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Klejn L.S. The Catalogue of Ships (Prospect-Abstract)

In print, at the Eurasia publs., St Petersburg, in Russian

By Leo S. Klejn


Catalogue of Ships, or List of Ships is the traditional denomination of one of the least poetic fragments of the Iliad. One specific section of Homeric Iliad is meant – the list of ships by which the Achaeans sailed to the siege of Troy. Adjoining this (and sometimes counted as a part of it) is the Catalogue of Trojan Forces.


Both became the subject matter of research that was made public in a long (70 page) article in the journal Stratum (2000, 3). The title of the article is Catalogue of Ships: structure and stratigraphy. The second part of the book is three times the length of the article and deals only with the Catalogue of Ships senso stricto. This part has been not published as yet, its title is The Catalogue of Ships: a clue to Iliad. Both parts build a book that is planned to be published by Eurasia publs. (in Russian).


The two Catalogues of the Second book of Iliad, Catalogue of Ships and Catalogue of Trojan Forces have inspired a vast and contradictive literature. Nevertheless the introduction of a new insight is possible. However, it is first necessary to reveal, behind the complexity and chaotic mess of the Catalogues, their original structure, corresponding to the principles of Geometric style. In order to do this the accumulated layers must be removed in reverse chronological order with the help of comparative structural analysis, for the different layers can be identified by specific structural elements.


On the map the kingdoms mentioned in the Catalogue of Ships overlap and sometimes completely coincide (kingdoms of Odysseus and Meges; Achilles and Aias Oilid; Guneus and Lapithes; Philoktetes, Euripilus and Magnetes). This suggests that the data concerning these kingdoms entered the text not simultaneously, but separately and at different times. The kingdoms that the Catalogue associates with the main heroes do not coincide with indications found elsewhere in the Iliad (Agamemnon and Diomedes are associated, in many details, with Sparta and Sicyon rather than with Argolid which they must share half-and-half according to the Iliad). The inference is that Catalogue is an artificial construction.


The Catalogue represented to the listener the heroes with their troupes. It is possible to group the heroes and their troupes after the formulas with which they are presented in the Catalogue. Still before author's research these formulas were classified.


As Nilsson remarked, the text of the Catalogue is comprised of formulas of two different kinds: in one kind the peoples (tribes) are in the vanguard of the advance, in the other the vanguard consists entirely of the leaders (chiefs). Tsymbursky added the observation that numbers of ships in the formulas of the first kind are large and round, whereas in the second they are small and not round. However, he failed to make the obvious inference that the singers’ framework of mythological reference was different.


The author argues that the descriptions of the heroes and their troops were introduced gradually and successively, in a process that was simultaneous with the emergence of the Iliad itself. Yet the heroes may be placed in groups – each group entering the Iliad at the behest of a particular singer.


If we take the group with small numbers of ships and divide the heroes according to the numbers of their ships we find that they fall into two subsets: one set (with units by 12 ships) consists of island heroes (Odysseus, Aias Oilid and Tlepolemus with Nireus), the other (mainly with a number of ships divisible in 11) consists of heroes who do not participate in battles. The latter are not crucial to the plot of the Iliad.

Among the units with large numbers of ships there is a subset with ‘hollow’ ships, the numbers of which are divisible in 30. All these places (kingdoms of Nestor a. o.) from which ‘hollow’ ships came are connected with the cult of Asclepius. The other subset is distinguished by the formula “40 black ships pursued him to Ilios” (in one case 50 ships). Within this subset the heroes originate from Athens and the coastline of the bay of Corinth. The third subgroup: consists of just two chiefs – Diomedes and Idomeneus. They have 80 ships each, and in each kingdom there are 2 capitals (so for each one 40 ships) and the secondary capital is in each case distinguished by one and the same rare epithet.


Aside from all these subgroups the remaining set of 11 troops is distinguished by its unity and symmetry. On land, facing Ilios to the east the formation was as follows.  in the centre was the Peloponnesian army – that is to say, the Mycenaean troop led by Agamemnon with 100 ships and 2 subordinate troops with 60 ships each (total 120). On the left there were 4 troops from Central Greece (a Boeotian troop with 50 ships and 3 other troops with 40 ships each (in sum 120), and finally on the right hand there were 4 troops from Northern Greece (Achilles has 50 ships, the rest 40 each). Thus, each wing had 120 ships with their teams.


In 20 different formulas the Greek designation of ships is written with the Aeolian “etha”; while the Ionian “epsilon” is applied to all units of Nestor’s subset (probably a late addition) and in all units of the main symmetric structure in which the numbers of ships are neither 40 nor 100. So, it seems that the Ionians revised the  composition of those troops with 60 ships (in the centre) and as well as those with 50 ships (those on the wings) what stressed the hierarchy. This revision reflects an Anatolian innovation (organisation into 6 philas) and the trend to pentapolis in archaic Greece.


The numbers 12 and 11 are possibly connected with Ionian and Aeolian political unions in Asia Minor - of just these numbers.


The discrepancies become even more apparent if one compares the fictitious geography of the Catalogue (in Greece) with the scheme of the army arranged (on Troad land) from north to south, facing Ilios. Achilles’ army is placed on the right wing (in order for Achilles to be at the right hand of the head of the coalition) but he should be on the north, for he was thought to be of northern origin (from Thessaly)! (Furthermore, this army is connected to a kingdom that seems to overlap several others.) This suggests a relatively late addition.


Not counting Achilles’ army we are left then with 7 others: Boeotians, Locrians, Phoceans, Abantes, Mycenaeans, Lacedemonians and Arcadians. This composition almost completely coincides with that of Penthilus’ fleet that, according to Strabo, left Aulid for the East in order to establish colonies in Asia Minor. Probably this is the original core of the legend about the Achaean campaign to the Ilios.


Thus, by removing one layer after another, one can trace how the structure of the Achaean army is changed in the course of the poem’s slow composition. Originally it consisted of a small number of tribes, such as have sailed to Anatolia from Greece in the 10th century B.C under the command of the offspring of the mythical Agamemnon. Ultimately they tried to enter the Troad. This event probably became the subject of songs glorifying in the 8th- 7th centuries fights against Troy In the course of the songs’ composition the mythical Agamemnon changed his place of origin from Sparta to Mycenae.


Catalogue of Trojan Forces is analysed ad exemplum of the Catalogue of Ships. The principle of organisation is the same. First the Trojans are described, then the inhabitants of neighbouring lands, and finally the distant allies. As in the Catalogue of Ships, in this third echelon there are two distinct kinds of troops: those (of an early origin) that in which the people advance ahead of their leaders, and those (probably of later origin) in which the leaders form the vanguard. The former are concentrated around Troad, and the latter are concentrated at the peripheries.


There is another parallel between the catalogues, in both catalogues the numbers 12 and 11 characterise certain groups; but, in the Trojan catalogue, beside ships (and more often than ships) chariots are mentioned. In the poem these troupes interact with corresponding Achaeans troops: Lycians and some Thracians interact with island Achaean troops. The Earlier units of the Trojan Catalogue, with 11 chariots from the areas nearest to Ilios, are of similar composition to the Aeolian troops of Achaeans with 11-ships - not only in their number of battle units, but also in their passion for all things equestrian. Both of these elements seem to have been included in the Catalogue by one and the same singer.


Hector belongs to the same level (the number 11 is a siginficant theme in his armaments). But nonetheless, like Aeneas, he was absent from the original Catalogue. This was catalogue only of allies of Trojans – such he was known also to Cyprias. Aeneas and Hector were included as leaders of the coalition at a very late date. Those whose places they had taken were not included in the Catalogue: one had lost his status as a good warrior by the time the catalogue was incorporated into the poem, the other entered the Iliad as a non-combatant.


In this manner, The history of Iliad’s composition can be read from the catalogues.


The work is for classical philologists including students, lovers of literature and ancient history, and who are attracted to the solving of ancient riddles. There follow the contents of the article and the book.

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I. Structure

1.      The unknown Homer

2.      Catalogues and the Geometric style

3.      Two questions, three hypotheses

4.      Text and context

5.      Disorder on  the map

6.      Numbers of ships

7.      The discovery of symmetry

8.      Ships with epsilon

I. Stratigraphy

1.      Straight to the sources of the legend

2.      The Homeland of Achilles

3.      The Union of Hera with Athena

4.      Two faced Athena

5.      From a dozen

6.      The appearance of the divine singer

7.      Homer’s contribution

8.      The Sequence of layers

I. Parallel

1.      The parade of Trojan coalition

2.      Again, operations with a dozen

3.      Ships and chariots

4.      Friends-rivals

5.      The Negative of the catalogue: places

6.      The Negative of the catalogue: leaders



1.      Catalogues of coalitions and the Iliad

2.      Geography and the general solution

3.      Correlative classification of units

4.      The Stratigraphy of the Catalogue of Ships

5.      Problems of authorship and dating

6.      The Ionian contribution

7.      At the heart of the Catalogue

8.      The History of the catalogue of Ships

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