In this post I'd like to discuss the special treatment of the so-called "Catalogue of Ships" (Iliad 2.494–877) in the Venetus A and E4 manuscripts of the Iliad, as well as in the Venetus B and E3. The Catalogue of Ships, in which the Achaean and Trojan and allied forces at Troy are listed and described, has long been a subject of scholarly controversy, perhaps dating back to antiquity, and so it is worth making note of how it is treated in our oldest manuscripts of the poem. In the end, as we have seen several times now in other posts, E4 will be shown to have an intriguing connection with the scholarly material recorded in the Venetus A, and all four manuscripts will have something to say about the limitations of traditional critical editions of the Iliad.
Why is the Catalogue of Ships so controversial? It is by no means the only catalogue in surviving Homeric poetry, but at nearly four hundred verses in length it is by far the longest. Its placement in the narrative, at the start of a battle in the tenth year of the war, seems odd. The catalogue follows a circuitous geographical progression that begins in Boeotia, and the region of Boeotia and its neighboring areas are disproportionately represented. The Catalogue seems to reflect, for the most part, the political geography of Bronze Age Greece, but there are many exceptions and aspects that are hard to explain. As Oliver Dickinson (2011) has recently concluded:
All in all, the Catalogue is a strange compilation, and it does not seem possible to devise any rational explanation for its peculiarities. Here, as with many Homeric problems, the lack of pre-Homeric or contemporary "heroic" poetry is a major obstacle to the creation of plausible hypotheses. The most that can be safely said is that the Catalogue is likely to have been compiled from materials of different origins and dates and that care has been taken to harmonize it to other Greek traditions; but, although in some parts it does show a degree of historical consistency, on the whole it is most unlikely to bear any resemblance to the probable political configuration of those parts of Greece that it covers at any time period.In fact, many of the controversies associated with the Catalogue of Ships can be at least partially explained if we understand it to have been composed as part of a traditional system of oral composition-in-performance that evolved over many centuries. Names and places that seem obscure to us would have had a prominent place in the epic tradition at one time or another. Some places that flourished in the Bronze Age no doubt became obscure already even for ancient audiences of the Archaic period, but a brief record of their heroes was preserved and eventually crystallized as part of the Catalogue. In many ways, such a catalogue functions as an index to the full diachronic expanse of the Epic Tradition itself. As for the oddity of having the Achaean and Trojan forces listed in the tenth year of the war, we can easily see how, in an oral tradition in which the song is composed anew each time, episodes could be rearranged to meet the needs of the current composition. It has long been understood that there are many episodes in the Iliad that logically belong far earlier in the story of the Trojan War (such as the scene in Book 3 in which Helen points out the Achaean heroes to Priam and the old men watching from the walls, and indeed the duel for Helen by Paris and Menelaos, which also takes place in that book). As the Iliad evolved into the monumental poem that we know, those chronologically earlier episodes came to be folded into the narrative structure of the poem, and became integral to it.
Understanding the traditional and oral nature of the Catalogue does not explain all of the questions associated with it, however, and the controversies it has generated may explain why it is missing from several manuscripts of the Iliad, including the Townley and the Genavensis and a 3rd-century papyrus. The Venetus A, the Venetus B, E3, and E4 all include the Catalogue, but it is formatted in such a way that sets it apart visually.
Let's look first at E4, and the compare it to the other manuscripts. If you look at Folio 21v (you may want to look first, for comparison, at Folio 21r), you'll quickly see that it is not a typical one. The folios of E4 usually have two columns of equal-sized text on each folio, and these columns are surrounded by scholia. The left columns contain the text of the poem and the right columns consist of a paraphrase. Here we are in the middle of Book 2, but what we find is in fact a title page.
Each book of the Iliad in E4 has a title page that spreads over two folios, from the verso of one folio on the left side to recto of the other on the right. (See, e.g., folio 187v and 188r.) On the left side page, scholia surround a central text block, which typically includes scholia followed by one or more (usually two) brief prose summaries, or hypotheses. These hypotheses are transmitted in a variety of manuscripts, including Ve1 (= West Z, Rom. Bibl. Nat. Gr. 6 + Matrit. 4626), a ninth-century manuscript containing “D” scholia that is older than any of our minuscule manuscripts of the Iliad itself. After the hypothesis of each book, on the facing page and above the main text of the poem and its paraphrase, comes a title line (e.g. “rhapsody 10 of the Iliad of Homer”) followed by a one-verse summary of the plot of the book in dactylic hexameter. The title line is placed over the column of text that contains the Iliad, while the summary is placed over the column that contains the paraphrase.
Folio 21v of E4 in fact follows exactly the pattern that we find for the beginning of each book of the Iliad. A large portion of the page is taken up by a block of scholia, which is itself surrounded by other scholia. (The sources of these distinct groups of scholia will be explored in another post.) Next we find: ὑπόθεσις τῆς Βοιωτίας written in crimson ink at the center of the page. Instead of "Rhapsody ___," the Catalogue of Ships has been given the title of Βοιωτία, a title which may well have been a traditional way of referring to it in antiquity, reflecting the central importance of the region of Boeotia in the Catalogue. And, as for other books in E4, we find two hypotheses.
A question immediately springs to mind. Where do these hypotheses come from? Has the Catalogue always been treated as a separate composition, such that hypotheses survive for it just as for the twenty-four books of the Iliad? A closer look, however, reveals that these hypotheses are not quite the same as those of other texts. For one thing, they have lemmata: each begins with a quotation of Iliad 2.494. The other hypotheses in E4 have no such lemmata. Where there are two hypotheses for other books, the second one is usually preceded by ἄλλως or καὶ ἄλλως. That is not the case here. Moreover, if we turn to Folio 22r, we find other differences from other books. Though the folio is formatted much as the initial folio of a book of the Iliad would be in E4, there is no paraphrase in the right column. The right column is instead taken up with scholia. (This holds true for the entire length of the Catalogue of Ships in E4.) There is no metrical summary, and instead of a title, we find merely the ὑπόθεσις τῆς Βοιωτίας of the previous folio repeated (even though what follows is poetry, not a summary).
If the hypotheses for the Catalogue in E4 were related to those of the other books of the Iliad, we would expect to find them in the other manuscripts that preserve these hypotheses, such as Ve1, but we do not. To be more precise, they do not survive as hypotheses. They must have another source, and in fact we do find them preserved among the "D" scholia as scholia. The source seems to be most likely the same one that preserves the other scholia with lemmata in E4, scholia which, as we have seen, are related to the scholarly material that we find in the Venetus A. So let's turn now to the Venetus A (folio 34r), and see what we find there.
If we look at folio 34r of the Venetus A, we see that line 2.494 immediately follows upon what precedes it. There is no gap in the text nor a title line nor a metrical summary. But other features do indeed set it apart. The first letter of 2.494 in the Venetus A is a beautiful capital beta, such as you find at the beginning of books. Moreover a decorative line has been placed between verses 493 and 494. It is as if the scribe is aware of a tradition that treats the Catalogue of Ships as a separate unit, and formats it accordingly.
If we look above and to the right of the text block, we find several scholia that are easy to spot with their semiuncial lemmata—a quotation of verse 494. What follows the lemma of the first of these scholia is what has been formatted as the first hypothesis of E4. The comment following the second of these lemmata is very close to what has been formatted as the second hypothesis in E4:
If we compare the Venetus B (folio 31v) and E3 (folio 30v), we find that they too, like E4, format the start of the Catalogue of Ships as if it were the beginning of a new book of the Iliad. These manuscripts do not contain hypotheses for any of the books, so we would not expect to find one here. They both have a title line however: ἀρχὴ τῆς Βοιοτίας. And they both have an initial capital, as in the Venetus A.
Among the oldest manuscripts of the Iliad, we have seen that two omit the Catalogue of Ships entirely, and four format it in such way that make it clear that it was perceived as being in some sense a separate composition, or else its own "whole," much as the other books or "rhapsodies" of the Iliad. What does this formatting signify? Might it reflect, in some dim way, an ancient performance tradition, in which the Catalogue was performed on its own as a unit, as has been suggested for the individual books of the poem? (Cf. Aelian, Varia Historia 13.14, where the Catalogue of Ships is named explicitly as one of the episodes that "the ancients" used to perform separately.) Or is it the result of scholarly debate in antiquity, debates which may have deemed the Catalogue unHomeric? I don't yet have answers to these questions. But visual inspection reveals once again what is otherwise obscured in a traditional edition. If we did not have these images, we would only know that A, B, E3, and E4 include the Catalogue of Ships, and we would be unable to see how it has been so carefully set apart from the rest of Book 2 in each manuscript.
Dickinson, O. 2011. "Catalogue of Ships." In M. Finkleberg, ed. The Homer Encyclopedia. Blackwell.
Tsagalis, C. 2010. "The Dynamic Hypertext: Lists and Catalogues in the Homeric Epics." In C. Tsagalis. ed. Homeric Hypertextuality. Trends in Classics 2. De Gruyter. 323–347.