Townley Homer


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.

Full title:
Townley Homer
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Burney MS 86

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Authors of Classical Greece

Article by:
Mark Joyal
The Greek World

Our knowledge of the great works of ancient Greek literature derive from two main sources: manuscripts from Byzantium, and papyri discovered in Egypt since the late 19th century. Here, Mark Joyal surveys the process by which these works were transmitted through the centuries.

The Pre-Raphaelites

Article by:
Dinah Roe
Fin de siècle

Dr Dinah Roe introduces the unique band of artists, poets and designers known as the Pre-Raphaelites, charting their formation and evolution from the 1850s to the late 19th century.

The Rape of the Lock: A darker mirror

Article by:
Andrew Macdonald-Brown
Satire and humour, Travel, colonialism and slavery, Gender and sexuality

Andrew Macdonald-Brown shows how Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock progresses from satirising the foolishness of wealthy young women to exposing the violence that results from unequal power relations, whether between men and women, rich and poor or imperial powers and colonised nations.

Related collection items

Related works

The Rape of the Lock

Created by: Alexander Pope

The Rape of the Lock overview Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock is a poem of five cantos, written in ...