The aim of this book is to offer a comprehensive study of space in the Iliad. Space constitutes a wide-ranging area of research, well beyond the limited concepts of landscape or setting. [1] Space in narrative is of prime importance for understanding the inner mechanics of the plot, and covers a wide spectrum of roles that have not been adequately studied in the Iliad. I will argue that both the development of its plot and its delineation of character are heavily conditioned by the function of space in its various manifestations, extending from the most elementary features of scenery to perspective and mental mapping.
Lessing’s dictum that literature is a temporal art, [2] and the obvious but misleading imbalance of time and space in narrative, have been partly responsible for the abundance of studies dealing with time and the dearth of those examining space. It was not until the late twentieth century that this disparity began to disappear, as scholars realized that space is a far more complicated concept, and that both background settings and more profound aspects of narrative space are of pivotal importance for understanding literature as a whole. [3] Foucault, for example, almost prophesied that in contrast to the nineteenth-century obsession with history, “the present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space.” [4] Although literary critics were not ready to endorse concepts like Bakhtin’s groundbreaking “chronotopes” (i.e. timespaces), which echoed Einstein’s theory of relativity and were deemed rather eccentric for literary use, recognizing the paramount role of space, now on an almost equal footing with time, opened a new window into the world of narrative art. Nowadays, spatial metaphors are part of the language of narrative theory, and constitute an essential underpinning of contemporary approaches to literature. [5] Despite a slow start, classical scholars are becoming more and more interested in the study of space in ancient literary texts, as the books by Purves, Chaston, and Clay show. [6] In this respect, I would like to present some of the important recent steps in the study of space in literature.
Raum ist in literarischen Texten nicht nur Ort der Handlung, sondern auch kultureller Bedeutungsträger. Die Raumdarstellung bildet eine der grundlegenden Komponenten der (fiktionalen) Wirklichkeitserschließung. Kulturelle Normen und Wertehierarchien finden im literarischen Raum eine konkret anschauliche Form; umgekehrt haben literarischen Räume maßgeblichen Anteil an der Aushandlung kultureller Raumordnungen. [7]
Space in literary texts is not only the location of the plot, but also a vehicle of cultural meaning. Spatial representation forms one of the most basic components of illustrating fictional worlds. Cultural norms and hierarchies of values find in literary space a concrete and vivid form; conversely, literary spaces have a huge share in the treatment of cultural organizations of space.
The study of space and spatial representation in literature originated in research on the semantic field of topos (“place” and “landscape”) [8] in the form of lays and motifs. In recent times, the studies of Alexander Ritter (Gestaltung von Landschaft und Raum in der Erzählkunst) [9] and Thomas Kullmann (Vermenschlichte Natur: Zur Bedeutung von Landschaft und Wetter im englischen Roman von Ann Radcliffe bis Thomas Hardy) [10] showed that certain literary texts display a close relationship between their descriptions of landscape and their delineation of character. One of the key contributions of Kullmann’s research was that it laid the foundation for a poetics of spatial representation in literature.
Of paramount importance for the construction of a poetics of space were the pioneering work of Jurij Lotman on space and semiotics [11] and of Manfred Pfister on theater semiotics. [12] Lotman argued that the spatial structure of a text can be used as a model for that of the entire world. [13] For Lotman, reality is shaped by spatial representations; they constitute the material for forming and structuring cultural models, which are then mapped by humans onto the ideological schemata they use to organize and interpret the world. Pfister suggested that in drama, where the difference between the real space of the theater and the fictive space where the plot of the play unfolds is stark, space is represented by both language and stage techniques (theatrical scenery, costumes, lighting, etc.) that create a complex but effective nexus between on- and offstage action, within onstage events, or among multiple stages. Semiotics and structuralism, therefore, brought to the fore the need for an interdisciplinary approach to space that would incorporate the findings and insights of different fields of study. The foundations were thus laid for constructing a poetics of space that would combine comprehensiveness, interdisciplinarity, and flexibility, allowing for enough variation and divergence to cater to both the rules and constraints of diverse literary genres [14] and the tastes of different eras. [15]
Although a definition of space that would cover an extremely large array of approaches seems difficult, it is fair to say that space is “the boundless, three-dimensional extent in which objects and events occur and have relative position and direction.” [16] Since “objects and events” form part of this definition, it is to be understood that human agency and its products constitute an integral part of the way this three-dimensional extent, in all its multiple manifestations, interacts with the way we perceive and define reality. Thus when discussing space in literature we need to consider the convergence and interaction of two factors: the first pertains to the uses of space by human civilization, and the second is the wide variety of active spatial representations.

Space: An Interdisciplinary Approach

Modern companions and handbooks classify space under various categories. For example, Stephan Günzel’s handbook on Raum [17] classifies space in no fewer than fourteen distinct areas of research:
  1. Historical space: archive and place of remembrance
  2. Political space: public and state of emergency
  3. Economic space: megacities and globalization
  4. Corporeal space: gender and performativity
  5. Postcolonial space: thinking about borders and thirdspace
  6. Social space: spatialization
  7. Technological space: Enträumlichung
  8. Media space: images—signs—cyberspace
  9. Cognitive space: orientation—mental maps—organizing and processing data
  10. Topographical space: nature and heterotopy
  11. Urban space: square—city—agglomeration
  12. Tourist space: mobility and imagination
  13. Poetic space: chronotopos and geopolitics
  14. Epistemological space: labor and the geography of knowledge
Such a systematic and detailed classification of space may seem overwhelming to any modern reader of Homer, but a closer look shows that some of the insights of this type of spatial study are also applicable to the Iliad. Leaving aside cognitive space, which I will treat later on, I will now summarize the findings of recent research on space that are relevant to my topic. Of the fourteen categories of space studied by modern research, the six that are applicable to the Iliad are historical, political-social, corporeal, cognitive, topographical, and poetic space.
Historical space: [18] Pierre Nora’s Realms of Memory (Lieux de mémoire) reflects the shift of interest from a chronological interpretation of history to a spatial one. His famous formulation “memory fastens upon sites, whereas history fastens upon events” [19] is virtually a prelude to his writing of a history of places of memory. According to his argument, collective consciousness, especially in the case of nations, tends to be shaped and crystallized around places, which acquire a secondary, symbolic meaning that is then mapped onto the nation’s self-definition to such an extent that it reshapes it. [20] One other key notion that research on historical space has brought to the fore, mainly in the German-speaking world, is that of spacing history, as advocated by Karl Schlögel [21] and enriched by Reinhart Koselleck. [22] Both of these scholars emphasized a return to the study of space as a factor in shaping historical reality, and tried to reconcile time and space as the two crucial factors that help us understand not simply events but also why events unfolded the way they did.
These powerful insights into the function of historical space are also applicable to the Iliad. Heroes tend to construct highly thematized notions of their past by recourse to their places of origin. For example, Achilles’ memory of his past life makes Phthia a symbolic reality that contrasts with his present situation at Troy. By projecting this highly personalized, positively presented picture of his past, Achilles shapes and justifies his actions in the present. His abstention from the war is filtered through his use of his place of origin as a site of memory against which his rejection of Agamemnon’s leadership and the importance of the expedition are constantly measured (Iliad I 152–157; XIX 315–330).
Political-social space: [23] Although sociologists clearly distinguish between political and social space, there is no reason to apply such rigid categorizations in the case of the Iliad. As an introduction, it will suffice to mention Giorgio Agambens, whose work has convincingly shown that in the modern world place has been identified with political space, and Anthony Giddens, [24] whose theory of structuration focuses on the question of priority between individuals and social forces with respect to their role in the formation and shaping of social reality. What is also important to our discussion is the fact that owing to technological advances and the globalization process, traditionally conceived political and social organization and power reside not so much in territories determined by concrete borders or clearly delineated social classes as in complex systems of parallel worlds that have reconceptualized the way political and social space works. In this light, various aspects of modern life whose spatial representation has shaped people’s identity, like sports, work, and entertainment, constitute sophisticated forms of political and social space, since they function as the ideological arenas of a constant struggle for authority, power, and control. But what also matters for understanding the way political and social space functions is that reality is constructed by a complex interaction between agency and structure, that is, between the actions of individuals and the constraints implied by a given system. Systems contain the situated activities of human agents and the patterning of social relations across a space-time axis, but structuration means that what has been formed within a structure can also exist outside it, the typical example being the relation between teacher and student, which is preserved irrespective of spatial constraints (both in class and in the street) and temporal ones (even after many years, when both agents have lost their previous status as teacher and student).
This last observation is of crucial importance for exploring the way political-social space works in the Iliad. The poem’s structure includes a series of thematic rules and constraints that determine the horizon of events that can take place and the kind of relations that can be developed between individuals. Certain combinations are by definition excluded. For example, Achilles and Agamemnon must disagree, since they cannot solve their differences in a manner that will not end in dissension and strife. [25] The structure also provides rules that enable the narrator to create novel and dramatically effective “courses of action.” In this respect, space does play an important role, as tensions between individuals are also mapped onto several spatial features of the inner organization of the Achaean camp. For example, the placement of Achilles’ hut at the far end of the camp—as far as possible from the headquarters of Agamemnon—symbolically underlines their different political viewpoints. The Panhellenic character of the expedition, an idea that belongs to the deep structure of the Trojan War tradition, is shaped in the Iliad into what we might call an early form of globalization, since the individual interests of the various leaders tend to be absorbed by a powerful mechanism of assimilation, with its own rhetoric. Achilles’ stubborn resistance to this assimilation is spatially marked by both his withdrawal from the war and his remaining in his own “territory,” in a parallel world that keeps him, for most of the poem, apart from the rest of the army.
Corporeal space: [26] As the subtitle “gender and performativity” in the above list shows, feminist critics have devoted much ink (and also some bile) to their protest against androcentric dichotomies and symbolisms according to which the female was basically corporeal, the male predominantly spiritual. Such biased, scientifically unsupported views had often been used as arguments for the construction of hierarchies that reinforced the inferior position of women. Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray use Plato’s Timaeus as the basis for further developing the concept of khōra (χώρα) that they attribute to the female body: a receptive, open, and formless space, yet a “womb” and an unexpressed totality, whose urges and impulses on the one hand and comfort and healing on the other result in a combination of antithetical features. [27]
Corporeal space, though, is not linked only to women. The “body” as a site of social and ideological concerns has been systematically employed throughout human history. In the Iliad, the bodies of both men and women are at times treated as sites of aesthetic and ideological, but also poetic considerations, intricately entwined with the medium of oral epic. Helen’s body is the epitome of corporeal space, since it symbolizes a creature that provokes male awe and sensation (as in the Trojan elders in Iliad III 156–158) and effectively “plays” with notions of hierarchy, which it tellingly challenges. The male body, armed or naked, [28] lies at the center of attention, as it constantly becomes the symbol of military excellence, heroic prowess, and κλέος. More specifically, the body of the fallen hero constitutes one of the major themes of the entire Iliad, one whose special weight has been emphasized from the very proem (Iliad I 4–5).
Topographical space: [29] By the term topographical space I denote landscape and the way it is linked to the people who inhabit it. I will briefly give some examples that are typical of the Iliad. Although there are no landscape descriptions in the poem, the narrator constantly uses certain topographical markers such as the oak and fig trees, the rivers Simoeis and Skamandros, Mount Ida, the Hellespont, the islands (Tenedos, Lesbos etc.) off the coast of Asia Minor near Troy, and so on. He also makes use of other geographical entities like Lycia (denoted by a feature of its landscape, the river Xanthos), Phthia (connected to Mount Peleion), and other localities in both Greece and Asia Minor. The epic presents a blurred picture, since it fuses imagined features (the oak and fig trees) with real landscape elements (Ida; the rivers in the Troad), which it employs to further its own poetic ends. In this light, some of the ideas developed by the human geographer Carl O. Sauer are also applicable to the Iliad. In a pioneering study with the suggestive title “The Morphology of Landscape,” [30] Sauer argued in favor of a phenomenology of landscape, in the sense that human culture shapes physical and natural elements of a given landscape into a cultural one. The term “cultural landscape,” of course, has undergone various changes down the years, but Sauer’s basic idea that nature with its topographical features is the medium that humans mold according to their own culture (as a set of rules for understanding their condition in the world) is valid for our interpretation of the Iliad. For Briseis, Phthia, a place far away from her native land, acquires meaning through certain cultural premises. Since her husband and family have been killed and her city sacked by the Achaeans (Iliad XIX 291–297), she faces the danger of becoming a slave in the service of some king. Patroklos’ promise to make her Achilles’ wife when they return to Phthia turns a mere place-name into a cultural landscape: topography is thus replaced by culture, since Phthia is for Briseis not a sum of topographical features, but the site where lies the promise of and hope for the life of a wedded and honorable wife. One more example is characteristic of the process I am describing: when in Iliad XXII Achilles is chasing Hektor around the walls of Troy, they pass from the washing-places “where the wives of the Trojans and their lovely / daughters washed the clothes to shining, in the old days / when there was peace, before the coming of the sons of the Achaians” (XXII 154–156). [31] A topographical detail, the washing-places situated somewhere near Troy, is a solid natural feature that the epic tradition uses only as a medium, subsequently shaping it according to its own set of epic rules. The washing-places are turned into cultural space, standing for the peaceful years Troy enjoyed before the outbreak of the war.
Poetic space: [32] Bakhtin’s theory about the constitutive and interactive function of space and time [33] has recently become the focus of renewed scholarly interest, since some critics favor a reversal of Bakhtin’s famous chronotopoi into topochronoi, thus emphasizing the need of “a topochronic narrative poetics, one that foregrounds topos in an effort to restore an interactive analysis of time with space in narrative discourse.” [34] Specific chronotopes are spatiotemporal concepts corresponding to particular viewpoints or sets of ideological tenets. That said, the whole of the Iliad may be seen as a huge chronotope, where the pair “Troy–present time” means war and suffering, whereas “Greece–past time” stands for peace and happiness. This does not mean there are no smaller chronotopic building blocks within the Iliadic narrative, but this large dichotomy is of profound significance for the poetics of the Iliad, since it is against this background that the entire horizon of false expectations, credible and impossible scenarios, hopes and promises, disappointments and grief—that is, what Iliadic tragedy is all about—emerges.
I have deliberately excluded cognitive space from this presentation, since it constitutes the prime methodological tool that I would now like to discuss in some detail. In this way, the reader will be better equipped to follow the arguments to be developed later, which combine the insights of various branches of learning, from classical philology to cognitive science and from narratology to the social sciences. [35]

Cognitive Space

According to cognitive theory, which studies the perception and active representation of space, [36] the position of a person or an object is mapped onto various modalities such as location, distance, color, size, sound, and imagery. Let us consider the following examples:
  • a. John’s house is in London.
  • b. John’s house is near the lake.
  • c. John’s house is painted white.
  • d. John’s house is two acres in size.
  • e. John’s house is very noisy.
  • f. John’s house is like one of those old farm houses built in the middle of a prairie.
  • g. John’s house is of traditional style, large, with a garden filled with dozens of trees, two kitchens (one for the maids and the butler in the basement), two halls on the first and second floors, a spacious living room in the second floor leading to a separate room with a large pool table, three bathrooms (all upstairs with the exception of one in the basement), seven bedrooms (including a cozy attic), and what you would consider the best view from the third floor balcony.
In all these cases, space is represented by means of different spatial modalities. In (a), the placement of John’s house is described in terms of its location. Location in itself is only relative, for when the speaker wishes to locate a person or an object, he also needs to identify the place where the person or object is. In other words, he needs to determine a “there” by using further spatial details. Here, the use of the place name “London” allows the speaker to avoid spatial subdivisions, since it supplies the reader with all the necessary information, given that he is expected to know where London is. Turning to the Iliad, we can see that this form of spatial representation, which is only used with place names, may be divided into two smaller but distinct groups: one that pertains to real topographies, that is, locations where part of the plot takes place, and another referring to imaginary ones—absent locations that (mainly but not solely) feature in the speeches of certain characters. Mount Ida, for example, or Samothrace belong to the first category, as they are used as vantage points where the gods stand to watch the fighting in the plain of Troy. Phthia, Pylos, or Lycia need no further geographical determination, but also constitute locations in absentia that are regularly summoned to the hic et nunc of the plot by means of analeptic or proleptic references endorsed respectively (but not solely) by Achilles, Nestor, Sarpedon, and Glaukos. Having said this, I will try to explore how the tradition of the Iliad has devised a system of spatial representation that fully exploits the traditional referentiality of these place names, which in the process of growth and shaping of the epic tradition have acquired a secondary function that has gradually absorbed their first meaning. Because these locations have shaped their epic identity by being tied to figures that are emblematic of the heroic tradition, it is fair to say that they have been transformed into metonymic pathways, leading to a whole nexus of associations with each hero and the tradition that has developed around his persona.
In (b), the placement of John’s house is determined by its distance from a spot (the lake) whose position is either known to the reader or functions as an orientation point at the time the utterance is made. In this case, contextual constraints are essential, since the lake is used as a signpost that has played, or will play, some role in the unfolding narrative. In this example, the signpost “lake” is fixed, since its location cannot change. If instead of “lake” the signpost were, for example, “Peter,” then the fact that “Peter” is not bound to any given location, but would presumably change places while the narrative unfolds, would create a dynamic form of spatial representation, since the reader would need to create different visualizations of “Peter” and then anchor to one of them the visualization of “John’s house.” This form of dynamic spatial representation is typical of the Iliad, which contains a system of immobile signposts on the battlefield (the oak and fig trees, the hill of Kallikolone, the rivers Simoeis and Skamandros, the rise in the plain, and the Wall of Herakles, as well as the large landmarks of the walls of Troy and the Achaean camp), but also uses “mobile shifters,” such as other warriors or the troops, as signposts to determine the place where a hero stands on the battlefield, to follow his movement in the plain, and often to visualize the place where he falls.
In (c), the placement of John’s house is determined not externally (as in the former two examples, where its location depends on its relative position with respect to another place—”London” or “the lake”) but internally, since it arises from a characteristic of the house itself. Such a formulation creates in the reader’s or listener’s mind a picture of John’s house that is marked by its whiteness. Cognitive research has shown that color “is one feature of visual stimuli that has a known separate neuroanatomical basis, and people who lose their color perception due to brain damage often lose their ability to image in color.” [37] Imaging in color allows for visual clarity, which as a form of spatial representation enables both speaker and listener or reader (depending on the medium) to produce a mental picture of John’s house in space by determining its position against a darker background, one that would contrast with the brightness of the imagined object. Brightness, in particular, is an effective spatial mechanism, and therefore a mnemonic cue, since it functions as an “internal lamp” that sheds light on different areas of memory, turning what is blurred into a clear mental picture. [38]
Before I turn my attention to the Iliad, there is one more point to make with respect to color as a form of spatial representation: given that transformational thinking—that is, shifting rapidly from one situation to another—is very much at work in certain oral traditions, the need to visualize and mentally locate moving agents of the plot makes it an extremely dynamic and efficient device for spatial representation. In this respect the Iliad is of paramount importance, since the continual movement of the various heroes, Trojans and Achaeans alike, on the vast, uncharted area of the battlefield is visualized better by means of frequent references to the shining effect of their armor. Helmets, breastplates, shields, greaves, spears, and swords all produce a gleaming effect so constantly repeated that it has become almost an integral feature of the tradition. I will show that this emphatic reiteration and emphasis on the shining armor is a spatial cue for recall and organization of material, since it allows the narrator to “see” with his mind’s eye where the warriors whose actions he is going to describe are positioned on the battlefield. This mechanism is all the more crucial in light of the narrator’s frequent use of transformational thinking that necessitates a continual shifting of situations and locations alike. [39]
In example (d), John’s house is visualized in terms of the large area it covers. As in the previous case, the house’s position is determined by means of implicit coding that stems from a feature of the house itself. This feature has to be specific and concrete, not general and abstract. Concepts and ideas are hard to visualize, and in the framework of oral storytelling they have to be linked to or absorbed by the actions of actors and agents who perform specific deeds, presented in imageable forms. [40] At this point it is helpful, as we are about to turn our attention to the Iliad, to repeat some of Havelock’s observations with respect to oral epic tradition:
Actions and their agents are in fact always easy to visualise. What you cannot visualise is a cause, a principle, a category, a relationship or the like … To be effectively part of the record they [concepts] have to be represented as agents or as doings particular to their context and sharply visualised. [41]
From this perspective, the qualitative difference between the formulation “John’s house is magnificent” and “John’s house is two acres in size” is that while the former employs the abstract idea of beauty and magnificence, the latter promotes a specific feature of the house, namely its huge size. The advantage from the point of view of visualization and memory recall becomes obvious: whereas “beauty” as an abstract concept is hard to visualize, size determined by specific numerical data helps the speaker and listener alike create a concrete mental image of John’s house, as “a house two acres in size.” Analogous arguments can be applied to the Iliad. The size of the heroes and gods who inspire awe, and the emphasis on their armament and stature and their glorious deeds, are to a great extent substitutes for causal chains of events and ideas that have been fused into the particular sets of actions and behavioral systems that these agents embody. The tradition of oral epic storytelling has internalized the entire world into its own system of associations, developed around specific, concrete actions that are readily imagined and evoked during the performance of oral song. Moreover, apart from their usefulness for memorability, specificity and concreteness are particularly effective for a kind of elliptical thinking typical of oral song-making. As the reader or listener is expected to infer that John is probably a very wealthy man, since he owns such a big house, so the Homeric audience is expected to figure out that a warrior’s twelve-cubit spear indicates his exceptional heroic prowess and status, a point that the narrator can also use to create unexpected but dramatically powerful tropes in his narrative.
In case (e), the position of John’s house is identified through sound, which is employed as a spatial marker that allows the reader or listener to mentally place himself with respect to the object in question. Sound is an implicit form of deixis that emphasizes perspective, and is based on the location of an observer with respect to the person or thing mentioned. A loud noise, such as that associated with John’s house, indicates proximity, since the listener is situated close enough to the house to perceive the sound as loud. Conversely, a quiet sound suggests that the observer is not near the house. In the Iliad, sound is regularly employed as a spatial mechanism that allows the audience to be immersed in the plot: the clang of weapons, the noise of the troops marching on the plain, Zeus’ thundering, and the sound of the sea are among the wide array of manifestations of a kind of spatial representation that transforms the telling of the epic story and remembering an event of the past into “seeing it, and describing it as if it were happening before one’s eyes.” [42] The mental transportation of the audience from the present to the past and the bringing of a distant past to the present of the performance have been often discussed by Homerists, but mainly in temporal terms. Sound testifies to a hitherto unexplored facet of the bard’s imaginative way of plunging his audience into the midst of his narrative, since it breaks down the distinction between the “here” of the performance and the “there” of the events narrated. Moreover it creates a synesthetic effect, since proximity to the hubbub of battle is achieved almost at the same time through the audience’s “hearing” the loud sound produced by the clash of the troops and its “seeing” this clash taking place from a (mentally) short distance.
Example (f), “John’s house is like one of those old farmhouses built in the middle of a prairie,” belongs to the realm of mental imagery, perhaps the strongest cue to recall. Imagery  [43] is a dynamic form of spatial representation and an important feature of memory, [44] enabling narrator and audience alike to associate attributes or stimuli by pairing them with locations in a consistent way. [45] Imagery is also a way of organizing isolated units by mapping them onto a solid and specific spatial background. In our example, John’s house is mentally visualized by means of a simile, which we can treat as an illustrative analogy between an unknown or new item and a familiar and easily recognizable one. The speaker attempts to picture the object in question, John’s house, in his mind’s eye by reference to a well-known and common mental image of one of “those old farmhouses built in the middle of a prairie.” The generalizing tone of this last expression indicates that both speaker and audience are expected to bring the image readily to their mind’s eye, for there are many old farmhouses and so everybody is expected to know what they look like. The illustrative simile has the advantage that it evokes a whole nexus of links, some explicitly stated (old, farmhouse, middle of the prairie) and others, much greater in number, implicitly alluded to. For example, the image of an “old house built in the middle of a prairie” may trigger in the listeners’ minds various verbally unexpressed features: bad state of the house, abandonment, isolation, a rural environment, a large family with many children living there, a lot of land around it, horses and animals in a nearby stable, and so on. In other words, imagery is about ellipsis, and elliptical thinking is very much counterbalanced in oral traditional song-making by the inherent pictureability of the mental imagery. In this light, it is fair to say that the spatial representation activated by the illustrative analogy that the simile so aptly creates equals a whole universe of signifiers, and is like a tide of memory that brings to the surface a deep-rooted and complex set of interconnections. Imagery enables the listener to picture much more than what it explicitly tells him to visualize. The extremely rich system of extended similes for which the Iliad is so famous testifies to the importance of imagery within the medium of oral song. The fact that similes are replete with imagery allows the storyteller to organize his narrative and visualize the placement of his actors and agents against the backdrop of a strong and dynamic set of easily recognizable spatial representations. Moreover, the kind of interactive imagery that the similes so powerfully embody increases distinctiveness and specificity, two of the most useful requirements for mental recall. Seen from this angle, the extended simile is a trademark of the Homeric tradition of oral song-making, since its nature, shape, and function constitute an inseparable whole, in contrast to the brief simile devoid of any spatial mappings.
Case (g) is a typical form of description that displays a high proportion of spatial features. John’s house is described by means of various modifiers, whose juxtaposition in asyndeton elevates them to equal descriptive status without any hint as to possible subdivisions. As the reader or listener hears the gradually unfolding array of features that characterize John’s house, he begins to follow a mental path that guides him to the various aspects of the described house. He visualizes first a house in traditional style, whatever “traditional” means within the context of this particular communicative situation; he then glances at its enormous size, which is further specified (but not subdivided) by the enumeration of various spatial accoutrements like a garden, in which dozens of trees create concrete mental pictures and indicate its size. The second list within the larger descriptive list of characteristics of John’s house offers the reader or listener various clues that facilitate his mental tour: [46] as he moves visually from the garden to the kitchens, and mentally visits the basement where the servants’ kitchen is situated, he realizes that John is a very rich person, whose house is in fact an estate where there are various servants (including a butler, whose presence suggests that John is a member of the aristocracy). Our mental tour of the house continues as further information is marshaled through spatial organization: we go from the basement to the first and then the second floor where the two halls are situated, and see there a spacious living room, through which we arrive at a separate room with a large pool table. In the time it takes for the listener to cross it, the scale of the living room becomes almost real. Ascending further to the upper (third) floor, we see the three bathrooms, the seven bedrooms, and above them the cozy attic. This vivid visual journey concludes with the addition of one more detail, tellingly placed at the very end of the description: the view from the third-floor balcony is a revealing piece of spatial information, for not only does it lead us from the enclosed area of the rooms to the open area of the balcony, but it is also accompanied by a guiding reference, the only one that fuses the actual description with the rather separate register of the discourse. The speaker aims at involving his listeners even more effectively in the process of visualizing John’s house. Since he has, after all, guided them all around this enormous estate, it is now time, assuming that they have followed him in his mental pathway, to stand by them as they gaze together out of the common window of their imagination.
Similarly, the Iliadic storyteller engages in descriptions of prized objects, the most notable example being, of course, the long ecphrasis on the shield of Achilles in Iliad XVIII. [47] He lays great emphasis on the position of the beholder, who determines the particular way the description will unfold. Like the speaker in the example of John’s house, the Homeric bard regularly, but not solely, employs the method of the visual tour, taken by a notional “mobile” beholder who moves his mind’s eye in a certain direction or along a visual path. Taking a cue from this observation, I intend to explore the full range of descriptive techniques the storyteller employs, which go far beyond the tour strategy. In the Iliad, objects whose static nature is regularly taken as given often move in space, as they are transferred from one owner to another. By cataloguing the various owners of an object, the storyteller translates time (the remote and vast period of the past) into space. Apart from this dynamic form of spatial representation, the Iliad is also fond of static spatial description, either through the use of spatial pairs (near-far, foreground-background, dark-shining, center-periphery) or by highlighting one or two noteworthy features of a prized object.

Space in the Iliad

The study of space in the Iliad is related to two sets of rules and constraints, the former reflecting what one considers to be a working model of analysis, the latter imposed by the particular poetic grammar of Iliadic epic. Before I go through the organization of material to be adopted in this book, let me briefly dwell on these two sets of rules and constraints.
Following recent approaches to the study of space, I devote separate sections (parts 1–4) to the three principal forms of spatial representation attested in literature (setting, imagery, and description), and further divide one of these forms (setting) into two subgroups, on the basis of narrative perspective. In particular, what is generally (and in the case of the Iliad rather misleadingly) called setting will be the subject of two chapters, one dedicated to simple story space and one to the “offstage” story space embedded in character speech. Parts 1 and 2 of this book correspond to the real and imaginary topographies as mapped out by the actants of the plot. As will become obvious from the presentation of the relevant material, this distinction is of paramount importance for the poetics of the Iliad as a whole. Parts 3 and 4 are devoted to the study of imagery and description, where space looms large and which in the case of the Iliad mainly pertain to the extended similes and the description of prized objects.
This “vertical” classification of space in the Iliad will be combined with a “horizontal” one, comprising all the relevant types of analysis of space that I discussed briefly above. This interdisciplinary approach is, in my view, much needed for the study of such a complex semantic field as the one represented by space.
In part 1, I will study simple story space, [48] which constitutes one of the two principal forms of narrative space, and can be defined as the primary spatial form with its various framed and framing spaces. Story space encompasses a broader spectrum than both landscape and scenery, as it includes perspective, that is, the way the narrator helps his audience “view” the content of his narrative. The cartography of mortal space and the division between the mortal and immortal spheres of activity follow a carefully constructed narrative blueprint, which facilitates the unraveling of the plot and accentuates basic beliefs about the heroic world. More specifically, the threefold organization of human space, with the plain at the center and the city of Troy and the Achaean camp on the edges of a notional map, aims at keeping the audience’s attention on the action and the actors. Iliadic theatricality, one of the key factors enhancing dramatization, results from this visually frugal but highly effective spatial mapping. [49] The tradition’s unflagging reluctance to promote impressionistic descriptions and spectacular scenery and its concentration on a visually limited space give special weight to the narrated events and make the delineation of character all the more significant. Moreover, the story space shifts as the plot unfolds: from the plain of Troy and the fighting at the beginning of the epic, the narrator briefly moves to the city of Troy, preparing Hektor’s great return to the battlefield; [50] the fulfillment of Zeus’ plan transfers the audience in front of and inside the Achaean camp, until Patroklos’ intervention and his subsequent death; with Achilles’ return to war, the emphasis shifts again to the whole range of the battlefield until the final encounter with Hektor; and as the epic ends, the Achaean camp and the city of Troy (where Patroklos and Hektor are lamented respectively) are overwhelmed by grief and lamentation.
In part 2, my focus will be on embedded story space, a secondary form of space which is evoked by characters and stands beyond the boundaries of the primary story space where the action takes place. By allowing characters to refer regularly to absent places from their past or future lives, the Iliad turns geographical locations into thematized spaces against which a character’s role and personality are sketched. More or less in the manner of a theatrical play, where the action is spatially concentrated in a given, clearly delineated area that is immensely expanded by the characters’ mythical armature, the limited story space of the simple narrative is absorbed or expanded by the much wider embedded story space alluded to in character speech. Such dynamic interaction creates a complex form of space, which redefines the setting and allows characters to function not only within the narrow frame of the Trojan plain, city, and Achaean camp, but also in light of their coming from other areas, which symbolically stand for their “other” lives that have been lost during the perils of war and to which they long, often ironically, to return. Given that time and again this extended story space is based on the extratextual role of certain characters in other epic traditions, the Iliad invites its audience to reconsider the presentation of a character and evaluate the poem’s dramatic outlook on the world of heroes.
Part 3 will focus on such topics as pictureability, foregrounding, and mental imaging, which all pertain to the special register represented by the extended Homeric simile. [51] Seen from the perspective of space, Homeric epic contains—and uses as almost a kind of stylistic trademark—an extended form of simile that, unlike the spatial thriftiness of its narrative, is remarkably rich in active spatial representations. My main argument, which stems from the observation that the pictorial abundance of the similes is mainly and predominantly spatial, is that the Iliadic storyteller employed homologous image-mappings for the space of narrative scenes and corresponding similes. [52] As long as the visual setting of a given narrative unit remains the same, the space delineated in an extended simile also remains the same, or at least of the same sort as that of the previous simile. In addition, I will suggest that this technique, which is clearly a result of the process of mnemonic association enhanced by spatial unity, and has been recognized in cognitive psychology as a powerful cue to recall, has far-reaching consequences for the bard’s mode of performance, or composition in performance.
Extending the Parry-Lord hypothesis with respect to the dictional and formulaic economy imposed by the system of oral song-making, I will argue that an equivalent form of economy is at work in the similes, that is, that special register which displays a rather low degree of formulaic repetition: it seems that the bards who shaped the system of traditional oral epic during centuries of performance followed what is known in cognitive theory as the “dual coding” system, [53] according to which the human brain uses two different areas for mapping stimuli, one for words and another for images. [54] This theory effectively explains the fact that narrative and simile seem to be in complementary distribution: whereas the former is rich in formulas and poor in spatial representation due to lack of imagery, the latter displays a remarkable wealth of imagery-oriented spatial mappings, but a low-level formulaic system. This dissonance between the view promoted by the narrator and the multiple image-mappings employed by listeners relativizes perspective: the simile, though an attempt to assimilate story space to a paratopic space, through its innate pictureability ends by creating multiple mental spaces. Such active engagement of the audience members gives them the opportunity to experience the tragedy of the plot not only through the narrator’s suggested visual imaging in simple narrative, but also by their own mental means while visualizing similes.
Another spatial feature of the Homeric simile to be explored is its ontological boundaries: the narrator uses spatial imagery so abundantly in the similes in order to effect for his audience a “mental leap” from the world of the plot to different visual spheres. To this end, he promotes a boundary-crossing experience, and breaks down the illusion created by the distance between the world of the narrative and the real world of the performance. [55] It is in this cognitive perspective that I will discuss various aspects of the extended simile, such as its bilaterality (the split of the simile marker into two domains, the target domain and the base domain), its ability to expand in complex ways (stemming from the simile’s openness and traditional referentiality), mapping inconsistency between the target and base domains, and the multiplied simile, an interpretive crux stemming from the imperfect combination of dictional ellipsis and the interlacing of two visually superimposed structures.
Last, I will study how the shift of spatial register from simple narrative to simile, which exploits at length the audience’s familiarity with the natural world, immerses the listeners in a starkly different mental cartography, where the narrator’s suggested vision does not necessarily coincide with the visualization of space evoked in each member of the audience, in accord with individual mnemonic storage. In tandem with their visual familiarity with the simile’s content, listeners tend to tread their own mental paths in the process of visual imaging. From the narrator’s standpoint, the simile embodies his attempt to limit the audience’s variety of possible image-mappings by directing them toward his own visualization of the simile’s content. [56]
In part 4, the emphasis will be on description formats, mnemonic strategies, and narrative role. Taking my cue from the work of Elizabeth Minchin on descriptive segments, [57] I will investigate the function of perspective in object-description. I contend that the way the narrator views an object or presents a work of art is based on the activation of specific mental formats that are readily available to his audience. Some of these formats, like those dealing with the size, color, and shape of the object or its history (often expressed through the object’s journey and passage from one person to another), constitute forms of spatial organization. In the light of the role of perspective, ecphrastic space may be considered a means of marking and prolonging events that appear in the same context with the described objects. Extended space often results in the interruption of temporal sequence, since object description is a kind of piling up of spatially oriented data. Such explicit indications of space are often linked to the narrator or a character. [58] As in the simile, where listeners can evaluate its content on the basis of their own individual image-mappings, so in ecphrastic and descriptive segments the narrator takes it for granted that his listeners will employ their visual memory to supplement and complete his description. Along these lines, it may be argued that the narrator expands and maximizes an object’s limited importance in ecphrastic space by interrupting story time and creating a pause. When no-fabula time matches text time, he can introduce his audience, temporarily, to a world of pure wonder, like that of Achilles’ shield which makes them realize the contrast between the grimness of war and the beauty of human craftsmanship. By spacing time, the tradition of the Iliad almost creates for its audience an alternative world, whose mental reconstruction is interrupted by the shockingly horrible reality of the narrative. Scattered throughout the epic, descriptions (more or less like similes) fail to form a coherent totality, since they delineate spaces that the listeners view only in passing: the whole will remain endlessly suspended.
Space in the Iliad is built upon the epic’s specific poetic grammar. It will be the main aim of this book to offer a comprehensive treatment of all these types of spatial representation, and to explore how they contribute to and reflect the logic and flow of a deeply tragic narrative.


[ back ] 1. On landscape in Homer, see Hellwig 1964; Elliger 1975:29–102 (Iliad) and 103–156 (Odyssey); Andersson 1976; Hölscher 1989; Purves 2002:136–167; Purves 2010a:24–64; Clay 2011.
[ back ] 2. Lessing 1893 (1766).
[ back ] 3. Soja 1989.
[ back ] 4. Foucault 1986:22.
[ back ] 5. On modern narrative theory and space, see Frank 1963; de Certeau 1974; Frank 1978; O’Toole 1980; Mickelsen 1981; Van Baak 1983; Zoran 1984; Ronen 1986; Friedman 1993; Bachelard 1957; Duchan, Bruder, and Hewitt 1995; Friedman 1996; Pier 1999; Herman 2001, 2002; Ryan 2003; Buchholz and Jahn 2005; Bridgeman 2007; Ryan 2009.
[ back ] 6. Purves 2010a; Chaston 2010; Clay 2011. There is also a forthcoming volume on space in ancient Greek literature, to be edited by de Jong as part of the series Studies in Ancient Narrative.
[ back ] 7. Extract from the back cover of Hallet and Neumann 2009.
[ back ] 8. On defining place, see Tuan 1977, 1978; Merrifield 1993; Hirsch 1995:9.
[ back ] 9. Ritter 1975.
[ back ] 10. T. Kullmann 1995.
[ back ] 11. Lotman 1972.
[ back ] 12. M. Pfister 1977:338–359.
[ back ] 13. Lotman 1972:312.
[ back ] 14. For an instructive presentation of studies on the semiotics of space, see Nünning 2009:35–38.
[ back ] 15. Goetsch (1977) has shown how different types of drama (realistic, expressionistic, epic, and absurd) employ diverse forms of spatial representation.
[ back ] 16. See Britannica Online Encyclopedia, s.v. “Space.”
[ back ] 17. Günzel 2010.
[ back ] 18. For an overview of research on historical space, see Ebeling 2010.
[ back ] 19. Nora 1996:18.
[ back ] 20. See Anderson 1991:187–206.
[ back ] 21. Schlögel 2003:11.
[ back ] 22. Koselleck 2000.
[ back ] 23. On political space, see Geulen 2010; on social space and the sociology of space, see Schroer 2006; Kajetzke and Schroer 2010; for an anthology of important texts on political space, see Dünne and Günzel 2006:371–446.
[ back ] 24. Giddens 1984 and 1995.
[ back ] 25. See Aristotle Poetics 1453a 35–39: ἔστιν δὲ οὐχ αὕτη ἀπὸ τραγῳδίας ἡδονὴ ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον τῆς κωμῳδίας οἰκεία· ἐκεῖ γὰρ οἳ ἂν ἔχθιστοι ὦσιν ἐν τῷ μύθῳ, οἷον Ὀρέστης καὶ Αἴγισθος, φίλοι γενόμενοι ἐπὶ τελευτῆς ἐξέρχονται, καὶ ἀποθνῄσκει οὐδεὶς ὑπ’ οὐδενός (“Yet this is not the pleasure to expect from tragedy, but is more appropriate to comedy, where those who are deadliest enemies in the plot, such as Orestes and Aegisthus, exit at the end as new friends, and no one dies at anyone’s hands”; trans. S. Halliwell).
[ back ] 26. For a concise presentation of corporeal space, see Postl 2010; for a collection of important texts, see Dünne and Günzel 2006:195–285.
[ back ] 27. Kristeva 1974; see also Irigaray 1974 and 1977.
[ back ] 28. Analyzed in an exemplary manner by Vernant 1996:91–101.
[ back ] 29. See Christians 2010.
[ back ] 30. Sauer 1925.
[ back ] 31. Unless otherwise indicated, I have used Lattimore’s 1951 translation of the Iliad.
[ back ] 32. For a brief overview, see Sasse 2010.
[ back ] 33. Bakhtin 1981.
[ back ] 34. Friedman 2005:194.
[ back ] 35. For one of the fullest presentations of the current state of research with respect to space, see Günzel 2010.
[ back ] 36. See the useful summary offered by C. Wagner 2010.
[ back ] 37. Rubin 1995:57.
[ back ] 38. The expression “internal lamp” was coined after the case of the Russian mnemonist Shereshevsky, who used to insert a street lamp into his memorized scene for the purpose of illumination, or added a contrasting background in order to avoid confusion and achieve mental clarity. See Whitehead 2009:28 and my own remarks in chapter 5, below.
[ back ] 39. On transformational thinking, see Paivio 1971:28–33; Rubin 1995:48–49.
[ back ] 40. See Rubin 1995:60.
[ back ] 41. Havelock 1963:188.
[ back ] 42. Bakker 2005:146.
[ back ] 43. On imagery, see Rubin 1995:39–64.
[ back ] 44. Underwood 1969.
[ back ] 45. See Rescorla and Cunningham 1979; Geiselman and Crawley 1983; Winograd and Church 1988; see Rubin 1995:51 for further bibliography.
[ back ] 46. See de Certeau 1974:118–122.
[ back ] 47. Describing the shield of Achilles, the storyteller-observer, though invisible, follows a visual tour by moving not only from one boss of the shield to the next but also from one section of each boss to another section of the same boss. The sequentiality of his description (he never omits a section or a boss to return to it later) and its comprehensiveness (he moves to the next section only when he has finished with the previous one) is analogous to the linearity and comprehensiveness of the visual tour of John’s house in the example discussed above.
[ back ] 48. See Chatman 1978:96–107.
[ back ] 49. Compare the apt title of Clay’s recent book Homer’s Trojan Theater: Space, Vision, and Memory in the Iliad (Clay 2011).
[ back ] 50. On war in the Iliad, see W.-H. Friedrich 1956; Fenik 1968; Latacz 1977; van Wees 1997; Hellmann 2000.
[ back ] 51. I am not suggesting that these three features pertain only to the Homeric simile. For the relation between body language, pictureability, and memorability in the Iliad, see Minchin 2008b.
[ back ] 52. Although based on externally perceived objects that are then mapped mentally, the idea of spatial analogy between two different levels of perception lies in the core of the so-called index projection hypothesis developed by Pylyshyn (2007:178–179).
[ back ] 53. See Paivio 1971, 1975, 1986.
[ back ] 54. See the apt formulation by Bruford and Todd 1996:8: “Although the insights of Parry and Lord into the use of formulae and themes have opened our eyes to several aspects of how epic narratives are produced, they are of little help in explaining the mnemonic processes which come into play when the singer is singing his tale.”
[ back ] 55. Critics have noted the tendency of the Homeric simile to bring the audience back from the story-world to the realm of the performance. See S. Richardson 1990:66; Minchin 2001:43; Bakker 2005:114–135; Clay 2011:21.
[ back ] 56. See Lakoff and Turner 1989:91; Minchin 2001:145; Teng and Sun 2002; Tsagalis 2008b:272–285.
[ back ] 57. Minchin 2001:100–131.
[ back ] 58. See Bal 1997:141.