TITLE: The Cypria: Reconstructing the Lost Prequel to Homer's Iliad
AUTHOR: D. M. Smith
DATE PUBLISHED: 2017
In Classical times, the story of the Trojan War was told in a series of eight epic poems known as the Epic Cycle, of which only the Iliad and Odyssey by Homer survive to the present day. The first poem in the sequence was the Cypria, which described the early years of the war from Eris’ casting of the golden apple at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, to Paris’ abduction of Helen, the sacrifice of Iphigenia, Odysseus’ treacherous murder of Palamedes, and finally, the enslavement of Briseis and Chryseis, which sowed the seeds of the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon in the Iliad.
The Cypria is now lost, but the myths it once contained are known from a number of later writings. In an ambitious exercise in literary back-breeding, editor D. M. Smith attempts to reconstruct the lost prequel to Homer’s Iliad from the available material. Included are excerpts from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Apollodorus’ Bibliotheca, Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis and Colluthus’ The Rape of Helen, as well as lesser known documents such as Dictys Cretensis Ephemeris Belli Trojani, and the Excidium Troiae — a medieval summary of a lost Roman account of the Trojan War, discovered among the papers of an 18th century clergyman in the 1930s. This eclectic melange of Greek and Latin texts has been carefully edited and arranged in accordance with the known chronology of the Cypria, thus allowing readers to trace the story of this vanished epic as a continuous narrative for the first time in over a thousand years.
The Cypria (mostly lost or fragmented) was an epic poem in eleven books, variously attributed to Homer, Hegesias of Salmis, Cyprias of Halicarnassus or Stasinus of Cyprus. The Cypria deals with the early history of the Troyan War ("pre-Iliad"), from its origins at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis to the capture of Chryseis and Briseis, leading into the events of the Iliad.
This is the author's attempt to reconstruct the lost poem from later writings, arranged and edited so as to approximate the lost originals. The author's stated goal was to assemble a coherent, easy-to-follow narrative with the bare minimum of editorial intervention, in as great a detail as possible while relying only on Classical sources, i.e. works composed while the stories told in the Cypria were still a part of the public conscousness. Smith hopes that this will at least allow a reader to enjoy this lost story as a single, (mostly) uninterrupted text for the first time in over a thousand years. In this book, all the "pre-Iliad" excerpts and text are gathered together in one convenient volume, which provides the necessary back-story for anyone preparing to embark on a study of the Homeric epics.
The meat of the book is essentially a collection of excerpts from other texts that deal with the stories that were once included in the Cypria. There is no author commentary to detract from this section of the book. The book is also accompanied by an extensive introduction which details how Smith put together this book and which older texts he used as sources and any discrepencies in the tales. I found the author's introduction to be very informative and this collection of the "pre-Iliad" narrative very useful. This is something useful to have on hand for people who enjoy Homer's epics or wish to know more about the early Trojan War.