Iliad 10 and the Poetics of Ambush: A Multitext Edition with Essays and Commentary

  Dué, Casey, and Mary Ebbott. 2010. Iliad 10 and the Poetics of Ambush: A Multitext Edition with Essays and Commentary. Hellenic Studies Series 39. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Iliad 10: A Multitextual Approach

This volume takes a multitextual approach in its presentation of the transmitted texts of Iliad 10. We want to avoid presenting a critical text that obscures the multiformity of the oral tradition or is misleading about the historical realities about the textual transmission. For that reason we have chosen to include four separate witnesses that illustrate the text of part or all of Iliad 10 at various points in its textual history: the second-century BCE papyrus 609, the third-century CE papyrus 425, the sixth-century CE papyrus 46, and the tenth-century CE Venetus A manuscript of the Iliad (Marcianus Graecus Z. 454 [= 822]). A brief description of each document precedes our presentation of its text, and a commentary on the text is provided on following pages. The commentary is indeed what makes this a critical edition of these texts, but critical in a way different from what is usually indicated by the term. We are not judging which text is right or wrong (see below for more on our practices of textual criticism); instead, we attempt to critically assess what these witnesses contain in terms of the textual tradition and the oral tradition that preceded it. In the commentary we point out textual multiformity in these witnesses, and explain both how they agree with or differ from other witnesses and what some of the implications of the differences may be. Although these commentaries on the texts are not as exhaustive as a full apparatus criticus covering every witness to the text of Iliad 10 would be, by focusing more closely on these select witnesses we can explore the differences between texts in greater detail than can be done in an apparatus.

By presenting the texts in this manner we are adhering to the goals of the Homer Multitext (, a digital project of which we are editors. The Homer Multitext views the full historical reality of the Homeric textual tradition as it evolved {153|154} from the pre-Classical era to the medieval. It is an edition of Homer that is digital and web-based. Unlike the standard format of printed editions, which intend to offer a reconstruction of an original text as it supposedly existed at the time and place of its origin, the Homer Multitext offers the tools for discovering, viewing, and understanding a variety of texts as they existed in a variety of times and places. We feel that this approach is necessary, and methodologically superior, when dealing with an oral tradition like that in which our Iliad and Odyssey were composed. As we explain in more detail below, the texts included in this print edition are a small but significant sample of the witnesses to Iliad 10. The selected texts were produced at different time periods and illustrate the multiformity that we describe in this essay. The Venetus A is the oldest and best complete manuscript of the Iliad and, moreover, is rich in the marginal commentary called scholia. Our readers, if they are so inclined, can also consult this manuscript for themselves, by means of high-resolution digital images available freely online ( Thus these texts, presented in such a way that the reader can see exactly what each one records, will, we hope, provide a window onto the tradition in a way distinct from the usual layout of a text of the Iliad.

In the digital Homer Multitext, a far greater number of texts will be available for comparison than we are able to present here. In what follows we explain how a multitextual approach differs from conventional textual criticism and why we have adopted it for our edition of Iliad 10.

Textual Criticism of Oral Poetry

Because the Iliad and Odyssey were not composed in writing, however, this editorial system cannot be applied in the same way. Our versions of these epics result from a long oral tradition in which they were created, performed, and re-performed, all without the technology of writing. In the earliest phases of this tradition, the Iliad and Odyssey would never have been performed exactly the same way twice. In other words, in a tradition in which the composition occurs during the course of performance, there is no one “author’s original composition” to attempt to recover. The fundamental difference in the composition and history of this poetry, then, means that we must adjust the assumptions in our understanding of the variations in the written record. What does it mean when we see variations, which still fit the meter and language of the poetry, in the witnesses to the texts? These kinds of variations are of a kind different from those that are more clearly scribal errors. Instead of “mistakes” to be corrected or choices that must be weighed and evaluated, as an editor would do in the case of a text composed in writing, we assert that these variations are testaments to the system of language that underlies the composition-in-performance of the oral tradition.

The Iliad and Odyssey as Oral Poetry

One of the most important revelations of the fieldwork of Parry and Lord is that every time the song is performed in an oral composition-in-performance tradition, it is composed anew. The singers themselves do not strive to innovate, but they nevertheless compose a new song each time (Dué 2002:83–89). The mood of the audience or occasion of performance are just two factors that can influence the length of a song or a singer’s choices between competing, but still traditional, elements of plot. The term “variant,” as employed by textual critics when evaluating witnesses to a text, is not appropriate for such a compositional process. Lord has explained the difference this way: “the word multiform is more accurate than ‘variant,’ because it does not give preference or precedence to any one word or set of words to express an idea; instead it acknowledges that the idea may exist in several forms” (Lord 1995:23). Our textual criticism of Homeric epic, then, needs to distinguish what may genuinely be copying mistakes from what are performance multiforms: that is, what variations we see are very likely to be part of the system and the tradition in which these epics were composed (Dué 2001a).

Once we begin to think about the variations as parts of the system rather than as mistakes or corruptions, textual criticism of the Homeric texts can then address fresh questions. Some of the variations we see in the written record, for example, reveal the flexibility of this system. Where different written versions record different words, but each phrase or line is metrically and contextually sound, we must not necessarily consider one “correct” or “composed by Homer” and the other a “mistake” or an “interpolation.” Rather, each could represent a different performance possibility, a choice that the singer could have made, and would have been making rapidly without reference to a set text (in any sense of that word). John Foley has used the term “oral-derived poetry” to describe the Iliad and Odyssey because we no longer have direct access to the performance tradition and, instead, must rely exclusively on texts, which themselves are at a remove of many years from any particular performance (Foley 1995:60–98, 137–143). In terms of interpreting {156|157} the poetry, however, Foley argues that we are still required to understand its “traditional idiom”: “Poems composed in a particular register must be received in the same register, to the extent that such fidelity is possible over gaps of space, time, and culture” (Foley 2002:132). We believe that a new kind of textual criticism is necessary because of Homeric epic’s special register of performance, and that this new criticism should help to recover, rather than obscure, what is natural and particular to that register. By means of this criticism, then, considering and properly understanding the multiforms that remain in the textual record will help us to receive the poems in their own register.

Representing Multiformity

It is difficult to indicate the parity of these multiforms in a standard critical edition on the printed page. In most editions, one version of the text must be chosen for the text on the upper portion of the page, and the other recorded variations must be placed in an apparatus below, often in smaller text, a placement that necessarily gives the impression that these variations are incorrect or at least less important. The abbreviations required by the format of a typical apparatus further obscure what each witness actually contains, and the abbreviated format provides little explanation of why any of the variations is indeed significant. Within a digital medium, however, the Homer Multitext will be able to show where such variations occur, indicate clearly which witnesses record them, and allow users to see them in an arrangement that more intuitively distinguishes them as performance multiforms. Thus a digital edition—one that can more readily present parallel texts—enables a more comprehensive understanding of these epics.

For this printed edition, we are, like standard editions of the past, restricted to the physical page. Nevertheless, we have sought to represent the text in a more historically valid way by including the complete surviving texts of a number of witnesses from a broad time span. We hope, moreover, that by providing commentary on these textual witnesses on following pages, we will break free of the model that relegates multiformity to the easily overlooked bottom of the page, with its tiny font and highly abbreviated (and Latin) notational system. We recognize that there are some limitations to the presentation we have adopted. Some comments on the text must be repeated in several places, and we have limited the number of separate texts included in this print edition to four. Still, because this edition encompasses a single book of the Iliad, a somewhat modest take on our multitextual approach has been feasible. We have chosen to adopt it, and, by doing {157|158} so, to encourage new ways of thinking about the text and how it has come down to us.

These four texts, produced at different times over the span of over a thousand years, provide the opportunity to glimpse what the text could look like at different points in time. What we begin to discover from this glimpse is the complexity of the transmission of the Iliad. An approach to editing Homer that embraces the multiformity of both the performative and textual phases of the tradition—that is to say, a multitextual approach—can better convey this complexity. The variations that the textual critic of Homer encounters come from many different kinds of sources and many time periods. In his 1931 edition of the Iliad Allen includes 188 manuscripts, dating from the tenth century CE on, and the relationship between manuscripts or manuscript families and their descent from earlier exemplars can be only partially reconstructed (Allen 1931). From the scholia that survive in our medieval manuscripts—which include commentary derived from scholarship as old as the second century BCE—we learn of readings attributed to the texts of various cities (some as far away from Greece as Marseilles), texts in the collections of individuals, texts called “common” or “standard,” and texts that are “more refined” (Nagy 2004:20). In the literature that survives from Classical Athens, especially the Attic orators and Plato, we find quotations of Homer, some quite extensive, and these texts can vary considerably from the medieval texts of Homer on which we rely for our printed editions (Dué 2001a and Dué 2001b). Some of our earliest witnesses to the text of Homer are the fragmentary papyri that survived in the sands of Egypt from the third century BCE onwards. These texts too are often quite different than their medieval counterparts (Dué 2001a). A multitextual approach can be explicit about these many different channels of transmission, placing each witness in its historical and cultural framework and allowing the reader to understand better the relationships between witnesses, rather than giving the false impression that they are all of the same kind and same time. In the individual introductions to each text that we present in this volume, we make clear the historical context in which these witnesses were produced, and we have ordered them chronologically to give a more immediate impression of the older witnesses that we know only from fragmentary papyri.

From these many types of sources, we find a number of different kinds of multiforms as well. It is easy to find in the textual transmission of the Homeric poems examples of multiforms in which different, but equally formulaic, words and phrases are used (see Dué and Ebbott {158|159} 2009 for detailed examples of these kinds of multiforms). There are also smaller cases of word change, differences in word division or accent, and other matters of orthography. These differences are important for what they can reveal about the textual tradition and the editorial practices of earlier stages of transmission. As we look at the earliest sources, papyri from the third century BCE or quotations in Classical authors, such as Plato or Aeschines, we also see differences on the level of entire lines of the poetry. There are numerous verses in the papyri that are seemingly intrusive from the standpoint of the medieval transmission. These additional verses, the so-called plus verses, are not present in the majority of the medieval manuscripts of the Iliad. Other verses that are canonical in the medieval manuscripts are absent from the papyri—these may be termed minus verses. Composition-in-performance allows for the expansion or compression of the theme or episode that the singer is performing, and these plus and minus verses are evidence of what a performance might have included, the operation of the system underlying the performance, and what the epic tradition included (Dué 2001a).

Fluidity vs. Rigidity and a Diachronic Approach to Homeric Poetry

The complexity of the textual transmission of the Homeric epics is only part of the story. As we noted at the beginning of this discussion, we also have to recognize the oral origins of this poetry and reject the notion of an “original” text. To illustrate the intricacies of this aspect of our critical approach, we can make an instructive comparison to the transmission of the works of Shakespeare. As we will see, the comparison helps us to think about the interaction of text and performance, but there will of course be important differences as well. The transmission of Shakespeare’s plays is indeed quite complex. Authoritative editions of the plays were not overseen by Shakespeare himself, and the earliest editions seem, in some instances at least, to have been made on the basis of faulty transcripts of actual performances, requiring substantial reconstruction of the text (Greg 1955). The First Folio edition of 1623, which is the most authoritative of the early editions, was put together seven years after Shakespeare’s death by two actors in the King’s Men, the company for which Shakespeare wrote. The texts of the thirty-six plays included in the edition are of various provenance. Some derive from the heavily annotated copies prepared for prompters; others are based on Shakespeare’s own working drafts. It is clear that some plays were revised for subsequent performances during the course of {159|160} Shakespeare’s lifetime, with the result that there are multiple versions of the same work, all of which are equally Shakespearean. Editors of such Classical authors as Aristophanes and Ovid face similar difficulties.

What the plays of Shakespeare share with the Homeric tradition is that they were created in the context of performance. Individual instances of performance could result in new texts, depending on the occasion of performance, the intervention of actors and/or others involved in the production, or the desire of Shakespeare himself. A transcript created on the basis of a given performance would no doubt vary from transcripts created on other occasions. Such variations can teach us a great deal about the performance traditions of Shakespeare’s plays, the creative process, and Shakespeare’s working methods. Scholars of recent decades have rightly seen the value in the variation that we find in the textual transmission, and several digital projects have been developed that make the quartos and folios available to an interested public. Of particular note is The Internet Shakespeare Editions (, which plans to publish high-resolution photographs of these early editions together with a variety of supplementary information, electronic texts, and fully edited (modern) editions.

But the Shakespeare analogy can only be taken so far. Homeric poetry was not only created for performance, it was created in performance. In the earliest stages of the tradition, the singer was also the composer, not just the performer. And, as we noted earlier, in these earliest stages of the tradition no song would have ever been sung the same way twice. The content and form of the songs were traditional and the tradition was a highly conservative one, but the compositional process was nonetheless dynamic. As editors of the Homer Multitext, we are not seeking to recover the most authoritative performance, because such a performance does not exist. Rather than screen out variation in the search for the author’s own words, we seek out variation for what it can tell us about Homeric composition-in-performance and the evolution of the texts we now recognize as our Iliad and Odyssey. Those are the kinds of variations we highlight in these texts.

Perhaps unexpectedly, a much more modern text provides us with a different and interesting analogy. The Homer Multitext faces some of the same questions, problems, and demands as those laid out by Loranger in editing William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch (Loranger 1999). Loranger points out that there is no one definitive version of Naked Lunch, that none of the changes to the narrative “can be considered accidental variants … [or] deliberate authorial revisions” (Loranger {160|161} 1999:#2). The narrative underwent an evolution (#1), and its assembly has its own mythology, as she terms it (#6–7). She begins and ends by looking for a reliable edition, and argues that such an edition would have to allow readers to move, in any order, between the different textual elements, fragments, and even images, such as the drawings Burroughs produced for the U. S. edition (#1, 24). We are in no way looking to create a “postmodern” Homer, but what we know about oral composition-in-performance, in which each time the song is sung it is composed anew, requires a similar attention to the song’s evolution as much as we can trace it and to the creation or application of tools for allowing the reader to explore and understand that evolution.

By taking an evolutionary view of the Homeric epics, we are, of course, talking about an evolution that spans not an author’s lifetime, but rather millennia. We see in the witnesses that survive an evolution toward greater, but not complete, agreement among texts. In the reverse view, moving further back in time, we see greater variation at earlier stages of transmission. Questions of how much variation is natural to the Homeric tradition and how much variation can be recovered are complicated ones to answer because they are tied to the uncertainty surrounding the figure of Homer (if he ever existed) and questions related to authorship. [3] It was at one time fashionable in Homeric Studies to apply statistics to the Homeric corpus. [4] Scholars attempted to use mathematical methods to find which parts of the Homeric diction could be deemed “formulaic” and which parts innovations on the part of a master poet, imagined as Homer. Parry, for example, by way of demonstration analyzed the first fifteen verses of the Iliad and found them to be over ninety percent “formulaic” (Parry 1930 in Parry 1971:301–304). Later, Albert Lord analyzed the same passage, and, although his definition of the individual formulas involved differed slightly from Parry’s, the results were roughly the same (Lord 1960:142–144). The fundamental problems with this kind {161|162} of analysis are twofold, as Lord himself already pointed out in 1960. First and foremost, it is based on incomplete data. Only two of the large number of Archaic Greek epics that we know were current in antiquity have survived to the current day. If more of the Epic Cycle (as these other epics are commonly called) had survived, we would have a much larger amount of material to work with. Because of the relatively small amount of comparison material, our understanding of the nature of the formula and the composition process is imperfect. Second, if the tradition in which the Greek poets were working is as Parry and Lord described, then every verse should be formulaic, and there is much to suggest that this is true of Homeric poetry (Lord 1960:47 and 147). [5]

For Shakespeare, multiformity—that is to say, the existence of multiple versions of the same text—is an unintended accident of transmission. For most of the plays, there is only one version that Shakespeare himself would have considered definitive, even if he would have acknowledged other drafts he produced, and even though we no doubt consider those drafts worth saving and studying today. For Homeric epic, the relative uniformity of the medieval manuscripts is the accident of transmission, and multiformity is the natural result of the process by which they were created. Many hundreds of the relatively uniform medieval texts of Homer survive, whereas no complete text of Homer survives on papyrus and only certain passages are quoted in Classical authors. In a 2001 publication, Dué (2001a) examined in detail a Homeric quotation from the orator Aeschines, together with some Ptolemaic papyri. Dué found that the kinds of variation presented in those sources are formulaic and traditional: there are extra verses, alternative verses, and variation within lines, but the nature of the variations is such that they are equally as “Homeric” as those that survived in our medieval transmission. This kind of variation, which is primarily on the level of formula and fluctuation in the number of verses, would not interest all readers of Homer, but it is what is to be expected in a relatively late stage of the transmission, at a point when the poems had largely been fixed. For even as early as {162|163} the Classical period—whence the earliest textual evidence survives—the Homeric poems seem to have had a cohesiveness and unity that borders on the adjective “fixed.”

Before we attempt to go even further back in time, and consider a far more fluid state of the epic poetry, it might be helpful here to consider the evolutionary model for the development of the Homeric poems that has been proposed by Gregory Nagy. Nagy (2004:27) traces the evolution of the poems in five stages, moving from “most fluid” to “most rigid”:

In response to the challenge posed by Lord’s concept of multiformity, the evolutionary model presents an alternative to the numerous attempts at reconstructing an “original” text of Homer. In terms of this model, I envisage five periods of progressively less fluidity, more rigidity:

(1) a relatively most fluid period, with no written texts, extending from the early second millennium into the middle of the eighth century in the first millennium BCE.

(2) a more formative or “Panhellenic” period, still with no written texts, from the middle of the eighth century to the middle of the sixth BCE.

(3) a definitive period, centralized in Athens, with potential texts in the sense of transcripts, at any or several points from the middle of the sixth century to the later part of the fourth BCE; this period starts with the reform of Homeric performance traditions in Athens during the régime of the Peisistratidai.

(4) a standardizing period, with texts in the sense of transcripts or even scripts, from the later part of the fourth century to the middle of the second BCE; this period starts with the reform of Homeric performance traditions in Athens during the régime of Demetrius of Phalerum, which lasted from 317 to 307 BCE.

(5) a relatively most rigid period, with texts as scripture, from the middle of the second century onward; this period starts with the completion of Aristarchus’ editorial work on the Homeric texts, not long after 150 BCE or so, which is a date that also marks the general disappearance of the so-called “eccentric” papyri. {163|164}

When we discuss the relative multiformity of the Classical and Ptolemaic eras, we are speaking of periods (3) and (4) in Nagy’s scheme, the “definitive” period and “standardizing” period, respectively. We can also compare Nagy’s suggestion of the possibility of “transcripts” at this time to our discussion of the multiformity that we find in the textual transmission of Shakespeare, where we noted the influence of transcripts on the early printed editions of the plays.

Can a multitextual approach to the Homeric epics tell us anything about Nagy’s periods (1) and (2), the “most fluid” and “formative” phases of our Iliad and Odyssey? This is our hope, that by making available the historical witnesses to the texts of these poems, as they circulated in antiquity and the medieval period, we can allow users of the Homer Multitext to understand with even more precision than we do now the workings of the traditional system within which our poems were created, as well as the interpretive possibilities that are opened up when the system is viewed diachronically.

It has frequently been asserted that the multiformity of the Homeric tradition is not interesting, and that the few variations we do find are banal and inconsequential. From our perspective, this assertion is simply untrue. [7] It seems that the expectation or desire would be for a recorded variation that would dramatically change the story—Achilles goes home! Odysseus dies at sea! Variation of such magnitude can and does appear on the level of myth, but the idea that the manuscripts, coming as late in the tradition as they do, would have as much multiformity as earlier stages of the textual tradition, not to mention {164|165} the full oral tradition itself, is both misinformed and misleading. What is interesting about the multiforms that are recorded in our textual sources—and let us emphasize again that the further back in time the source goes, the greater the multiformity we see—is that they serve both as a window onto the underlying system of oral poetry and as crucial evidence for the textual tradition itself. The multiforms go to the heart of the Homeric Question. It would be intellectually dishonest and scientifically invalid, moreover, to try to show how “multiform” our text of Homer is with percentages, charts, and graphs—though, as we have pointed out, such attempts have been made. It is more intellectually honest to assert that every verse in Homeric poetry is at least potentially a multiform, and to explore the implications of that potential whenever we analyze the text for its poetic possibilities. The commentaries herein attempt to do just that. On a larger scale, the Homer Multitext seeks to give users many of the tools they need to confront and explore the poetics of a multiform epic tradition. The present printed edition is more modest in its aims, but it nevertheless seeks to understand the controversial Iliad 10 as the product of a dynamic oral system of poetry that evolved through time, and throughout this edition we resist any efforts to pin its composition down to one time, place, or singer.

The Texts

Please note that, in the commentary below, we follow the manuscript sigla devised by T. W. Allen, whose 1931 editio maior contains a comprehensive list and description of all the manuscripts and papyri known to him at that time. We have supplemented Allen’s sigla with additional papyrus numbers, particularly those that are not yet published, but which are included by Martin West in his 1998–2000 edition of the Iliad. West’s edition does not contain a comprehensive list of medieval manuscripts, but instead relies on twenty manuscripts that he has determined to be the oldest and most important. In general, the lack of a universally agreed upon standard reference system for medieval manuscripts and papyri has been a major problem in Homeric studies in recent decades. The Mertens-Pack project ( is working to correct this situation in terms of the papyri, but, with so many competing systems out there, there is clearly a need for a universal registry that can reconcile these systems and provide a standard point of reference, a registry of canonical identifiers. The Center for Hellenic Studies is sponsoring {165|166} such a project, which is under the direction of Christopher W. Blackwell and D. Neel Smith (see But at this point we must still work with these competing systems as best we can, and try to make our work understandable within their frameworks.

Although not all of the manuscripts below are cited in the commentary, for the convenience of those who may be using West’s edition, we offer the following equivalency chart:

Allen A = West A (Marcianus Gr. Z. 454 [= 822])*

Allen B = West B (Marcianus Gr. Z. 453 [= 821])*

Allen C = West C (Laurentianus 32.3)

Allen D = West D (Laurentianus 32.15)

Allen E3 = West E (Escorialensis Υ.I.1 [291])*

Allen E4 = West F (Escorialensis Ω.I.12 [509])*

Allen Ge = West G (Genavensis 44)*

Allen Vi5 = West H (Vindobonensis 117)

Allen M1 = West M (Ambrosianus Gr. A 181 sup. [74])

Allen U4 = West N (Marcianus Gr. Z. 458 [= 841])*

Allen O8 = West O (Oxon. Bodl. New College 298)

Allen P11 = West P (Paris. Gr. 2766)

Allen O5 = West R (Oxon. Bodl. Auct. T.2.7))

Allen T = West T (Lond. Bibl. Brit. Burney 86)

Allen V1 = West V (Vaticanus Gr. 26)

Allen V16 = West W (Vaticanus Gr. 1319)

[West X (Sinaeticus), which is in fragments, is not included in Allen]

[West Y (Paris. suppl. gr. 663), which is in fragments, is not included in Allen]

Allen Ve1 = West Z (Rom. Bibl. Nat. Gr. 6 + Matrit. 4626)

* Digital images of these manuscripts are (or soon will be) freely available on-line at: {166|}


[ back ] 1. See Reynolds and Wilson 1991.

[ back ] 2. See Parry 1971, Lord 1960/2000, Lord 1991, and Lord 1995; see also Nagy 1996a and Nagy 2002.

[ back ] 3. See Nagy 1996b and Dué 2006a.

[ back ] 4. In addition to the examples discussed here, two others should be noted. In 1924, T. W. Allen analyzed variations in early papyrus texts to come up with percentage degrees of difference from the medieval texts of Homer (Allen 1924). In 1982, Richard Janko published a statistical analysis of the dialects and other language features in Homer, Hesiod, and the Homeric Hymns and used them to argue (among other things) that our Iliad was composed and fixed in the eighth century BCE (Janko 1982). The studies of both Allen and Janko are marred by their small sample size, which limits the strength of any inferences that can be drawn from analysis of the data. Allen himself admitted as much, noting that “many of the figures are meaningless” (Allen 1924:300).

[ back ] 5. Ahuvia Kahane (1997) has written an excellent overview of the potential rewards and pitfalls of “quantifying epic”: “A quantitative approach therefore enables us to learn about a non-textual or rather a hyper-textual version of Homer. This version is perhaps better known simply as the epic tradition (which, of course, is assumed to be larger and more fluid than our extant Iliad and Odyssey)” (1997:333, original emphasis). We share Kahane’s conception of a larger, more fluid epic tradition within which the Iliad and Odyssey were composed, and this is perhaps the most basic of the assumptions on which we have built our reconstruction of the poetics of ambush.

[ back ] 6. See Foley 1991, Foley 1995, Foley 1999.

[ back ] 7. See especially Dué 2001a.