FirstDrafts: Digital Images of Iliad Manuscripts

Digital Images of Iliad Manuscripts from the Marciana Library

Casey Dué & Mary Ebbott, editors : Christopher Blackwell & Neel Smith, architects

In this issue of First Drafts at Classics@ we, the editors and architects of the Homer Multitext Library, publish for the first time images commissioned by the Center for Hellenic Studies of three Homeric manuscripts. The images allow unprecedented access to three manuscripts of the Iliad, now housed in the Marciana Library in Venice, Italy: the tenth-century Marcianus Graecus Z. 454 (= 822), the eleventh-century Marcianus Graecus Z. 453 (= 821), and the twelfth/thirteenth-century Marcianus Graecus Z. 458 (= 841). Marcianus Graecus Z. 454, commonly called the “Venetus A,” is the manuscript on which all modern editions of the Iliad are primarily based. The Venetus A is a deluxe edition unparalleled in beauty and design by any other surviving manuscript of the Iliad. It is extremely valuable for the scholarly commentary it contains in its margins, much of which derives from the work of scholars affiliated with the library of Ptolemaic Alexandria in the second and first centuries BCE. The Marcianus Graecus Z. 453, known as the “Venetus B,” and the twelfth/thirteenth-century Marcianus Graecus Z. 458 preserve in their margins commentary different from that of the Venetus A, providing us with even more information about the epics and how they have been interpreted in the past. With the publication of these high-resolution images, and in publications to follow, the manuscripts can be viewed and read in thorough detail. The Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana and the Center for Hellenic Studies are proud to offer these digital images to the world as an opportunity to advance the study of the Iliad. Further below is a list of collaborators and sponsors without whom this publication would not be possible.

Project details

The manuscripts were photographed with a Hasselblad H1 camera with a 39 megapixel Phase One P45 digital back. The imaging took place at the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice from May 2 to June 5, 2007. The team that captured the images was Christopher Collins, Jonathan Jackson, David Jacobs, and Christopher Lee. Graeme Bird, Christopher Blackwell, Casey Dué, Mary Ebbott, Suzanne Lye, Leonard Muellner, Ross Scaife, Sean Signore, and Neel Smith assisted the photographers in verifying the accuracy of the images. David Jacobs, Christopher Collins, and Silvia Pugliese oversaw the conservation of the manuscripts.

The images are published here under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License that prohibits commercial use. The copyright to the images is held by the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana.

Access to the Images

Interested readers can access this initial publication of the images of Venetian Manuscripts in several ways. The most direct access is via a directory-listing of all available images (with accompanying MD5 files, which allow confirmation that a downloaded images is a bit-for-bit identical copy of the published image).These images have been minimally processed because we want to make them available as soon as possible. In the near future, versions of the images that have been further enhanced (individually color corrected, resized, etc.) will be published and made available similarly. The 16-bit TIFFs published here can be opened by such applications as Adobe Photoshop and Apple’s Preview, but not all applications will be able to handle such large files. The high-quality JPEGs also published here will be more accessible to those using non-professional software. The type of monitor used to view the images greatly affects their clarity and color. A color-calibrated, high-resolution monitor (Eizo ColorEdge CG19) was used to verify the images as they were captured in Venice.

Readers may also wish to browse the manuscripts using the CHS’s Manuscript Browser interface. This web-based application allows access to images based on citations to the Iliad or by reference to a particular folio of a manuscript. The application takes advantage of the Google Maps API to offer a very responsive environment for viewing and zooming images. Readers may also download versions of each image from the browser application.

The Homer Multitext Library

The Homer Multitext Library will include a wide range of Homeric texts, from antiquity through the medieval period, and these images were commissioned as a component of that project. A description of the Homer Multitext Library can be found on the project’s website.  The library will publish, as individual resources, images, Homeric texts, scholia, and commentaries, and indices as they become available. It will also feature applications that bring these resources together in useful combinations.

We anticipate that these images will be used in a variety of ways by interested scholars of many disciplines as well as by the general public. We encourage wide-ranging use, as permitted by the Creative Commons license that applies to the images. Several projects involving these images have already been undertaken by groups collaborating with the CHS. We highlight in particular the work of Brent Seales and the Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments at the University of Kentucky. That team is creating three-dimensional views of each folio of Marcianus Graecus Z. 454 and the manuscript as a whole. These three-dimensional views will be used to create a virtual manuscript that simulates the experience of reading the actual artifact. The team will also apply to the three-dimensional data they have collected a “virtual flattening” process, which digitally transforms the 3-D image into a flat page. Seales and his team are also producing a documentary about our work in Venice. Steve Bailey, Ryan Baumann, Matt Field, Lowell Pike, and Jon Rueger contributed to these dimensions of the project. 


The photography in Venice was generously supported by grants from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation. The entire CHS team wishes to express our most sincere appreciation for their timely support.

We also thank the entire staff of the Marciana Library for their most valuable assistance throughout the duration of the project. Special thanks go to
Dr. Marino Zorzi, Director of the Marciana Library
Dr. Susy Marcon, Director of the manuscript collection
Dr. Maurizio Messina, Vice Director of the Marciana Library
Silvia Pugliese of the conservation and restoration department
Fulvio Zennaro of the Correr Museum

Manfred Mayer of the University Library of Graz designed and built the book cradle (in Greek, λ?κνον) on which the manuscripts were photographed. The CHS team would like to express their appreciation to him, especially for the multiple trips he took to Venice in the course of building, installing, and modifying this custom-built cradle.

David Jacobs of the British Library was a consultant throughout the project in matters of conservation, digital imaging, and metadata. He was also the on-site project manager.

The CHS team also acknowledges the many contributions of two collaborators who were consulted on numerous questions of digital imaging and archival methods:

Michael Horsley of the Data and Imaging Laboratory of the National Archive and Records Administration and Lukas Rosenthaler and his colleagues from the Imaging and Media Lab of the University of Basel.

Dot Porter of the Collaboratory for Research in Computing for Humanities (RCH) of the University of Kentucky, together with Christopher Blackwell of Furman University, designed the architecture of the metadata associated with each image.

We owe special debts to two scholars who facilitated the success of the entire operation:

Prof. Bernard Frischer, Director of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia, who recommended our project to the Marciana Library.

Prof. Paolo Venerando of the Dante Alighieri Society and Wake Forest University in Venice, who oversaw and personally attended to virtually all aspects of our day-to-day operations in Venice and translated into Italian our formal correspondence and agreement with the Marciana Library.