The Boiotian Plain

View Fullscreen


Lines: 494-510

Captains: Leïtos, Peneleos, Arkesilaos, Prothoenor, and Klonios

Ships: 50

Syntactical Groups:

Verb 1 (blue): οἵ…ἐνέμοντο... (496)

          Hyria, Aulis, Schoinos, Skolos, Eteonos, Thespiai, Graia, Mykalessos

Verb 2 (red): οἵ…ἐνέμοντο... (499)

          Harma, Eilesion, Erythrai

Verb 3 (purple): οἵ...εἶχον... (500)

          Eleon, Hyle, Peteon, Okaleia, Medeon, Kopai, Eutresis, Thisbe, Koroneia, Haliartos

Verb 4 (green): οἵ...εἶχον... (504)


Verb 5 (pink): οἵ…ἐνέμοντο... (504)


Verb 6 (light blue):  οἵ...εἶχον... (505)

          Hypothebai, Onchestos

Verb 7 (light green): οἵ...εἶχον... (507)

          Arne, Mideia, Nisa, Anthedon

Line by Line Groups:

Hyria, Aulis (496); Schoinos, Skolos, Eteonos (497); Thespiai, Graia, Mykalessos (498); Harma, Eilesion, Erythrai (499); Eleon, Hyle, Peteon (500); Okaleia, Medeon (501); Kopai, Eutresis, Thisbe (502); Koroneia, Haliartos (503); Plataia, Glisas (504); Hypothebai (505); Onchestos (506); Arne, Mideia (507); Nisa, Anthedon (508)


The Boiotian contingent is notable because it is the first contingent and stands at the head of the catalogue.  This pride of place has been the subject of some scholarly debate as the importance given to the region here is not reflected in the other parts of the poem.  It may, as Kirk (1985) says, stem from the fact that Aulis served as the jumping off point for the Greek fleet and plays such a large role in the beginning of the expedition.  It has also been suggested that Boiotia had a long tradition of Catalogue poetry and as such this can help to explain its prominent placement.  

But if the narrative placement is an oddity then it is not the only one.  As one begins to plot the places listed on the map, it very quickly becomes apparent that what Homer gives us is not a sensible itinerary.   Of course, one could certainly journey to each of these places in the order given, but it is hard to see why one would go from the east coast at Hyria and Aulis, go to Schoinos, Skolos and Eteonos, then go all the way to Thespiai on the other side of Thebes, only to come back to the far east coast and Mykalessos, which was very likely on the road from Hyria to Thebes.  Even allowing for some out-of-order placement due to the strictures of meter, this is a very impractical itinerary indeed.  Why not mention Mykalessos and Thebes if they are in fact on the way between Eteonos and Thespiai?  Even more striking is the fact that Thebes is passed over altogether, though if one bears in mind the existing road network a traveler would surely have passed through it more than once on their zigzag across the southern plain. 

So if Homer’s Boiotian contingent is not organized as an itinerary, or even, as we have seen with the other contingents, structured by geography and existing road systems, what is the organizational principal behind this first contingent?

One might just as well say that there is no organizational principal.  It is after all a plain (two plains, of course, but we’ll get to that) and as such does not possess many geological features around which to organize a list.  Certainly this was the opinion of Strabo.  But such an answer is unsatifying.  For one, Boiotia does indeed have geographic features around its periphery.  One need only look to Homer’s treatment of the contingents in the Thessalian plain to see how the poet, when confronted with a large number of towns located in and around a flat plain, can organize his list.  It may, of course, be argued that the organizational principal is easier because Thessaly is comprised of a number of small contingents, whereas Boiotia represents only one.  And yet Homer does not zigzag across the plain, but instead takes the Thessalian contingents in a sensible order, first moving from west to east along the southern part of the plain, then from west to east again along the northern part.

Our working hypothesis centers on the omission of Thebes from the catalogue.  As with the placement of the Boiotians, the omission of Boiotia’s most famous city has also caused some debate among scholars.  One justification for this is that the city had been destroyed by the Epigoni just before the outbreak of the Trojan War.  Buck (1979) sees the omission as suggesting that Thebes was simply not in a position to send ships.  The sack of the city by the Epigoni notwithstanding, Archaeological evidence points to Thebes as a major center right up to the collapse of the Mycenaean Age.  And while material evidence appears to fall off in the Dark Age, it seems clear that Thebes was once again a major center by the 8th century BC.  The omission is all the more striking given that the poet clearly knows of Thebes and makes reference to it elsewhere in his epics.  It was such an important city, if not in reality, certainly mythologically.  Even Pliny the Elder, writing when Thebes was much diminished in importance (having been utterly destroyed by Sulla in 86 BC), in his discussion of the smaller towns, lists them in two groups using Thebes as the center for the division.  The first group he puts inter Megaricam et Thebas and the second he describes as being in ora autem infra Thebas (NH 4.25).  The towns he lists in each group suggest a lack of real knowledge of where many places are, but what is important is that he uses Thebes as the center, as the main point of reference.  

We have already seen one possible model for organizing space in this way in the case of the Trojan catalogue, also a plain.  Troy itself is never named and the contingents and the regions from which they come seem less an itinerary and more like spokes radiating out from a center at Troy.  Similarly here Thebes is not mentioned perhaps because it is the place from which the narrative voice speaks, the center from which the spokes radiate.  As we progress through the text the points tend to circle around Thebes. 

We can also note that, if the pattern of towns seems random, there is yet an underlying tendency, here as in the Mycenae and Peloponnese exhibits, for Homer to move from east to west.  Morover, there is also a general tendency to move from the first plain to the second. 

But thinking about Thebes as an unnamed center around which to organize a catalogue suggests another intriguing, though highly speculative possibility.  To read this as a set piece which has its origins not as an itinerary, but as a specialized type of catalogue poetry, the teichoskopia, might make some sense of the seemingly random shifts from one place to another.  This again allows Thebes to be the narratorial center, if you will.  The particular randomness would seem less abrasive if what we were looking at was not of a piece with the treatments of the other contingents, but rather a somewhat concretized reuse of a teichosopia from the non-extant Thebaid of the epic cycle.  Certainly Statius makes extensive use of the Boiotian catalogue when writing the teichoskopia in Book 7 of his Thebaid.  Signor (1992) has recently championed the notion that the Theban oral cycle, if not a direct model, certainly seems to have influenced Homer’s Trojan War epic in significant ways, most notably in the poet's treatment of the Achaian Wall later in the poem.  Perhaps, then, here is another example of a borrowing of what may once have been a teichoskopia or at least a catalogue describing the Allied Boiotian troops who came to fight on the Theban side against the seven contingents under Polynices.  It may be of interest here that there are precisely seven syntactical groups, governed by seven verbs: one group for every gate in ἑπτάπυλοι Θῆβαι


Text (trans. Lattimore)

Βοιωτῶν μὲν Πηνέλεως καὶ Λήϊτος ἦρχον 

Leïtos and Peneleos were leaders of the Boiotians,

Ἀρκεσίλαός τε Προθοήνωρ τε Κλονίος τε, (495)

with Arkesilaos and Prothoenor and Klonios;

οἵ θ' Ὑρίην ἐνέμοντο καὶ Αὐλίδα πετρήεσσαν

they who lived in Hyria and in rocky Aulis,

Σχοῖνόν τε Σκῶλόν τε πολύκνημόν τ' Ἐτεωνόν,

in the hill-bends of Eteonos, and Schoinos, and Skolos,

Θέσπειαν Γραῖάν τε καὶ εὐρύχορον Μυκαλησσόν,

Thespeia and Graia, and in spacious Mykalessos;

οἵ τ' ἀμφ' Ἅρμ' ἐνέμοντο καὶ Εἰλέσιον καὶ Ἐρυθράς,

they who dwelt about Harma and Eilesion and Erythrai,

οἵ τ' Ἐλεῶν' εἶχον ἠδ' Ὕλην καὶ Πετεῶνα, (500)

they who held Eleon and Hyle and Peteon,

Ὠκαλέην Μεδεῶνά τ' ἐϋκτίμενον πτολίεθρον,

with Okalea and Medeon, the strong-founded citadel,

Κώπας Εὔτρησίν τε πολυτρήρωνά τε Θίσβην,

Kopai, and Eutresis, and Thisbe of the dove-cotes;

οἵ τε Κορώνειαν καὶ ποιήενθ' Ἁλίαρτον,

they who held Koroneia, and the meadows of Haliartos,

οἵ τε Πλάταιαν ἔχον ἠδ' οἳ Γλισᾶντ' ἐνέμοντο,

they who held Plataia, and they who dwelt about Glisa,

οἵ θ' Ὑποθήβας εἶχον ἐϋκτίμενον πτολίεθρον, (505)

they who held the lower Thebes, the strong-founded citadel,

Ὀγχηστόν θ' ἱερὸν Ποσιδήϊον ἀγλαὸν ἄλσος,

and Onchestos the sacred, the shining grove of Poseidon;

οἵ τε πολυστάφυλον Ἄρνην ἔχον, οἵ τε Μίδειαν

they who held Arne of the great vineyards, and Mideia,

Νῖσάν τε ζαθέην Ἀνθηδόνα τ' ἐσχατόωσαν:

with Nisa the sacrosanct and uttermost Anthedon.

τῶν μὲν πεντήκοντα νέες κίον, ἐν δὲ ἑκάστῃ

Of these there were fifty ships in all, and on board

κοῦροι Βοιωτῶν ἑκατὸν καὶ εἴκοσι βαῖνον.  (510)

each of these a hundred and twenty sons of the Boiotians.