Democratising Homer: From Text to Hypertext

An overview of the digital project on the scholia of the Iliad at the University of Nanterre, Paris X

by Georgia Kolovou, Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Nanterre, Paris X

Homeric scholia.jpg

The scholia of Homer’s Iliad are marginal, interlinear annotations that accompany the text in medieval manuscripts. They form a huge corpus of unparalleled richness and preserve significant information on the Homeric text. They also represent a striking example of ancient reception and commentary, inherited from the Alexandrians (third to second century BC) and their successors, thus constituting an encyclopedia of ancient knowledge on this fundamental text – Homer’s Iliad. By making the translation of this body of texts open to the wider public, this project contributes to the democratisation of Homer not only in academia but also in the digital world of the twenty-first century.

Because the best scholars of antiquity devoted much of their time and energy to the Homeric poems, ancient scholarship on Homer was extensive and high quality. One of the main tasks of the first Alexandrian scholars was editing the Homeric texts (Dickey 2007, 18), and prominent scholars included Zenodotus (a Greek grammarian, the first superintendent of the Library of Alexandria, and the first critical editor of Homer), Aristophanes of Byzantium (a grammarian particularly renowned for his work in Homeric scholarship, but also for his work on other Classical authors) and Aristarchus (his critical revision of Homer has enabled the excellent texts of Homer to survive today). Each one produced an edition of the Iliad and Odyssey, though while Aristarchus wrote substantial commentaries, Zenodotus and Aristophanes primarily compiled glossaries of Homeric words. None of the very early works on Homer survive in their original form, but a surprising amount is preserved in various later compilations. This means that we often know the interpretations of several different Alexandrian scholars for a particular passage. While the Homeric scholia represent one of the principal sources for ancient scholarship on Homer, it is a gigantic corpus that fills multiple modern volumes.

Critical Terms

The majority of the scholia on the Iliad falls into three basic groups:  

The A scholia, defined as ‘critical’, come from the margins of the most famous Iliad manuscript, the Venetus A, (tenth century). The A scholia derive from the so-called “VMK” (Viermännerkommentar, “four-man commentary”), named after the four ancient scholars Aristonicus, Didymus, Herodian, and Nicanor.

In Venetus A, different critical signs are attested next to the verses of the Homeric text:

i) The plain diple (>)

ii) The obelus (÷ ou —)

iii) The dotted (or pointed) diple ( >)

iv) The asterisk (*)

v) The plain anstisigma (Ͻ)

vi) The pointed antisigma (Ͻ)

vii) The point (.)

The critical signs attested in the Homeric manuscript are very important for the correct understanding of the text itself—both in relation to the scholia and to modern translations of the poems. This can be seen in the following example: {ἔσκεν} ὑφηνίοχος : ὅτι παρέλκει ἡ πρόθεσις ὡς ἐν τῷ ‘Ποσειδάωνος ὑποδμώς’ (δ 386) A (Erbse 134, 14-15).

The first phrase of this extract is part of the Homeric verse ‘{ἔσκεν} ὑφηνίοχος= he was a charioteer’ and the scholion starts with the conjunction ‘ὅτι’ which means ‘because’. Consequently, if we translate the scholion by saying: ‘he was a charioteer because’, the preposition is redundant, since in the [verse] ‘the servant of Poseidon’ we understand that there is no correlation between the Homeric verse and its annotation. However, if we consult the manuscript, we see that near this Homeric verse there is the critical sign of obelus, so we can translate it by saying: ‘he was a charioteer: [the obelus is found] because the preposition is redundant as in [the verse] ‘the servant of Poseidon’. Therefore, for this special group of the Homeric scholia, it is important to systematically consult the manuscript to understand and translate correctly the text.

Then, we have the ‘bT’ scholia. They are so named because they are found in manuscript T (eleventh century) and in the descendants of the lost manuscript b (sixth century). These scholia are also known as the ‘exegetical’ scholia, because they are concerned primarily with the interpretation of the Homeric verses rather than with textual criticism.

Finally, we have the D scholia, which have been recently edited by Helmut van Thiel. The D scholia, erroneously named after Didymus, are also known as ‘scholia minora’ or ‘scholia vulgata’ and are the largest group of the Homeric scholia. The manuscripts Z and Q, in which they are preserved, date to the ninth and eleventh century respectively and are the oldest manuscript evidence we possess. The major component of the D scholia is lexicographical, consisting of short definitions or explanations of obscure words, mythological and allegorical explanations, plot summaries and paraphrases.

There are two important points to be made about these scholia. Firstly, in terms of content, they can be considered a mine of information on the Homeric text and on its commentary, inherited from the Alexandrians and their successors. Therefore, because of their value and richness of information, they deserve to be ‘democratised’ and opened to the wider public. Secondly, they provide a point of departure for a larger and more ambitious investigation that links scholia with our contemporary footnotes and hypertext links.


This project therefore has two aims. First, this essential corpus will be made available to the international scholarly community in a digital environment. Secondly, this project will shed light on the functioning of scholia, heretofore only studied for their content. It identifies the scholia as the first historic milestone in the implementation of hypertextual logic, highlighting their importance for transmitting significant information about the Homeric texts. Finally, it will explore a new form of online publishing, combining ancient scholia with  their hypertextual equivalents.


Dickey, E. 2007. Ancient Greek scholarship: A Guide to Finding, Reading, and Understanding Scholia, Commentaries, Lexica, and Grammatical Treatises, From their Beginnings to the Byzantine Period. New York: Oxford University Press.


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