Ambrosian Iliad

Cod. F. 205 P. Inf. - Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Milan, Italy)

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Short description

Hiding behind the term “Ambrosian Iliad” are 51 fragments of a large-format parchment manuscript of Homer’s Iliad, which was manufactured in Egyptian Alexandria ca. 500. Of particular importance are the 58 miniatures, which boast an enormous variety of compositional schemes. Sensational single combat, as well as dramatic battle scenes with complex figures can be found. Unfortunately, these depictions are the only parts to survive from the illustrated ancient edition of Homer’s work. Along with the Vergilus Vaticanus and Vergilius Romanus, it is one of only three surviving manuscripts of classical literature from antiquity.

Facsimile editions available


Ambrosian Iliad

Homer’s mythical epic The Iliad represents the beginning of European intellectual and literary history and thematized the ten-year war for the city of Troy. However, the Ambrosian Iliad designates a very special specimen of this literary work. It consists of 51 fragments of a large-format, illustrated manuscript in landscape format, which was manufactured in Egyptian Alexandria ca 500. 58 fascinating miniatures, indicating a considerable variety of composition are to be found on the surviving sheets. Thus, there are impressive battle scenes, exciting single combat, and tranquil scenes of magnificent architectures. This manuscript occupies a singular position above all because it is the only surviving specimen of Homer’s Iliad to originate from antiquity.

Packaged War Stories

In 24 books, the author portrays the dramatic stories that occurred in the last 51 days of the ten-year-long war between the Greeks and the Trojans. The catalyst for this struggle, in which the gods also take sides, was the abduction of Helen, the gorgeous sister-in-law of the Mycenaean King Agamemnon, by the Trojan Prince Paris. In all likelihood, the dramatic stories are not based on a single historic conflict between the two parties 1200 year before Christ. It is more likely that tales of numerous armed conflicts during antiquity flowed into the literary depiction.

Homer – Only a Legend?

In fact, there is no verified evidence proving the existence of Homer as a historical person. Everything that is known about him today is based on subsequent legends. According to these, the Greek poet is supposed to have performed his art primarily in port cities for the entertainment and edification of the common people. If there actually was a Homer, then he was the first poet of the western world whose works have been handed down to us today in writing.

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