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Allegories of the Iliad

Allegories of the Iliad

John Tzetzes

Translated by Adam J. Goldwyn and Dimitra Kokkini

ISBN 9780674967854

Publication date: 04/20/2015

In the early 1140s, the Bavarian princess Bertha von Sulzbach arrived in Constantinople to marry the Byzantine emperor Manuel Komnenos. Wanting to learn more about her new homeland, the future empress Eirene commissioned the grammarian Ioannes Tzetzes to compose a version of the Iliad as an introduction to Greek literature and culture. He drafted a lengthy dodecasyllable poem in twenty-four books, reflecting the divisions of the Iliad, that combined summaries of the events of the siege of Troy with allegorical interpretations. To make the Iliad relevant to his Christian audience, Tzetzes reinterpreted the pagan gods from various allegorical perspectives. As historical allegory (or euhemerism), the gods are simply ancient kings erroneously deified by the pagan poet; as astrological allegory, they become planets whose position and movement affect human life; as moral allegory Athena represents wisdom, Aphrodite desire.

As a didactic explanation of pagan ancient Greek culture to Orthodox Christians, the work is deeply rooted in the mid-twelfth-century circumstances of the cosmopolitan Comnenian court. As a critical reworking of the Iliad, it must also be seen as part of the millennia-long and increasingly global tradition of Homeric adaptation.


  • Goldwyn and Kokkini have provided English-speakers with a wonderful edition of Ioannes (John) Tzetzes’s Allegories of the Iliad… The poem itself is beautiful and can be appreciated on its own. Scholars, however, will take a special interest in the translators’ faithful yet fluid rendering of the Greek… Many thanks are due the translators and Harvard University Press for making this less-known, fascinating work available to modern audiences. The elegant presentation is a bonus.

    —F. A. Grabowski, Choice


  • Adam J. Goldwyn is Assistant Professor of Medieval Literature and English at North Dakota State University.
  • Dimitra Kokkini is Associate Lecturer in Classics at Birkbeck, University of London.

Book Details

  • 608 pages
  • 5-1/4 x 8 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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