The Epic Cycle, a group of eight Greek epics, collectively tell the story of the Trojan War, as well as related events. It is an ongoing matter of debate as to when the epics were first complied into a "cycle", and as it doesn't seem as if that issue will be settled soon, I have a related question.

Given that at least six authors appear to have contributed to the cycle, at first it seems as if the epics were written separately. However, if, for example, we look at Homer's contributions, we see that they do not appear to be combinable - that is, taking his two volumes and putting them together would not make a complete story. This makes it seem possible that Homer was aware of other works that would complete the Cycle, or vice versa.

Were the authors of each of the six pieces of the Cycle aware of any other works at the time of their writing, and were they thus influenced by the existence of said works?

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Hugh G. Evelyn-White's hypothesis is that the authors of the non Homeric poems were reasonably aware of Homer's works. This is summarized in the introduction of Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns, and Homerica:

The Trojan Cycle

Six epics with the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey" made up the Trojan Cycle—The "Cyprian Lays", the "Iliad", the "Aethiopis", the "Little Iliad", the "Sack of Troy", the "Returns", the "Odyssey", and the "Telegony".

It has been assumed in the foregoing pages that the poems of the Trojan Cycle are later than the Homeric poems; but, as the opposite view has been held, the reasons for this assumption must now be given. 1) Tradition puts Homer and the Homeric poems proper back in the ages before chronological history began, and at the same time assigns the purely Cyclic poems to definite authors who are dated from the first Olympiad (776 B.C.) downwards. This tradition cannot be purely arbitrary. 2) The Cyclic poets (as we can see from the abstract of Proclus) were careful not to trespass upon ground already occupied by Homer. Thus, when we find that in the "Returns" all the prominent Greek heroes except Odysseus are accounted for, we are forced to believe that the author of this poem knew the "Odyssey" and judged it unnecessary to deal in full with that hero's adventures. In a word, the Cyclic poems are 'written round' the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey". 3) The general structure of these epics is clearly imitative. As M.M. Croiset remark, the abusive Thersites in the "Aethiopis" is clearly copied from the Thersites of the "Iliad"; in the same poem Antilochus, slain by Memnon and avenged by Achilles, is obviously modelled on Patroclus. 4) The geographical knowledge of a poem like the "Returns" is far wider and more precise than that of the "Odyssey". 5) Moreover, in the Cyclic poems epic is clearly degenerating morally—if the expression may be used. The chief greatness of the "Iliad" is in the character of the heroes Achilles and Hector rather than in the actual events which take place: in the Cyclic writers facts rather than character are the objects of interest, and events are so packed together as to leave no space for any exhibition of the play of moral forces. All these reasons justify the view that the poems with which we now have to deal were later than the "Iliad" and "Odyssey", and if we must recognize the possibility of some conventionality in the received dating, we may feel confident that it is at least approximately just.

Source: The Project Gutenberg EBook of Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns, and Homerica, by Homer and Hesiod

I believe this remains the prevalent theory, although the matter is far from settled. And with the evidence as lacking and fragmented as they are, I'm afraid it won't be settled any time soon.


This is an excellent (and difficult) question.

The first thing that we must remember is that most or all the material which makes up the so-called 'Epic Cycle' existed earlier in oral form. That is, before the Greeks were literate and the epics were written down, they existed in more fluid oral versions.

Proficient rhapsodes knew and could manipulate the oral traditions. By that I mean that they could 'stitch together' various components of the epic cycle as they or their audience wanted. Homer was aware of the pre-existing oral traditions; the Iliad itself was an oral composition. The later authors knew the traditions, as well, since some orality survived to Plato's time at least. (The transition from orality to literacy, called proto-literacy, involves both systems of transmission coexisting side by side -- a period that lasted about 400 years for the Greeks.)

Just as the rhapsodes enjoyed latitude in the oral performance of lays from the epic cycle, so too the first writers of the epics admitted many influences and innovations. That is, tradition was never a dead hand forcing certain authorial decisions: poets have always practiced great compositional freedom. Thanks be to Apollo!

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