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Cartographica Helvetica


Catherine Hofmann:

Homer's Troy or How to match myth, landscape and map

Cartographica Helvetica 25 (2002) 37–46


Chapters 14 and 15 of the epic Voyage pittoresque de la Grèce (Picturesque Voyage Through Greece) by the Count of Choiseul-Gouffier (1822) are devoted to the reconstruction of the war fields in the Iliad. They contain the results of the research carried out in the Trojan area itself by a small group of scientists, artists and engineers supervised by Choiseul-Gouffier, the French ambassador in Constantinople from 1784 to 1793.

They traveled through the country with 'Homer in their hands' and tried to identify the geographic characteristics mentioned in Homer's text and to solve the mystery of Troy's location. Despite several false interpretations with respect to Homer and the terrain itself, it was possible to bring the epic and the local geography into accordance and to suggest a new localization of Troy on a hill overlooking the village Bounarbachi. The map played a key role because of its objectivity and rhetoric potential, but was nevertheless misused for the cause itself.

The stakes of this reconstruction are double. Due to the development in the fields of philology and historical analysis during the 18th century, a doubt was cast on the assumption that the Iliad was written by a single genial author (Homer), and on the reliability of the work itself. Because of the correspondence of the epic and the region under investigation, of which the map itself is the best witness, or in other words through a detour in geography and cartographic reconstruction, Choiseul-Gouffier and his group were convinced that they could prove the authenticity of these two controversial facts: the creative uniformity of the Iliad and the historical significance of the Trojan War.

Bibliographic note

  • Article translated from French by Michael Schmidt, Neuchâtel.
  • Based on a paper read at 18th International Conference on the History of Cartography, Athens, 10 to 16 July 1999.

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