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This paper discusses Ovid’s Heroides 16-17, the correspondence of Paris and Helen, as the poet’s commentary upon the origins of the literary tradition. I focus on Paris and Helen’s respective treatments of the Judgment of Paris myth (Her. 16.53-88, 163-170; Her. 17.115-24, 141-44) and interpret them in light of the myth’s earliest literary sources, the Cypria (now lost) and the Iliad (24.25-30). I argue that Ovid uses the position of the Judgment of Paris myth at the beginning of the Trojan War narrative as a context for considering the historical relationship of the Iliad to the Cypria at the beginning of Greek literary history. Ovid’s development of the Judgment of Paris myth in Heroides 16-17 may be read as a response to the criticism of Aristarchus (mid 2nd c. BCE), the foremost scholar of Homer in antiquity. Aristarchus objected to Iliad 24.25-30, the only reference in the epic to the Judgment, on the grounds that Homer did not know the myth, otherwise he would have mentioned it more often (Erbse vol. 5 ad loc.). Aristarchus’ objection was influenced by his opinion that the Homeric poems were earlier than and aesthetically superior to the poems of the Epic Cycle which included the Cypria (Severyns 261-64; Burgess 18-19). I compare Iliad 24.25-30 to the evidence for the Judgment myth in Proclus’ summary of the Cypria (2nd or 5th c. CE, preserved by Photius 9th c. CE, EGF 31.5-27) and summarize the secondary scholarship on the topic (e.g., Reinhardt, Davies) in order to demonstrate the fallacy of Aristarchus’ argument that Iliad 24.25-30 is an interpolation from a “later” Cypria. I next review the evidence that Aristarchus’ work was studied by Ovid and his educated Roman readers (e.g., Cic. Att. 1.14.3; Hor. Ars P. 450; McNamee 31-48; Schlunk). Especially in Pont. 3.9.23-26 Ovid compares Aristarchus to Homer, using the image of a galloping horse (Homer) being restrained by its reins (Aristarchus). The image alludes to the Homeric simile of the galloping horse that occurs twice in the Iliad (6.506-11; 15.263-68). Aristarchus objected to the second occurrence of the simile in Iliad 15, thinking it was an interpolation from Iliad 6. I read the passage at Pont. 3.9.23-26 as Ovid’s commentary on Aristarchus’ critical method, which prepares the way for my discussion of Heroides 16-17 and Aristarchus’ criticism of Iliad 24.25-30. Heroides 16-17 question Aristarchus’ argument for the historical priority of the Homeric poems. They not only follow the narrative chronology of the Cypria as a pre-history to the Iliad but also imagine a literary history according to which the Cypria precedes the Iliad. Paris offers first a version of the Judgment (Her. 16.53-88; 163-170) that is based entirely on the Cypria; the location on Mt. Ida, the presence of Mercury, and the emphasis on Helen as Paris’ reward all derive from the Cypria. Paris seems incapable of comprehending the future consequences of the Judgment as depicted in the Iliad. Helen, however, is more perceptive of the future and thus reinterprets Paris’ Cypria-inspired version of the Judgment as if she were interpolating from the “later” Iliad. She fears the anger of Juno and Pallas and describes Venus’ victory with military vocabulary (e.g. bina tropaea, Her. 17.241-44) that foreshadows war. Helen contradicts Aristarchus’ criticism by doubting the veracity of Paris’ Cyprian version (Her. 17.115-24) and thereby she asserts the authenticity of her Homeric version. In challenging Aristarchus’ athetesis of Iliad 24.25-30, Heroides 16-17 portray a more complex literary tradition that originates from both Cyclic and Homeric poetic forms. This is precisely the type of gesture we might expect from a poet who had a penchant for redefining the literary landscape (see Tarrant 13; cf. Barchiesi 59-62 and Kennedy 226-27 on Her. 16-17 as an elegiac pre-history to epic, and Mazurek 48 on Her. 16 as a precursor to both elegy and epic).


  • Barchiesi, A. 1999. “Vers une histoire a rebours de l’élégie Latine: Les Héroides ‘Doubles’ (16-21),” in A. Demeretz and J. Fabre-Serris, eds., Élégie et Épopée dans la Poésie Ovidienne (Héroides et Amours) En Hommage a Simone Viarre, 53-67. Lille.
  • Burgess, J. S. 2001. The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle. Baltimore.
  • Davies, M. 1981. “The Judgment of Paris and Iliad Book XXIV,” JHS 56-62.
  • EGF = Davies, M. 1988. Epicorum Graecorum Fragmenta. Gottingen.
  • Erbse, H. 1969-1988. Scholia Graeca in Homeri Iliadem I-VII. Berlin.
  • Kennedy, D. 2002. “Epistolarity: the Heroides,” in Philip Hardie, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Ovid, 217-32. Cambridge.
  • Mazurek, E. 2006. “Elegy and Epic and the Recognition of Paris: Ovid Heroides 16,” Arethusa 39: 47-70.
  • McNamee, K. 2007. Annotations in Greek and Latin Texts from Egypt. American Studies in Papyrology 45. Cincinatti.
  • Reinhardt, K. 1997. “The Judgment of Paris,” in Jones and Wright eds., Homer: German Scholarship in Translation, 170-191.
  • Schlunk, R. 1974. The Homeric Scholia and the Aeneid: A Study of the Influence of Ancient Homeric Literary Criticism on Virgil. Ann Arbor.
  • Severyns, A. 1928. Le cycle épique dans l’école d’Aristarque. Paris.
  • Tarrant, R. 2002. “Ovid and Ancient Literary History,” in Philip Hardie, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Ovid, 13-45. Cambridge.

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