Lady Come Down: The Eastern Wandering of Helen, Paris, and Menelaus

2016.05.05 | By John C. Franklin


Remembering the Kypria*

Of the lost epic Kypria, which came to serve as a prequel to the Iliad, we possess several dozen fragments. Its many well-known episodes included the marriage of Peleus to Thetis, the Judgment of Paris, the abduction of Helen, the gathering of the Achaean fleet, the abortive first excursion to Mysia, the sacrifice of Iphigenia, and the final expedition against Troy. But one or more versions of the poem must also have contained wandering adventures set in the eastern Mediterranean, deriving from a multiform traditional background that can be partially reconstructed from scattered traces. A key piece of evidence is a summary of “the” Kypria made by a certain Proclus in perhaps the second century CE (itself surviving only in a later epitome). Here we learn that Hera, doubtless enraged by the humiliating Judgment of Paris, attempted to swamp the lovers’ ship on their return to Troy (Chrest. 80 Severyns):

ἐν τούτῳ δὲ Ἀφροδίτη συνάγει τὴν Ἑλένην τῷ Ἀλεξάνδρῳ καὶ μετὰ τὴν μίξιν τὰ πλεῖστα κτήματα ἐνθέμενοι νυκτὸς ἀποπλέουσι. χειμῶνα δὲ αὐτοῖς ἐφίστησιν Ἥρα. καὶ προσενεχθεὶς Σιδῶνι ὁ Ἀλέξανδρος αἱρεῖ τὴν πόλιν. καὶ ἀποπλεύσας εἰς Ἴλιον γάμους τῆς Ἑλένης ἐπετέλεσεν.

Aphrodite brings Helen and Alexander together and, after their love-making, they load very many of (sc. Menelaus’s) possessions and sail off night by night. But Hera raises a storm against them; carried to Sidon, Alexander sacks the city. And after sailing off to Troy, he effected a wedding to Helen.

Some would dismiss this episode as no more than an interpretive expansion of a glancing detail in the Iliad—the skilled weaver-women whom Paris somehow acquired at Sidon, now working for the Trojan queen (6.289–292). This would still leave us with the supremely important fact that Homer himself assumed a journey (hodós) to Phoenicia. The situation was complicated by the Vatican epitome of ps.-Apollodorus (published in 1891), which agrees so generally with Proclus that it must incorporate much the same source (with possible expansions by the mythographer himself). Once again, in a slightly more detailed summary, we find Hera’s storm and a visit to Sidon (3.4):

Ἥρα δὲ αὐτοῖς ἐπιπέμπει χειμῶνα πολύν, ὑφ’ οὗ βιασθέντες προσίσχουσι Σιδῶνι, εὐλαβούμενος δὲ Ἀλέξανδρος μὴ διωχθῇ, πολὺν διέτριψε χρόνον ἐν Φοινίκῃ καὶ Κύπρῳ. ὡς δὲ ἀπήλπισε δίωξιν, ἧκεν εἰς Τροίαν μετὰ Ἑλένης.

Hera sends a great storm against them, under the force of which they make for Sidon; and Alexander, taking good care lest he be pursued, whiled away much time in Phoenicia and Cyprus. And when he no longer expected pursuit, he came to Troy with Helen.

Considerable minor disagreement between Homer and fragments of “the” Kypria shows that, for whatever poet(s) composed the latter verses, consistent adaption to the Iliad was not an overriding concern. So the eastern adventures alluded to by Proclus and ps.-Apollodorus should at least represent a branch of epic tradition with which Homer was himself familiar—whether or not he knew such tales in precisely the same form. The storm motif is especially revealing, not because Homer himself mentions none (he may well have assumed one), but because storms were a traditional narratological device for diverting characters to some unexpected destination—a surefire way to extend a hero’s adventures in any direction by freeing the poet from a logical itinerary.

An early tradition of storm-driven adventures for Paris and Helen also underlies a well-known crux in Herodotus, who called attention to a discrepancy between the Iliad and the Kypria as he knew it. In the latter, Paris and Helen proceeded directly to Troy and arrived within three days. The historian quotes a slightly jumbled hexameter (variously reconstructed) which specifies that the lovers had a “calm sea” and “a fair wind” (εὐαέϊ τε πνεύματι χρησάμενος καὶ θαλάσσῃ λείῃ, 2.117). Herodotus reasonably concluded from this and the Iliad’s allusion to Sidon that Homer did not compose the Kypria. But Herodotus’s latent epic fragment takes on striking new emphasis when read against a traditional background of storm-driven Wandering (plánē). That his Kypria-poet bothered to specify smooth seas presupposes an older Paris-Helen voyage interrupted by a storm; this was countered, in an Archaic truth-making gesture, by insisting that the voyage of Paris and Helen was short, and the weather just fine thank you. Such a revision was probably motivated less by a desire to make the poem less sprawling (as Aristotle found “it,” Poetics 1495b2–4) than a pan-Hellenizing impulse to exclude distant provincial material. Yet such excisions would render less apt the title Kypria, which must mean more or less “the Cypriot epic.” This deficit was corrected, after Herodotus’s time, by a sophistic reinterpretation of Kypria as a Doric genitive and concocting a bogus author called Kyprias who, as it happens, is claimed as a native of Herodotus’s own hometown in the Pride of Halicarnassus inscription (second-century BCE), where he is credited not with the Kypria but an Iliaka! With brilliant irony the name “Kyprias” (effectively “Mr. Kypria”) implies either an origin on, or significant cultural sympathies with, Cyprus itself—thus making this phantom poet well-qualified to sing adventures in “the lands around Cyprus” (Str. 1.2.32), had he chosen to do so.

This interpretation of the Herodotean Kypria as having rejected earlier storm-driven adventures is corroborated by the historian himself, who assumes without question that Homer was familiar with an Eastern Wandering (2.116):

Δῆλον δέ, κατά περ ἐποίησε ἐν Ἰλιάδι (καὶ οὐδαμῇ ἄλλῃ ἀνεπόδισε ἑωυτόν) πλάνην τὴν Ἀλεξάνδρου, ὡς ἀπηνείχθη ἄγων Ἑλένην τῇ τε δὴ ἄλλῃ πλαζόμενος καὶ ὡς ἐς Σιδῶνα τῆς Φοινίκης ἀπίκετο.

And it is clear that, just as [Homer] composed the wandering (plánēn) of Alexander in the Iliadand nowhere else did he contradict himself—(Alexander) was blown off course as he led Helen away, and that he both wandered elsewhere [n.b.] and came to Sidon in Phoenicia . . .

Remarkably Herodotus goes on to adduce the post-Troy itinerary of Menelaus and Helen as proof that Paris and Helen had gone to Egypt and Phoenicia:

Ἐν τούτοισι τοῖσι ἔπεσι δηλοῖ ὅτι ἠπίστατο τὴν ἐς Αἴγυπτον Ἀλεξάνδρου πλάνην· ὁμουρέει γὰρ ἡ Συρίη Αἰγύπτῳ, οἱ δὲ Φοίνικες, τῶν ἐστι ἡ Σιδών, ἐν τῇ Συρίῃ οἰκέουσι.

In these verses [Homer] makes clear that he knew about Paris’s wandering into Egypt. For Syria borders upon Egypt, and the Phoenicians—in whose land Sidon is—dwell in Syria.

Some critics, troubled by the seemingly faulty logic, have suspected interpolation here. But it is the logic of oral-formulaic narrative, from which Herodotus has made an astute deduction. Homer refers to a hodós, a word that quite naturally implies more than the one visit to Sidon on the far side of Cyprus. Homer himself otherwise alludes only to a hurried pit-stop on Kranae, where Paris and Helen consummated a secretive anti-marriage (3.444–445). Ancient attempts to locate this generic “rocky island” close to mainland Greece were naturally inconclusive. In any case one may reasonably suppose, despite Strabo’s contrary interpretation (1.2.33), that Homer’s Sidonian weavers assume Paris’s sack of that city, as in Proclus; for skilled women were often taken by the spear. Of several parallels the most apposite here is the Sidonian woman—“beautiful and large and knowing splendid works”—stolen by Taphian pirates to slave in the house of Eumaeus’s father (Od. 15.418); for the port-of-origin makes her a formulaic sister to Paris’s weavers. The Iliad itself mentions further women that Paris abducted from Sparta along with Helen (3.385–388). Evidently the Trojan prince was a serial host-deceiver (xeinapátēs: Ibycus PMG 282a.10), repaying hospitality with harpagḗthe rape and pillage of treasure and women.

“Helen in Egypt,” by Glynnis Fawkes

Sidon also figures in Homer’s homeward wandering of Menelaus and Helen, a perfect inversion of Paris and Helen’s pre-Troy hodós. This reveals the Phoenician city as a traditional story-telling station on an Eastern Wandering circuit that could be variously developed for various characters with various motivations. From a surprisingly rich collection of later sources, we can identify three broad themes that were cultivated by singers working in this theater: the Marital Escapade of Paris and Helen; a corresponding Hunt for Helen; and a post-Troy Wandering by the Spartan king (sometimes to evade post-war resentment in Greece and/or as a tour de force).

Paris and Helen’s Marital Escapade

There is a minor logical conflict between Hera’s storm bringing Paris and Helen to the East, and ps.-Apollodorus’s assertion that the couple dallied in Cyprus and Phoenicia to avoid pursuit. This is not an artifact of mythological rationalization, but a glimpse of the singer’s mind at work; storms are a handy device for putting characters in a predicament that begets a series of attractively told adventures. Yet another poet might well have had Paris and Helen take evasive action from the start, heading not for Troy but some safe haven—one that was not Sidon, if the Phoenician city was reached unintentionally by storm. The obvious candidate is Cyprus—the first major station in the East, and home-base of Kypris-Aphrodite, protectress of Paris and of sailors more generally (Sappho 5.18, etc.). In ps.-Apollodorus the island follows Phoenicia as though this was the first place the couple made for after Sidon—i.e., their preferred destination. It is thus quite natural that Cyprus is the couple’s first port-of-call in the parallel account of Dictys of Crete, though this time as refuge from a storm while trying to reach Troy. Remarkably the couple, once recovered, do not resume their homeward journey, but launch into a Sidonian adventure (Bell. Tro. 1.5):

Legati paucis diebus ad Trojiam veniunt, neque tum Alexandrum in loco offendere. Eum namque properatione navigii inconsulte usum venti ad Cyprum appulere. Unde sumptis aliquot navibus, Phoenicem delapsus, Sidoniorum regem, qui eum amice susceperat, noctu per insidias necat.

Within a few days the legates (sc. Palamedes, Odysseus, and Menelaos) arrived at Troy, but they did not find Paris at the site. For rashly making haste in his voyage, the winds had driven him to Cyprus. Acquiring a certain number of ships there, he cruised down Phoenicia and slew by night the Sidonians’ king, who had received him in friendship.

Any such stop on Cyprus will have been hosted by Kinyras, the island’s pre-Troy king in the tale-telling formulation to which both the Iliad and Odyssey conform. Elsewhere I have discussed what Eustathius calls the Cypriot Hosting of the Achaeans (Kypriakḕ xenía tôn Akhaiôn), in which Menelaus—sometimes with Odysseus and Talthybius, or even the whole Achaean fleet—tries to wrangle Kinyras into the expedition against Troy; the erstwhile Lyre God promises to send fifty ships, but makes forty-nine of terracotta and casts them into the sea—a remarkable reflection of pre-Greek Cypriot ritual (one wonders what became of the fiftieth ship, commanded by the “Son of Mygdalion”).[1] Clearly Kinyras’s loyalties were conflicted at best. As “Aphrodite’s beloved priest” (Pindar Pyth. 2.16), Kinyras will have been well qualified to host and help Paris and Helen (one ancient etymology made Cyprus “the hidden island”). Paris’s acquisition of Cypriot ships in Dictys may also be connected with Kinyras, who had other traditional associations with seafaring. A loan or gift of ships would not only constitute the Cypriot king’s epic send-off (pompḗ)—compare the Phaeacians’ transportation of Odysseus—but formulaically invert the Cypriot Hosting of the Achaeans.

That the lovers went East precisely to evade pursuit is stated bluntly by many later sources (some very late).[2] Since these “accounts” generally envision a route through Egypt and Phoenicia, they are often undervalued as derivative of Euripides, Herodotus, and thence back to Stesichorus, the earliest (known) source for Helen’s eídolon. That thorny problem is best avoided here. I would merely emphasize that phantom-doubles were themselves a traditional device (Il. 5.541, Od. 4.796, etc.), and that the sources present details unparalleled in Euripides (et al.) that nevertheless adhere to Archaic narratological technique. A Lycophronian scholiast reports that Paris, believing himself pursued by the Spartans, fled to Egypt; there Helen was confiscated by Proteus, and Paris sailed off to Troy with her doppelgänger (Σ Alex. 112). While this seems mainly to conflate Herodotus (who has Proteus’s detention of Helen) and Euripides/Stesichorus (the eídolon), it differs from both in maintaining an evasion motif. As this was hardly necessary—Herodotus provides all the rationalization one might want—it should be the residue of an independent and probably early variant. The same explanation, I believe, applies ultimately to the several Byzantine authorities (including chroniclers) who present diverse combinations of geography, evasion, receptions by (sometimes hostile) hosts, and eídolon-permutations. Each of these Egyptian voyages enjoys narratological plausibility by following a counterclockwise circuit of the eastern Mediterranean. But since this neatly inverts a formulaic Wandering template known to Homer (see below), these accounts are at least as archaic, structurally speaking, as Euripides-Stesichorus.

The Hunt for Helen

Evasion motivated by fear of pursuit naturally suggests, by the epic technique of inversion, pursuit itself. The two motifs are narratologically interdependent, and for maximum excitement the hunter should be always on the heels of his quarry. Both parties would thus follow much the same itinerary—a device that would equally make the most economical use of traditional materials. The marital escapade thus implies a Hunt for Helen throughout the eastern Mediterranean. This is after all essentially what we find in Euripides’s Helen, although here, thanks to the eídolon, Menelaus does not know that he is searching. Of course these events take place after Troy. But the formula-minded singer could just as easily elaborate this Eastern Wandering of Menelaus in a pre-Troy search for Helen. Again one is struck by Herodotus’s use of the Spartan king’s homeward route to prove Homer’s knowledge of the lovers’ earlier escapade.

Other evidence for an initial Hunt for Helen is surprisingly quite scarce. As a partial parallel we have the first rape of Helen, when Theseus was pursued by Kastor and Polydeukes, who were swept away by a storm near Lesbos (note that Theseus himself, in one version of the Ariadne story, was swept by a storm to Cyprus: Paion of Amathous, FGH 757 F 2). Dio Chrysostomus found it absurd that, after Helen’s abduction by Paris, neither the Dioskouroi nor Menelaus, nor anyone else, gave chase (Or. 11.60, 69, 72). Yet other sources do have Menelaus dispatching agents, “sending everywhere in search of Helen and Paris and those who were with her—and they did not find them” (ps.-Apollod. Epit. 3.6). This delegation/dereliction of duties lets Menelaus pursue his more familiar mission of raising a fleet against Troy. This alternative Wandering adventure, we saw, did bring Menelaus to Cyprus and Kinyras. In yet other sources, however, it is the naval recruiting mission that Menelaus assigns to his agents (Alcidamas Od. 20).

The Cypriot Hosting of the Achaeans, by Glynnis Fawkes

But these three actions—sending agents for the Hunt, raising ships himself, and sending agents to raise ships—inevitably imply a final permutation: Menelaus, as others rallied the Achaeans, went himself in search of Helen. Luckily the missing piece was preserved, as I believe, by John Tzetzes, the prolific twelfth-century scholar-poet who, drawing upon older cyclic traditions, composed an Antehomerica of events preceding the Iliad. Here we read (133–140):

φεῦγον ἐπ’ ἀτρυγέτοιο θαλάσσης Τύριον οἶδμα,
δειδιότες περάαν πλόον ὃν Τροίηθεν ἔπεπλον.
Αὐτίκα δ’ ἐς Κρήτην Μενελάου οἴκιες ἦλθον,
ἀγγελίην ἐρέοντες· ὁ δ’ ἔπλεεν ὦκα μάλιστα
εὐρυπόρου Σεισίχθονος οἴδματα πάντα ματεύων
Πολλὰ δ’ ἀπρὴγξ μογέεσκε, μάτην ἀκιχήτα διώκων.
Κεῖνοι γάρ τε μέγα πέλαγος Τύρων περόωντες
ἄστυ Τρώιον ἴδον, ὅλον λυκάβαντα μογεῦντες.

They fled upon the barren sea and made their way to Tyre,
Because they feared to sail the way the Trojans sailed from Troy.
And Menelaus’s servants came in haste to Crete
To tell the news; and he went sailing off most swiftly
Searching every route upon the broad-wayed Earth-shaker.
And much he suffered, helpless, vainly chasing the untakable.
For those two, passing through the great sea of the Tyrians
Saw the Trojan city after toiling for a year.

A full year’s wandering in the East would give Paris and Helen plenty of time for the birth of a child. Hence we might explain a Euripidean scholion (Σ. Andr. 898):

ὁ δὲ τὰς Κυπριακὰς ἱστορίας συντάξας Πλεισθένην φησὶ, μεθ’ οὗ εἰς Κύπρον ἀφῖχθαι καὶ τὸν ἐξ αὐτῆς τεχθέντα Ἀλεξάνδρῳ Ἀγαυόν.

The arranger of the Cypriot Histories says Pleisthenes (sc. was the son of Helen and Menelaos), with whom Aganos, the son born by her to Paris, also arrived to Cyprus.

Tzetzes also adds Tyre to the roster of destinations, where it joins Sidon better to fulfill one’s expectations of the “Phoenicia” that many other sources give.[3] Tzetzes mentioned Menelaus’s “search for his wife” again in his Exegesis of Homer’s Iliad (65.19–20).

The Odyssey of Menelaus

Despite Tzetzes’s late date and reputation for careless work, I submit that his Hunt for Helen is a genuinely ancient theme that was increasingly eclipsed by Homer’s version of events. Here the Eastern Wandering of Menelaus was demoted not only by the hero’s deployment alongside other homecoming Greeks, but by his function as foil for the greater Western Wandering of Odysseus. We thus face the curious predicament that our richest evidence for pre-Troy Eastern Wandering adventures will be found in Homer’s scattered account of the Spartan king’s seven-year nóstos.[4]

In the Odyssey, Menelaus wanders in company with Helen after retrieving her from Troy. This was respected by Agias of Troezen in his Nostoi, incorporated into the mature Epic Cycle (as known from Proclus and ps.-Apollodorus). Nestor gives Telemachus the first part of “the” story (3.141–180, 276–302, 5.108–11). Athena contrived a dispute among the Achaeans when they were to leave Troy. Agamemnon stayed behind with half the host to offer further sacrifices. Nestor, Diomedes, and Menelaus sailed off, putting in at Lesbos to confer about their route across the Aegean. An oracle has them sail north of Chios and straight across to Euboea, where they sacrifice to Poseidon at Geraistos. But when they round Sounion, Apollo kills Menelaus’s helmsman Phrontis. Without this best of all navigators (3.282–283), Menelaus is doomed to wander. During the final run for Cape Malea, Zeus devises a “hateful route” (stygerḕn hodón[5]), piling up “shrill winds” and “enormous waves” to drive the battered fleet (somewhat oddly) to Gortyn (south side of Crete). Menelaus, however, is carried with five ships to Egypt, and “thus he wandered gathering gold and a great livelihood / in ships throughout the peoples who speak other tongues” (3.276–302). Note how Nestor treats Wandering in pursuit of wealth as the natural outcome of a storm, not unlike the intentional adventures that follow heavy weather in ps.-Apollodorus and Dictys. The motivation is clearly artificial, though not entirely illogical. Shipwreck deprives heroes of royal wealth, which must be regained via xenía in a sort of elite profit-sharing, social-welfare program (recall Odysseus and the Phaeacians).

Menelaus, in his own account to Telemachus, provides further details of this phase of his adventures. He wandered for more than seven years, “gathering a great livelihood”—a variation of Nestor’s formula—until he was possibly the richest man on earth (4.80–81, 90–91). At Egyptian Thebes, he was given tripods, gold bars, and silver tubs; Polydamna, wife of Thon, presented Helen with her nepenthe; and Phaidimos of Sidon donated an ornate silver-and-gold krater, the prize of Menelaus’s collection which he in turn gives to Telemachus (4.125–132, 227–229, 611–619, 15.115–119). Only when Menelaus had amassed enough wealth, it seems, was he ready to return home (he was robbed blind by Paris, and he must have lost much Trojan plunder off Cape Malea). But there is a final adventure when he is becalmed for twenty days on Pharos, a day out from the Nile delta; the goddess Eidothea, pitying him, reveals how to restrain her father Proteus who will then help him. The Old Man of the Sea, after instructing Menelaus to return to the Nile and sacrifice to Zeus, brings him (and so Telemachus) up to date on the nóstoi of Ajax, Agamemnon, and Odysseus (4.492–570). Proteus serves here as a kind of muse of naval Wanderings: capable of false appearances, but omniscient and unable to lie when apprehended in true form.

So much can be considered the “real” itinerary of Menelaus. But remember that it has been “reconstructed” from discontiguous passages. One must always reckon with singers, under momentary pressure or tolerance of non-linear implications, including formulaic details that may not present outright contradictions, but can tend in other directions. And so we find a crucial piece of the puzzle in the opening verses (n.b.) of Menelaus’s account to Telemachus (4.81–89):

ἦ γὰρ πολλὰ παθὼν καὶ πόλλ’ ἐπαληθεὶς
ἠγαγόμην ἐν νηυσὶ καὶ ὀγδοᾴτῳ ἔτει ἦλθον,
Κύπρον Φοινίκην τε καὶ Αἰγυπτίους ἐπαληθεὶς
Αἰθίποάς θ’ ἱκόμην καὶ Σιδονίους καὶ Ἐρεμβοὺς
καὶ Λιβύην, ἵνα τ’ ἄρνες ἄφαρ κεραοὶ τελέθουσι.
τρὶς γὰρ τίκτει μῆλα τελεσφόρον εἰς ἐνιαυτόν·
ἔνθα μὲν οὔτε ἄναξ ἐπιδευὴς οὔτε τι ποιμὴν
τυροῦ καὶ κρειῶν οὐδὲ γλυκεροῖο γάλακτος,
ἀλλ’ αἰεὶ παρέχουσιν ἐπηετανὸν γάλα θῆσθαι.

For having truly suffered much and wandered far
I brought (sc. much wealth) aboard my ships and came back after seven years,
wandering through Cyprus and Phoenicia and the Egyptian people—
Aithiopians I reached, Sidonians and Eremboi[6]
even Libya, a place where lambs are born with horns;
for flocks give birth three times each circling year;
neither king nor shepherd is lacking there
for cheese and meat, and neither for sweet milk,
but always, all the year, they offer milk for suckling.

Narrowly speaking, no single detail here conflicts with what has been said by Nestor, or elsewhere by Menelaus himself. Note first how the consistent use of the first person would work equally well in a scenario where Menelaus was travelling without Helen (i.e., the Hunt). Observe too how the passage’s careful construction gives the unavoidable impression of being a coherent itinerary in its own right. It is laid out in a chronological and geographical order that is at odds with—indeed probably reverses—Nestor’s tale, where the Wandering is made to begin in Egypt. It is no surprise, therefore, that Menelaus’s route was much discussed by ancient scholars. Such heavy hitters as Zeno the Stoic, Aristarchus, Eratosthenes, Hipparchus, Crates of Mallos, and Posidonius all weighed in; their opinions were gathered by Aristonicus in a work called On the Wandering of Menelaus (FGH 633 T 2). This was then epitomized by Strabo (1.2.20, 31–35), who thus preserved a tantalizing taste of Hellenistic ethnography and geography, carried out by scholars active mainly in the East. These scholars’ interpretations of Aithiopians, Eremboi, and even Sidonians are as ingenious as they are generally incredible. Strabo, with good common sense and considerable finesse, followed Hipparchus and insisted on the obvious: Homer’s miniature geographical catalogue followed a logical clockwise motion around the eastern Mediterranean basin. Better yet, it reflects a natural sailing circuit, since the prevailing winds in this region are from the northwest, north, and north throughout the year, making it much easier to voyage east and south than to return to Greece.[7]

From an early Aegean perspective, Menelaus describes a progression from the distant-but-familiar, to the exotic-yet-reachable, and on into Odyssean lands of legend. Cyprus, being both Grecophone and allophone from at least the twelfth century BCE, had been for centuries before Homer an ancient gateway to the beyond; even before the migrations there had been regular traffic with the island, along with Phoenicia/Canaan and Egypt. The semi-magical quality of Egypt is seen in Homer’s description of the phármakon that Helen mixes with wine for her guests; the Nile nourishes the world’s strongest herbs, both good and evil, and every Egyptian is a healer (Od. 4.229–232). The next two verses build, with the quick switchback of Sidon, to a rhetorical climax in Libya, with its protracted description of supernatural fecundity and golden-age conditions. These exotic waters consolidate Menelaus’s status as a Wandering hero. Homer’s clockwise route is a microcosmic nóstos that could have been elaborated in the same detail as Odysseus’s own, underpinning Menelaus’s assertion, so similar to the poem’s opening verses, that he returned home only “after much suffering and much wandering” (4.81). One may compare, for instance, the hero’s detention by Proteus to such magical episodes as Odysseus’s long captivity with Calypso. Homer, whether following tradition or developing his own vision, underlined the reciprocal relationship of Odysseus and Menelaus by developing the former’s adventures in the West and isolating the latter’s in the East. He toyed with this construction by allowing Odysseus a number of Eastern Wandering adventures within his “Cretan” lying-tales (13.256–286, 14.199–359, 17.424–444). The one he tells Eumaeus distinctly recalls Menelaus’s journey: after a raiding expedition meets disaster, “Odysseus” remained in Egypt for seven years “and gathered much wealth” (14.285–286). Through these lying tales, the “real” Odysseus not only wanders longer than Menelaus but appropriates adventures that belonged to the Spartan king, effectively uniting the Eastern and Western theaters. This seems to be an affectionate abnegation of the Eastern Wandering, which is made to serve as a mundane—perhaps old-fashioned—foil to Odysseus’s more exciting real adventures. Odysseus effectively becomes an ubiquitous, omniscient Wandering poet, a virtual Proteus. Even so, Homer, by giving Menelaus a more than seven-year nóstos, acknowledges the jilted husband’s traditional status as a great wanderer—a close second-best of the Achaeans. The sympathetic Euripides, in the Helen, restored balance by giving the Spartan king a ten-year period of wandering (401–402) to rival Odysseus—quite appropriately with a play set in the old Eastern theater.

Menelaus’s concise clockwise circuit quite purely reflects a fundamental template for singers of Eastern Wandering. In practice oral-formulaic technique (including storms) permitted considerable flexibility in the detailed execution of any such adventure. Hence Nestor’s tale. Eustathius’s description of Paris’s route as “a great winding voyage so that he not be captured if pursued” (ad Il. 6.289–292) also implies an artistically varied hodós. Homer himself offers a number of variations in Odysseus’s lying-tales, each a miniature Eastern Wandering. In the Egyptian expedition told to Eumaeus, Odysseus’s men are slaughtered while pillaging the countryside; after coming into the king’s protection and amassing wealth for seven years, “Odysseus” was persuaded by a rogue to follow him to Phoenicia but was eventually dispatched to Libya as a slave (14.199–359). Antinous gets a different variantanother “long voyage” (dolichḕn hodón) to Egypt, also for piracy; again captured, he is handed over this time to the Cypriot king—now Dmetor, who displaces Kinyras on the post-Troy island as a symbol of Aegean colonization[8]—before somehow making his way back to the Aegean (17.424–444). Hypothetically, a Wandering hero might begin in Cyprus, pass to Phoenicia, and return to Cyprus again—a scenario which would make good sense, for instance, with Dictys of Crete. One might also make several stops in Phoenicia, to accommodate both Sidon and Tyre.


The story-telling system analyzed here (schematized in Figure 1) helps us understand the mercurial identity of the Kypria. The title’s clear geographical implications must be understood thematically: the Kypria was the “epic ‘about’ Cyprus.” The material was not limited to the island but “concentrated” around it, as had been the historical migrations (only here did the Greek language persist into later centuries). The tradition was necessarily concerned with the changing “states” of Cyprus, which it contextualized within the full Trojan War “cycle.” Kinyras, the island’s cultural symbol and agent of Aphrodite, played a pivotal role, standing between Menelaos and Paris-Helen, friend and enemy, Greek and non-Greek, Aegean homebodies and Eastern Wanderers.[9]

If Cypriot singers were involved in this theater, as the authorial traditions about Stasinos or Hegesias of Salamis strongly suggest (Cypria TT 3–4, 7–9, 11 Davies EGF), that is largely incidental—although their interest in these themes would not be surprising. Such episodes, if captured in writing, would naturally bear a title like Ta Kypria or one of its permutations. Certainly Proclus, Apollodorus, and Herodotus all had specific poems in mind. But the many myth-variants, only some of which have been addressed here, demonstrate the traditional, multiform nature of these themes. How many Eastern Wandering songs were captured in writing, or later circulated under titles like Kypria, and how those particular textualizations were related to or affected each other in the process of literary transmission and mythographical reworking—these are important questions, but ultimately secondary for understanding the traditional background assumed by Homer.


John Franklin is Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Vermont. He began life in music composition at the New England Conservatory (1988) before switching to Classics for a PhD from University College London (2002). Much of his research deals with the cultural, and especially musical, interface between early Greece and the Near East. He has discussed some of the historical and literary background of Stormy Seas of Cyprus: A Game of Epic Wanderings and the Hunt for Helen in his 2016 book Kinyras: The Divine Lyre (Center for Hellenic Studies), also available online.


* This essay abstracts a longer discussion from a book-in-progress called The Stormy Seas of Cyprus: The Poetics of Eastern Wandering in Early Greek Epic. For readability I have eliminated secondary literature and glossed over a number of textual and interpretive issues that would require more detailed argument and documentation. For a preliminary discussion, see “Greek Epic and Kypriaka: Why ‘Cyprus Matters’,” in Music in Antiquity—The Near East and the Mediterranean, ed. Maurey, Y. et al., Jerusalem and Berlin, 2014, 213–247; and Kinyras: The Divine Lyre, Hellenic Studies 70, Washington, DC, 2015, esp. Chapter 14.

[1] Alcidimas Odysseus 20–21; ps.-Apollod. Epit. 3.9; two versions in Eustathius on
Il. 11.20. That Kinyras could be so approached might suggest that he too had been one of Helen’s suitors. It must be relevant that in Lucian’s True History a character called Kinyras, the son of a Cypriot sailor, plays a Paris-like role in an alternative underworld abduction of Helen (Ver. hist. 1.34, 2.25–6). We also have the reports of two Medieval travellers to Cyprus, who were told that the Greek fleet gathered not at Aulis, but at Paphos, as it was from here that Helen was abducted (Kinyras, 348 and n. 62). It is not clear how all these pieces fit together, but Cyprus was evidently home to parallel epic realities. Kinyras’s treachery to the Greek cause caused Agamemnon to curse him (Eustathios), and this is surely related to a Cypriot tradition that Kinyras was driven from power by “the men with Agamemnon” (Theopompos, FGH 115 F 103: Kinyras, 346–9).

[2] The sources include Stephanus of Byzantium, Ethnika s.v. Κραναή; the sixth-century Syrian John Malalas, Chron. 95 Dindorf, closely followed by the seventh-century John of Antioch (FHG 4.550, fr. 23) and later still by George Cedren (1.218), with further traces of the same tradition elsewhere in the Lycophronian scholia (Σ Lycoph. 132); from the twelfth-century we have Tzetzes (Exegesis in Homeri Iliadem, p. 65.18 f. Papathomopoulos), Eustathius (ad Hom. Il. 6.289–92), and Constantinus Manasses (Breviarium Chronicum 1170–1208 Lampsides). There is further evasion material in the Homeric scholia (Σ Il. 6.291) and the Praefatio Borbonica, where no certain use is made of Proteus or a storm.

[3] Tyre is also implicit in Menander of Ephesus FHG 4.445–8, fr. 3.3. The “Cheese-island” (τὴν Τυρόεσσαν) in Lucian Ver. hist. 1.36, towards which “Kinyras” flees after abducting Helen, may also be relevant. Note too the unexpected twist in Oscar Wilde’s Serenade (1881): ‘The western wind is blowing fair / Across the dark Aegean sea, / And at the secret marble stair / My Tyrian galley waits for thee.’

[4] I would also suggest that the scene in Iliad 3, where Aphrodite abducts Paris and leaves Menelaus searching the battlefield as his rival re-joins Helen, is a sophisticated goof on a traditional Hunt for Helen.

[5] The phrase στυγερὴν ὁδὸν εὐρύοπα Ζεὺς / ἐφράσατο (3.288–289) occurs exactly, with the same metrical placement, at 14.235–236, where Odysseus applies it to the ill-fated Trojan expedition in one of his lying-tales.

[6] I have suggested that Hellanicus later correlated the peoples in this verse with the regions in the previous, thus generating the (probably false) “Cypriot Aithiopians” mentioned by Herodotus 7.90, along with Egyptian Eremboi (Hellanic. FGH 4 F 154a): see Kinyras 506 n. 67.

[7] See generally W. M. Murray, “Ancient Sailing Winds in the Eastern Mediterranean: The Case for Cyprus,” in Proceedings of the International Symposium Cyprus and the Sea (ed. V. Karageorghis and D. Michaelides) 33–44, Nicosia, 1995.

[8] See Kinyras, 342–343.

[9] See Kinyras, Chapter 14.