Homer's Trojan Theater
Jenny Strauss Clay
William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Classics
University of Virginia

   Homer Visualized


In Homer's Trojan Theater, I argue for the centrality of vision in Homeric poetics and its importance both for the poet in constructing, and for his audience in comprehending, the course of his narrative.

The Iliad's battle scenes, which take up a third of the poem, pose an exceptional challenge to a narrator. Homer's Trojan Theater - Book

Of the 360 named characters, 232 are warriors killed or wounded, yet the poet is remarkable in his ability to keep his characters on the battlefield straight (the instances of Homer's nodding are strikingly rare).

The action, I contend, is conceived in spatial terms and visualized in the "mind's eye" of the narrator.

The poet in turn is able to translate his vision into words with such vividness and clarity that his audience can for its part imaginatively re-envision the Trojan plain on which the heroes fought and died.

This project takes the text of the Iliad as its script, paying particular attention to spatial indications such as for example "left" and "right," and attempts to reconstruct the activity on the battlefield with the help of digital technology.

Translating the poem's verbal account into a visual medium demonstrates not only the coherence of its plan, but also reveals the role of spatial design in plotting its narrative.

We have provided a schematic map in accordance with the Iliad's orientation and indicated the significant landmarks against which the actions are played out as well as the location of the leading characters in the battle narratives of Books 12, 13, 15, 16 and 17.

We have also provided the text of the poem in either Greek or English (Lattimore's translation) as a crawl below the map with significant moments highlighted. Those highlighted 'events' reflect spatial shifts that may involve either a change in the position of a character or a change in the focus of the narrative from one area of the battlefield to another. Characters that are dimmed after such a shift can be assumed to continue their activities in the background when the narrative moves to another area. In the latter case, we have also highlighted some of the transitional devices, e.g. similes, the poet exploits to indicate his narrative shifts.

   Visual Poetics: The Iliad Timeline


The Iliad interface consists of a 'timeline,' a text display area, a note box, and a 'stage' for the visual representation of actions described in the text. The labels on the stage offer a general orientation; clicking the 'labels on/off' button turns these labels on and off. [Click image to display interface.]

Visualizing Iliad of Homer

The stage displays 'actors' and their movements over the map. Grey vector-lines appear on the stage to indicate a positional change. Names are displayed in black, and distinct icons represent the actor type. Trojan actors are represented by triangular figures; Greek actors appear as figure-eights. Trojan actors are colored according to their columns in Book 12; Greek actors are colored according to the Trojan ranks they face in Book 12. Actors introduced later than Book 12 have their own colors to distinguish them from actors introduced previously. The colors of the actors in Book 17 are unique to that display and no longer correspond to the location of the Trojan ranks as they did in previous books.

The timeline has two associated navigation buttons with down and up arrow icons. The buttons allow traversal of the text by discrete jumps from event to event, forward and backward.

The timeline has a 'dragger' (diamond-shaped translucent bar). Mouse-over and click the bar to grab and drag down and up. Dragging the bar down and up moves the viewer forward and backward in the text. Moving the dragger all the way to the top resets the display.

The timeline displays events in the order narrated by Homer. An 'event' may consist of the action of any character or group of characters, human or divine, whether locomotion, dialogue, or battle. The events depicted on the interface are deemed to be essential to understanding Homer's use of space in his narrative and are selected for display on that basis. As a result, not every event in the narrative is highlighted, but only those significant events according to the spatial criteria.

Each event is indicated on the timeline by a horizontal red line. The position of the event on the timeline indicates the position of the event in the text of each book. The size of the gaps between the events displayed on the timeline corresponds to the number of verses that occur between the events. The gaps thus correspond to the amount of narrative elapsed between events; however, gaps are not intended to reflect the amount of time elapsed between events.

Red highlighted verses in the Greek and English texts correspond to the events indicated on the timeline and on the stage. Highlighted verses may precede the verses in which any given event is actually described. This is so especially in places where it is helpful to know the wider context of an event. The language of the text may be changed by clicking on the 'English' or 'Greek' buttons at the bottom of the display page.

The positions of the actors, Greek Camp, Troy, and the geographical features of the Trojan Plain reflect the interpretation set forth in Homer's Trojan Theater: Space, Vision and Memory in the Iliad by Jenny Strauss Clay (Cambridge University Press, 2011).

The schematic map of the Trojan Plain and the Greek Camp is adapted from B. Mannsperger, "Das Stadtbild von Troia in der Ilias," in Troia: Traum und Wirklichkeit (Darmstadt 2001) 81, and revised by Kim Dylla.

The English text is Lattimore's translation, used by permission of The University of Chicago Press; the Greek text is the Oxford Classical Text of Monro and Allen. The realization of this project is largely due to the expertise, hard work, and patience of Doug Ross of IATH and Courtney Evans and Ben Jasnow of the Classics Department of the University of Virginia.

This attempt to map the Iliadic Battle Books remains work in progress and will doubtless entail revisions. We welcome discussion, corrections, observations, and suggestions for improvements. Please Contact Us.