The Telegony (Greek: Τηλεγόνεια, Tēlegoneia; Latin: Telegonia) is a lost ancient Greek epic poem about Telegonus, son of Odysseus by Circe. His name ("born far away") is indicative of his birth on Aeaea, far from Odysseus' home of Ithaca. It was part of the Epic Cycle of poems that recounted the myths not only of the Trojan War but also of the events that led up to and followed the war. The story of the Telegony comes chronologically after that of the Odyssey, and is the final episode in the Epic Cycle. The poem was sometimes attributed in Antiquity to Cinaethon of Sparta, but in one source it is said to have been stolen from Musaeus by Eugamon or Eugammon of Cyrene (see Cyclic poets). The poem comprised two books of verse in dactylic hexameter.
In Antiquity the Telegony may have also been known as the Thesprotis (Greek: Θεσπρωτίς), which is referred to once by Pausanias in the 2nd century AD; alternatively, the Thesprotis may have been a name for the first book of the Telegony, which is set in Thesprotia. Such naming of isolated episodes within a larger epic was common practice for the ancient readers of the Homeric epics.
A third possibility is that there was a wholly separate epic called the Thesprotis; and yet a fourth possibility is that the Telegony and Thesprotis were two separate poems that were at some stage compiled into a single Telegony. Most scholars at present tend to regard the third and fourth possibilities as unlikely, or at least worthless hypotheses, since neither possibility is demonstrable or falsifiable.
The date of composition of the Telegony is uncertain. Cyrene, the native city of Eugammon, the purported author, was founded in 631 BC; but the narrative details may have existed prior to Eugammon's version, perhaps even in the oral tradition. There is a distinct possibility that the author of the Odyssey knew at least some version of the Telegony story (the Thesprotian episode and Telegonus' unusual spear in the Telegony may have been based on Tiresias' prophecy in Odyssey book 11; but it is also possible that the Odyssey poet used the Telegonus story as a basis for Teiresias' prophecy). Certainly Eugammon's poem is most likely to have been composed in the 6th century BC.
The Telegony comprises two distinct episodes: Odysseus' voyage to Thesprotia, and the story of Telegonus. Probably each of the two books of the Telegony related one of these episodes. In current critical editions only two lines of the poem's original text survive. For its storyline we are dependent primarily on a summary of the Telegonus myth in Proclus' Chrestomathy. The poem opens after the events depicted in the Odyssey. According to Proclus' summary, the Telegony opens with the burial of Penelope's suitors. Odysseus makes sacrifices to the Nymphs. He makes a voyage to Elis, where he visits an otherwise unknown figure Polyxenos, who gives him a bowl depicting the story of Trophonius. Odysseus returns to Ithaca and then travels to Thesprotia, presumably to make the sacrifices commanded by Tiresias in Odyssey 11. There he weds the Thesprotian queen Kallidike, who bears him a son, Polypoites. Odysseus fights for the Thesprotians in a war against the neighbouring Brygoi; the gods participate in the war, Ares routing Odysseus and the Thesprotians, countered by Athena, ever Odysseus' patron; Apollo intervenes between the battling gods. However, Kallidike is killed in the war, Polypoetes succeeds to the kingdom and Odysseus returns to Ithaca.
Meanwhile, it transpires that Circe, with whom Odysseus had an affair for a year in the Odyssey (books 10-12), has born his son, Telegonus (Τηλέγονος, "born far away"). He grows up living with Circe on the island of Aeaea. On the goddess Athena's advice, Circe tells him the name of his father. In a detail inserted into the account in the Epitome of the Bibliotheke she gives him a supernatural spear to defend himself which is tipped with the sting of a poisonous stingray and was made by the god Hephaestus. A storm forces Telegonus onto Ithaca without his realising where he is. As is customary for Homeric heroes in unfriendly land, he commits piracy, and unwittingly begins stealing Odysseus' cattle. Odysseus comes to defend his property. During the ensuing fight, Telegonus kills Odysseus with his unusual spear, thereby partially fulfilling Tiresias' prophecy in Odyssey 11 that death would come to Odysseus "out of the sea" (i.e., the poison of the ray). (In another respect, however, Odysseus' death contradicts the prophecy of Tiresias, who predicted (Od. 11.135) that a "gentle death" would come to Odysseus "in sleek old age"). As Odysseus lies dying, he and Telegonus recognise one another, and Telegonus laments his mistake. Telegonus brings his father's corpse, Penelope, and Odysseus' other son Telemachus, back to Aeaea, where Odysseus is buried and Circe makes the others immortal. Telegonus marries Penelope, and Telemachus marries Circe.
The 1st-century AD Roman fabulist Hyginus differs from Proclus in adding a few details. First, it is both Odysseus and Telemachus who engage Telegonus in combat. Hyginus then adds that Odysseus had received an oracle to beware his son. Finally, Hyginus attributes to Telegonus a son named Italus, the eponymous founder of Italy; and to Telemachus he attributes a son named Latinus, whose name was given to the Latin language.
In Dante's Divine Comedy, in the eighth bolgia of the Inferno, Dante and his guide meet Ulisse among the false counsellors, and receive a variant accounting of his death "from the sea" in a five-month journey beyond the Pillars of Hercules that has ended in a whirlpool drowning as the mariners approach the mountain of Purgatory. No Greek source was available to Dante, only the Latin recensions of Dictys and Dares.
Among the many operas based on the myths of Odysseus and those around him, there is but one based on Telegonus, Carlo Luigi Grua's Telegone (premiered in Düsseldorf, 1697) of which an aria "Dia le mosse a miei contenti" may be noted. Divine intervention, a death and multiple weddings at the end all assorted easily with the conventions of opera seria.
- "Some have seen in the 'burst of happy marriages' in which the Telegoneia ends an explanation for its being ascribed to Eugammon, a name which apparently means 'Happy-Marrier'", Edmund D. Cressman remarks (Cressman, "Beyond the Sunset" The Classical Journal 27.9 (June 1932:669-674], p. 671).
- Pausanias 8.12.5.
- For example, Book 10 of the Iliad is called the Doloneia, and book 5 and part of book 6 were known as "the Aristeia of Diomedes". The first four books of the Odyssey are called the Telemachy, as those books describe the journey of Odysseus' son Telemachus as he looks for news about his missing father; Odysseus' descent to the Underworld (Odyssey 11) is known as the Nekyia.
- Possibly to be identified with the second-century AD grammarian Eutychios Proklos). The Bibliotheca offers a much more abbreviated account.
- The beginning of Telegoneia suggested to G.L. Huxley (Greek Epic Poetry: From Eumelos to Pamyassis, Harvard University Press, 1969:171) that the Odyssey as it was known to Eumelos in the sixth century ended with the killing of the suitors, without the so-called "Continuation" in the version we read today. Joseph Russo, reviewing Huxley in The American Journal of Philology October 1972:623, expressed his own feeling "that Eugammon was free to begin his poem about Telegonus wherever he wanted, the main criterion being that it suit his artistic design, which we are in no position to judge adequately".
- Presumably the nymphs are intended in whose cave he had hidden the treasure he brought with him to Ithaca: see Odyssey 13.
- "In the non-Homeric poems of the Cycle, the character of Odysseus appears much less admirable than it does in Homer," Edmund D. Cressman remarks (Cressman 1932:670).
- The often-repeated theme in Greek mythology of the son of a queen's consort succeeding to her throne has raised much commentary.
- Epitome vii.36. See also the scholium ad Od. 11.134.
- As all prophecy in myth "comes true", most readers attribute the interpolation of this marine detail to an attempt to make Odysseus' death "come from the sea".
- Sophocles' lost Odysseus Acanthoplex also brought him inadvertent death at the hand of Telegonus.
- The plot summary by Eutyches Proclus, which is followed here, is translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Hesiod, Homeric Hymns and Homerica (Loeb Classical Library), 1914,
- This detail makes Telemachus' presence in Ithaca unusual, but might provide an unstated reason for Telemachus' absence in the accounts of Proclus and Apollodorus; namely, Odysseus banished him from Ithaca for fear of the oracle.
- Cressman 1932:672 notes Horace, Ovid, Propertius and Statius.
- Inferno, Canto XXVI.
- According to Latin Notes Supplement, December 1926 (noted by Chessman 1932:673).
- Online editions (English translation):
- Print editions (Greek):
- A. Bernabé 1987, Poetarum epicorum Graecorum testimonia et fragmenta pt. 1 (Leipzig: Teubner)
- M. Davies 1988, Epicorum Graecorum fragmenta (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht)
- Print editions (Greek with English translation):