("Quintus of Smyrna")
Fl. 4th Century A.D.
Originally written in Greek, sometime about the middle of the 4th
Century A.D. Translation by A.S. Way, 1913.
Way, A.S. (Ed. & Trans.): "Quintus Smyrnaeus: The Fall of Troy"
(Loeb Classics #19; Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA,
1913). Greek text with side-by-side English translation.
Combellack, Frederick M. (Trans.): "The War at Troy: What Homer
Didn't Tell" (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK, 1968).
Fitzgerald, Robert (Trans.): "Homer: The Iliad" (Viking Press,
New York, 1968).
Homer's "Iliad" begins towards the close of the last of the ten
years of the Trojan War: its incidents extend over some fifty
days only, and it ends with the burial of Hector. The things
which came before and after were told by other bards, who between
them narrated the whole "cycle" of the events of the war, and so
were called the Cyclic Poets. Of their works none have survived;
but the story of what befell between Hector's funeral and the
taking of Troy is told in detail, and well told, in a poem about
half as long as the "Iliad". Some four hundred years after
Christ there lived at Smyrna a poet of whom we know scarce
anything, save that his first name was Quintus. He had saturated
himself with the spirit of Homer, he had caught the ring of his
music, and he perhaps had before him the works of those Cyclic
Poets whose stars had paled before the sun.
We have practically no external evidence as to the date or place
of birth of Quintus of Smyrna, or for the sources whence he drew
his materials. His date is approximately settled by two passages
in the poem, viz. vi. 531 sqq., in which occurs an illustration
drawn from the man-and-beast fights of the amphitheatre, which
were suppressed by Theodosius I. (379-395 A.D.); and xiii. 335
sqq., which contains a prophecy, the special particularity of
which, it is maintained by Koechly, limits its applicability to
the middle of the fourth century A.D.
His place of birth, and the precise locality, is given by himself
in xii. 308-313, and confirmatory evidence is afforded by his
familiarity, of which he gives numerous instances, with many
natural features of the western part of Asia Minor.
With respect to his authorities, and the use he made of their
writings, there has been more difference of opinion. Since his
narrative covers the same ground as the "Aethiopis" ("Coming of
Memnon") and the "Iliupersis" ("Destruction of Troy") of Arctinus
(circ. 776 B.C.), and the "Little Iliad" of Lesches (circ. 700
B.C.), it has been assumed that the work of Quintus "is little
more than an amplification or remodelling of the works of these
two Cyclic Poets." This, however, must needs be pure conjecture,
as the only remains of these poets consist of fragments amounting
to no more than a very few lines from each, and of the "summaries
of contents" made by the grammarian Proclus (circ. 140 A.D.),
which, again, we but get at second-hand through the "Bibliotheca"
of Photius (ninth century). Now, not merely do the only
descriptions of incident that are found in the fragments differ
essentially from the corresponding incidents as described by
Quintus, but even in the summaries, meagre as they are, we find,
as German critics have shown by exhaustive investigation, serious
discrepancies enough to justify us in the conclusion that, even
if Quintus had the works of the Cyclic poets before him, which is
far from certain, his poem was no mere remodelling of theirs, but
an independent and practically original work. Not that this
conclusion disposes by any means of all difficulties. If Quintus
did not follow the Cyclic poets, from what source did he draw his
materials? The German critic unhesitatingly answers, "from
Homer." As regards language, versification, and general spirit,
the matter is beyond controversy; but when we come to consider
the incidents of the story, we find deviations from Homer even
more serious than any of those from the Cyclic poets. And the
strange thing is, that each of these deviations is a manifest
detriment to the perfection of his poem; in each of them the
writer has missed, or has rejected, a magnificent opportunity.
With regard to the slaying of Achilles by the hand of Apollo
only, and not by those of Apollo and Paris, he might have pleaded
that Homer himself here speaks with an uncertain voice (cf.
"Iliad" xv. 416-17, xxii. 355-60, and xxi. 277-78). But, in
describing the fight for the body of Achilles ("Odyssey" xxiv. 36
sqq.), Homer makes Agamemnon say:
"So we grappled the livelong day, and we had not refrained
But Zeus sent a hurricane, stilling the storm of the battle
Now, it is just in describing such natural phenomena, and in
blending them with the turmoil of battle, that Quintus is in his
element; yet for such a scene he substitutes what is, by
comparison, a lame and impotent conclusion. Of that awful cry
that rang over the sea heralding the coming of Thetis and the
Nymphs to the death-rites of her son, and the panic with which it
filled the host, Quintus is silent. Again, Homer ("Odyssey" iv.
274-89) describes how Helen came in the night with Deiphobus, and
stood by the Wooden Horse, and called to each of the hidden
warriors with the voice of his own wife. This thrilling scene
Quintus omits, and substitutes nothing of his own. Later on, he
makes Menelaus slay Deiphobus unresisting, "heavy with wine,"
whereas Homer ("Odyssey" viii. 517-20) makes him offer such a
magnificent resistance, that Odysseus and Menelaus together could
not kill him without the help of Athena. In fact, we may say
that, though there are echoes of the "Iliad" all through the
poem, yet, wherever Homer has, in the "Odyssey", given the
outline-sketch of an effective scene, Quintus has uniformly
neglected to develop it, has sometimes substituted something much
weaker -- as though he had not the "Odyssey" before him!
For this we have no satisfactory explanation to offer. He may
have set his own judgment above Homer -- a most unlikely
hypothesis: he may have been consistently following, in the
framework of his story, some original now lost to us: there may
be more, and longer, lacunae in the text than any editors have
ventured to indicate: but, whatever theory we adopt, it must be
based on mere conjecture.
The Greek text here given is that of Koechly (1850) with many of
Zimmermann's emendations, which are acknowledged in the notes.
Passages enclosed in square brackets are suggestions of Koechly
for supplying the general sense of lacunae. Where he has made no
such suggestion, or none that seemed to the editors to be
adequate, the lacuna has been indicated by asterisks, though here
too a few words have been added in the translation, sufficient to
connect the sense.