Completed in the 11th century, almost certainly in 1059, the Townley Homer is one of the most important manuscripts of Homer in existence. It contains the text of Homer’s The Iliad, but is perhaps best-known for the vast number of marginal notes (scholia) and interlinear glosses found on every page. Most of these notes, which relate to the text of The Iliad, date back to antiquity. The scholia found in the Townley Homer are particularly noteworthy as they are exegetical, that is, rather than focusing on whether specific lines were actually composed by Homer, they concentrate on interpreting the poetry and attempting to explain unclear or complicated passages.
The manuscript was written somewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean, quite possibly in Constantinople, and was in Italy by the 15th century, when it was owned by the Salviati family. It was sold at the 1546 auction of the library of Cardinal Giovanni Salviati (1490–1553), and was acquired by Charles Townley (1737–1805) at Rome in 1773. The manuscript is conventionally referred to as the Townley Homer because it was when Townley brought it to Britain that it first came to prominence amongst scholars. On Townley’s death it passed to his older brother John (1731–1813). At his sale, in 1814, it was purchased for £620 by Charles Burney (1757–1817). The manuscript came to the British Museum Library (now the British Library) along with the rest of Burney’s vast collection of manuscripts, theatrical ephemera, and newspapers in 1818.