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The Cypria (Κύπρια; Latin: 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.

Date and authorship

The Cypria, in the written form in which it was known in classical Greece, was probably composed in the later seventh century BC,[1] but there is much uncertainty. The Cyclic poets, as the translator of Homerica Hugh G. Evelyn-White noted[2] "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".[3] 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[4] 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, thus formed a kind of introduction to the Iliad (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911: "Stasinus").

The title Cypria, associating the epic with Cyprus,[5] demanded some explanation: the epic was said in one ancient tradition[6] 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 summary of the Cyclic epics contained in the Chrestomathy attributed to an unknown "Proclus" (possibly to be identified with the second-century AD grammarian Eutychius Proclus).[7] Many other references give further minor indications of the poem's storyline.

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.[8] The Theban war of the Seven ensues.

The Cypria described the wedding of Peleus and Thetis; in the Judgement of Paris[9] 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.

In the meantime Castor and Polydeuces, while stealing the cattle of Idas and Lynceus, are caught and killed: Zeus gives them immortality that they share every other day.

Iris informs Menelaus, who returns to plan an expedition against Ilium with his brother Agamemnon. They set out to assemble the former suiters 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 Kypria 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.



See Also


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