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Background to Telephus-myth
Son of Heracles and Auge priestess of Athena Alea at Tegea in Arcadia, exposed, suckled by hind, travelled to Mysia in the Troad where he was adopted by Teuthras and inherited his kingdom; led Mysians in opposing Argives when they mistakenly landed on Mysia in search of Troy; distinguished himself in battle (killed Thersander s. of Polynices), wounded by Achilles; according to oracle, could only be cured by the 'one wounding' (= Achilles' spear), while the Argives could only find Troy 'with a Greek leading them' (= Arcadian-born Telephus).

From Cypria? (Welcker, Der epische Cyclus II.139, Wilamowitz, Isyllos 48, Burgess, index s.v. 'Teuthranian expedition'); Pergamene court poets of the Attalids? (Kullman 106 n. 3, following Robert); story in Cypria (Kullman 189-203, 265-6), whence it passed into Pindar, plays by Aeschylus (frr. 238-40 Radt), Sophocles, Mysians (Akiko Kiso, Sophocles, Aleadae: A Reconstruction', GRBS 17 (1976) 5-21), Euripides (Handley-Rea, F. Jouan, Euripide et les legendes des chants cypriens (Paris 1966), Preiser; and in art (Bauchhenss-Thueriedl); cult of Telephus at Pergamon on Kaikos (Nock, Essays II.578; Scheer).

What kind of narrative?
Not hymnic (cf. Bartol; Simonides IEG fr. 11). Extended mythical story, not connected to history of a particular city (Bowie)? Comparison to or reliving of a personal experience? Another rhipsaspis-poem? (cf. Kerkhecker).

Best of the Mysians, or Worst of the Parians?
In the standard version (e.g. as told in the Cypria), the Greeks lose their way en route to Troy and land on the Mysian coast. The Mysians drive the Greeks back to their ships. Then Telephus is caused by a vine-shoot (= epiphany of Dionysus) to stumble, and is wounded by Achilles; then the Greeks put to sea and are scattered by a storm.

On this outline, 16-21 seem to take a step back in the narrative (or, rather, form a narrative frame with what precedes), and tell the story over again: 'The Achaeans were driven back with great slaughter to their ships: the background to this is that they had lost their way, and had approached the city of Teuthras with warlike ardour, since they were anxious to attack Troy, though in fact they were in Mysia.' 22ff may then continue with a crucial part of the battle.

Last Tangle on Paros
The essential point, then, seems to be the Argives'/Telephus' heroism amidst varying fortunes. If so, the mythological narration may not have existed for its own sake, but as an exemplum or ainos of some sort:

  1. the story might illustrate the supremacy of Moira (7), continuing the gnome in fr. 16 W.
  2. the story might illustrate the horrors of a real battle: 3-6 '[it is not possible] to express the [rout] and misery [of our situation], [no less dreadful than] the carnage once inflicted by Telephus even on the mighty army of Agamemnon';
  3. the story might illustrate the vicissitudes of the poet, illustrating and continuing (or preceding?) fr. 5 W.:

'So I lost my shield by a bush? So what? Who would dare to call this cowardice (3), when even Telephus, who routed the great army of Agamemnon, came to grief on a bush (vine-shoot) and lost his shield—and survived.'

The loss of Telephus' shield appears only in the narrative of Philostratus' Heroicus, with a clear anticipation of the armorum iudicium. On the other hand, the presence of the motif here would explain why Archilochus fr. 5 W. makes a point of para thamnoi (fr. 5.1)!

Bibliography

Krystyna Bartol, 'Elementi innici nell'elegia greca arcaica e classica', A.I.O.N. 23 (2001) 9-37.
Christa Bauchens-Thueriedl, Der Mythos von Telephos in der antiken Bildkunst,
                Beitraege zur Archaeologie (Wuerzburg 1971).
J. Boardman et all., Griechische Kunst (Munich 1966) (p. 177 on the battle on the Kaikos plain).
E. L. Bowie, 'Ancestors of Historiography in Early Greek Elegiac and Iambic Poetry' in N.
                Luraghi (ed.), The Historian's Craft in the Age of Herodotus (Oxford 2003) 45-66.
J. Burgess, The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle (Baltimore 2001),
                index s.v. 'Teuthranian expedition'.
D. Clay, Archilochus Heros: The Cult of the Poets in the Greek Polis (Washington, D.C. 2004).
W. Croenert, Archilochi elegiae (Goettingen 1911).
B. Dieterich, 'Divine Epiphanies in Homer', Numen 30 (1983) 53-79 (also in lyric).
W. B. Henry, 'An Archilochus Papyrus?', ZPE 121 (1998) 94.
S. Hornblower, 'Epic and Epiphanies: Herodotus and the "New Simonides"' in Deborah
               Boedecker and D. Sider (eds.), The New Simonides: Contexts of Praise and Desire
              (New York and Oxford 2001) 135-47.
A. Kerkhecker, 'Archilochus fr. 139 West: Another rhipsaspis-Poem?' ZPE 111 (1996) 26.
W. Kullmann, Die Quellen der Ilias (Troischer Sagenkreis), Hermes Einzelschriften 14 (Wiesbaden
               1960).
Jennifer K. Berenson Maclean and Ellen Bradshaw Aitken (trans. & eds.), Flavius Philostratus:
              On Heroes (Leiden 2003).
Claudia Preiser, Euripides: Telephos. Einleitung, Text, Kommentar, Spudasmata 78
               (Hildesheim 2000).
G. I. C. Robertson, 'Evaluative Language in Greek Lyric and Elegiac Poetry and Inscribed
               Epigram to the End of the Fifth Century B.C.E.' (D.Phil thesis, Oxford 1999).
T. S. Scheer, Mythische Vorvaeter zur Bedeutung griechischer Heroenmythen im
              Selbverstaendnis kleinasiatischer Staedt
(Munich 1993) 71-94.
H. S. Versnel, 'What Did Ancient Man See When He Saw a God? Some Reflections on
               Greco-Roman Epiphany' in D. van der Plas (ed.), Effigies Dei: Essays on the History of
              Religions (Leiden 1987) 42-55.

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