Sack of Troy

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 Sack of Troy (Ilioupersis) is the ninth epic of the Epic Cycle; it is attributed to Arctinus of Miletus.

When the Trojans have brought the Wooden Horse inside their city, they wonder what to do; some want to destroy it, others want to dedicate it to Athena, and their opinion prevails. During their feasting, the Trojan priest Laocoon and his sons are killed by two snakes; Aeneas realizes that this is a bad omen, and leaves the city.

Meanwhile, the Greek spy Sinon raises a light-signal, and the Greeks on Tenedos know that they can return to Troy. When they have arrived, the fifty warriors leave the Wooden Horse, and Neoptolemus starts the massacre by killing Priam, who has fled to an altar. The son of Achilles seizes Andromache, Hector's widow, and brings her to his ship. Her son Astyanax is thrown from the walls by Odysseus.

Ajax and Cassandra. Louvre, Paris (France)
Ajax and Cassandra

Menelaus finds Helen again, but when he sees her naked breasts, casts away his sword, and accepts her as his wife again. Ajax, son of Ileus, tries to capture Cassandra, but she finds protection from a statue of Athena; when Ajax tears her away, the statue falls, and even the Greeks find this sacrilege unacceptable. He is not stoned, however, because he himself finds protection of the same statue.

Next morning, the Greeks sacrifice a Trojan princess named Polyxena at the tomb of Achilles, and the spoils are divided.

Proclus' excerpt

The Laocoon group. Musei Vaticani, Roma (Italy)

Next come two books of the Sack of Ilium, by Arctinus of Miletus with the following contents. The Trojans were suspicious of the wooden horse and standing round it debated what they ought to do. Some thought they ought to hurl it down from the rocks, others to burn it up, while others said they ought to dedicate it to Athena. At last this third opinion prevailed.

Then they turned to mirth and feasting believing the war was at an end. But at this very time two serpents appeared and destroyed Laocoön and one of his two sons, a portent which so alarmed the followers of Aeneas that they withdrew to Ida.

Sinon then raised the fire-signal to the Achaeans, having previously got into the city by pretence. The Greeks then sailed in from Tenedos, and those in the wooden horse came out and fell upon their enemies, killing many and storming the city. Neoptolemus kills Priam who had fled to the altar of Zeus Herceius; Menelaus finds Helen and takes her to the ships, after killing Deïphobus and Ajax the son of Ileus, while trying to drag Cassandra away by force, tears away with her the image of Athena. At this the Greeks are so enraged that they determine to stone Ajax, who only escapes from the danger threatening him by taking refuge at the altar of Athena.

The Greeks, after burning the city, sacrifice Polyxena at the tomb of Achilles: Odysseus murders Astyanax; Neoptolemus takes Andromache as his prize, and the remaining spoils are divided. Demophon and Acamas find Aethra and take her with them. Lastly the Greeks sail away and Athena plans to destroy them on the high seas.


2. Pausanias, Guide to Greece, 10.25.5:
Meges is represented wounded in the arm just as Lescheos, the son of Aeschylinus of Pyrrha, describes in his Sack of Ilium where it is said that he was wounded in the battle which the Trojans fought in the night by Admetus, son of Augeias. Lycomedes too is in the picture with a wound in the wrist, and Lescheos says he was so wounded by Agenor ... Lescheos also mentions Astynoüs, and here he is, fallen on one knee, while Neoptolemus strikes him with his sword ... The same writer says that Helicaon was wounded in the night-battle, but was recognized by Odysseus and by him conducted alive out of the fight ... Of them, Lescheos says that Eïon was killed by Neoptolemus, and Admetus by Philoctetes ... He also says that Priam was not killed at the hearth of Zeus Herceius, but was dragged away from the altar and destroyed offhand by Neoptolemus at the doors of the house ... Lescheos says that Axion was the son of Priam and was slain by Eurypylus, the son of Euaemon. Agenor - according to the same poet - was butchered by Neoptolemus.

3. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, 1.69:
According to Arctinus, one Palladium was given to Dardanus by Zeus, and this was in Ilium until the city was taken. It was hidden in a secret place, and a copy was made resembling the original in all points and set up for all to see, in order to deceive those who might have designs against it. This copy the Achaeans took as a result of their plots.

4. 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.

Death of Priam. Koninklijke musea voor kunst en geschiedenis, Brussel (Belgium)
Death of Priam

5. 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."

6. Scholiast on Euripides' Andromache 10:
The Cyclic poet who composed the Sack says that Astyanax was also hurled from the city wall.

7. Scholiast on Euripides' Trojan Women 31:
For the followers of Acamas and Demophon took no share - it is said - of the spoils, but only Aethra, for whose sake, indeed, they came to Ilium with Menestheus to lead them. Lysimachus, however, says that the author of the Sack writes as follows:

The lord Agamemnon gave gifts to the Sons of Theseus and to bold Menestheus, shepherd of hosts.

8. 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.

9. Eustathius on Iliad 13.515:
Some say that such praise as this does not apply to physicians generally, but only to Machaon: and some say that he only practiced surgery, while Podaleirius treated sicknesses. Arctinus in the Sack of Ilium seems to be of this opinion when he says:

For their father the famous Earth-Shaker gave both of them gifts, making each more glorious than the other. To the one he gave hands more light to draw or cut out missiles from the flesh and to heal all kinds of wounds; but in the heart of the other he put full and perfect knowledge to tell hidden diseases and cure desperate sicknesses. It was he who first noticed Ajax' flashing eyes and clouded mind when he was enraged.

10. Diomedes in Grammatici Latini 1.477:

Iambus stood a little while astride with foot advanced, that so his strained limbs might get power and have a show of ready strength.


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.