The Cypria

  Davies, Malcolm. 2019. The Cypria. Hellenic Studies Series 83. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Appendix 2. Alleged Consultations of the Delphic Oracle in the Cypria

Attempts have been made to establish two consultations of the Delphic Oracle by Agamemnon within our poem.

The first bases itself upon a passage within Lycophron’s Alexandra, where that maddening poet is alluding to the sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis, the omen of the snake and the sparrows at the same place, and the embarkation of the Greeks with a prayer to Dionysus. Lycophron then informs us that this same deity had helped the Greeks before (206–215):

          σωτῆρα Βάκχον τῶν πάροιθε πημάτων
          Σφάλτην ἀνευάζοντες, ὧι ποτ᾽ ἐν μυχοῖς
          Δελφινίου παρ᾽ ἄντρα Κερδώιου θεοῦ
          Ταύρωι κρυφαίας χέρνιβας κατάρξεται
210    ὁ χιλίαρχος τοῦ παλιρραίστου στρατοῦ 
          ὧι θυμάτων πρόσπαιον ἐκτίνων χάριν
          δαίμων Ἐνόρχης Φιγαλεὺς Φαυστήριος
          λέοντα θοίνης, ἴχνος ἐμπλέξας λύγοις,
215   σχήσει, τὸ μὴ πρόρριζον αἰστῶσαι στάχυν
          κείροντ᾽ ὀδόντι καὶ λαφυστίαις γνάθοις. 

In other words (see Hornblower’s commentary ad loc.), Agamemnon con-sults the Delphic Oracle to ask which god he should sacrifice to. “Dionysus,” comes back the reply, and sure enough, when the Greeks unexpectedly find themselves in Teuthrania, and Telephus clashes with Achilles, the unfortunate king of Mysia is tripped up by the tendrils of a vine, a plant sacred to Dionysus, who thus requites Agamemnon for his sacrifice. P. Von der Mühll (Westöstliche Abhandlungen [Tschudi Festschrift (Wiesbaden 1954)] 4 = Kleine Schriften 152) supposes that this tradition occurred in the Cypria. [1] That poem was certainly rich in oracles and prophecies (see Kullmann 1960:221–224) and Lycophron’s acquaintance with it has already been declared likely in the case of his presentation of the quarrel between Dioscuri and Apharetidae (page 117 above). If the oracle was cited in the Cypria, then (as Von der Mühll 6 = 154 observes) it will hardly have mentioned Mysia by name, as does a Delphic inscription from the second half of the second century BC purporting to be the original. For a text see H. W. Parke and D. E. W. Wormell, The Delphic Oracle, vol. 2: The Oracular Responses (Oxford 1956), no. 408; also von der Mühll 2–3 = 153–154, who gives a more accurate transcription, an apparatus criticus, a bibliography, and a brief discussion. Cf. J. E. Fontenrose, The Delphic Oracle: Its Responses and Operations (Berkeley 1978) 391. Von der Mühll also believes that the Delphic response implied at Odyssey viii 75–82 (= no. 19 Parke–Wormell; cf. Fontenrose, Delphic Oracle, 355) occupied a place in the Cypria. Here he is on considerably weaker ground, for reasons given elsewhere (pages 157–160 above). In the land of the Phaeacians, Odysseus is reminded of the quarrel which once broke out between himself and Achilles. According to the bard Demodocus

                          … ἄναξ δ᾽ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων
          χαῖρε νόωι ὅ τ᾽ ἄριστοι Ἀχαιῶν δηριόωντο.
          ὣς γάρ οἱ χρείων μυθήσατο Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων
80      Πυθοῖ ἐν ἠγαθέηι, ὅθ᾽ ὑπέρβη λάϊνον οὐδὸν
          χρησόμενος· τότε γάρ ῥα κυλίνδετο πήματος ἀρχὴ
          Τρωσί τε καὶ Δαναοῖσι Διὸς μεγάλου διὰ βουλάς.

Setting aside in the present discussion the numerous difficulties (considered on pages 156–161 above) we may state confidently one thing at least: the oracular response presupposed by lines 79–84 clearly has no connection with Agamemnon’s enquiry about the deity to whom he should sacrifice. It is rather a reply to the effect that Troy will fall after Agamemnon’s two best warriors have quarreled and thus entails an original question about the duration of the war.


[ back ] 1. Rhys Carpenter, Folk Tale, Fiction, and Saga in the Homeric Epics (Berkeley 1946) 56 does likewise, comparing for the motif of the “divine strategem” Athena’s help to Achilles in Iliad XXII and reckoning the detail as one of the numerous correspondences (see page 137n7 above) between the invasions of Teuthrania and Troy.