting, Philoktetes is bitten by a snake and is left behind in Lemnos because of the stench of his sore. Here, too, Achilles quarrels with Agamemnon because he is invited late. Then the Greeks try to land at Ilium, but the Trojans prevent them, and Protesilaus is killed by Hektor. Achilles then kills Kyknos, the son of Poseidon, and drives the Trojans back. The Greeks take up their dead and send envoys to the Trojans demanding the surrender of Helen and the treasure with her. The Trojans refusing, they first assault the city, and then go out and lay waste the country and cities round about. After this, Achilles desires to see Helen, and Aphrodite and Thetis contrive a meeting between them. The Achaeans next desire to return home, but are restrained by Achilles, who afterward drives off the cattle of Aeneas, and sacks Lyrnessus and Pedasus and many of the neighboring cities, and kills Troilus. Patroklus carries away Lykaon to Lemnos and sells him as a slave, and out of the spoils Achilles receives Briseis as a prize, and Agamemnon Chryseis. Then follows the death of Palamedes, the plan of Zeus to relieve the Trojans by detaching Achilles from the Hellenic confederacy, and a catalogue of the Trojan allies.


The Kypria, described in the preceding book, has its sequel in the Iliad of Homer, which is followed in turn by the five books of the Aethiopis, the work of Arctinus of Miletus. Their contents are as follows:

The Amazon Penthesileia, the daughter of Ares and of Thracian race, comes to aid the Trojans, and after showing great prowess, is killed by Achilles and buried by the Trojans. Achilles then slays Thersites for abusing and reviling him for his supposed love for Penthesileia. As a result a dispute arises amongst the Achaeans over the killing of Thersites, and Achilles sails to Lesbos and after sacrificing to Apollo, Artemis, and Leto, is purified by Odysseus from bloodshed.

Then Memnon, the son of Eos, wearing armour made by Hephaestus, comes to help the Trojans, and Thetis tells her son about Memnon.

A battle takes place in which Antilochus is slain by Memnon and Memnon by Achilles. Eos then obtains immortality from Zeus and bestows it upon her son; but Achilles routs the Trojans, and, rushing into the city with them, is killed by Paris and Apollo. A great struggle for the body then follows, Ajax taking up the body and carrying it to the ships, while Odysseus drives off the Trojans behind. The Achaeans then bury Antilochus and lay out the body of Achilles, while Thetis, arriving with the Muses and her sisters, bewails her son, whom she afterward catches away from the pyre and transports to the White Island. After this, the Achaeans pile him a cairn and hold games in his honor. Lastly a dispute arises between Odysseus and Ajax over the arms of Achilles.


Next comes the Little Iliad in four books by Lesches of Mitylene. Its contents are as follows.

The adjudging of the arms of Achilles takes place, and Odysseus, by the contriving of Athena, gains them. Ajax then becomes mad and destroys the herd of the Achaeans and kills himself. Next Odysseus lies in wait and catches Helenus, who prophesies as to the taking of Troy, and Diomedes accordingly brings Philoktetes from Lemnos. Philoktetes is healed by Machaon, fights in single combat with Alexandrus and kills him; the dead body is outraged by Menelaus, but the Trojans recover and bury it. After this Deiphobus marries Helen, Odysseus brings Neoptolemus from Skyros and gives him his father's arms, and the ghost of Achilles appears to him.

Eurypylus the son of Telephus arrives to aid the Trojans, shows his prowess, and is killed by Neoptolemus. The Trojans are now closely besieged, and Epeius, by Athena's instruction, builds the wooden horse. Odysseus disfigures himself and goes in to Ilium as a spy, and there being recognized by Helen, plots with her for the taking of the city; after killing certain of the Trojans, he returns to the ships. Next he carries the Palladium out of Troy with the help of Diomedes. Then after putting their best men in the wooden horse and burning their huts, the main body of the Achaeans sail to Tenedos. The Trojans, supposing their troubles over, destroy a part of their city wall and take the wooden horse into their city and feast as though they had conquered the Achaeans.


Next come two books of the Sack of Ilium, by Arctinus of Miletus with the following contents:

The Trojans are suspicious of the wooden horse and standing round it debate what they ought to do. Some think they ought to hurl it down from the rocks, others to burn it up, while others say they ought to dedicate it to Athena. At last this third opinion prevails. Then they turn to mirth and feasting, believing the war is at an end. But at this very time two serpents appear and destroy Laokoon and one of his two sons, a portent which so alarms the followers of Aeneas that they withdraw to Ida. Sinon then raises the fire-signal to the Achaeans, having previously got into the city by pretense. The Greeks then sail in from Tenedos, and those in the wooden horse come out and fall upon their enemies, killing many and storming the city. Neoptolemus kills Priam who has fled to the altar of Zeus Herkeius; Menelaus finds Helen and takes her to the ships, after killing Deiphobus; and Ajax the son of Oileus, while trying to drag Kassandra away by force, tears away with her the image of Athena. At this the Greeks are so enraged that they determine to stone Ajax, who only escapes from the danger threatening him by taking refuge at the altar of Athena. The Greeks, after burning the city, sacrifice Polyxena at the tomb of Achilles, Odysseus murders Astyanax, Neoptolemus takes Andromache as his prize, and the remaining spoils are divided. Demophoon and Akamas find Aithra and take her with them. Lastly the Greeks sail away and Athena plans to destroy them on the high seas.


After the Sack of Ilium follow the Returns in five books by Agias of Troezen. Their contents are as follows:

Athena causes a quarrel between Agamemnon and Menelaus about the voyage from Troy. Agamemnon then stays on to appease the anger of Athena. Diomedes and Nestor put out to sea and get safely home. After them Menelaus sets out and reaches Egypt with five ships, the rest having been destroyed on the high seas. Those with Kalchas, Leontes, and Polypoetes go by land to Kolophon and bury Teiresias who died there. When Agamemnon and his followers are sailing away, the ghost of Achilles appears and tries to prevent them by foretelling what should befall them. The storm at the rocks called Kapherides is then described, with the end of Lokrian Ajax. Neoptolemus, warned by Thetis, journeys overland and, coming into Thrace, meets Odysseus at Maronea, and then finishes the rest of his journey after burying Phoenix who dies on the way. He himself is recognized by Peleus on reaching the Molossi.

Then comes the murder of Agamemnon by Aegisthus and Klytemnestra, followed by the vengeance of Orestes and Pylades. Finally, Menelaus returns home.


After the Returns comes the Odyssey of Homer, and then the Telegony in two books by Eugammon of Cyrene, which contain the following matters:

The suitors of Penelope are buried by their kinsmen, and Odysseus, after sacrificing to the Nymphs, sails to Elis to inspect his herds. He is entertained there by Polyxenus and receives a mixing bowl as a gift; the story of Trophonius and Agamedes and Augeas then follows. He next sails back to Ithaka and performs the sacrifices ordered by Teiresias, and then goes to Thesprotis where he marries Kallidike, queen of the Thesprotians. A war then breaks out between the Thesprotians, led by Odysseus, and the Brygi. Ares routs the army of Odysseus and Athena engages with Ares, until Apollo separates them. After the death of Kallidike, Polypoetes, the son of Odysseus, succeeds to the kingdom, while Odysseus himself returns to Ithaka. In the meantime Telegonus, while traveling in search of his father, lands on Ithaka and ravages the island. Odysseus comes out to defend his country, but is killed by his son unwittingly. Telegonus, on learning his mistake, transports his father's body with Penelope and Telemachus to his mother's island, where Kirke makes them immortal, and Telegonus marries Penelope, and Telemachus Kirke.

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