Homer’s Iliad; the ‘Catalogue of ships’ and what we can learn from it – Phocis

In this series of articles we attempt an in-depth analysis of the Achaean ‘Catalogue of ships‘. Using the etymology of the various names, we receive valuable historical and cultural information.


Iliad, Second Rhapsody, v. 517-526

Αὐτὰρ Φωκήων Σχεδίος καὶ Ἐπίστροφος ἦρχον υἷες Ἰφίτου μεγαθύμου Ναυβολίδαο, οἳ Κυπάρισσον ἔχον Πυθῶνά τε πετρήεσσαν Κρῖσάν τε ζαθέην καὶ Δαυλίδα καὶ Πανοπῆα, οἵ τ᾽ Ἀνεμώρειαν καὶ Ὑάμπολιν ἀμφενέμοντο, οἵ τ᾽ ἄρα πὰρ ποταμὸν Κηφισὸν δῖον ἔναιον, οἵ τε Λίλαιαν ἔχον πηγῇς ἔπι Κηφισοῖο· τοῖς δ᾽ ἅμα τεσσαράκοντα μέλαιναι νῆες ἕποντο. οἳ μὲν Φωκήων στίχας ἵστασαν ἀμφιέποντες, Βοιωτῶν δ᾽ ἔμπλην ἐπ᾽ ἀριστερὰ θωρήσσοντο.


And of the Phocians Schedius and Epistrophus were captains, sons of great-souled Iphitus, son of Naubolus; these were they that held Cyparissus and rocky Pytho, and sacred Crisa and Daulis and Panopeus; and that dwelt about Anemoreia and Hyampolis, and that lived beside the goodly river Cephisus, and that held Lilaea by the springs of Cephisus. With these followed forty black ships. And their leaders busily marshalled the ranks of the Phocians, and made ready for battle hard by the Boeotians on the left.


NovoScriptorium: Our analysis is aided by the Liddell & Scott Lexicon.

The word ‘Φωκήων‘ has an obvious relation to the words ‘φώκαινα’, ‘φώκη’, ‘φωκος’  and they refer to some kind of seal, the well-known marine animal. To have been named after a marine animal is a clear indication that the inhabitants of the place had very strong connection with the sea; they must have been very capable sailors.

The name ‘Σχεδίος‘ is directly related to the word ‘σχεδία‘ ( = ‘a ship constructed offhanded/roughly’, or ‘light military bridge’, or ‘light scaffolding’, or ‘wooden construction with wheels used for moving things’). This suggests someone who has some idea of constructing sea vessels, and in general someone familiar with technology/constructions.

The name ‘Επίστροφος‘ means ‘he who associates, comes in communication with others (in his wanderings),  a guest/visitor in foreign countries’. The relation is more than obvious. There aren’t only war expeditions towards foreign lands for one to use his naval capability. There is also Commerce. And we know beyond any doubt that the Myceneans were indeed travelling in many ‘foreign lands’ for commercial reasons (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

The name ‘Ίφιτος‘ derives from the word ‘ίφι‘ which means ‘strongly, dominantly’. Clearly, it is denoted that the father of Σχεδίος and Επίστροφος had been a powerful leader in his time.

The name ‘Ναυβολίδης‘ (son of Naubolus) derives from the words ‘ναύς‘ ( = ship) and ‘βολίς‘ ( = projectile, javelin). Hence, the name describes someone who throws projectiles, javelins from a ship. ‘Ναύβολος’ (Naubolus) is the name of the grandfather of Σχεδίος and Επίστροφος. What we notice is that the names imply strong connection with the sea ‘from father to son’, for three continuous generations.

The name ‘Κυπάρισσος‘ is directly related to the word ‘κυπαρίσσι‘ ( = ‘cypress’, the well-known tree). Most likely it denotes a region that is full of such trees.

The name ‘Πυθών‘ equates to the word ‘Πυθώ‘ which is the oldest name of that part of Phocis, at the foot of Mount Parnassos, where the city of Delphi was laying. There might be a relation to ‘πύθεσθαι‘ because, as the mythologists say, the dragon Python, whom Apollo destroyed, rotted there. The verb ‘πύθω‘ means ‘to make something rot‘. It is likely that this connects to the climate of the region, i.e. very high humidity. The same region is described as ‘πετρήεσσα‘ ( = rocky).

Κρίσα‘ is a town/city of Phocis not far from Delphi. It is very likely that it derives from the word ‘κρίσις‘ which means ‘ability and strength to discriminate the homogeneous, the  different’. It also means ‘election/choice’, and also ‘quarrel/dispute’. Of course, it also has the meanings known in modern Greek ( = crisis, judgment, decision, estimation, conceit). ‘Κρίσα’ is referred to as ‘ζάθεη‘, which means ‘divine, sacred, a place favoured by the gods’. Hence, the name ‘Κρίσα’ could indicate a place where either decisions -in general- were taken, or the center of Phocis’ juridicial institution or both. Goddess Θέμις (Themis) was the personification of divine order, fairness, law, natural law, and custom. To the ancient Greeks she was originally the organizer of the communal affairs of humans, particularly assemblies. According to a myth, Themis built the Oracle at Delphi and was herself oracular. How all the above are connected is rather obvious.

Δαυλίς‘ is another town/city of Phocis. It derives from the word ‘δαυλός‘ which means ‘dense’. According to the Lexicon, the original type of the word had been ‘δασυλός’ and it is directly related to the word ‘δασύς’, whose original type had also been ‘δασυλός’. We can only make assumptions on what exactly is meant by ‘dense’. For instance, it could refer to population or, equivalently, to vegetation.

ΠανοπήαΠανοπέα‘ derives from the verb ‘οπεύω‘ which means ‘overview, see/watch’. Almost certainly, it denotes the acropolis of the region which supervises everything.

The word ‘Ανεμώρεια‘ is derived from the words ‘άνεμος‘ ( = wind) and  ‘ωρείον‘ ( = outpost, fort, guard house), while the verb ‘ωρεύω‘ means ‘looking after, taking care of something/someone’. This seems to imply that the Phocians had ‘wind observers’ in specially organized forts. This indeed makes a lot of sense for a population so closely associated with all things naval, as we have seen.

Υάμπολις‘ derives from the words ‘υς‘ [ = ‘porcine’. υς, υηνός-υάνεος (Δωρ.)] and the word ‘πόλις‘ ( = city). It denotes a region with many pigsties.

Κηφισός‘ corresponds to the river of Phocis which flows into Lake Copais. In the Doric dialect the word was written as ‘Καφισός‘. The word ‘κάφα‘ in the same dialect meant ‘λουτήρ‘ ( =  ‘bath’). The prosonym ‘δίος‘ ( = divine/godly, but also excellent/exceptional) is also attributed to the river. Cephissus river was considered a ‘divine gift’ for the people of this region for a variety of reasons, among them that it must have been a river where someone could easily bathe. The river rises at ‘Λίλαια’ (Lilaea), on the northwestern slope of Mount Parnassus. It flows through a fertile valley between the Kalidromo and Parnassus Mountains. The Cephissus valley is of strategic importance, connecting northern Greece via the passes of Mount Oeta and Mount Kallidromo (including Thermopylae) to southern Greece and the Gulf of Corinth.

Λίλαια‘ derives from the verb ‘λιλαίομαι‘ which means ‘crave for something, to strongly  desire something’. This city was situated at the source of the river ‘Κηφισός’. Hence, it must have been an idyllic city, both beautiful and functional due to its location, certainly making it ‘very desirable’.

Phocis gave 40 ships for the expedition. Each similar Mycenean ship carried 120 warriors, as we have seen in the analysis for Boeotia. Therefore, the army sent out by this region for the expedition would sum up 4,800 warriors. A quite decent number indeed. Similar arguments, on population statistics, to the ones we used in our analysis for Boeotia are also applicable here.


Research-Analysis for NovoScriptorium: P.D.K.

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