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Homer (Ὅμηρος, Homeros) is the name given by the ancient Greeks to the author of two important early epic narrative poems in Greek, The Iliad
(Ιλιάς) and The Odyssey
Debate has continued since antiquity over the identity of Homer. Did he really exist as a historical individual and literary genius? If so did he compose both epic poems, and perhaps others as well? Was he a bard who composed, memorized and performed the poem or poems without the aid of writing (the alphabet was introduced to Greece in the early 8th century BC)? Or was he the first to write or dictate the poems that he had either composed himself or learned from other poets, a link in a long chain of oral tradition? Or were his name and character later inventions, to represent collectively several early Greek poets and the spirit of Archaic epic verse?
Whether Homer was a real person, a legendary or mythological character, other literary works were also attributed to him, including poems of the Epic Cycle
(the Little Iliad
, the Cypria
, the Nostoi
, the Epigoni
and the Theban Cycle
), the Homeric Hymns
, the Margites
, the Batrachomyomachia
(The frog-mouse war), the Capture of Oechalia
and the Phocais
. Several of these poems have also been attributed to other poets, and many modern scholars believe that these works are of a later date than The Iliad
and The Odyssey
tells of legendary and mythical heroic events around the time of Bronze Age conflicts between Greeks and Anatolians, distilled into the story of the Trojan War. The Odyssey
synthesizes seamen's yarns of pioneer Greek military, piratical and merchant sea voyages around the Mediterranean into the wanderings of Odysseus during his ten year journey home at the end of the war.
The stories take place around the end of the second millenium BC, for later Greeks an era of larger-than-life heroes, great warriors, founders of cities and dynasties, some of whom who were descended from gods and other divine figures who interacted with the mortal characters and either actively supported or opposed them. Monsters, magic and the supernatural were part of the characters' lives and adventures.
Many of the stories of this era, true and fictional, were transmitted orally from generation to generation, often in the form of songs and poetry which in themselves contributed to the creation and preservation of the great heroic ethos. Each generation of bards no doubt altered and added details to show off their skills and to appeal to local contemporary tastes of audiences.
In the case of The Iliad
and The Odyssey
, the questions of how much of the original Bronze Age traditions survived this process, how much was based on historical fact and/or age-old story-telling, and how much was newly created by the writer (or writers) will keep scholars busy for many years to come.
The two epics became enormously influential works throughout the Greek and Roman world for a millenium; considered exemplary in poetic and literary terms, essential reading and central to the cultural values of the time.
It is should not come as a surprise for us to learn that the Greeks built shrines to their author and eventually deified him (see The Apotheosis of Homer
Alexander the Great
was said to have a particular love of Homer's poetry, especially The Iliad
with its typically Homeric ideals of honour and glory. On his campaigns through Asia he carried a copy of the work which Aristotle
had annotated and given to him as a gift.
There is no doubt that the works are literary masterpieces, and the language, technique and style of the poetry in which they are written, as well as the structural and narrative qualities, are still influential and universally admired. They are also like gazeteers and a veritable who's who (or all too often who killed whom) of the ancient world. The Greek geographer Strabo
(64/63 BC – circa 24 AD) called Homer the founder of geography:
"And first, [we maintain,] that both we and our predecessors, amongst whom is Hipparchus, do justly regard Homer as the founder of geographical science, for he not only excelled all, ancient as well as modern, in the sublimity of his poetry, but also in his experience of social life. Thus it was that he not only exerted himself to become familiar with as many historic facts as possible, and transmit them to posterity, but also with the various regions of the inhabited land and sea, some intimately, others in a more general manner. For otherwise he would not have reached the utmost limits of the earth, traversing it in his imagination."
Strabo, Geography, Book 1
, chapter 2, section 2.
Many of the geographical, topographical and historical details in Homer's works have in fact been confirmed by archaeologists, historians and scientists over the last two centuries, proving at least that the author based his often incredible tales on a solid ground of facts.
The style, language and several other details have led many scholars to believe that the versions of The Iliad
and The Odyssey
known from antiquity were probably written by an author from East Greece (western Anatolia and the eastern Aegean islands) about 750-700 BC. This is around the same time as Hesiod is also thought to have lived.
The earliest known mention of Homer was by the philosopher and poet Xenophanes of Colophon (Ξενοφάνης ὁ Κολοφώνιος, circa 570-475 BC), who criticized the way in which he and Hesiod represented the gods. 
An oft-quoted passage of Pausanias
stating that a certain Kelainos (or Kallinos) attributed the epic poem Thebais
to Homer is questionable. 
and The Odyssey
are first mentioned by Herodotus
(circa 484 - circa 425 BC), who considered that Homer and Hesiod virtually invented the names, genealogies, forms and functions of the gods:
"But whence each of the gods came to be, or whether all had always been, and how they appeared in form, they did not know until yesterday or the day before, so to speak. For I suppose Hesiod and Homer flourished not more than four hundred years earlier than I; and these are the ones who taught the Greeks the descent of the gods, and gave the gods their names, and determined their spheres and functions, and described their outward forms.
But the poets who are said to have been earlier than these men were, in my opinion, later. The earlier part of all this is what the priestesses of Dodona tell; the later, that which concerns Hesiod and Homer, is what I myself say." 
At some point Homer acquired a biography and became known as the blind bard from Ionia, and at least four East Greek cities, Smyrna, Chios, Kolophon and Kyme, claimed the bard as a native son (see the inscription from Pergamon below
The Roman author Aulus Gellius (circa 125 - after 180 AD) mentions even more places making this claim to fame, and repeats the legend that his tomb was on Ios:
"Also as to Homer's native city there is the very greatest divergence of opinion. Some say that he was from Colophon, some from Smyrna; others assert that he was an Athenian, still others, an Egyptian; and Aristotle declares that he was from the island of Ios. Marcus Varro, in the first book of his Portraits
, placed this couplet under the portrait of Homer:
'This snow-white kid the tomb of Homer marks;
For such the Ietae offer to the dead.'" 
(The Ietae were the inhabitants of Ios.)
The author and date of a famous epigram on the subject of Homer's birthplace are unknown:
"Seven cities contend for the birth of Homer: Smyrna, Rhodes, Kolophon, Salamis [Cyprus], Ios, Argos and Athens." 
(2nd century AD) discussed the birthplace of Homer when remarking on a statue and accompanying inscription at the entrance to the Temple of Apollo in Delphi:
"... and you can see a bronze statue of Homer on a slab, and read the oracle that they say Homer received:
'Blessed and unhappy, for to be both wast thou born.
Thou seekest thy fatherland; but no fatherland hast thou, only a motherland.
The island of Ios is the fatherland of thy mother, which will receive thee
When thou hast died; but be on thy guard against the riddle of the young children.'
The inhabitants of Ios point to Homer's tomb in the island, and in another part to that of Clymene, who was, they say, the mother of Homer.
But the Cyprians, who also claim Homer as their own, say that Themisto, one of their native women, was the mother of Homer, and that Euclus foretold the birth of Homer in the following verses:
'And then in sea-girt Cyprus there will be a mighty singer,
Whom Themisto, lady fair, shall bear in the fields, A man of renown, far from rich Salamis.
Leaving Cyprus, tossed and wetted by the waves,
The first and only poet to sing of the woes of spacious Greece,
For ever shall he be deathless and ageless.'
These things I have heard, and I have read the oracles, but express no private opinion about either the age or date of Homer." 
Marble bust of Homer of the "Hellenistic
blind type" or "Pergamon type". Found in
Baiae, Bay of Naples, Campania, Italy. 
British Museum, London.
Inv. No, GR 1805.7-3.85 (Sculpture 1825).
Bust height: 57.5 cm.
Head of Homer of the "Epimenides type"
with a long, straight beard and closed eyes.
Roman period copy of a Greek original of
the mid 5th century BC. Parian marble. 
Barracco Museum, Rome. Inv. No. MB 123.
Purchased in Rome.
Other examples of heads of Homer of
the Epimenides type are in the Museo
Pio-Clementino, Vatican Museums (Inv. 315)
and the Glyptothek, Munich (Inv. 273).
A marble head of Homer. 1-100 AD.
Similar to the "Epimenides type" head
above but, unusually, with open eyes.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
Inv. No. LI1022.1.
On loan from the
Franziska Winters Collection.
Detail of a papyrus roll with part of Book 13
of the Iliad. The roll is one of the longest
surviving Homer papyri, containing most
of the Iliad books 13 and 14. From Egypt,
early 1st or 2nd century AD.
British Museum. Papyrus DCCXXXII.
Source: Frederic B. Kenyon,
The palaeography of Greek papyri,
Plate XIX, page 97.
Oxford University Press, 1899.
A papyrus fragment of the Odyssey,
the end of Book 3. The earliest surviving
copy of the work. Early 1st century AD.
British Museum. Papyrus CCLXXI.
Source: Frederic B. Kenyon,
The palaeography of Greek papyri,
Plate XV, page 84.
Oxford University Press, 1899.
||Homer in Greek and Roman art
If Homer lived in the 8th century BC, some time earlier, or even a century later, this was long before realistic portraiture was practised by the Greeks. It is therefore considered that all the portraits of him were works of pure imagination, like those of many other famous people, created throughout antiquity to supply a popular need to have a face to go with a name.
Sculptures representing the legendary poet were made as early as the Classical period (5th - 4th century BC). Pausanias
mentioned statues of Homer and Hesiod, among a number of statues dedicated by Mikythos, the former tyrant of Rhegium in the mid 5th century BC, next to the Great Temple of Zeus in the Sanctuary of Olympia. 
Statues and busts of Homer, showing him as a scholarly, elderly, blind man, were placed in libraries and sanctuaries, a tradition which continued into Roman times. There were sculptures of this type in the Library of Pergamon
and the Homereion of Alexandria, a centre for Homeric studies during the Hellenistic period. 
"There is a new invention too, which we must not omit to notice. Not only do we consecrate in our libraries, in gold or silver, or at all events, in bronze, those whose immortal spirits hold converse with us in those places, but we even go so far as to reproduce the ideal of features, all remembrance of which has ceased to exist; and our regrets give existence to likenesses that have not been transmitted to us, as in the case of Homer, for example.
And indeed, it is my opinion, that nothing can be a greater proof of having achieved success in life, than a lasting desire on the part of one's fellow-men, to know what one's features were.
This practice of grouping portraits was first introduced at Rome by Asinius Pollio, who was also the first to establish a public library, and so make the works of genius the property of the public. Whether the kings of Alexandria and of Pergamus, who had so energetically rivalled each other in forming libraries, had previously introduced this practice, I cannot so easily say."
Pliny the Elder
, Natural History, Book 35
, chapter 2: "The honour attached to portraits". At Perseus Digital Library. 
Around the end of the 5th century AD, the Egyptian poet Christodorus described a bronze statue of Homer in the Baths of Zeuxippus in Constantinople:
"... the features of an old man, but of a gentle old age, so much so that it gives him an even richer aura of grace: a mix of venerability and admiration, but from which prestige shines through... With his two hands supported by his staff, one on top of the other, like a real man. The right ear bent, as if always listening to Apollo, almost as if he could hear a Muse nearby..."
, II, 311-349 
Many (if not all) of the cities claiming to be Homer's birthplace, as well as other cities around the Greek world as far as the Black Sea (see photo, above right) issued coins depicting the poet. According to Strabo
, the inhabitants of Smyrna had a shrine dedicated to Homer and a bronze coin, both known as the Homereion:
"There is also a library; and the Homereion, a quadrangular portico containing a shrine and wooden statue [xoanon] of Homer; for the Smyrnaeans also lay especial claim to the poet; and indeed a bronze coin of theirs is called Homereion."
Strabo, Geography, Book 14
, chapter 1, section 37. At Perseus Digital Library.
The enormous popularity and cultural influence of Homer's epic poems, as well as Homeric stories about the Trojan War and Oysseus by other authors (and perhaps also surviving oral tradions), are evident in the large number of surviving artworks illustrating scenes from the works (see below
) made and traded around the Graeco-Roman world.
Roman provincial bronze coin showing the
head of Homer in profile. From Amastris,
Paphlagonia, Black Sea, 100-260 AD.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
Inv. No. HCR7895.
A bust of Homer similar to the one in the British Museum (top of page).
Antonine copy (138-192 AD) of a 2nd century BC Greek original,
thought to have been made by the Rhodian School.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 6023.
From the Farnese Collection.
Replica of the Naples bust of Homer,
made by Gaetano Rossi in 1875.
Neues Museum, Berlin.
A plaster cast of a plaster cast of a bust of
Homer. This modern copy, in the Pergamon
Museum, Berlin, was taken from the cast
in the Goethe Nationalmuseum, Weimar,
which is thought to have belonged to
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Berlin, Abguss-Sammlung Antiker
Plastik der Freien Universität, VII 3470.
Marble bust of Homer of the "Hellenistic blind type".
From a 2nd century BC Hellenistic original. Found built into a wall in the garden
of the Palazzo Cactani, near S. Maria Maggioro, Rome. It was first acquired by
Ficoroni and then Cardinal Alessandro Albani, who ceded it to Pope Clement Xll.
The nose and bust have been restored. Height 54 cm.
Hall of the Philosophers, Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Inv. No. MC557. From the Albani Collection.
Marble herm of Homer of the "Hellenistic blind type".
From a 2nd century BC Hellenistic original.
Unusually, the poet is shown with part of his himation (cloak) drawn
over the back of his head. The end of the nose and the back of the
head as well as most the neck and the herm have been restored.
Hall of the Philosophers, Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Inv. No. MC558. From the Albani Collection.
Marble herm of Homer of the "Hellenistic blind type".
From a 2nd century BC Hellenistic original. Found in 1704 in the garden
of the Canonici Regolari di S. Antonio Abbate, on the Esquiline Hill, Rome.
Hall of the Philosophers, Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Inv. No. MC559.
Marble bust of Homer of the "Apollonius of Tyana" type.
Hadrianic copy (117-138 AD) of a late 4th century BC Greek original.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 6140.
From the Farnese Collection.
|Marble statue thought to represent either Homer or a philosopher.
Found in the rectangular peristyle of the Villa of the Papyri, Herculaneum.
Height circa 200 cm.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 6126.
|The figure's hairstyle, beard, clothing and pose identify it as a depiction of a writer or philosopher. The bundle of papyrus rolls on the base reinforce the identification, as well as providing part of the support for the figure.
The person represented is in middle age, younger than the other sculptures showing Homer as a blind, old man. The face, beard, hairstyle, and hairband have been treated in a similar way to some depictions of the mature Sophocles.
As with many ancient sculptures in Italian museums, this statue has been extensively restored. It is not always easy to spot which parts are modern additions.
An inscribed limestone base of a statue of Homer from Pergamon.
Late Hellenistic period, 2nd - 1st century BC.
Pergamon Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. IvP 203.
|The blue-grey limestone block was found in May 1881 in the eastern part of the north stoa of the Sanctuary of Athena Polias Nikephoros, the area in which the Library of Pergamon is thought to have stood. Two foot-shaped indentations in the top of the block indicate that it was the base for a standing bronze statue. See below for details of the inscription.
Height 41.5 cm, width 70 cm, depth 75.5 cm. Height of letters 1.2 - 1.4 cm.
Bases for statues of other Greek poets and historians have also been found at the sanctuary: Alkaios of Mytiline, Apollonios, Balakros, Herodotus and Timotheos. The statues were probably part of a collection of monuments dedicated to famous writers exhibited in the library.
See also the base of a statue of Herodotus from Sanctuary of Athena.
Drawing of the inscription on the Homer statue base from Pergamon by Max Fränkel. 
The badly weathered inscription on the front of the block consists of three epigrams
concerning the contending claims of four East Greek cities to be Homer's birthplace:
the Ionian cities of Smyrna, Chios and Kolophon, and Aeolian Kyme.
Inscription IvP I 203.
αὐ[τὸς δῆ]τα φράζ[ε τ]εῆς κλυτὸν [οὔνομα πάτ]ρης,
μο[ῦνο]ς ὅτ’ ἀρρήτ[ου]ς θήκαο γειναμ[ένους].
α[ἵ]δε τοι ἀμφίλογον μύθων περὶ δῆ̣[ριν ἔ]θεντ̣ο̣·
Σμ̣ύρνα τε καὶ γαίης Οἰνοπ̣ίωνος ἕ̣[δ]ος
καὶ Κολοφῶν Κύμ̣η τε. μέτα πτολέ[ε]σσι δὲ πάσαις
ἀμφὶ σέθεν γενεῆς ἵμερος ἱεμέναις·
τοῖόν τοι κλέος αἰπὺ μετὰ ζώιοισιν ἀοιδῆς,
ἔστε περ̣ιστείχη̣ι νύξ τε καὶ ἠέλιος.
τὸν περιδήριτον κοσμήτορα θεῖον Ὅ̣μηρον
λεύσσετ’, ἐν ὧι πᾶσαι νεῖκος ἔθεντο πόλεις·
Σμύρνα, Χίος, Κολοφῶ̣ν, Κύμη κα̣ὶ πᾶσα πελασγὶς
Ἑλλὰς καὶ νήσων ἄστεα καὶ Τροΐης.
οὐ νέμεσις· τόσσογ γὰρ ἐπὶ χθονὶ φ̣έγγος ἔλαμψε
Μουσάων ὁπ̣όσον τείρεσιν ἠέλιος.
μυρίος αἰολίδαισιν ὑπέρ σεο μόχθος, Ὅμηρε,
Κυμαίοις ἱερᾶς̣ τ’ ἐνναέταισι̣ Χίου,
μυρία δὲ Σμύρναι Κολοφῶνί τε νείκεα λείπεις·
μούνωι δέ γνωστὰ Ζηνὶ τεὰ γένεσις,
αἵδε μάταν ὑλάουσι γὰρ ὄστεον οἷάτε λ̣ίχνοι
[ἅ]ρπυιαι θοινᾶ̣ς μειρόμεναι σκύλακες.
"These [cities] have completed, with arguments for and against, about your myths: Smyrna and the place in the land of the Oinopion [Chios], and Kolophon and Kyme: among all cities there is a desire to contend for the fame of your birth. So great is the fame of your singing among the living, as long as night and Helios continue to circle above.
The disputed, divine Homer, the celebrator [of heroes], whom all cities have competed for: Smyrna, Chios, Kolophon, Kyme, and the entire Pelasgian Hellas and the cities of islands and the landscape of Troy. There is no need to be offended: for just as Helios shines among the stars, so does he shine as the light of the Muses on Earth.
Endless effort do we have on account of you, Homer, the Kymeans descended from Aiolos and the people of Chios, endless conflict did you leave behind for Smyrna and Kolophon. But only to Zeus is the place of your birth known; but they [the cities] bark senselessly, just as eager, predatory dogs do for the bones, lusting for a feast."
|The so-called "Homer" statue of a seated man.
Classical period, 4th century BC. From Klaros (Ahmetbeyli, Turkey).
Department of Sculpture, Izmir Museum of History and Art.
"The Apotheosis of Homer" Hellenistic relief.
Parian marble. Said to have been found on the Via Appia at Bovillae, Lazio,
central Italy in the mid 17th century. Height 117 cm, width 80 cm.
British Museum. GR 1819.8-12.1 (Sculpture 2191).
|Also known as "the Relief of Archelaos", signed by the sculptor Archelaos, son of Apollonios of Priene, it is thought to have to have been made in Alexandria, Egypt in the 3rd or 2nd century BC, perhaps during the reign of Ptolemy IV Philopater (222-205 BC) and his queen Arsinoe III who built a temple of Homer there. It is thought that Ptolemy and Arsinoe may be portrayed on the relief, as Chronos (Time) and Oikoumene (Inhabited World), standing behind Homer (see drawing below).
The religious ceremony in which Homer is elevated to divine status by deities, muses and mythical characters was a popular subject in the art of antiquity. The bard, enthroned before an altar, holds a sceptre and a scroll. The scene is observed from above by Zeus.
|Key to the Apotheosis of Homer
1 Zeus with his eagle
2 Mnesmosyne ?
3 Muse (Klio ?)
5 Muse (Erato ?)
6 Muse (Euterpe ?)
8 Muse (Terpsichore ?)
9 Muse (Ourania ?)
10 Muse (Polyhymnia ?)
11 Apollo Kitharodos
13 statue of a poet ? *
14 Oikoumene (Arsinoe III) ?
15 Chronos (Ptolemy IV) ?
16 The Iliad
18 The Odyssey
19 Mythos (Myth)
20 Istoria (History)
21 Poiesis (Poetry)
22 Tragodia (Tragedy)
23 Komodia (Comedy)
24 Physis (Nature)
25 Arete (Virtue)
26 Mnem(e) (Memory)
27 Pisti (Good Faith)
28 Sophia (Wisdom)
* Possibly Apollonius, 2nd century BC, author of the Argonautica
Detail of the Apotheosis of Homer, British Museum.
in Greek and Roman art
|Note: Not all the images below show depictions of scenes taken directly|
from Homer's Iliad or Odyssey, but illustrate Homeric stories and themes.
Some images may be moved to other pages of the PEOPLE section as it grows.
An Athenian spouted krater (large bowl) depicting a man grasping a woman by the
wrist (left, see photo below) as he turns towards a ship with two rows of oarsmen.
Thought to be an early representation of a myth, perhaps Paris abducting Helen
(the cause of the Trojan war), or Theseus fleeing King Minos of Crete with Ariadne.
Geometric period, 735-720 BC (LGIIa). From Thebes.
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1899.2-19.1.
|If the woman is Helen, then the two charioteers among horsemen on the other side of the krater may be her brothers Kastor and Polydeukes, the Dioskouroi. If she is Ariadne, the object she is holding may be the crown of light with which she illuminated the labyrinth in some versions of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. The symbol on the shield on the prow of the ship appears to be a double-headed axe (labrys), which may indicate that the scene is taking place in Crete.
See the other side of the krater on the Dioskouroi page.
A man apparently abducting a woman and taking her on
board a waiting ship, from the Geometric krater above.
Marble head, thought to depict the Trojan
prince Paris, son of Priam and Hecuba,
wearing a Phrygian cap.
Around 100 AD. One of several Roman period
sculptures thought to be copies of a statue of
Paris, perhaps made by Euphranor of Corinth
around 380 BC.
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg.
Inv. No. 1917.180.
See also depictions of the jugement of Paris
in Greek and Etruscan art on the Hermes page.
A warrior killing an Amazon on a fragmentary terracotta votive shield from the "Bothros"
of the Upper Citadel of Tiryns, Argolid, Peloponnese. Early 7th century BC. Diameter 40 cm.
Nafplion Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 4509.
|This is one of the painted terracotta shields depicting mythological scenes, discovered in a pit in the Upper Citadel of the ancient fortified city of Tiryns. The area of the citadel is thought to have been a sanctuary of Hera, and the pit perhaps a bothros, used in sacrificial rituals. The shields may have been hung in a sacred area, or may have been used in the performance of rituals.
A tall, bearded warrior grasps the helmet crest of a skirted Amazon with a spear, who he is about to kill with a sword. To the left is another warrior, with another Amazon to the right. The paintings on the plates are amongst the earliest known depictions of narrative scenes with mythological content in Greek art. This may be an illustration of a scene from the the lost epic poem Aethiopis (Αἰθιοπίς, 7th century BC), in which Achilles kills Penthesilea (Πενθεσίλεια), the queen of the Amazons. According to another view, it may be Herakles fighting the Amazons.
Terracotta ritual masks were also among the objects found in the pit (see Medusa).
Two heroes, probably Achilles and Memnon, engaged in
Homeric combat on the neck of a large Cycladic krater.
Work of a Parian workshop, around 640 BC. The body of the vase shows Apollo on a
chariot, returning to Delos from the land of the Hypoboreans (see Mistress of Animals).
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 911.
Detail of an Attic black-figure hydria (water jar) showing the chariot of the Trojan prince
Hektor. The charioteer Kebronius stands in the four-horse chariot, and Hektor stands
to the left. The names of both figures are inscribed to the right of their heads. A youth
with a spear stands right of the chariot. They are flanked by two warriors in armour.
Made in Athens around 580 BC. Attributed to the Painter of London B76,
who is named after this vase. From Kamiros, Rhodes.
British Museum. GR 1861.4-25.43 (Vase B 76).
See: Beazley Archive Database, Vase No. 300790.
Detail of a black-figure column krater with a depiction a youth in a four-horse chariot.
On either side is a pair of armoured warriors with round shields.
One of two similar kraters displayed together unlabelled in the Kavala museum
(see the other below). So far I have found no further information about them.
Kavala Archaeological Museum, Macedonia, Greece.
Achilles fights the Ethiopian king Memnon, watched by their divine mothers Thetis and Eos.
Detail of an Athenian black-figure amphora, attributed to the Antimenes Painter, 550-501 BC.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. 1965-116. Ex Spencer-Churchill Collection.
Ceramic plate showing Menelaos and Hektor fighting over the
body of the Trojan hero Euphorbos (Εὔφορβος), who Menelaos
has just killed (Homer, Iliad, Book 17, lines 60-80).
Made on Kos, Dodecanese, about 600 BC. From Kamiros, Rhodes. Diameter 39.37 cm.
The names of all three characters are inscribed in Argive lettering next to the figures.
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1860.4-4.1. Purchased in 1860.
Detail of a black-figure column krater with a depiction a Homeric duel: two warriors
fighting over the body of a third. On either side is a pair of fighting warriors.
Such scenes depicted in Greek pottery painting include Menelaos and Hektor
fighting over Euphorbos (see above), and Ajax and Hektor fighting over Patrokles.
One of two similar kraters displayed together unlabelled in the Kavala museum
(see the other above). So far I have found no further information about them.
Kavala Archaeological Museum, Macedonia, Greece.
Achilles and Ajax playing a board game.
Detail of an Attic black-figure olpe (jug), about 530 BC. The inscription,
incised on the side of the table: Νεοκλειδες καλος (Neokleides kalos,
Neokleides is beautiful), with the last four letter written backwards.
Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums, Rome. Inv. No. MC6.
|The two figures sit facing each other on low, block-like seats, with a small table between them. Each has one leg drawn back, holds two spears and wears armour: a high-crested helmet, a corslet over a short tunic and greaves (shin plates). The figure on the left bends further forward with his hand touching the board, as if he is moving a game piece or waiting his turn. The other extends over-long fingers over the board, as though throwing dice or gesturing.
This is one of several surviving vases showing this scene, the best known and probably earliest being the highly detailed Attic black-figure amphora signed by Exekias, made in Athens around 530 BC, now in the Vatican Museums, Rome. . The inscriptions on the amphora name the players and even the score, with Achilles sitting on the left and winning the game 4 to 3.
The scene on the olpe is bold and clear, but painted in a much simpler manner. Although the general composition is the same as that of the Exekias amphora (and other vases of the type), it differs in several ways and lacks the fine drawing, dramatic tension and exquisite detailing.
There have been a number of suggestions about exactly which game they are playing, including an early form of backgammon, dice or knucklebones. Homer makes no mention of the heroes playing a game during the Trojan War, and there are no known references to such a scene in literature from this period.
On a game-board (Εis τάβλαν)
"Seated by this table made of pretty stones, you will start the pleasant game of dice-rattling. Neither be elated when you win, nor put out when you are beaten, blaming the little die. For even in small things the character of a man is revealed, and the dice proclaim the depth of his good sense."
Epigram by Agathias Scholasticus (circa 530-582/594 AD) 
Achilles and Ajax playing a board game.
Detail of an Attic black-figure amphora, made in Athens
around 520 BC. Attributed to the Lysippedes Painter.
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1851.8-6.15 (Vase B 211).
Another vase with Achilles and Ajax playing a board game, here with Athena as spectator.
Detail of an Attic black-figure oinichoe (jug), 550-501 BC.
Attributed to the Painter of Oxford 224.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. AN1885.653. Ex-Castellani Collection.
Fragment of a relief skyphos with a depiction of a scene from
The Iliad featuring Ajax and Achilles whose names are inscribed.
2nd century BC. Found at 4 Karbola Street, Thessaloniki.
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. MΘ 9972.
See also a fragment of a relief skyphos with a scene from The Odyssey below.
Odysseus (left) and Diomedes (right) ambush the Trojan spy Dolon (Δόλων),
who wears a wolf skin and a ferret skin cap and carries a bow and spear.
The figures, cleverly framed by the trunks of four trees, are shown in exaggerated,
theatrical poses: Odysseus and Diomedes and creep on tiptoe to surprise Dolon
(centre). The representation of the scene may have been inspired by a comedy play.
Detail of a red-figure calyx krater (bowl for mixing wine and water) made in Lucania,
southeast Italy around 390-380 BC. The name vase of the Dolon Painter.
From Pisticci, Matera, Basilicata, southeast Italy. Height 50.8 cm, diameter 48.26 cm.
British Museum. GR 1846.9-25.3 (Vase F157). Steuart Collection.
|"Now there was among the Trojans one Dolon, the son of Eumedes the godlike herald, a man rich in gold, rich in bronze, that was ill-favoured to look upon, but withal swift of foot; and he was the only brother among five sisters. He then spake a word to the Trojans and to Hector:
'Hector, my heart and proud spirit urge me to go close to the swift-faring ships and spy out all. But come, I pray thee, lift up thy staff and swear to me that verily thou wilt give me the horses and the chariot, richly dight with bronze, even them that bear the peerless son of Peleus. And to thee shall I prove no vain scout, neither one to deceive thy hopes. For I will go straight on to the camp, even until I come to the ship of Agamemnon, where, I ween, the chieftains will be holding council, whether to flee or to fight.'
So spake he, and Hector took the staff in his hands, and sware to him, saying: 'Now be my witness Zeus himself, the loud-thundering lord of Hera, that on those horses no other man of the Trojans shall mount, but it is thou, I declare, that shalt have glory in them continually.' So spake he, and swore thereto an idle oath, and stirred the heart of Dolon.
Forthwith then he cast about his shoulders his curved bow, and thereover clad him in the skin of a grey wolf, and on his head he set a cap of ferret skin, and grasped a sharp javelin, and went his way toward the ships from the host; howbeit he was not to return again from the ships, and bear tidings to Hector."
Homer, Iliad, Book 10. At Perseus Digital Library.
The Greek hero Diomedes steals the Palladion (Palladium),
an ancient statue of Pallas Athena which protected Troy.
He runs from the temple of the goddess, passing a flaming altar.
The tondo of an Attic red-figure stemless cup. Made in Athens around 380 BC. From Apulia.
Attributed by Sir John Beazley to either the Diomed Painter or the Jena Painter, who may
have been the same person. He/they may have shared a workshop with the Q Painter.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. AN1931.39.
See: Beazley Archive Database, Vase No. 231038.
Achilles binds Patroklos.
Tondo on the inside of an Attic red-figure kylix (κύλιξ, stemmed drinking cup), signed
Σοσιας εποιεσεν (Sosias epoiesen, Sosias made [me]) on the rim of the foot.
Around 500 BC. Found by Fossati in 1828 in the Necropolis Camposcala, Vulci, Italy.
Height 10 cm, diameter (mouth) 32cm, diameter of tondo 17.5 cm.
A scene from the Trojan War. Achilles, skilled in the art of healing, binds the wound of his friend
Patroklos who is in great pain. The painting on the outside of the cup depicts the Apotheosis of
Herakles: Athena presenting her protegé Herakles to an assembly gods on Olympus.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. F 2278. Acquired in 1831.
Attic black-figure amphora (wine jar) depicting the sacrifice
of Polyxene by Neoptolemos at the grave of Achilles.
See details below.
Made in Athens about 570-550 BC. Attributed to the Timiades Painter of the Tyrrhenian Group.
Said to be from Italy. On the reverse are four dancing men between two cocks, and two
friezes of animals. Height 38 cm, diameter 24 cm, weight 23 gm.
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1897.0727.2. Acquired in 1897.
Detail of the amphora depicting the sacrifice of Polyxene at the grave of Achilles.
|The Trojan princess Polyxene (Πολυξένη), youngest daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba, is not mentioned in Homer's Iliad, but we have included the vase here as an illustration of one of the myths surrounding the Trojan War. The story of Polyxene was recorded in later works, including The Trojan women and Hecuba by Euripides, and Metamorphoses by Ovid.
There are several versions of the myth, and several reasons given for her murder by the Greeks following the death of Achilles and the capture of Troy. In this depiction three named Greek warriors hold her so that her head is over a flaming altar, while Neoptolemos, the son of Achilles, cuts her throat with a sword. Diomedes stands behind him.
Read more about Neoptolemos in Homer on Pergamon gallery 2, page 1.
Neoptolemos, son of Achilles, killing King Priam of Troy.
Detail of an Attic black-figure panel amphora. Attributed to the Princeton Painter, 540-530 BC.
To the left stands, a man, and to the right Queen Hecuba and a warrior. The inscription
written vertically behind Hecuba is thought to be nonsense. Side B shows two warriors
duelling between a man and a youth; a bull's head and a shield device.
Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums, Rome. Inv. No. 98.
See: Beazley Archive Database, Vase No. 320429
|Priam's death at the hand of Neoptolemos (Pyrrhos) on the altar of Zeus Herkeios (Of the Courtyard) is related by Pausanias (Description of Greece, Book 4, chapter 17, section 4) and more graphically by Virgil (Aeneid, Book II, lines 506-558), but as this vase painting proves, the tale is much older.
The vases in the Palazzo dei Conservatori are displayed in dark wood and glass cabinets with small, stark spotlights, causing strong glaring and reflections. Anyway, that's my excuse for such a miserable photo.
Bronze figurine of Ajax committing suicide.
Greek, Geometric, 720-700 BC.
After the death of Achilles, Ajax and Odysseus competed for his arms and armour.
When Ajax lost the contest he went mad and killed himself. This is the earliest
known representation of an incident often depicted in Greek art.
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1865.11-18-230.
Relief showing Ajax committing suicide. Late 6th century BC.
A metope from the Sanctuary of Hera on the river Sele, Paestum.
Paestum Archaeological Museum.
Marble statue of Odysseus.
Parian marble. Late Hellenistic period, before the middle of the 1st century BC.
From the Antikythera shipwreck. Height 203 cm.
Odysseus strides to his right, but turns his head in the opposite direction.
He wears a pilos (πῖλος) conical cap, a short one-sleeved chiton fastened at
the shoulder and a himation around his waist. The statue is possibly from
a group depicting the seizure of the Palladion during the seige of Troy.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 5745.
Marble statue of a male, possibly Achilles.
Parian marble. Late Hellenistic period, before the middle of the
1st century BC. From the Antikythera shipwreck. Thought to belong
to the same sculpture group as the Odysseus statue above. Height 147 cm.
"The young beardless male is depicted moving forcefully to the right.
He is ready to draw the sword from its sheath with the right hand.
The strikingly youthful appearance of the heroic figure with his unruly,
bushy hair favors his identification as Achilles."
From the museum labelling of an exhibition about the Antikythera shipwreck, 2013.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 5746.
Part of a marble statue representing The Iliad.
2nd century AD. Probably from the Library of Pantainos (Βιβλιοθήκη Πανταίνου),
built around 100 AD, just west of the Gate of Athena, the Doric gateway of the
market of Caesar and Augustus (also known as the Roman Agora), Athens.
The identification of the statue is based on an inscribed base found with it.
Agora Museum, Athens. Inv. No. S 2038.
Mosaic panel of Achilles affronting Agamemnon, illustrating a scene from
Homer's Iliad, Book I. The angry Achilles draws his sword to attack
Agamemnon, seated left. Athena restrains him by seizing him by the hair.
From the Casa di Apollo (VI, 7, 23), Pompeii. Height 92 cm, width 110 cm.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 10006.
The neck of a large Proto-Attic amphora, known as the "Eleusis Amphora",
showing the blinding of Polyphemos, a scene from Homer's Odyssey.
Odysseus and his companions drive a sharpened, glowing staff into
the eye of the Cyclops Polyphemos, who holds a kantharos (wine cup).
Around 660 BC. Excavated in 1954 in the West Cemetery, Eleusis. Pot Burial Γ6.
It had been used as a funeral urn and contained the skeleton of a 12 year old boy.
It is the name vase of the Polyphemos Painter. Height 1.42 m.
Eleusis Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 2630.
|The amphora was discovered in 1954, during excavations led by Greek archaeologist George E. Mylonas (see Demeter, note 6), among prehistoric burials in soil only 25-30 cm below the modern level. It is thought that the amphora had been damaged and many parts dragged away by centuries of ploughing.
Both the neck and the body of the vase are painted with the black and white outline technique, and depict heroes fighting monsters. The body shows Perseus beheading the Gorgon Medusa.
Odysseus, trapped with his men in the cave of the Cyclops Polyphemos, gets the giant drunk on wine. While Polyphemos lies in stupor, Odysseus sharpens the end of a wooden staff and heats it in the fire. The glowing end can be seen as the three men drive it into the Cyclops' eye. The hero Odysseus is the only figure whose body is painted in outline with a fill of white, clay-based paint, most of which is now worn away. The archaeologist Alan Johnston commented on Odysseus' pose: "He kneels on his opponent like a pharaoh." 
The amphora also features a lion confronting a boar on the shoulder, large intertwining "snakes" formalized as cable patterns, numerous space-filling, orientalizing abstract and floral motifs, and "fretwork" handles.
The 1.42 metre high "Eleusis Amphora"
Odysseus and his companions drive a stake into the eye of the Cyclops Polyphemos.
Black-figure neck amphora made in southern Italy around 520 BC.
A "Pseudo-Chalcidian" vase attributed to the Polyphemos Group.
British Museum. GR 1866.8-5.3 (Vase B 154). Donated by T. S. Smith.
Odysseus and his companions blinding Cyclops Polyphemos.
Etruscan black-figure hydria made in Cerveteri, Etruria,
around 530-520 BC. Attributed to the Aquila Painter.
The other side shows Herakles shooting the
Centaur Nessos who is abducting Deianeira.
National Etruscan Museum, Villa Giulia, Rome.
Marble relief from a sarcophagus depicting the blinding of Polyphemos by Odysseus and his men.
End of the 2nd century AD. Discovered in 1733 near the Bastion of San Giovanni, Catania.
Formerly in the Benedictine monastery of San Nicolo.  Height 73 cm, width 69.5 cm.
Museo Civico, Castello Ursino, Catania, Sicily. Inv. No. 53. From the Benedictines' Collection.
|In the centre, Odysseus, wearing a pilos (conical hat), stands over Polyphemos, wearing an animal skin cloak, lying drunk on a rock. His kylix (wine cup) has fallen to the ground beneath his hanging left arm. Next to it sits a sheep. (The animal seems rather small, especially considering that Odysseus and his crew later escape from Polyphemos' cave by hiding beneath his giant sheep.) On the left two of Odysseus' crewmen stand naked. One appears to be holding an object, perhaps a wineskin. On the right, stands a youth in a short tunic, facing outwards.
According to local legends, the 70 metre high Isole dei Cyclopi (the Cyclops Islands) off the coast of Aci Trezza (now named the Riviera dei Cyclopi), north of Catania, are the huge rocks the enraged Cyclops threw at Odysseus and his men as they escaped on their ship.
It was thought that this relief was a simplified version of, or even the model for a fragmented statue group depicting the blinding of Polyphemos (around 50 BC), discovered in 1957 in a grotto at the Villa of Emperor Tiberius at Sperlonga, on the west coast of Italy (between Rome and Naples), and was used as a basis for the reconstruction.
A marble bust of the "wineskin carrier"
from the blinding of Polyphemos group.
Roman period copy of a lost Hellensitic original of around
200 BC. Found at Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli, near Rome.
Another version of this head was found with the body as part of the
blinding of Polyphemos statue group in Sperlonga (circa 50 BC).
British Museum. Inv. No GR 1805.7-3.86 (Sculpture 1860). Townley Collection.
A marble torso, thought to be part of a colossal statue
of Polyphemos from a blinding of Polyphemos group.
Roman period. Previously believed to be from a statue of Hercules,
Polyphemos, or Atlas, it was recently identified as Polyphemos
after comparison with the Sperlonga group (see above).
Palazzo Altemps, National Museum of Rome. Inv. No. 396715. Altemps Collection.
Odysseus or one of his companions escaping from the cave
of the blinded Polyphemos by tying himself beneath one of
his huge rams (Homer, Odyssey, Book IX, lines 425-435).
Detail of an Attic black-figure lekythos, 550-501 BC.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No AN1934.249.
Gift of John Davidson Beazley.
Odysseus or one of his companions escaping from Polyphemos's
cave, tied under the belly of one of the Cyclops' rams.
Cast bronze appliqué, which would have been riveted to a fixture of piece of furniture.
From Delphi. Made in a workshop in the northeast Pelponnese, late 6th century BC.
Delphi Archaeological Museum.
|Odysseus or one of his companions escaping from the cave of
Polyphemos (right, seated on a rock) by hiding beneath his rams.
An Attic black-figure lekythos, around 500 BC, attributed to the Theseus Painter.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No AN1934.372.
Odysseus or one of his companions
escapes from the cave of Polyphemos
(right) strapped beneath a ram.
Attic black-figure lekythos, 525-475 BC.
3rd Ephorate of Prehistoric and
Classical Antiquities, Athens.
Polyphemos (right) sitting in
his cave opposite a large ram.
Attic black-figure lekythos, 6th century BC.
From Selinous (Selinunte), Sicily.
Museo Civico, Castelvetrano, Sicily.
A Roman marble statuette of Odysseus hiding under a ram in Polyphemos' cave.
An engraving published by Johann Joachim Winckelmann in 1767.
Luna marble. Height 78 cm, width 73 cm, depth 35 cm.
From the Albani Collection. Inv. No. 438. Now in the Torlonia Collection, Rome.
|The statuettes of Odysseus hiding under a ram and Odysseus handing wine to Polyphemos, as well as other ancient artworks relating to Homeric tales, were first described and illustrated by the art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768).
Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Monumenti antichi inediti spiegati ed illustrati da Giovanni Winckelmann, Volume I (Unedited antique monuments, described and illustrated by Giovanni Winckelmann). Rome, 1767. At Heidelberg University Digital Library.
Engravings: Odysseus handing wine to Polyphemos, plate 154; Odysseus hiding under a ram, plate 155.
Much of the Albani Collection was later sold off and the works are now dispersed among many collections and museums around the world (for example, the Capitoline Museums, Naples, Dresden and the Louvre). However, several works are still in the private collection of the Villa Albani which has belonged to the Torlonia family since 1866. Kept in storage for many years, plans were set in motion in 2016 to finally exhibit the works to the public.
A photograph and short description of Odysseus hiding under a ram also appeared in a catalogue of works in the Torlonia Museum by Carlo Lodovico Visconti (1818-1894).
Carlo Lodovico Visconti, I monumenti del Museo Torlonia riprodotti con la fototipia, descritti da Carlo Lodovico Visconti, Volume II, Tavole, Tavolo CXII ("Ulisse soto il montone"). Tipografia Tiberina di F. Setth, Rome, 1885. At the Arachne website of the University of Cologne.
Marble stattuette of Odysseus
handing wine to Polyphemos.
Metal sheet in the form of the Homeric sea monster Skylla. She holds an oar in
her left hand and probably held a stone in the right. From a vase or folding mirror.
Made in a workshop of Taras (Τάρᾱς, today Taranto, Apulia, southern Italy),
350-300 BC. Found in 1875 during excavations, directed by K. Karapanos,
in the Sanctuary of Zeus at Dodona, northwestern Greece.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. καρ. 82.
|Skylla (Σκύλλα), who attacked Odysseus' ship in the straits between Italy and Sicily (Homer, Odyssey, Book 12), is depicted as a giant naked female as far as the waist, below which sprout the heads and bodies of dog-like creatures. The remains of this figure and the one below make her appear quite harmless, even benign.
The Skylla episode is represented on several types of ancient artefacts, including coins, fragments of a sculpture group found in Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli, and one of the Sperlonga sculptures known as the "Scylla Group", signed by three Greek artists (see Agesander of Rhodes).
Daunian painted ceramic luxury vessel decorated with several sculpted
figures (protomes) of mythical creatures, including Skylla (see detail below).
Made in Canosa, northern Apulia, Italy, around 300 BC.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. V.I. 3194. Acquired in 1891.
Skylla on the Daunian ceramic vessel above, with remnants of paint.
Terracotta figure of Skylla.
Made in southern Italy around 250-200 BC.
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1856.1226-223.
Marble trapezophoron (table support) with a high relief of Skylla (left)
One of Odysseus' companions caught in the coils of her fish-like tail,
while three dogs' heads protruding from below her torso devour other
sailors struggling in the waves (see photos below).
To the right a centaur, holding a syrinx (pan pipes), with a small eros
(cupid) on his back. Above him an eagle holds a snake in its talons.
Mid 2nd century AD. Heavily restored by the Italian sculptor Carlo Albacini
(circa 1739-1807), who restored several ancient sculptures.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 6672.
The relief of Skylla on the trapezophoron in Naples.
Skylla's three dogs' heads tear Odysseus' companions
to pieces in the sea on the trapezophoron in Naples.
A marble relief of Odysseus (known to the Romans as Ulysses) and the sirens.
The left side of a panel from the sarcophagus of the Roman knight (eques Romanus)
M. Aurelius Romanus who, according to the inscription in the centre of the panel,
died at the age of seventeen. The relief on the right side shows a bust of the
young man flanked by two cupids and two seated philosophers.
Late Severan age (193-235 AD). Found on the Via Tiburtina, Rome.
Baths of Diocletian, National Museum of Rome.
Detail of a Boeotian black-figure skyphos (deep drinking cup) showing Odysseus
holding a trident and, blown by the north wind Boreas, surfing across the sea
on two overturned amphorae. The Greek inscriptions name the figures.
Attributed to the Cabirion Group, 425-375 BC. Found at Thebes, Greece.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. AN1896-1908 G.249.
From the Van Brantghem Collection.
A painted ceramic relief depicting Penelope waiting for Odysseus.
Around 460 BC. From Piraeus, Greece.
One of a number of similar painted plaques, dated 500-440 BC, known as "Melian"reliefs,
after the island of Melos, allegedly the main find spot. Such plaques were also made
in Athens and elsewhere. Most depict mythological scenes, and a few deities.
They were used to decorate private homes, as votive offerings and grave goods.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. TC 8416. Acquired in 1894.
Marble head of mourning Penelope.
Roman, after a model of the 5th century BC.
Perhaps from a funerary statue.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. Sk 603.
Acquired in 1879 from the Dressel Collection, Rome.
Fragment of a relief skyphos with a depiction of a scene from The Odyssey
in which Odysseus (right) and his son Telemachus kill Penelope's suitors.
The name of Telemachus is inscribed above his head. Above the scene is
a continuous band decorated with boukrania (ox skulls) and garlands.
2nd century BC. From Thessaloniki.
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. MΘ 5442.
Home at last.
Fragment of a marble sarcophagus with a high relief illustrating a scene from
Homer's Odyssey. Odysseus (left) embraces his father Laertes on his return
from the Trojan War and ten years of wandering around the Mediterranean.
Mid 2nd century AD. Luna Marble. From Rome.
Barracco Museum, Rome. Inv. No. MB 144.
||Notes, references and links
1. Head of Homer found at Baiae, Italy
Marble terminal portrait bust of the blind poet Homer, with Greek letters carved on each side.
White marble. Height: 57.15 cm (22.5 inches).
British Museum, London.
Main floor, Room 22, Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic world.
Accession number GR 1805.7-3.85 (Sculpture 1825)
Found in 1780 among the ruins of the ancient city of Baiae, on the Bay of Naples, Italy.
Thought to be a Roman copy of a lost Hellenistic original of the 2nd century BC. It belongs to the so-called "Hellenistic blind type" or "Pergamon type" of depictions of Homer, which has been compared with figures of the friezes on the Great Altar of Zeus; the original of the type may have been created for the Pergamon Library (see gallery 2, page 20). See also the base of a statue of Homer from Pergamon above.
The bust is in the form of a "terminus", i.e. the top part of a herm. Terminus was the Roman god who protected boundaries, and stone pillars known in Latin as terminii were set up as boundary markers in a similar way to which herms were used by the Greeks. Such busts of gods and famous humans were made for the private collections of wealthy people.
This bust was purchased in late 1780 for £80 by the wealthy English collector Charles Townley (1737-1805) from the Scottish artist and antiquities dealer Gavin Hamilton (1723-1798). It was acquired, along with around 300 ancient artefacts of the Townley Collection, by the British Museum after Townley's death.
Taylor Combe, William Alexander, George Cooke, A description of the collection of ancient marbles in the British Museum: with engravings. [Marbles in the third room of the Gallery of Antiquities] Part II. W. Bulmer and Co., London, 1815.
G.M.A. Richter, The portraits of the Greeks. Phaidon, London, 1965.
2. The "Epimenides type" Homer
The protoype of the "Epimenides type" heads of Homer has been speculatively dated around 460 BC, due to the style of the carving and the features. This period would coincide with the earliest known statue of Homer which, according to Pausanias, was dedicated by Mikythos at Olympia [see above and note below].
3. Xenophanes on Homer
The works of Xenophanes of Colophon are known only from fragments quoted by later writers and commentators, including the biographer Diogenes Laertius (Διογένης Λαέρτιος, Diogenes Laertios; circa 3rd century AD).
"Xenophanes, a native of Colophon, the son of Dexius, or, according to Apollodorus, of Orthomenes, is praised by Timon, whose words at all events are:
'Xenophanes, not over-proud, perverter of Homer, castigator.'
His writings are in epic metre, as well as elegiacs and iambics attacking Hesiod and Homer and denouncing what they said about the gods."
R.D. Hicks, Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Book 9, chapter 2, section 18. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1972 (First published 1925).
Fragments criticizing the portrayal of the gods by Homer and Hesiod:
"Homer and Hesiod have attributed to the gods all sorts of things that are matters of reproach and censure among men: theft, adultery, and mutual deception."
"...as they sang of numerous illicit divine deeds: "theft, adultery, and mutual deceit."
Xenophanes. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2002.
4. Pausanias on the Thebais, Calaenus and Homer
When discussing the earliest mention of Homer in ancient literature, many modern authors cite a single mention in Pausanias in which an epic poem titled Thebais (Θηβαΐς) was attributed to Homer by Calaenus (Κελαινός, Kelainos). Pausanias gives us no further information about this person, who appears to be otherwise unknown.
"And this is the war which is celebrated in verse. Calaenus, making mention of these verses, says that they were composed by Homer; and many celebrated persons are of the same opinion. Indeed, I consider these verses as next in excellence to the Iliad and Odyssey. And thus much concerning the war, which the Argives and Thebans waged for the sake of the sons of Oedipus."
Pausanias, The description of Greece, Volume III (of 3), translated by T. Taylor, Book 9, chapter 9, page 19. Richard Priestley, London, 1824. At googlebooks.
However, the translations most referred to by scholars render the name as Callinus (Καλλῖνος, Kallinos), the name of a Greek elegiac poet who lived in Ephesus in the mid 7th century BC. Presumably, when the translators came across the unknown name Calaenus, they considered it an error or corruption and conjecturally substituted it with that of Callinus, who is known to have written poems about war; he may have seemed more fitting and had the added advantage of living at a time closer to Homer, which would give his opinion on the authorship of the Thebais more credibility.
No mention of the Thebais has been found among the surviving fragments of Callinus' works. Although Peter Levi also translated the name as Kallinos, he pointed out in his notes, that "this casual reference is not among his surviving work" (Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1: Central Greece, page 327, note 49. Penguin Classics, 1979).
This error was pointed out by the Classic professor John Adams Scott as early as 1921, but few seem to have noticed.
"Not a single manuscript has the word Callinus in this place, but all have Calaenus, so that Callinus is simply an emendation. The word Callinus is a pure conjecture."
John Adams Scott, The Unity of Homer, pages 15-16. Sather Classical Lectures Volume I. University of California Press, Berkeley, California, 1921.
Scott makes the same argument in: John A. Scott, Homer as the Poet of the Thebais, Classical Philology, Vol. 16, No. 1 (January 1921), pages 20-26. University of Chicago Press. At Jstor.
The subject of the Thebais was the war for the kingship of Thebes between the brothers Eteocles and Polyneikes (Polynices), sons of Oedipus, in which Polyneikes was supported by King Adrastos of Argos. The content of the poem is known only from a handful of fragments, short quotes and mentions in the works of later writers, none of which are very enlightening. One fragment mentions Homer as the author:
"Homer travelled about reciting his epics, first the Thebaid, in seven thousand verses, which begins: 'Sing, goddess, of parched Argos, whence lords...'"
Hugh Gerard Evelyn-White (translator), Hesiod, the Homeric hymns and Homerica, Thebais, pages 484-487 (seven fragments in Greek and English). William Heinemann, London; Macmillan Co., New York. 1912. At archive.org.
See also: Gottfried Kinkel, Epicorum graecorum fragmenta Volume I, pages 9-13. G. Teubner, Leipzig, 1877. At archive.org.
The story of the Theban War became more widely known from Aischylos' play Seven against Thebes, produced in 467 BC. The Thebais is also known from later versions by other poets, including Antimachus (Ἀντίμαχος, Antimachos of Colophon or Claros, flourished about 400 BC, a pupil of Panyassis), and the Latin Thebaid of Publius Papinius Statius (circa 45-96 AD).
The elegiac poet Sextus Propertius (circa 50-15 BC) appears to be referring to a poem on the Theban War by Homer in a Latin elegy addressed to Ponticus (a contemporary of Ovid), who wrote on the same subject:
"While you tell of Thebes and Cadmus, Ponticus,
and the tragedy of fraternal warfare,
and, if I may say, you contend with Homer himself
(may the fates just go easy on your songs),
I pursue my loves, as is my wont,
and look for something against my hard mistress."
Vincent Katz (translator), Sextus Propertius, Elegies, Book I, Elegy VII. Sun and Moon Press, Los Angeles, 1995. At Perseus Digital Library.
5. Herodotus on Hesiod and Homer
Herodotus, The Histories, Book 2, chapter 53, translated by A. D. Godley. Harvard University Press, 1920. At Perseus Digital Library.
The Iliad and The Odyssey are mentioned in Book 2, chapters 116-117, and Book 4, chapter 29.
6. Aulus Gellius on Homer's native city
Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights (Noctes Atticae), Book III, Chapter 11. English translation at Bill Thayer's LacusCurtius website, University of Chicago.
7. Seven cities contend for the birth of Homer ...
Ἑπτὰ πόλεις διερίζουσιν περὶ ῥίζαν Ὁμήρου,
Σμύρνα, Ῥόδος, Κολοφών, Σαλαμίς, Ἴος, Ἄργος, Ἀθῆναι.
These two lines have been quoted innumerable times without citations or references. One source attributes the epigram to Antipater of Sidon.
It has also been paraphrased by several authors, including Vasari and the English playwright and poet Thomas Heywood.
"... even as seven cities contended for Homer, each claiming that he was her citizen..."
Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), Lives of the artists (first published in 1550), Part III, "Life of Baldassare Peruzzi painter and architect of Siena".
"Seven cities warr'd for Homer, being dead;
Who, living, had no roofe to shrowd his head."
Thomas Heywood (early 1570s - 1641), The hierarchy of the blessed angels, The Dominations, Lib. 4, page 207. London, 1635. At archive.org.
8. Pausanias on the statue of Homer in Delphi
Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 10, chapter 24, sections 2-3. At Perseus Digital Library.
Mikythos (Μίκυθος: Latin, Micythus), Son of Choiros (Latin, Choerus), was the tyrant and regent of Rhegion (Ῥήγιον; Latin, Rhegium), Magna Graecia (today Reggio di Calabria), on the southwestern tip of Italy, and Messine (Μεσσήνη, or Messana; formerly Zankle, Ζάγκλη), on the opposite shore on the northeastern tip of Sicily, 476-467 BC.
Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus wrote that he was originally a slave of Anaxilas (Ἀναξίλας or Ἀναξίλαος), the tyrant of Rhegium, but became a trusted servant. Before his death in 476 BC, Anaxilas named Mikythos as guardian of his two sons, and regent until they reached adulthood. Nine years later, when the sons had grown up and demanded their inheritance (encouraged by Hieron, the tyrant of Syracuse), Mikythos took his accumulated wealth and sailed to retirement in Tegea in Arcadia.
Pausanias lists several inscribed statues and statue groups at Olympia, including works by Dionysios and Glaukos (Glaucus) of Argos, dedicated ex-voto by Mikythos, in fulfilment of a vow made for the recovery of a son from an illness. He also mentions that there had previously been even more offerings by Mikythos, but the others had been looted by Nero (reigned 54-68 AD, he participated in the Olympic Games in 67 AD).
Herodotus, The Histories, Book 7, chapter 170. At Perseus Digital Library.
Diodorus Siculus, Library, Book 11, chapter 48, section 2; chapter 59, section 4; chapter 66, sections 1-3. At Perseus Digital Library.
Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 5, chapter 24, section 6; chapter 26, sections 2-7. At Perseus Digital Library.
Fragments of an inscribed marble statue base with a metrical dedication by Mikythos to all gods and goddesses have been discovered at Olympia (Olympia Archaeological Museum, Inv. No. 660, inscription IvO 268), as well as a 12 metre long, rectangular poros stone foundation of a base for statues, at the northeast corner of the Temple of Zeus (lying parallel to the north side).
See, for example:
Wilhelm Dittenberger, Karl Purgold, Ernst Curtius, Friedrich Adler, Olympia: die Ergebnisse der von dem Deutschen Reich veranstalteten Ausgrabung, Textband 5: Die Inschriften von Olympia, pages 394-397, numbers 267-269. Berlin, 1896.
600384: Inschrift der Statuenbasis des Mikythos. At arachne.uni-koeln.de.
epigraphy.packhum.org/text/214073. Regions Peloponnesos (IG IV-[VI]) Elis, IvO 268. Elis - Olympia - circa 460 BC. At The Packard Humanities Institute, epigraphy.packhum.org.
It has been suggested that Mikythos dedicated the statues while still tyrant, rather than during his retirement in Tegea, as the extant inscription fragments mention only Rhegion and not Tegea. This would make the date of the statues earlier than the conjectural 460 BC.
The reference by Pausanias to the statues next to the temple, including those of Homer and Hesiod, has been translated as:
"The offerings of Mikythos I found were numerous and not together ... Along the left side of the great temple Mikythos dedicated other offerings: the Maid [Persephone], daughter of Demeter, Aphrodite, Ganymede and Artemis, the poets Homer and Hesiod; then again deities, Asklepios and Health [Hygieia]." (Book 5, chapter 26, section 2)
However, the foundation was discovered on the right side of temple, when viewing it from the front (east). Tonio Hölscher has pointed out that the passage from Pausanias should be read: "on the side of the temple to the left hand side", i.e. to the left of Pausanias' route through the sanctuary.
Tonio Hölscher, Noch einmal rechts und links am Zeus-Tempel von Olympia, in: András Patay-Horváth (editor), New Approaches to the Temple of Zeus at Olympia: Proceedings of the First Olympia-Seminar, 8th-10th May, 2014, chapter 5, page 92. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015. Preview at googlebooks.
10. The Homereion of Alexandria
See: Rosanna Cappelli and Annalisa Lo Monaco, The National Archaeological Museum of Naples (guide book), page 24. Mondadori Electa S.p.A., Verona, 2014.
11. Pliny on statues of Homer in libraries
Pliny does not actually write that there was a statue of Homer in the Library of Pergamon, as a number of modern authors have asserted, although the discovery of the statue base near the site of the library (see above) may be confirmation that this is what may be inferred.
12. Christodorus on the statues in the Baths of Zeuxippus in Constantinople
Christodorus (Χριστόδωρος) was a Greek epic poet from Coptos in Egypt who flourished during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I (491-518 AD). He wrote an ekphrasis (from Ancient Greek ἔκφρασις, description), a poem in 416 hexameters describing 80 statues of deities and famous mortals in the Baths and Gymnasium of Zeuxippus in Constantinople.
The public baths-gymnasium was originally built by Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (reigned 193-211 AD), in the centre of the city near the Hippodrome, and decorated over time with artworks shipped from various parts of the Roman Empire. These works were probably destroyed when the building was burnt down during the Nika Riots in 532 AD. Archaeologists discovered inscribed statue bases at the site which relate to works described in the poem. In 1556 the Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan built the Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamamı (Turkish baths) on the site.
Christodorus' Ekphrasis, Ἔκφρασις τῶν ἀγαλμάτων τῶν εἰς τὸ δημόσιον γυμνάσιον τα ἐπικαλουμένον τοῦ Ζευξίππου, forms the second book of the Anthologia Palatina (Palatine Anthology), II, 311-349. The manuscripts of this collection of Greek poems and epigrams, compiled around 980 AD by four scribes, were discovered in 1606 by Claudius Salmasius (Claude de Saumaise, 1588-1653) in the Palatine Library in Heidelberg, Germany.
You can read the description of the statue of Homer in Greek, with a translation in English at:
By the time of Christodorus ekphrases had become a literary genre, and many such poems described works of art, monuments and cities. One of the oldest examples of ekphrasis is Homer's description of Achilles' shield in the Iliad (Book 18, lines 478-608, at the Internet Classics Archive).
Christodorus also wrote Πάτρια (Patria), poems about the early histories of the cities Thessaloniki, Nakle, Miletus, Tralles, Aphrodisias and Constantinople, and Λυδιακά (Lydiaka), a history of Lydia.
13. Inscription on the Homer statue base from Pergamon by Max Fränkel
Image source: Max Fränkel (1846-1903), Altertümer von Pergamon, Band VIII, Band 1: Die Inschriften von Pergamon, pages 119-121, No. 203. Königliche Museen zu Berlin. W. Spemann, Berlin, 1890.
14. Achilles and Ajax by Exekias in Rome
Attic black-figure amphora showing Achilles and Ajax playing a board game, signed by Exekias. Made in Athens around 530 BC.
Gregorian Museum of Etruscan Art, Vatican Museums, Rome. Inv. No. 16757 (344).
See an Attic black-figure calyx-krater showing Hermes by Exekias, dated to 530 BC, in the Agora Museum, Athens.
15. "On a gameboard" by Agathias Scholasticus
Agathias (Ἀγαθίας σχολαστικός, Agathias Scholastikos; circa 530 – 582/594 AD) was a Greek poet and historian from Myrina, Mysia, in northwestern Anatolia (Asia Minor, now in the Aegean region of Turkey), during of the reign of Roman emperor Justinian I. He wrote the earliest known description of the rules of tavli (Greek, τάβλη; Latin, tabula), an early form of backgammon (still known in modern Greek as tavli), in a story of a game lost by Emperor Zeno in 480 AD.
William Roger Paton (1857-1921), translator, The Greek anthology Volume III (of five), Book IX, The Declamatory Epigrams, pages 412-413, "Epigram 767 - Agathias Scholasticus". William Heinemann, London; G. P. Putnam's sons, New York, 1916. Parallel texts in Greek and English. At archive.org.
16. Alan Johnston on Odysseus blinding Polyphemos
Alan Johnston, Pre-Classical Greece, in John Boardman (editor), The Oxford history of classical art, page 32. Oxford University Press, 1993.
17. The blinding of Polyphemos in Catania
Francesco Inghirami, Galleria Omerica, o raccolta di monumenti antichi, esibita al cav. Francesco Inghirami, per servire allo studio dell'Iliade e dell'Odissea, Vol. Terzo, pages 144-145 and Tavolo XXXVII. Poligrafia Fiesolana, 1836.
Franceso Di Paola Bertucci, Illustrazione di un basso-rilievo conservato nel museo dei Benedettini di Catania (Estratta dal Giornale del Gabinetto Letterario dell'Accademia Gioenia T. X, Bim. v.). dai torchi dell'Accademia Gioenia presso i Fratelli Sciuto, Catania, 1845.
Carl Robert, Die antiken Sarkophag-Reliefs, Band 2: Mythologische Cyklen, pp. 158-159, Kat. Nr. 147, Tafel 53. G. Grote'esche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Berlin, 1890. At Heidelberg University Library.
|Photos on this page were taken during
visits to the following museums:
Berlin, Altes Museum
Berlin, Neues Museum
Berlin, Pergamon Museum
Hamburg, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe
Athens, Agora Museum
Athens, National Archaeological Museum
Delphi Archaeological Museum
Eleusis Archaeological Museum, Attica
Kavala Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Nafplion Archaeological Museum, Peloponnese
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Naples, National Archaeological Museum
Paestum Archaeological Museum
Rome, Barracco Museum
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Palazzo dei Conservatori
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Palazzo Nuovo
Rome, National Etruscan Museum, Villa Giulia
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Baths of Diocletian
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Palazzo Altemps
Italy - Sicily
Castelvetrano, Museo Civico
Catania, Museo Civico, Castello Ursino
Izmir Museum of History and Art
London, British Museum
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum
Many thanks to the staff of these museums.
Via Omero, Villa Borghese, Rome, named in honour
of the "grande poeta Greco" (the great Greek poet).
|Photos and articles © David John|
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