BMCR 2006.05.03

Feinde – Gegner – Opfer. Zur Darstellung der Troianer in den Kampfszenen der Ilias. Schweizerische Beiträge zur Altertumswissenschaft, Band 30

, Feinde - Gegner - Opfer : zur Darstellung der Troianer in den Kampfszenen der Ilias. Schweizerische Beiträge zur Altertumswissenschaft ; Bd. 30. Basel: Schwabe, 2004. xii, 488 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 3796520820. €75.50.

This is Dr Stoevesandt’s dissertation, presented at Basel in 2003 under the direction of Professor Joachim Latacz. Since 1995 she has been one of three local colleagues of Professor Latacz in the phenomenal project of the Gesamtkommentar on the Iliad, originally described as ‘the new Ameis-Hentze’, but now the Basler Iliaskommentar (BK) the first volumes of which were published in 2000. In the volume of Prolegomena to that commentary she wrote the entry on the chief human characters in the Iliad (pp. 133-43) and led the team which produced the complete index of proper names (pp. 173-207).

The Trojans are her subject, and the question whether we can show that the poet’s sympathy lies equally between them and the Greeks, or whether he favours one or the other side. The context is not family life in Troy, but what happens on the battlefield. If we get the feeling, as many have, that Homer is pro-Achaean in his descriptions of the fighting, what is the evidence? S. presents it to us statistically in six appendices which fill pages 352-427 and are the background for the discussion in the text.

The first appendix (1) is a preliminary enquiry to show that there is a problem to be solved. It is a chronological list of a hundred and twenty-seven Homer scholars, beginning with Lessing in 1766, assessing each one’s opinion of the poet’s attitude to this question on a scale running from ‘strongly pro-Achaean’ to ‘relatively pro-Trojan’. This alone demonstrates the quite extraordinary breadth of S.’s research. She seems to have read everything. The other appendices are (2) a detailed review of the 45 phases of action in the four battles of the Iliad, (3) statistics taken from that review showing the proportion of lines devoted to Achaean or Trojan successes, (4) an annotated list of the combats between individuals, about two hundred of them in all, (5) the similes and other comparisons found in the battle scenes, (6) speeches by the characters during the battles.

After the appendices come thirty pages of bibliography. Of the authors listed there, Janko’s edition of Books 13 to 16 is very frequently quoted in the text, more than that of any other of the five Cambridge editors; another frequent English language authority, not so often adduced these days, is William Ewart Gladstone.

In discussing the battle descriptions (Chapter III with Appendices 2 and 3), S. follows what is perhaps the most important observation of Latacz’s 1977 book, Kampfparänese, Kampfdarstellung und Kampfwirklichkeit in der Ilias, bei Kallinos und Tyrtaios, namely that although the narrative seems superficially to be a succession of individual fights between named warriors, the poet does not lose sight of what is happening to the armies overall, but includes that en passant if only by a simile or a brief summary. On the sequence of action on a typical day of battle, however, she seems closer to Albracht’s pioneering study Kampf und Kampfschilderung bei Homer1 than to the scheme proposed by Latacz.

The one-to-one combats (Chapter IV with Appendix 4), involving named victors and vanquished, may happen of course in any battle situation, whether close fighting, retreat or flight. Among the minor victims there are variations in the descriptions: sometimes we are just given the names, sometimes parentage, or detail of the wounds or other circumstances, sometimes a reference to the home life of the man, a kind of obituary notice ( Nachruf). Of the victors, who are usually the known leaders, she produces a kind of rating system of comparative strength. On the Greek side, Achilles is obviously incomparably the best, and next to him Aias and Diomedes. Surprisingly, however, she puts Patroklos with those two, ahead of a third group consisting of Agamemnon and Odysseus. This seems counter-intuitive, until one realises that her exclusive criterion is the number of victims, and Patroklos of course kills a large number in his aristeia in 16. But in a comparison of fighting ability statistical evidence of this kind is insufficient. There are hardened, experienced, traditional fighters who will survive the war, such as Idomeneus and Meriones, Oilean Aias, Meges, Thoas. The number of victims they are given in the Iliad narrative is not the only criterion. And as for Patroklos, he comes into the action fresh himself and with fresh troops. But he was only Achilleus’ charioteer, and has no standing among the leaders. It is surprising that he beat Sarpedon, but Sarpedon could hardly fail to be tired, having been in action since the beginning of 11, and he seems to have dropped his guard, for he is hit in the chest above the rim of his shield.

On the Trojan side there are fewer leading figures. She goes through their actions, beginning with Agenor and leading up to Hektor. She sees them as generally inferior to the best of the Greeks and liable to over-confidence. Neither Aineias nor Agenor should rationally have dared to face Achilleus. But she rates Hektor more highly than some judges, assessing him as not much inferior to Aias.

The statistics are remarkable. The numbers of named warriors killed on both sides show an imbalance of 189 Trojans and their allies against 54 Greeks. This is in spite of the fact that on the second and third days (Books 8 and 11 to 18) the Greeks are being defeated and pushed back into their camp. One would expect that their losses would be greater, but in fact on those two days the imbalance is no different, 119 to 36.

In the regular battle, the losing army may escape in one of two ways, by a disciplined retreat or in panic flight. The figures on this are striking. Both sides withdraw as often as each other, each in 23% of the total battle situations (the other 54% consists of (a) even fighting, (b) three formal duels, in each of which the Greek is superior). But in the case of Greek withdrawal, the 23% is made up of 18% retreat, 5% flight; in the case of the Trojans, it is 3% retreat, 20% flight. This goes some way to explain the greater Trojan losses.

In the man-to-man battle situations there are twenty occasions where a warrior anticipates an intended attack and ‘gets his retaliation in first’; this is achieved by eighteen Greeks and just two Trojans. On other occasions a warrior does attack, but is unsuccessful and is killed or wounded; this happens thirteen times, to twelve Trojans and only one Greek. ‘Obituaries’ are given to about a quarter of those killed, but as there are over three times as many Trojans and allies killed as Greeks, this form of pathos is much more commonly used of them. Only Greeks, apart from Hektor, are given aristeiai. Only Trojans ask for mercy; only Trojans have been taken prisoner; only Trojans are rescued by gods.

In the similes, which are very numerous in the battle narratives, no fewer than sixteen Greeks are compared with great fighting beasts, lions and boars, even when they are being beaten, among the Trojans only three (Hektor, Aineias, Sarpedon). The Trojans are often likened to flocks and herds, and their discipline is decidedly inferior.

The effect of all of this is cumulative. The Greeks are consistently portrayed as more efficient fighters, and to that extent they are clearly favoured by the poet. But this does not mean a lack of sympathy for the Trojans. They are not barbarians, but just as brave and responsible as their opponents. One could say that the Greeks are professionals, the Trojans amateurs.

Finally, how does this master poet contrive to give the impression of Greek superiority while describing the Greeks being defeated? The answer is that it is not a conscious contrivance, but the way his muse works. The technique is regularly now described as cinematic. To quote Hans van Wees, ‘Homer constructs his battle scenes much as a film director might do. He opens with a panoramic image of the forces drawing up and advancing, then zooms in on the action, and thereafter cuts back and forth between close-ups of the heroes of the tale and wide-angle views of the armies at large. During close-ups, the general action recedes into the background or falls outside the frame, and a superficial impression is created of warriors fighting duels in isolation.’2 In those close-ups he and his audience find satisfaction in predominantly Greek success.

The general accuracy is impressive. There are very few misprints. Apart from a small number of printing errors, a line has dropped out in a table on page 357, and another on p. 363, and one figure (15) has dropped from a table on p. 387. The quoted Greek too is unusually accurate. If the reader finds something unexpected linguistically, the reason is that S. is quoting from West’s innovative Teubner text; it is not a mistake. For the same reason we find a character called Epegeus replacing the familiar Epeigeus, ‘not the worst of the Myrmidons’, so interestingly discussed by Gisela Strasburger fifty years ago. ‘Epegeus’ is how West gives his name (16.571), following the general consensus of the mss.

There are books about the Iliad which are a pleasure to read because of the author’s concentration on an important but not commonly recognised feature of the text, such as Kakridis’ Homeric Researches, Strasburger’s Die Kleinen Kämpfer der Ilias, Lohmann’s Die Komposition der Reden in der Ilias. S.’s book may for many readers have the same effect.


1. Franz Albracht’s brilliant work on the battle scenes (Part I 1886, Part II 1895) is not easily available. I am happy to report that a translation into English was published by Duckworth, London, in 2006, under the title Battle and Battle Description in Homer.

2. H. Van Wees in A New Companion to Homer, ed. I. Morris and B. Powell, Leiden 1997, at pp. 673-4.