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The term kyklos is notorious for its ambiguity. The word encompasses various interpretations, most of them metaphorical: apart from the proper sense ‘circle’, it can designate any circular body like a wheel, a trencher, a place of an assembly or the people standing in a ring, the vault of the sky, the orb or disk of a celestial body, the wall around a city, a round shield, the eyeballs, an olive wreath, a collection of legends or poems, a circular dance, a rounded period, a globe, a kind of anapaest, the ring composition. Whatever sense one adopts, it can be generally agreed upon that the meaning of kyklos as a ‘cycle’ of epic poems must be metaphorical.
We will now offer a synopsis of five possible interpretations of the term kyklos with respect to the Epic Cycle. In particular, the word kyklos has been employed so as to denote: (a) an idea of uniformity and continuity; (b) a notion of ‘ring form’; (c) the concept of completeness; (d) an encircling or framing function; and (e) a poetics based on manufacturing a perfected whole.
(a) The notion of uniformity and continuity is inherent in an emblematic passage from Photius' Bibliotheca (319a30), which quotes Proclus – but Proclus may have reflected an older introductory justification to a compilation of summaries of the Cyclic poems that possibly were Proclus' source:1 λέγει [scil. ὁ Πρόκλος] δὲ ὡς τοῦ ἐπικοῦ κύκλου τὰ ποιήματα διασώιζεται καὶ σπουδάζεται τοῖς πολλοῖς οὐχ οὕτωι διὰ τὴν ἀρετὴν ὡς διὰ τὴν ἀκολουθίαν τῶν ἐν αὐτῶι πραγμάτων (‘Proclus says that the poems of the Epic Cycle are preserved and paid attention to not so much for their value as for the orderly sequence of the events narrated in it’).
This passage makes clear that down to Proclus' day the epic cycle was studied for its narrative linearity, i.e. because it offered a sequential presentation of mythical events stretching from the ‘love mixing’ of Ouranos and Gaia to Odysseus' death and the end of the race of heroes. This narrative concatenation must have created a notion of uniformity that surpassed the individuality of the various epic poems from which the Epic Cycle was formed, and offered the readers a convenient, continuous and linear storyline.
The Telegony (Τηλεγονία or Τηλεγόνεια) by Eugammon of Cyrene in two books brings the Epic Cycle to an end. Our knowledge of its content is largely, but not solely, based on the summary of Proclus, with Ps.-Apollodorus offering some supplementary information that should be treated with caution. The Telegony poses various problems for anyone wishing to reconstruct its plot, the more so since the three principal critical editions available significantly differ with respect to the number of fragments they ascribe to the actual poem. Having said this, I will offer my own classification of the relevant fragments and discuss them in due course.
After the burial of the suitors by their relatives, Odysseus sacrifices to the Nymphs and sails off to Elis in order to inspect his oxen-stables there. Polyxenus, who supervises his stables, offers him hospitality and gives him a bowl as a gift. The epic must have departed on a digression at this point, featuring an extended ekphrasis with respect to the story of Trophonius, Agamedes, and Augeas. After the completion of his inspection, Odysseus sails back to Ithaca and carries out the sacrifices Teiresias had told him to perform. He then travels to the land of the Thesprotians. After marrying Callidice, queen of the Thesprotians, Odysseus becomes king and decides to stay there. He has a son with her, whose name is Polypoites. When a war breaks out between the Thesprotians and the Brygians he leads the Thesprotian army but fails to defeat the enemy. Ares and Athena support the Brygians and the Thesprotians respectively, but it is Apollo who brings the war to an end by calling for a truce. After Callidice's death, Odysseus gives the throne to Polypoites and returns to Ithaca. It is at this point that Telegonus, who has been told by his mother Circe that he is the son of Odysseus, arrives at Ithaca in search of his father and ravages the island. Odysseus tries to avert the danger but is killed by the ignorant Telegonus, who uses as a weapon a spear barbed with the spine of a sting-ray. When he realizes that he has killed his own father, Telegonus laments and brings the body of Odysseus together with Telemachus and Penelope to Aeaea, Circe's island. Then, Telegonus is married to Penelope and Telemachus to Circe, who makes them all immortal.
The poems of the Epic Cycle are assumed to be the reworking of myths and narratives which had their roots in an oral tradition predating that of many of the myths and narratives which took their present form in the Iliad and the Odyssey. The remains of these texts allow us to investigate diachronic aspects of epic diction as well as the extent of variation within it on the part of individual authors - two of the most important questions in modern research on archaic epic. They also help to illuminate the early history of Greek mythology. Access to the poems, however, has been thwarted by their current fragmentary state. This volume provides the scholarly community and graduate students with a thorough critical foundation for reading and interpreting them.
The huge differences characterizing the main editions of the Greek epic poets of the Archaic period are well known. The sparse amount of information available poses serious problems; so too does the lack of unanimous acceptance of the same methodological principles with respect to the attribution of a citation to a given author and poem. The case of the Telegony is typical: Bernabé lists five fragments, Davies two (only one in common with Bernabé), and West six (four in common with Bernabé, one in common with Davies, and one published by Livrea ten years after the appearance of the editions of Bernabé and Davies). To alert the reader that the attribution of fragments 1 and 2 to the Telegony is conjectural and not based on ancient evidence, West attaches an asterisk to them. My aim is to discuss both what certain scholars have taken as one (and, for exactly 110 years, the only) of the two surviving lines from Eugammon's Telegony, that is fr. 1 (PEG 1, Bernabé = *1 West) = fr. 2 (Allen), and also what appears as fr. *2 in West's Loeb edition.