The Cypria (Ancient Greek: Κυπρία Kypria; Latin form: Cypria) is an epic of ancient Greek literature that was quite well known in the Classical period and fixed in a received text, but which subsequently was lost to view. It was one of the Epic Cycle, that is, the "Trojan" cycle, which told the entire history of the Trojan War in epic hexameter verse. The story of the Cypria comes chronologically at the beginning of the Epic Cycle, and is followed by that of the Iliad; the composition of the two was apparently in the reverse order. The poem comprised eleven books of verse in epic dactylic hexameters.
The Cypria, in the written form in which it was known in classical Greece, was probably composed in the late 7th century BCE, but there is much uncertainty. The Cyclic Poets, as the translator of Homerica, Hugh G. Evelyn-White noted "were careful not to trespass upon ground already occupied by Homer," one of the reasons for dating the final, literary form of Cypria as post-Homeric, in effect a "prequel". "The author of the Kypria already regarded the Iliad as a text. Any reading of the Kypria will show it preparing for events for (specifically) the Iliad in order to refer back to them, for instance the sale of Lykaon to Lemnos or the kitting out of Achilles with Briseis and Agamemnon with Chryseis". A comparison can be made with the Aithiopis, also lost, but which even in its quoted fragments is more independent of the Iliad as text.
The stories contained in the Cypria, on the other hand, were fixed much earlier than that, and the same problems of dating oral traditions associated with the Homeric epics also apply to the Cypria. Many or all of the stories in the Cypria were known to the composer(s) of the Iliad and Odyssey. The Cypria, in presupposing an acquaintance with the events of the Homeric poem, in the received view thus formed a kind of introduction to the Iliad though there is an overlap in events from the death of Palamedes, including the catalogue of Trojan allies. J. Marks observes that "Indeed, the junction would be seamless if the Kypria simply ended with the death of Palamedes." (p. 2).
The title Cypria, associating the epic with Cyprus, demanded some explanation: the epic was said in one ancient tradition to have been given by Homer as a dowry to his son-in-law, a Stasinus of Cyprus mentioned in no other context; there was apparently an allusion to this in a lost Nemean ode by Pindar. Some later writers repeated the story. It did at least serve to explain why the Cypria was attributed by some to Homer and by others to Stasinus. Others, however, ascribed the poem to Hegesias (or Hegesinus) of Salamis in Cyprus or to Cyprias of Halicarnassus (see Cyclic poets).
It is possible that the "Trojan Battle Order" (the list of Trojans and their allies, of Iliad 2.816-876, which forms an appendix to the "Catalogue of Ships") is abridged from that in the Cypria, which was known to contain in its final book a list of the Trojan allies.
In current critical editions only about fifty lines survive of the Cypria's original text, quoted by others. For the content we are almost entirely dependent on a prose summary of the Cyclic epics contained in the Chrestomathy attributed to an unknown "Proclus" (possibly to be identified with the 2nd-century CE grammarian Eutychius Proclus, or else with an otherwise unknown 5th-century grammarian). Many other passing references give further minor indications of the poem's storyline.
What follows embeds reports of known content of the Cypria in a retelling of the known events leading up to the anger of Achilles.
The poem narrates the origins of the Trojan War and its first events. It begins with the decision of Zeus to relieve the Earth of the burden of population through war, a decision with familiar Mesopotamian parallels. The Theban war of the Seven ensues.
The Cypria described the wedding of Peleus and Thetis; in the Judgement of Paris among the goddesses Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite: Paris awards the prize for beauty to Aphrodite, and as a prize is awarded Helen, wife of Menelaus.
Then Paris builds his ships at Aphrodite's suggestion, and Helenus foretells the future to him, and Aphrodite orders Aeneas to sail with him, while Cassandra prophesies the outcome. In Lacedaemon the Trojans are entertained by the sons of Tyndareus, Castor and Polydeuces, and by Menelaus, who then sets sail for Crete, ordering Helen to furnish the guests with all they require. Aphrodite brings Helen and Paris together, and he takes her and her dowry back to his home of Troy with an episode at Sidon, which Paris and his men successfully storm.
Iris informs Menelaus, who returns to plan an expedition against Ilium with his brother Agamemnon. They set out to assemble the former suitors of Helen, who had sworn an oath to defend the rights of whichever one won her hand. Nestor in a digression tells Menelaus how Epopeus was destroyed after seducing the daughter of Lycus, the story of Oedipus, the madness of Heracles, and the story of Theseus and Ariadne. In gathering the leaders, they detect Odysseus' feigned madness.
The assembled leaders offer ill-omened sacrifice at Aulis, where the prophet Calchas warns the Greeks that the war will last ten years. They reach the city of Teuthras in Mysia and sack it in error for Ilium: Telephus comes to the city's rescue and is wounded by Achilles. The fleet scattered by storm, Achilles puts in at Scyros and marries Deidameia, the daughter of Lycomedes, then heals Telephus, so that he might be their guide to Ilium.
When the Achaeans have been mustered a second time at Aulis, Agamemnon is persuaded by Calchas to sacrifice his daughter Iphigeneia to appease the goddess Artemis and obtain safe passage for the ships, after he offends her by killing a stag. Iphigeneia is fetched as though for marriage with Achilles. Artemis, however, snatches her away, substituting a deer on the altar, and transports her to the land of the Tauri, making her immortal.
Next they sail as far as Tenedos, where while they are feasting, Philoctetes is bitten by a snake and is left behind in Lemnos. Here, too, Achilles quarrels with Agamemnon. A first landing at the Troad is repulsed by the Trojans, and Protesilaus is killed by Hector. Achilles then kills Cycnus, 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. The Trojans refusing, they first attempt an assault upon the city, and then lay waste the country round about.
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 afterwards drives off the cattle of Aeneas, sacks neighbouring cities, and kills Troilus. Patroclus carries away Lycaon to Lemnos and sells him as a slave, and out of the spoils Achilles receives Briseis as a prize, and Agamemnon Chryseis.
Then follow 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 Cypria was considered to be a lesser work than Homer's two masterpieces: Aristotle criticised it for its lack of narrative cohesion and focus. It was rather a catalogue of events than a unified story.
- Herodotus (ii.117) refers to it.
- "An indication that at least the main contents of the Cypria were known around 650 BCE is provided by the representation of the Judgment of Paris on the Chigi vase" (Burkert 1992:103). On the proto-Attic ewer of ca. 640 BCE called the Chigi "vase", Paris is identified as Al[exand]ros, as he was apparently called in Cypria.
- In his Preface to Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns, and Homerica
- Ken Dowden, "Homer's Sense of Text" The Journal of Hellenic Studies 116 (1996, pp. 47-61). p 48, noting that the observation had been made by Eric Bethe, in Homer: Dichtung und Sage II: Odysee, Kyklos, Zeitbestimmung, 1922:202.
- W. Kullmann's term Faktkanon, the "canon of facts" is useful in distinguishing fixed narrative content— the list and sequence of facts— from fixed, canonic texts.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911: "Stasinus"
- J. Marks, "The Junction between the Kypria and the Iliad" Phoenix 56.1/2 (Spring - Summer, 2002:1-24).
- Burkert, (Burkert 1992:103) noting Mesopotamian parallels, concludes "these observations must then point to that epoch when Cyprus, though rich and powerful, was still formally under Assyrian domination".
- Recorded in John Tzetzes' Chiliades xiii.638.
- The Chrestomathy itself was preserved in the ninth-century Patriarch Photios' renowned Bibliotheca or Myriobiblon, codex 239.
- Burkert 1992: 101-04. Compare Atrahasis.
- Paris is called Alexandros in quotations of Cypria and in the surviving synopsis.
- "In the Cypria, Nemesis was Helen's mother, born after Zeus raped the goddess, who had done her best to escape him." (Ruth Scodel, "Stupid, Pointless Wars", Transactions of the American Philological Association 138.2, Autumn 2008).
- Online editions (English translation):
- Fragments of the Cypria translated by H.G. Evelyn-White, 1914 (public domain)
- Fragments of complete Epic Cycle translated by H.G. Evelyn-White, 1914; Project Gutenberg edition
- Proclus' summary of the Epic Cycle, omitting the Telegony translated by G. Nagy, 2000
- Print editions (Greek):
- A. Bernabé 1987, Poetarum epicorum Graecorum testimonia et fragmenta pt. 1 (Leipzig)
- M. Davies 1988, Epicorum Graecorum fragmenta (Göttingen)
- Print editions (Greek with English translation):
- M.L. West 2003, Greek Epic Fragments (Cambridge, MA)
- Burkert, Walter, 1992. The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influences on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age (Cambridge: Harvard University Press) pp 101–04.
- F.G. Welcker, Der epische Cyclus (1862)
- D.B. Monro, Appendix to his edition of Odyssey, xiii–xxiv. (1901)
- Thomas W. Allen, "The Epic Cycle," in Classical Quarterly (January 1908, and following issues)