The stylish battle scene below is proof that the lavish picture book is no recent invention attributable to modernism. This comes from what must have been an extremely handsome copy of the Iliad produced, between the third and fifth centuries A.D.It is the earliest extant example of a Greek illustrated book, and in its original state it probably consisted of some 380 vellum leaves. Of these, only fifty-two separate fragments survive, and they, only because a thirteenth-century collector who evidently preferred the pictures to the text cut some of them out and pasted paper to the backs.
They came to rest in the Ambrosian library in Milan, where they were bound and catalogued merely as “a book of pictures.” In 1819 Father Angelo Mai, the expert who discovered the Cicero palimpsest, peeled off the paper and recognized the text underneath as part of the Iliad. The inscriptions and captions had been added by later hands and were often inaccurate.
Below: A plate which Mai numbered XXIX shows the Greeks and Trojans in battle. At the left young Teukros is being congratulated on his successes by Agamemnon, wrongly identified as Diomedes, while overhead float the goddesses Athena, Hera and Iris.