The consensus before the mid-twentieth century was that the Catalogue of Ships was not the work of the man who wrote the Iliad, though great pains had been taken to render it a work of art; furthermore, that the material of the text is essentially Mycenaean or sub-Mycenaean, while disagreement centers largely on the extent of later additions.
If taken to be an accurate account, the Catalogue provides a rare summary of the geopolitical situation in early Greece at some time between the Late Bronze Age and the eighth century BCE. Following Milman Parry's theory of Homeric oral poetry, some scholars, such as Denys Page, argue that it represents a pre-Homeric recitation incorporated into the epic by Homer. A few argue that parts of the recitation, such as the formulae describing places, date as early as the time of the Trojan War in the mid-13th century BCE, or possibly before. Others contend that the Catalogue is based on the time of Homer himself in the eighth century BCE and represents an anachronistic attempt to impose contemporary information to events five centuries earlier.
An intermediate theory is that the catalogue developed through a process of accretion during the poem's oral transmission and reflects gradual inclusion of the homelands of local sponsors by individual singers. In the most recent extended study of the Catalogue, Edzard Visser, of the University of Basel, concludes that the Catalogue is compatible with the rest of the Iliad in its techniques of verse improvisation, that the order of the names is meaningful and that the geographical epithets evince concrete geographical knowledge. Visser argues that this knowledge was transmitted by the heroic myth, elements of which introduce each geographical section. W. W. Minton places the catalogue within similar "enumerations" in Homer and Hesiod, and suggests that part of their purpose was to impress the audience with a display of the performer's memory.
The most striking feature of the catalogue's geography is that it does not portray Greece in the Iron Age, the time of Homer. By then an ethnic identity called the Dorians had enveloped western Greece, the Peloponnesus and Crete, while the shores of Ionia were densely populated by a people claiming to descend from families in the now-Dorian regions of Greece.
Instead the catalogue portrays a loose union of city-states ruled by hereditary families under the hegemony of the king of Mycenae. Nearly none of them are Dorian. The Greeks are mainly missing from the shores of the Ionian Islands. This political snapshot is undeniably one intended to be of Late Bronze Age Greece. The main historical problem with the catalogue is the extent to which it is.
|Line||Ethnic Identity||No. of Ships||Captains||Settlements |
|2.494||Boeotians||50 of 120 men each||(First led by Thersander, then by:) Peneleōs, Leïtus, Arcesilaus, Prothoënor and Clonius||Hyria, Aulis, Schoenus, Scolus, Eteonus, Thespeia, Graia, Mycalessus, Harma, Eilesium, Erythrae, Eleon, Hyle, Peteon, Ocalea, Medeon, Copae, Eutrēsis, Thisbe, Coronea, Haliartus, Plataea, Glisas, Thebes, Onchestus, Arne, Midea, Nisa, Anthedon|
|2.511||Minyans||30||Ascalaphus, Ialmenus||Aspledon, Orchomenus|
|2.517||Phocēans||40||Schedius, Epistrophus||Cyparissus, Pytho, Crisa, Daulis, Panopeus, Anemorea, Hyampolis, river Cephissus, Lilaea|
|2.527||Locrians||40||Ajax the Lesser||Cynus, Opoüs, Calliatus, Bessa, Scarphe, Augeae, Tarphe, Thronium|
|2.537||Abantes of Euboea||40||Elephenor||Chalcis, Eretria, Histiaea, Cerinthus, Dium, Carystus, Styra|
|2.546||Athenians||50||Led first by Menestheus (then by later by Acamas and Demophon, the sons of Theseus)||Athens|
|2.557||men of Salamis||12||Telamonian Ajax||Salamis|
|2.559||Argives/Achaeans||80||Diomedes with subordinates Sthenelus and Euryalus||Argos, Tiryns, Hermione, Asine, Troezene, Eїonae, Epidaurus, Aegina, Mases|
|2.569||No name given.||100||Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, supreme commander||Mycenae, Corinth, Cleonae, Orneae, Araethyrea, Sicyon, Hyperesia, Gonoëssa, Pellene, Aegium, Helice|
|2.581||Lacedaemonians||60||Menelaus, brother of Agamemnon, husband of Helen||Pharis, Sparta, Messe, Bryseae, Augeae, Amyclae, Helos, Laas, Oetylus|
|2.592||No name given.||90||Nestor||Pylos, Arēne, Thryum, Aipy, Cyparisseis, Amphigenea, Pteleum, Helos, Dorium|
|2.603||Arcadians||60||Agapenor||Cyllene, Pheneus, Orchomenus, Rhipae, Stratie, Enispe, Tegea, Mantinea, Stymphelus, Parrhasia|
|2.615||Epeans of Elis||40||Amphimachus, Thalpius, Diōres, Polyxenus||Buprasium and the lands enclosed by Hyrmine, Myrsinus, Olene, Alesium|
|2.624||Men of Dulichium||40||Meges||Dulichium, Echinean Islands|
|2.631||Cephallenians||12||Ulysses, same as Odysseus||Ithaca, Neritum, Crocylea, Aegilips, Samos, Zacynthus (islands with mainland opposite)|
|2.638||Aetolians||40||Thoas||Pleuron, Olenus, Pylene, Chalcis, Calydon|
|2.645||Cretans||80||Idomeneus, Meriones||Cnossus, Gortys, Lyctus, Miletus, Lycastus, Phaestus, Rhytium, others up to 100|
|2.653||Rhodians||9||Tlepolemus||Lindus, Ielysus, Cameirus|
|2.676||No name given.||30||Pheidippus, Antiphus||Nisyrus, Crapathus, Casus, Cos, Calydnian Islands|
|2.681||Pelasgians, Myrmidons, Hellenes, Achaeans||50||Achilles (later by Neoptolemus)||Pelasgic Argos, Alos, Alope, Trachis, Phthia, Hellas|
|2.695||No name given.||40||Protesilaus, later by Podarces||Phylace, Pyrasus, Iton, Antrium, Pteleum|
|2.711||No name given.||11||Eumelus||Pherae, Boebe, Glaphyrae, Iolcus|
|2.716||No name given.||7, with 50 oarsmen each who were also archers||Philoctetes, later by Medon||Methone, Thaumacia, Meliboea, Olizon|
|2.729||No name given.||30||Podalirius, Machaon, two sons of Asclepius||Tricca, Ithome, Oechalia|
|2.734||No name given.||40||Eurypylus||Ormenius, Hypereia (fountain), Asterius, Titanus|
|2.738||(Lapiths, "race of Mars")||40||Polypoetes, Leonteus||Argissa, Gyrtone, Orthe, Elone, Oloösson|
|2.748||Enienes, Peraebi||22||Guneus||Cyphus, Dodona (Thessalian), Gonnos, banks of the Titaresius|
|2.756||Magnetes||40||Prothoüs||About the Peneus and Mt. Pelion|