Little Iliad

The Little Iliad (Greek: polytonic|Ἰλιὰς μικρά, "Ilias mikra"; Latin: "Ilias parva") 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 "Little Iliad" comes chronologically after that of the "Aethiopis", and is followed by that of the "Iliou persis" ("Sack of Troy"). The "Little Iliad" was variously attributed by ancient writers to Lesches of Pyrrha, Cinaethon of Sparta, Diodorus of Erythrae, Thestorides of Phocaea, or Homer himself (see Cyclic poets). The poem comprised four books of verse in dactylic hexameter.


The "Little Iliad" was probably composed in the latter half of the seventh century BCE, but there is much uncertainty. Ancient sources date Lesches to the seventh century; but it is typical for ancient writers to place archaic literary authors earlier (sometimes centuries earlier) than they actually lived.


The "Little Iliad" is one of the better-attested epics in the Epic Cycle: nearly thirty lines of the original text survive. Nevertheless, we are almost entirely dependent on a summary of the Cyclic epics contained in the "Chrestomatheia" (see also chrestomathy) attributed to an unknown "Proclus" (possibly to be identified with the 2nd-century CE grammarian Eutychius Proclus). Numerous other references give indications of the poem's storyline.

The poem opens with the judgment of Achilles' arms, which are to be awarded to the greatest Greek hero: the contest is between Ajax and Odysseus, who recovered Achilles' body in battle. With the help of Athena, the arms are awarded to Odysseus, and Ajax goes insane and attacks the Achaeans' herd. Later, in shame, he commits suicide.

Odysseus ambushes the Trojan prophet Helenus and captures him; Helenus makes prophecies concerning the preconditions for the Greeks' conquest of Troy, notably, that the city will not fall while it harbours the Palladium.

In accordance with the prophecies, Odysseus and Diomedes go to Lemnos to bring back the hero Philoctetes, who is healed of his wound by Machaon. Philoctetes then fights Paris in single combat and kills him. After Paris' death, his wife Helen marries Deiphobus.

Odysseus brings Achilleus' son Neoptolemus to Troy, gives him Achilles' armour and Achilles' ghost appears to him.

When the Trojan ally Eurypylus dominates the field in battle, Neoptolemus kills him.

Odysseus goes into Troy disguised as a beggar, where Helen recognises him but keeps his secret; he returns safely with the Palladium, killing some Trojans on the way. On the goddess Athena's initiative, the Greek warrior Epeus builds the wooden horse, and the Greeks place their best warriors inside it, burn their camp, and withdraw to the nearby island Tenedos. The Trojans, believing that the Greeks have departed for good, breach a section of their city wall to bring the horse inside, and celebrate their apparent victory.

The emergence of the heroes from the horse, and the Greeks' destruction of Troy, seem not to be recounted in the "Little Iliad", but are left for the "Iliou persis". Nonetheless, a substantial fragment which is securely attributed to the "Little Iliad" describes how Neoptolemus takes Hector's wife Andromache captive and kills his baby son, Astyanax by throwing him from the walls of the city. ["Little Iliad" fr. 29 in West's edition (= Tzetzes "ad Lyc". 1268).]


*Online editions (English translation):
** [ Fragments of the "Little Iliad"] 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] translated by Gregory Nagy
*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)
*Print editions (Greek with English translation):
**M.L. West 2003, "Greek Epic Fragments" (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press)


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