Innovative Research on Homer’s ‘Iliad’ Wins Prestigious Digital Humanities Prize
Lorenzo Perez, University of Virginia News, 27-09-2013
Most readers of Homer’s “Iliad” recall the “Catalogue of Ships” as its own epic act of endurance, for reader and poet alike. Nearly 190 place names and 29 Greek contingents, sailing to Troy for battle, are cited in more than 250 lines, requiring what U.Va. classics professor Jenny Strauss Clay considers a “tour-de-force” of memory from the oral poet.
Earlier this year, Clay and a pair of graduate students in the Department of Classics collaborated with the Scholars’ Lab to apply mapping technologies to the sprawling catalogue from Book Two of the “Iliad.” They wanted to test the theory that Homer was able to recite the detailed catalogue by creating a mental journey using mnemonic techniques linking actual locations from ancient Greek civilization. Their innovative work with digital tools to analyze one of the most studied pieces of literature in the Western canon won graduate students Courtney Evans and Ben Jasnow the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations’ prestigious Paul Fortier prize, awarded for the best paper presented by junior scholars at the 2013 Digital Humanities Conference in July.
Their findings on the geographical itineraries potentially utilized by Homer in crafting the Catalogue of Ships could serve as a road map to undiscovered archaeological sites and launch new waves of research, Clay said. “This is really just the beginning,” said Clay, the University’s William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Classics. “The exciting thing about this project is we don’t know what’s going to happen next. Once the technical part of the project is made available, people can try different things. It’s meant as a tool for discovery, rather than sticking stuff in that you can pull out that you already know.”