Within this research project descriptions of landscapes in various literary genres of Greek literature were investigated, paying particular attention to the study of those passages in which a “bird’s-eye view” is used. During the research, the focus shifted insofar as the search for the bird’s-eye view has cast some doubt on the model of a “hodological space”, at least as a default model to explain ancient geographical descriptions.


Pietro Janni coined in his groundbreaking study (La mappa e il periplo, Roma 1984) the term “hodological space” which has become a general key concept for most interpreters: The main concern of ancient Greeks when they described a landscape was how to get from point A to point B, closely following landmarks, paths or coastlines. There is overwhelming evidence for this view, at least if one sticks to historiographical and geographical texts. But this insightful view cannot be regarded as an exhaustive description or a comprehensive explanation of the phenomena governing geographical depictions.


In a first step, it was attempted to find evidence for the bird’s-eye view in ancient Greek literature which led to the interim result that descriptions of landscapes as seen from a bird’s-eye view were a possible device for poets from Homer onwards (cf. T. Poiss 2014 in: Features of common sense geography). However, apart from geometrical similes such as “like a plane-tree leaf” for the shape of the Peloponnese, Greek Fachschriftsteller (historiographers, geographers, ethnographers etc.) almost never used the view from above. Only in descriptions of battlegrounds and sieges where it is important to know who sees whom first, and in reports of engineering achievements (channels, bridges, harbours etc.), historiographers recur to a ‘cavalier perspective’, using an elevated viewpoint. This lead, in a second step, to the conclusion that along with a “hodological space” there exists a kind of “strategical space.”

In a talk “Representation, Perception, Cognition: Landscapes in Greek Literature” given at the annual Topoi conference in 2015, it was attempted to show that hodological space is not so much a mental model as a narrative device to adapt descriptions of spaces to the development of plots and to the strict linearity of reading bookscrolls. In a third step it is intended to show that the concept of hodological space needs a slight but useful modification: paths should be conceived of as narrow strips, not as lines because every path has its rims and surroundings, each coastline its implicit depth. The ‘tunnel view’ of hodological space can thus easily be widened to a panoramic view that encompasses​ whole theaters of war, depending to the demands of the narrator. (“Viewpoints and Landmarks”, forthcoming in: Common Sense Geography Vol. II, on the very concept of landmark).