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Little is known of the efforts made to solve this poetical problem. The Dorian Peisander, of Cameirus in Rhodes, is named as the author of an epic poem on Heracles, a Heracleia1. He seems to have confined himself to the ‘labours’ which Heracles performed for Eurystheus; and he was the first poet, we are told, who gave Heracles the lion's skin and the club2. Peisander is usually placed about 650 B.C.; but, according to one view, that date is too early3. In the Alexandrian age he enjoyed a high repute.

The Ionian Panyasis4 of Halicarnassus, circ. 480 B.C., also

The Heracleia of Panyasis.
composed a Heracleia, in no less than fourteen books. He took a wider range than Peisander's, and aimed at a comprehensive digest of all the principal legends concerning Heracles. Merits of style and arrangement made him popular; but he did not reach the Homeric level, or work in the Homeric spirit5. Possibly his large composition, with its survey of heroic deeds in many lands, may have borne some analogy to the great proseepic of his younger kinsman, Herodotus. That kinship interests us here, since it increases the probability that the epic of Panyasis may have been known to the author of the Trachiniae.

But to minds in sympathy with Homeric epos it would be evident that there was another way of dealing with the theme of Heracles; a way different from that of Peisander, and still more different from that of Panyasis. Some one episode might be singled out from the mass of legends, and developed by itself, as an epic on a small scale. Hesiod and the Hesiodic school worked thus; they produced, for instance, the Marriage-feast of Ceÿx, relating how Heracles was entertained by that king of Trachis; the Aegimius, turning on the league of Heracles with that Dorian prince; and the extant Shield of Heracles, concerning his fight with Cycnus.

The Capture of Oechalia.
A notable epic of this class was the Capture of Oechalia, “Οἰχαλίας ἅλωσις”, ascribed to the Ionian Creophylus of Samos, whom tradition called the friend, or even the son-in-law, of Homer6. An epigram of Callimachus7 attests the fame of this poem, which was probably as old at least as the eighth century B.C., and must have had the genuine ring of Homeric epos. The subject was the passion of Heracles for Iolè, and the war which, in order to win her, he made on Oechalia, the city of her father Eurytus, which was placed, as by Sophocles, in Euboea. It is not, known whether this epic introduced Deianeira, the envenomed robe, and the hero's death on Mount Oeta8. But in any case it must have been one of the principal sources from which Sophocles derived his material.

Lyric poets on Heracles. Archilochus.

1 Bernhardy, Gr. Lit. vol. II. pt 1, p. 338, collects the principal notices of Peisander.

2 See n. on Philoctetes 727. The club was no doubt an original trait of the old Dorian legend.

3 The 20th epigram of Theocritus is an inscription in hendecasyllables for a Rhodian statue of Peisander, who, with respect to the deeds of Heracles, is called “πρᾶτος τῶν ἐπάνωθε μουσοποιῶν”. Wilamowitz ( I. Eur. Her.p. 309), acknowledging the genuineness of the epigram, nevertheless suggests that the name of Peisander may have been a mere invention of the Asiatic Dorians in the 3rd cent. B.C., and holds that the “Ἡράκλεια”. ascribed to him was not older than the 6th cent. B.C. According to Theocritus, Peisander described Heracles “τὸν λεοντομάχαν, τὸν ὀξύχειρα,...χὥσους ἐξεπόνασεν εἶπ᾽ ἀέθλους”.

4 The penultimate syllable of this Carian name is probably long; another, perhaps more correct, form of it was “Πανύασσις”. Little weight can be attached to the fact that Avienus, writing about 370 A.D. , has Panyăsi at the beginning of a hexameter (Arat. Phaen. 175).

5 See the testimonies in Bernhardy, Gr. Lit. II. pt 1, p. 340.

6 Welcker, Der epische Cyclus, pp. 21 2 ff.: Bernhardy, Gk Lit. II. pt 1, p. 252.

7 Epigr. 6:Κρεωφύλου πόνος εἰμί, δόμῳ ποτὲ θεῖον Ὅμηρον δεξαμένου: κλαίω δ᾽ Εὔρυτον, ὅσσ᾽ ἔπαθεν, καὶ ξανθὴν Ἰόλειαν: Ὁμήρειον δὲ καλεῦμαι γράμμα: Κρεωφύλῳ, Ζεῦ φίλε, τοῦτο μέγα”.

8 That the Capture of Oechalia ended with the pyre on Oeta, and the apotheosis, is Welcker's view (Cyclus, p. 233). He remarks that the hero of a Cyclic poem was often raised to immortal bliss at the end,—as Amphiaraus in the Thebais, Achilles in the Aethiopis, Menelaus in the Nostoi, Odysseus in the Telegonia. The apotheosis of Heracles has already a place in the Theogony of Hesiod, vv. 950—955. The war against Oechalia may possibly have been, as Welcker suggests, the subject of the “Ἡράκλεια” ascribed to Cinaethon of Lacedaemon (8th cent. B.C.?) by schol. Apoll. Rhod. I. 1357, where it is cited with reference to Trachis; but this is pure conjecture.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Callimachus, Epigrams, 6
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