About the Translator
Contact Translator -
About the Iliad: ------
- Main Characters
- Gods........................
- Plot Summary......
- Themes..................
- Trojan War...........
- Map.......................
- Who Wrote it?..
Translation Issues: --
 - How Literal?.........
- The Achaeans.....
 - Winged Words...
 - Greek Wall..............
 - Tents vs. Camps..
 - Homeric Names

Achaean Quarters:
Tents, Huts, or Camps?

The Achaean quarters below Troy have been variously rendered by translators of the Iliad as "huts" (Rieu, Fitzgerald, Lombardo) or "tents" (Pope, Butler, Fagles), with Fitzgerald and Fagles respectively using "quarters" and "shelters" as an alternative to "huts" and "tents."

The Greek noun in question is κλισίη (klee·'see·ay). κλισίη is related to the transitive verb κλίνω which means to lean, rest or incline. κλισίη denotes a resting place, and not necessarily anything specific about the quality or nature of the resting place.

The term "resting place," while perhaps accurate, is too generic for the context of a poetic, verse translation of the Iliad. So is "shelter" in this translator's opinion.

I settled on "camp" for general use, occasionally "quarters," and "lodge" for the special case of Achilles' κλισίη as described in book 24 beginning at line 448:

                                      "Achilles' lodge
which Myrmidons constructed for their prince.
They built a frame, pine poles, and wove a roof,
waterproof reeds that grew in a marshy field.
Outside they fenced a spacious courtyard,
using close-set stakes and a gate with one bolt—
a beam so heavy, it took three strong men
either to set the bolt or to remove it.
Only Achilles could move the bolt alone."

Despite this description, Pope steadfastly called Achilles' κλισίη a "tent"; Rieu and Lombardo a "hut." Lattimore referred to it as a "dwelling"; Fitzgerald a "lofty lodge"; Fagles both as Achilles' "shelter" and a "tall imposing lodge."

Pope penned a note to his line 24.553, acknowledging Homer's "full and exact description of the tent of Achilles." (Penguin Classics Ed., 1996, p. 1141). Pope opined that the Greeks did not have "fixed tents" on their "common marches," but only in case of prolonged siege as at Troy. Id. Absent such a siege, he reckoned, the warriors slept in the open, as Diomedes was found at 10.151. However, Homer places the sleeping Diomedes outside his κλισίη ("ἐκτὸς ἀπὸ κλισίης"), a situation which sheds little light on what constituted the κλισίη itself.

A difficulty with Pope's theory is that the Greeks may well have anticipated a quick victory over the Trojans (as in Wolfgang Petersen's 2004 film "Troy"), notwithstanding Calchas' interpretation of the omen at Aulis (2.305 f.).

The mild, oceanic climate of Troy's location in Asia Minor would seem to militate against the necessity of any shelter for the ordinary warriors.

In addition to the scene of Diomedes sleeping on the ground, there are other references which draw into question the need for shelter. Also in book 10, Diomedes and Odysseus find a recently landed Thracian contingent asleep on the ground, (10.470 f.), although perhaps the Thracians would have erected huts, tents, or some form of shelter when time permitted--if they had lived. In book 11, Nestor recounts his youthful struggles against Epean livestock rustlers, and refers to the Epeans camping (11.713), and to the Pylians sleeping by River Alpheus in their armor, (11.730-2), albeit for one night only.

To the extent that some or all soldiers wanted shelter, why would it not be a simple lean-to? A lean-to would be easier to make than a tent or hut,* but adequate protection from a chilly wind or rare rainfall. From a translator's perspective, there is a strong argument for "lean-to" because of the close relationship between κλισίη and the Greek verb meaning lean or incline.

The distinction between the quarters of monarchs and ordinary warriors, alluded to by Pope in his note referenced above, is supported further by the description in book 13 of Idomeneus' κλισίη, which Homer says had walls (ἐνώπια) against which the Cretan king's captured spears were standing. (13.260-1).

At any rate, use of the term "camp" sidesteps the perhaps insoluble issues of what the ordinary warrior's κλισίη looked like, and how it may have differed from others. It was at a minimum a camp or encampment--a common military term--and there is no reason to render the term with more--and dubious--specificity.

End Note:

* These instructions, found at http://www.ehow.com/how_12580_build-lean-.html, illustrate the simplicity and flexibility of a lean-to, seemingly ideal for the Greek army's circumstances:

"Find a fallen tree or a large, long rock to build your lean-to against. You can also tie a branch horizontally between two trees a few feet off the ground. There are hundreds of variables to making a lean-to; the important thing is that you have a sturdy brace to lean your structure against. Lean stout sticks along the horizontal brace of your lean-to. Crawl beneath them to make sure there is enough room to sleep under. There shouldn't be too much extra room, but it should be long enough to cover you completely.

"Pile smaller branches and twigs on top of your stout branches, leaving only an opening at either end exposed. Pile all manner of debris - moss, leaves, pine needles, dried fern or whatever nature makes available - on top of your structure."

Herbert Jordan
August 2009

footer for Achaean quarters page