The Face that Launched 1186 Ships

Nates is wrong when he says The Iliad Book 2’s Catalog of Ships is not interesting.

To wit – below is a chart, of each place name, who the leader(s) are, and how many ships each of them have brought to the shores of Troy.

Harper’s Index – Book 2 of The Iliad.


Total Number of Ships – 1186

Mean Fleet Size – 37.0625

Most Common Fleet Size (mode) – 40

Largest Fleet – 100 – Agamemnon of Mycenae – “with whom followed far the best and bravest people… he was the greatest among them all, and led the most people (Lattimore Translation, II.576-580)

Smallest Fleet – 3 – Nireus of Syme – “but he was a man of poor strength and few people with him” (II.675)

Ships not Participating in the Initial Fighting on account of the rage of their leader – 50, led by Achilles of Pelasgian Argos

Surprisingly Small Fleet Size – 12 – both Odysseus (probably the most well known of the Greek leaders) and the “Greater” Ajax, described elsewhere as the second greatest warrior after Achilles.

Fleet Size Limited Presumably on Account of Injury – 7 – The Thaumakians, formerly led by Philoktetus (“yet he himself lay apart in the island [Lemnos], suffering strong pains” (II.721) – instead, Medon stands in charge

Most Bureaucratically Complicated Fleet – Rhodes (9 shipts), led by Tlepolemos, in “triple division” (II.655)

Second Most Bureaucratically Complicated Fleet – Bouprasion, (40 ships) but led by four different chieftains, each specifically in charge of 10 ships (II.615-624)

Actually, this part of the text is interesting for what it reminds us about the demographics and geography of the Greek fleet.  The largest delegations are from the strongholds of the Mycenaean age – Mycenae (100), Pylos (90), and Crete (80).  The forces from Athens and Sparta are only 50 and 60, respectively.  There are also fascinating set-piece mini-narratives of nearly every leader, where they came from, who bore them, what notable skills they had, and so on.  It’s easy on first reading for all of these things to blend together as formulaic and similar, but if you look closer, you find little things that actually distinguish the forces.  I’d be interested to see a map that plotted where they were each from.

Here’s the compiled data from which I extracted the statistics above:



Leader 1 Leader 2 Ships
Boiotians Leitos Peneleos 50
Asphedon Askalaphos 30
Phokis Schedios Epistrohpos 40
Lokris Ajax (lesser) 40
Euboia Elephenor 40
Athenians Menestheus 50
Salamis Ajax (greater) 12
Argos Diomedes 80
Mycenae Agamemnon 100
Lakedaimonia Menelaos 60
Pylos Nestor 90
Arkadia Agapinor 60
Bouprasion Thalpios 10
Amphimachos 10
Diores 10
Polyxeinos 10
Doulichion Meges 40
Ithaca Odysseus 12
Aitolians Thoas 40
Kretans Ideomeneus 80
Rhodes Tlepolemos 9
Syme Nireus 3
Nisyros Pheidippos Antiphos 30
Pelasgian Argos Achilles 50
Phylake Podarkes 40
Pherai Admetos 11
Thaumakia Philoktetus Medon 7
Trikke Podaleirios Machaon 30
Ormenios Eurypylos 40
Argissa Polypoites 40
Kyphos Gouneus 22
Magnesians Prothoos 40
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5 Responses to The Face that Launched 1186 Ships

  1. Nates says:

    I’m not at all surprised that there’s a lot of very interesting information buried in the Catalog of Ships. However, I stand by the claim that presenting this information in the form of a 300-line list is less than optimally exciting.

  2. Nates says:

    Actually, what I find most interesting about the catalog is the impulse to make it in the first place. Presumably, the vast majority of Homer’s listeners/readers had no real interest in, say, Thoas, son of Andraemon, and his 40 ships. Or knew anything else about them. They’re just names to provide volume to the armada.

    It reminds me of the lists of kings in some of the books of the Old Testament. But there there’s at least an obvious practical function: you maintain historical chronology through these succession lists, so you can say “It occurred in the twelfth year of the reign of Jehu,” and people will know when you mean. The catalog of ships doesn’t help with that, so it must satisfy some more basic craving to be connected to the past. But why it’s satisfied in this particular way is not clear to me.

  3. Josh says:

    Here’s an admittedly facile analogy: it’s like those songs toward the end of rap albums that are just a long list of shout-outs: since I’m hopelessly in-current when it comes to rap, I’ll just reference the Beastie Boys 1998 track on Hello Nasty, called “Dedication.” It’s a catalog of cities where the Beastie Boys presumably have friends. It’s really just an excuse for the display of virtuosity for its own sake. The content is relatively devoid of meaning, freeing the artist up to do other things, like show off their rhyming ability, or, in the case of Homer, their dactylic hexameter abilities.

    So no, there’s no interest in the content – it’s like a guitar solo for the singer. Would you say such a section of a song is boring because it doesn’t have lyrics?

  4. Juan says:

    As a matter of fact, I am very much interested in Thoas, son of Andraemon. I want to know who he was and what he did. Actually, I am going to pick up a copy of the Illiad right now to find out.

  5. Josh says:

    Dare I ask why?

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