Little Iliad

Epic Cycle (᾽Επικὸς κύκλος): set of twelve archaic epic poems, known to every educated Greek. The best-known were Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, which are also the only epics that have survived.


Homer. Glyptothek, München (Germany)

The Little Iliad (Ilias Mikra) is the eighth epic of the Epic Cycle; it is attributed to Lesches of Mitylene. The subject matter is rather diverse, but some unity is created by its main character, Odysseus, who removes all obstacles to the capture of Troy.

The Little Iliad starts with the debate about Achilles' arms, a story that connects this epic to the Aethiopis. Athena helps Odysseus to obtain them, and Ajax becomes mad. When he realizes that he has, in his madness, killed the sheep of the Greek army, he commits suicide.

The real story starts when Odysseus manages to capture the Trojan prince Helenus, who has the gift of prophecy, and explains that the Greeks will not take Troy without the help of Philoctetes, who is still on the isle of Tenedos. Diomedes gets Philoctetes to the Greek camp, where the physician Machaon cures the wound that the snake had made. Philoctetes immediately kills Paris, whose body is ravaged by Menelaus. Yet, the Trojans manage to recover the corpse and bury it.

The fall of Troy is now near. Odysseus leaves for Skyros, where he finds Achilles' son Neoptolemus. The young man, who had been procreated when his father visited Deidameia during the first, failed attempt to reach Troy, gets his father's arms, has a vision of Achilles, and joins the Greek army. His first act of bravery is killing Eurypylus, the son of Telephus, who had once been wounded and cured by Achilles.

Troy can no longer hope for reinforcement, and Odysseus comes up with the idea of the Wooden Horse, which is built by Epeius, who receives instructions from Athena. To make sure that everything will go according to plan, Odysseus mutilates himself and enters Troy to spy upon his enemies. Helen recognizes him, and they agree upon a plan to hand over the city. Several Trojans, who discover what is going on, are killed, Odysseus returns to the camp, and enters Troy again with Diomedes, to take away the Palladium: a statue of Athena that protects the city. Now, the city has no defenses any more.

Fifty valiant soldiers enter the Wooden Horse, which is left on the beach, while the Greeks leave the Troad and go to Tenedos. The Little Iliad ends with the Trojans finding the Wooden Horse and towing it into their city in the mistaken belief that their troubles are finally over. Perhaps, the story of the Wooden Horse being towed into Troy in fact belongs to the Sack of Troy; if the Little Iliad ended with the capture of the Palladium, it would be a nice story about Odysseus removing three obstacles.

Proclus' excerpt

Next comes the Little Iliad in four books by Lesches of Mitylene: its contents are as follows. The adjudging of the arms of Achilles takes place, and Odysseus, by the contriving of Athena, gains them. Ajax then becomes mad and destroys the herd of the Achaeans and kills himself.

Next Odysseus lies in wait and catches Helenus, who prophesies as to the taking of Troy, and Diomedes accordingly brings Philoctetes from Lemnos. Philoctetes is healed by Machaon, fights in single combat with Alexandrus [Paris] and kills him: the dead body is outraged by Menelaus, but the Trojans recover and bury it. After this Deïphobus marries Helen, Odysseus brings Neoptolemus from Scyros and gives him his father's arms, and the ghost of Achilles appears to him.

Eurypylus the son of Telephus arrives to aid the Trojans, shows his prowess and is killed by Neoptolemus. The Trojans are now closely besieged, and Epeius, by Athena's instruction, builds the wooden horse. Odysseus disfigures himself and goes in to Ilium as a spy, and there being recognized by Helen, plots with her for the taking of the city; after killing certain of the Trojans, he returns to the ships. Next he carries the Palladium out of Troy with the help of Diomedes.

Then after putting their best men in the wooden horse and burning their huts, the main body of the Hellenes sail to Tenedos. The Trojans, supposing their troubles over, destroy a part of their city wall and take the wooden horse into their city and feast as though they had conquered the Hellenes.


2. Ps.-Herodotus, Life of Homer:
I sing of Troy and Dardania, the land of fine horses, wherein the Danaï, followers of Ares, suffered many things.

3. Scholiast on Aristophanes' Knights:
The story runs as follows: Ajax and Odysseus were quarrelling as to their achievements, says the poet of the Little Iliad, and Nestor advised the Hellenes to send some of their number to go to the foot of the walls and overhear what was said about the valor of the heroes named above. The eavesdroppers heard certain girls disputing, one of them saying that Ajax was by far a better man than Odysseus and continuing as follows:

For Ajax took up and carried out of the strife the hero,
Peleus' son: this great Odysseus cared not to do.

To this another replied by Athena's contrivance:

Why, what is this you say? A thing against reason and untrue! ...
Even a woman could carry a load once a man had put it on her shoulder;
but she could not fight. For she would fail with fear if she should fight.

4. Eustathius, 285.34:
The writer of the Little Iliad says that Ajax was not buried in the usual way, but was simply buried in a coffin, because of the king's anger.

5. Eustathius, On Homer's "Iliad",  326:
The author of the Little Iliad says that Achilles after putting out to sea from the country of Telephus came to land there.

"The storm carried Achilles the son of Peleus to Scyros, and he came into an uneasy harbor there in the same night."

6. Scholiast on Pindar, Nemean Odes, 6.86:
About the spear-shaft was a hoop of flashing gold, and a point was fitted to it at either end.

7. Scholiast on Euripides, Trojan Women, 822:
… The vine which the son of Cronos gave him as a recompense for his son. It bloomed richly with soft leaves of gold and grape clusters; Hephaestus wrought it and gave it to his father Zeus: and he bestowed it on Laomedon as a price for Ganymedes.

8. Pausanias, Guide to Greece, 3.26.9:
The writer of the epic Little Iliad says that Machaon was killed by Eurypylus, the son of Telephus.

9. Homer, Odyssey, 4.247, and Scholiast:

He disguised himself, and made himself like another person, a beggar, the like of whom was not by the ships of the Achaeans.

The Cyclic poet uses "beggar" as a substantive, and so means to say that when Odysseus had changed his clothes and put on rags, there was no one so good for nothing at the ships as Odysseus.

10. Plutarch, Dinner of the Seven Wise Men 153f:
And Homer put forward the following verses as Lesches gives them:

Muse, tell me of those things which neither happened before nor shall be hereafter.

And Hesiod answered:

But when horses with rattling hoofs wreck chariots, striving for victory about the tomb of Zeus.

And it is said that, because this reply was specially admired, Hesiod won the tripod (at the funeral games of Amphidamas).

11. Scholiast on Lycophron, Alexandra, 344:
Sinon, as it had been arranged with him, secretly showed a signal-light to the Hellenes. Thus Lesches writes:

It was midnight, and the clear moon was rising.

12. Aristophanes, Lysistrata, 155, with scholion:

Menelaus at least, when he caught a glimpse somehow of the breasts of Helen unclad, cast away his sword, methinks. Lesches the Pyrrhaean also has the same account in his Little Iliad.

13. Pausanias, Guide to Greece, 10.25.8:
Concerning Aethra Lesches relates that when Ilium was taken she stole out of the city and came to the Hellenic camp, where she was recognized by the sons of Theseus; and that Demophon asked her of Agamemnon. Agamemnon wished to grant him this favor, but he would not do so until Helen consented. And when he sent a herald, Helen granted his request.

14. Scholiast on Lycophron, Alexandra, 1268:
Then the bright son of bold Achilles led the wife of Hector to the hollow ships; but her son he snatched from the bosom of his rich-haired nurse and seized him by the foot and cast him from a tower. So when he had fallen bloody death and hard fate seized on Astyanax. And Neoptolemus chose out Andromache, Hector's well-girded wife, and the chiefs of all the Achaeans gave her to him to hold requiting him with a welcome prize. And he put Aeneas, the famous son of horse-taming Anchises, on board his sea-faring ships, a prize surpassing those of all the Danaäns."


The translation of the excerpt in Proclus' Chrestomathy (transmitted to us by Photius) and the fragments was made by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, and was copied from LacusCurtius.