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The Telegony (Greek: Τηλεγόνεια, Telegoneia; Latin: Telegonia) is a lost epic of ancient Greek literature. It was one of the Epic Cycle, that is, the "Trojan" cycle, which told the entire history of the Trojan War in epic verse. The story of the Telegony comes chronologically after that of the Odyssey, and is the final episode in the Epic Cycle. The poem was attributed in antiquity to Eugamon or Eugammon of Kyrene. The poem comprised two books of verse in dactylic hexameter.

In antiquity the Telegony may have also been known as the Thesprotis (Greek: Θεσπρωτίς), which is referred to once (Pausanias 8.12.5); alternatively, the Thesprotis may have been a name for the first book of the Telegony, which is set in Thesprotia. A third possibility is that there was a wholly separate epic called the Thesprotis; and yet a fourth possibility is that the Telegony and Thesprotis were two separate poems that were at some stage compiled into a single Telegony. Most scholars at present tend to regard the third and fourth possibilities as unlikely, or at least worthless hypotheses, since both possibilities are neither demonstrable nor falsifiable. In addition, it was standard practice with the Homeric epics in antiquity to refer to isolated episodes by their own titles (e.g. Iliad book 5 and part of book 6 was known as "Diomedes' aristeia").

Date

The date of composition of the Telegony is uncertain. Kyrene, the native city of Eugamon, the purported author, was founded in 631 BC; but the story may have been in existence prior to Eugamon's rendition. There is a distinct possibility that the author of the Odyssey knew at least some version of the Telegony story (the Thesprotian episode and Telegonos' unusual spear in the Telegony may have been based on Teiresias' prophecy in Odyssey book 11; but it is also possible that the Odyssey poet used the Telegonos story as a basis for Teiresias' prophecy). Certainly Eugamon's poem is most likely to have been composed in the sixth century BC.

Content

The Telegony comprises two distinct episodes: Odysseus' voyage to Thesprotia, and the story of Telegonos. Probably each of the two books of the Telegony related one of these episodes. In current critical editions only two lines of the poem's original text survive. For its storyline we are almost entirely dependent on a summary of the Cyclic epics contained in the Chrestomatheia (see also chrestomathy) attributed to the 5th-century AD philosopher Proklos Diadochos. A few other references also give indications of the poem's storyline.

The poem opens after Odysseus' return home to Ithake and the "slaughter of the suitors" (Greek: μνηστηροφονία, mnesterophonia) at the end of the Odyssey. Penelope's dead suitors are buried, and Odysseus makes sacrifices to the Nymphs (presumably the Nymphs in whose cave he had hidden the treasure he brought with him to Ithake: see Odyssey book 13). He makes a voyage to Elis, where he visits an otherwise unknown figure, Polyxenos, who gives him a bowl depicting the story of Trophonios. Odysseus returns to Ithake and then travels to Thesprotia (presumably to make the sacrifices commanded by Teiresias in Odyssey 11). There he has an affair with the Thesprotian queen Kallidike, who bears him a son, Polypoites. Odysseus fights for the Thesprotians in a war against the neighbouring Brygoi; the gods participate in the war. However, Kallidike is killed in the war, and Odysseus returns to Ithake.

Meanwhile, it transpires that Circe, with whom Odysseus had an affair for a year in the Odyssey (books 10-12), bore his son, Telegonos (Τηλέγονος, "born far away"), who grows up on Kirke's island, Aiaia. On the goddess Athena's advice Kirke tells him the name of his father, gives him an amazing spear to defend himself which is tipped with the sting of a poisonous stingray and was made by the god Hephaistos, and sends him in search of Odysseus. A storm forces Telegonos onto Ithake without his realising where he is. As is customary for Homeric heroes in unfriendly land, he commits piracy, and unwittingly begins stealing Odysseus' cattle. Odysseus comes to defend his property, he and Telegonos fight, and Telegonos kills Odysseus with his unusual spear, thereby fulfilling Teiresias' prophecy in the Odyssey that death would come to Odysseus "out of the sea" (i.e. the poison of the ray). As Odysseus lies dying, he and Telegonos recognise one another, and Telegonos laments his mistake. Telegonos brings his father's corpse, Penelope, and Odysseus' other son Telemachos, back to Aiaia, where Odysseus is buried and Kirke makes the others immortal. Telegonos marries Penelope, and Telemachos marries Kirke.

Editions

  • Online editions (English translation):
  • Print editions (Greek):
    • A. Bernabé 1987, Poetarum epicorum Graecorum testimonia et fragmenta pt. 1 (Leipzig: Teubner)
    • M. Davies 1988, Epicorum Graecorum fragmenta (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht)
  • West, M.L. 2003, Greek Epic Fragments (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press). ISBN 0674996054

Other uses

The word "telegony" also refers to a discredited theory, purporting that the first male to procreate with a female would genetically contribute to all of her offspring, even those sired by a different male.

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