As Many Homers As You Please: An On-line Multitext of Homer

Article Contents
  What is a multitext and why is it valuable?
  The scope of the project and how it will be achieved
  The multitext edition as a research and teaching tool  
  Current state of the project


Summary   [top]  

This article introduces the multitext editions of the Iliad and  Odyssey that are currently being produced by a team scholars in association  with the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C. (  and the Stoa Consortium (


What is a multitext and why is it valuable?       [top]

Homeric scholarship has not yet succeeded in achieving a definitive edition  of either the Iliad or the Odyssey. The obvious obstacle  is, of course, that there is not yet a consensus on the criteria for establishing  an edition as “definitive.” The ongoing disagreements reflect a wide variety  of answers to the many serious questions that remain about Homer and Homeric  poetry. Most of these Homeric questions are inseparable from the controversies  that are inherent in the texts and transmission of an oral tradition. While  the medieval manuscripts of Homer present a relatively fixed text that has  often been termed “the medieval vulgate,” the same cannot be said for the     ancient evidence. Homeric quotations by ancient authors, the papyri of the  Ptolemaic and Roman eras, and the scholia in medieval manuscripts  create a picture of the Homeric text of the Classical and Hellenistic eras  that is quite different from our own. There are numerous verses that are seemingly  intrusive from the standpoint of the medieval vulgate, the so-called plus  verses, and others that are absent, which may be termed minus verses. Equally  prevalent is variation of phrasing within lines. In most cases the variation  is of a demonstrably formulaic nature in which one Homeric formula is present  in place of another, and the superiority of one or the other reading cannot  be assumed.

An ideal edition of Homer would encompass the full historical reality of  the Homeric textual tradition as it evolved through time, from the pre-Classical  era well into the medieval. Our attempt to create such an edition is already  underway. Instead of choosing between variants and plus verses in an attempt  to recover the ipsissima verba of Homer, we propose to include them  in a multitext edition that embraces the fluidity of the textual traditions  of the Iliad and Odyssey. The ideal format for this multitext  edition of Homer is not a traditional printed text but an electronic, web-based  edition. Unlimited in its ability to handle complex sets of variants, an electronic     multitext offers critical readers of Homer the opportunity to consider many  historical Iliads and Odysseys from the standpoint of many  different sources of transmission, and so also allows the user to recover  both a more accurate and more accessible picture of the fluidity of the tradition  in the earliest stages of textuality. Unlike traditional modern scholarly  editions of Homer, this edition does not represent an editor’s attempt  to establish a single authoritative text of the Iliad and Odyssey.  The multitext has no need for an apparatus criticus, because it emphatically  does not represent editorial intervention and excludes such interventions  on the part of other editors.


The scope of the project and how it will  be achieved   [top]  

A team of scholars, working under the auspices of Harvard’s Center  for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C., and in cooperation with the Stoa  consortium, is currently developing the tools and resources that will eventually  comprise the CHS Multitext of Homer. Although electronic texts and translations  of the Iliad and Odyssey are currently available in various  places on the web, the CHS multitext will be much more than that. The multitext  will be able to display known variants from papyri, scholia, medieval  manuscripts, and ancient quotations, presented in a diachronic framework.     For example, one diachronic layer that we plan to feature is a reconstruction  of the koinh/ text of Aristarchus’s day (approximately 150 BC). This koinh/ text, itself a collation of  the many koinai/ texts in circulation, is the point  of departure for Aristarchus’s commentaries (u(pomnh/mata)  on the text of Homer, but it does not reflect Aristarchus’s own vision  of the ideal Homeric text. It is instead a representative collation of the  state of the transmission in his own time.

The multitext will also be linked to supplementary materials, including translations,     scholia, a modern commentary, and information about Alexandrian and  Pergamene libraries, scholars, and scholarship. The project will eventually  include multitexts of both the Iliad and Odyssey and Greek  texts with English translations of the lives of Homer, Proclus’s summaries  of the Epic Cycle, the fragments, and the Homeric Hymns. A major  component of the project is to offer unprecedented access to the scholia  contained in the tenth century Venetus A manuscript of the Iliad.  We plan to do this by means of high resolution digital images of the manuscript,  an electronic edition of the Greek text of the scholia with an English  translation.

The crucial and perhaps most difficult aspects of this project involve structure  and presentation. Each of the components of the multitext is being created  as a separate entity, but must eventually be integrated into one interoperable  and unified system. This will be achieved by the use of structured markup  of the raw data of the multitext. To this end we are spending a good deal  of time in the initial stages of this project simply getting the raw data  in usable form. As more and more texts, translations, images, and essays get  marked up, the multitext will be built. Even more fundamentally, we are attempting  to visualize the uses for this data in all of its many possible manifestations,  so that those uses can inform the markup of the data. We wish only to stress  here that however the data is ultimately presented—and we already are  envisioning several different modes of presentation for the user to choose     among—the multitext offers access to historically grounded moments in  the transmission of Homer.


The multitext edition as a research and  teaching tool   [top]  

The coordination of these many, disparate sources within one system provides  two great benefits to scholars and students of Homeric poetry: accessibility  and ease of use. Users of the multitext will be able to find variants easily,  and view them within their chosen version of the text, rather than search  for them in an apparatus (and hope the editor chose to include them!). Other  functions, such as extracting a list of places where variations occur or searching  for every variation that occurs within a formulaic slot in the line, will  provide tools to expedite research on the oral and textual transmissions and  may in themselves raise new questions about the sources and our understanding  of the transmission. Scholars can consult many sources that they might not  have access to otherwise, such as digital photographs of the Venetus A manuscript.  Through their selection of a variety of texts users can view the variety of     sources and the possibilities that exist, choosing “as many Homers as they  please.”

The multitext will be not only a convenient but also a striking and immediate  way to introduce students to the complexity of the oral tradition and its  textual transmission and accordingly to the serious questions that students  of Homeric poetry must confront. That is, the multitext will offer a means  to demonstrate, and not just describe abstractly, the variety of witnesses  that we have (and the resulting suggestion of what has been lost). Students  beginning to learn the practice of textual criticism can use the multitext  as a way of compiling an edition, and they can experience firsthand choosing  between varying evidence and justifying those choices. The multitext provides  a means for a student to view whatever variations might be included and come  to understand how these variations would affect a reading of the text. The  accessibility of these sources on-line also allows students themselves to  explore the questions on their own—no longer are the manuscripts and  papyri sources limited to “rare books” or scholarly journals, available in  only some libraries, if at all to students. The access provided by the web-based  environment is unlimited for students at all types of institutions.


Current state of the project   [top]  

One guiding principle of this long-term project is to make available whatever     components are developed as soon as possible, even before they are linked to one another in the ways we have described here. To see components of the  project that are already available, including digital photographs of a facsimile  of the Venetus A manuscript and Villioson’s edition of this manuscript,  the Homer and the Papyri database, and books and articles on Homeric poetry  and textual transmission, please see

Our immediate plans are to gather all sources and whole texts for Iliad1 in order to develop a prototype or working model of the multitext that we can make public as soon as possible while we continue to work on the whole.

To refer to this please cite it in this way:

Casey Dué and Mary Ebbott, “As Many Homers As You Please: an  On-line Multitext of Homer,” C. Blackwell, R. Scaife, edd., Classics@ volume 2:  C. Dué & M. Ebbott, executive editors, The Center for Hellenic  Studies of Harvard University, edition of April 3, 2004.