Stesichorus, master of narrative

Patrick J. Finglass*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book

2 Citations (Scopus)


Stesichorus’ long mythological narratives offered great scope to the poet to develop plots, characters, and themes beyond what would have been possible in shorter works. These lengthy lyrics also required considerable planning and organisation on the part of the poet, in order to prevent them from becoming diff use or meandering. They thus offer us a particular opportunity to assess and appreciate Stesichorus’ poetic technique. In a discussion of Bacchylidean artistry, Fearn refers in passing to ‘the already narratologically complex lyric narratives of Stesichorus, especially evident in the Lille fragment’: yet to date there has been no real attempt to investigate this aspect of his oeuvre. A full study of this subject would demand a small monograph; this chapter concentrates on three of Stesichorus’ works, Cycnus, Thebais, and Helen, and attempts to discover glimpses of narrative artistry that have survived from the wreckage of his poetry. Cycnus The Pindaric scholia preserve a narrative from Stesichorus’ Cycnus. Cycnus, son of Ares, lives in the approaches to Thessaly, where he spends the time beheading passing travellers in order to build a temple to Apollo out of their skulls. As Heracles approaches his home, Cycnus attacks and puts him to flight with the assistance of his father Ares. Later, however, Heracles encounters Cycnus alone, and defeats him. The scholia provide a further detail, unattributed to any poet: Athena causes the fleeing Heracles to recover his valour. Since this fits what seems to be a distinctive element of Stesichorus’ version of the myth, and since the Pindaric scholia to this poem are already known to cite Stesichorus’ poem, we may infer that this detail too is taken from Stesichorus. The myth of Heracles and Cycnus was extremely popular in archaic art: so popular that it has recently merited an Italian monograph of no fewer than 665 pages.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStesichorus in Context
EditorsP.J. Finglass, A. Kelly
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781107706989
ISBN (Print)9781107069732
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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