13 September 2023
The reading of Homer’s great epics is a huge genealogical challenge. Characters are Greek gods and demi-gods, immortals and mortals. Often, they are called “son of” rather than by their given names, which often can be multiples. Also, Romans used their own set of names, adopting but a few from the Greeks.
The best remembered tales are Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. However, Virgil’s Aeneid actually describes the sacking of Troy. Myths and tales about the battle for Troy passed down through oral traditions. And everyone knows how all whispering campaigns usually end.
Hisarlik sans gifts
I visit Ilios, ancient archaeological site of Troy, located in Hisarlik. My transport was a van. I bear no gifts.
It was Virgil who wrote about Greeks bearing gifts in the Aeneid. Virgil was the great Latin poet of Rome’s Augustan period. He lived from 70 BCE to his death in Brindisi, Italy in 19 BCE.
Aeneid, or Aeneas, was the son of Aphrodite and cousin to the King of Troy so he fought on the side of Troy. He is one of the few Trojans to escape death at the hands of the rampaging Greeks. As Aeneas sails into the sunset, his story is described in the Aeneid.
Aeneas eventually arrives at the mouth of the Tiber River in Italy. He is considered an ancestor of Romulus and Remus and therefore the father of Rome. However, myths have a way of distorting calendars. In general, Romulus killed his brother Remus and founded Rome some 300 years later. This is a timeline ignored by Caesar who claimed to be a descendant of Aphrodite/Venus though her son Aeneas.
It is Aeneas who recites his personal account of the sacking of Troy. It is he who recounts the story of the Trojan Horse. Homer barely mentioned it.
The Trojan War’s impact has extended centuries beyond the battlefield. The story of the war and its heroes has left an indelible mark on Western literature, art, and culture. Tons of Greek and Roman pottery shards depict the gods and myths of this event. Because of masterful storytelling and the exploration of human nature and the consequences of pride and ambition, Homer’s epic poems are read around the world.
The Battle for Troy
Troy was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt during its 4000 years of occupation. Multiple levels attribute to its long history. Naming of the levels are from Troy O to Troy IX.
It is generally agreed that the Trojan War between the Greeks and Trojans occurred between the 12th and 11th century BCE. One Greek scholar places the ten years of conflict between 1194 and 1184 BCE. This date corresponds to archaeological discoveries attributed to the catastrophic burning of Troy found in level VII.
Ruins of Troy
German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann excavated the site in 1871 (he also discovered the Mask of Agamemnon at Mycenae). Divided into nine layers, each layer corresponds to a city built on the ruins of the previous city. Troy I is the earliest, settled around 3600 BCE and Troy IX dates 85 BCE to about 500 CE.
The Aeneid relates its hero’s many adventures including his descent into Hades. There he meets his dead father who guides him around. Influenced by Virgil’s telling of Aeneid, Dante used Virgil as his narrator’s guide thru purgatory in his Divine Comedy.
Troy VI–VII was a major city of the Late Bronze Age (1750 BCE-950BCE) consisting of a steep fortified citadel with a sprawling town below it. It was a thriving coastal city with a considerable population.
Aspects of its architecture are consistent with the Homer’s description of mythic Troy, and several of its sublayers show potential signs of violent destruction. These sublayers are among the candidates for a potential historical setting of those myths. Wars, fires and earthquakes have taken their toll over the centuries.
Today, the Historic National Park at Troy contains acres of ruins including the Odeon outdoor theater, Roman baths, Temple of Athena’s pillars and walls. The big gaudy wooden Trojan Horse is currently strips of lumber under reconstruction. But as one walks the boardwalks about Troy, one must consider the ancient history which these stone pillars and walls represent.
Still debated is the authenticity of the Trojan War, including whether it occurred at all and if Homer’s Troy ever existed. Regardless, it makes one hell of a story.
From Myth to Modern
Our day concludes with a pleasant drive past groves of citrus and family vineyards. Healthy coniferousforests and low mountains break the monotony of arid and rocky countryside. It is not long before we once again see the Aegean, blue and sparkling in the bright sun.
Our destination for the evening is the small fishing village of Assos. A narrow cobblestone lane takes us to our port-side accommodations at Assos Kervansaray. The 180-year-old stone building is located near the dock and breakwater with spectacular views of the sea. Restaurants and cafes line the lanes.
Achilles, and for that matter Brad Pitt, would be pleased.