A Handy, Detailed Map Shows the Hometowns of Characters in the Iliad

Click here to see a larg­er ver­sion of the map.

You’ve adjust­ed to the strange­ness of names like Ascala­phus and Phidip­pus. You’ve more or less fig­ured out who’s on which side in the ancient war between Greece and Troy. But as lit­er­ary epics will do—from the ancient Greeks and Indi­ans to the 19th cen­tu­ry Rus­sians—Homer’s Ili­ad also presents you with sev­er­al logis­ti­cal puz­zles you must either ignore or spend count­less hours try­ing to solve: you are giv­en the names of major and minor char­ac­ters’ home­towns, rang­ing all over the Adri­at­ic, Ion­ian, Cre­tan, and Aegean Seas. Doubt­less you have no idea where most of these places were.

Again and again, place names occur in rapid suc­ces­sion, and you’re told not only who hails from where, but who com­mands and con­quers which city. Just a smat­ter­ing of exam­ples from Book II (in Samuel But­ler’s trans­la­tion):

Ulysses led the brave Cephal­leni­ans, who held Itha­ca, Ner­i­tum with its forests, Cro­cylea, rugged Aegilips, Samos and Zacyn­thus, with the main­land also that was over against the islands. 

Thoas, son of Andrae­mon, com­mand­ed the Aeto­lians, who dwelt in Pleu­ron, Olenus, Pylene, Chal­cis by the sea, and rocky Caly­don, 

And those that held Pher­ae by the Boe­bean lake, with Boebe, Glaphyrae, and the pop­u­lous city of Iol­cus

“Huh,” you say, “Okay, Homer, I’ll take your word for it.” Ques­tions of his­toric­i­ty aside, we can at least say that the hun­dreds of cities and towns men­tioned in this cul­tur­al­ly for­ma­tive text did exist, or con­tin­ue to do so, though it’s debat­able, as Jason Kot­tke writes, whether “that lev­el of mobil­i­ty was accu­rate for the time [some­where in the 11th or 12th cen­tu­ry BC] or if Homer sim­ply pop­u­lat­ed his poem with folks from all over Greece as a way of mak­ing lis­ten­ers from many areas feel con­nect­ed to the sto­ry.”

In any case, you need not despair of ever mak­ing sense of Homer’s bewil­der­ing geo­graph­i­cal lists. The map above (click here to see it in a larg­er for­mat) hand­i­ly illus­trates the world of the Ili­ad, show­ing the places of ori­gins of a few dozen char­ac­ters, with Greeks in green and Tro­jans in yel­low. Kot­tke notes in an adden­dum to his post that “not every char­ac­ter is rep­re­sent­ed… (par­tic­u­lar­ly the women) and… some of the loca­tions and home­towns are incor­rect.” We would wel­come corrections—as would Wikipedia—if an enter­pris­ing clas­sics schol­ar has the time and ener­gy to devote to such an effort.

But for the lay read­er of Homer’s epic, the map more than suf­fices as help­ful visu­al con­text for a very com­pli­cat­ed nar­ra­tive. One defin­ing fea­ture of a war epic well-told, most crit­ics would say, is that the human dra­ma does not get lost in the scale and scope of the action. More than any oth­er form, the epic illus­trates what Tol­stoy described in War and Peace as the “his­tor­i­cal sense” that our con­flicts are “bound up with the whole course of his­to­ry and pre­or­dained from all eter­ni­ty.” But against this kind of deter­min­ism, the great poets par­tic­u­lar­ize, mak­ing their char­ac­ters seem not like props in a cos­mic dra­ma but like actu­al peo­ple from actu­al places on earth. See­ing the Ili­ad mapped above rein­forces our sense of the Greek epics as genuine—if fantastical—accounts of mean­ing­ful human action in the world.

You can find free ver­sions of the Ili­ad and the Odyssey in our col­lec­tion of Free eBooks and Free Audio Books.

via Kottke.org.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

An Inter­ac­tive Map of Odysseus’ 10-Year Jour­ney in Homer’s Odyssey

Greek Myth Comix Presents Homer’s Ili­ad & Odyssey Using Stick-Man Draw­ings

Hear Homer’s Ili­ad Read in the Orig­i­nal Ancient Greek

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (4)
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  • Noric Dilanchian says:

    This map is a gem. Thank you for shar­ing it and your many oth­er infor­ma­tion gems.

  • Claire says:

    This is good as far as it goes but the lack of women is total­ly unac­cept­able. Not even Helen, the sup­posed cause of the war for heav­en’s sake! No Bri­seis, whose theft kick­starts The Ili­ad, no Pene­lope. No Andro­mache. Hon­est­ly. Good job eras­ing half the human race. Espe­cial­ly as you praise the Ili­ad for its human dra­ma — well yes that has a lot to do with the women in it.

    And the omis­sion of women isn’t some triv­ial over­sight. It is how his­to­ry and cul­ture are done. Over and over and over.

  • Robt William Churchill says:

    How can I pur­chase a copy of the LARGE VERSION of this Ilead Map?

    Thank you for your assis­tance.

  • Robt William Churchill says:

    Ms. Claire,

    MEN cre­at­ed this map of men’s birth­places.

    Instead of crit­i­ciz­ing men and the orig­i­na­tors of this map, per­haps you women folk should UPDATE the map or bet­ter yet, cre­ate a women of the Ilead ver­sion of your own.

    Stop whin­ing and solve the prob­lem.

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