The history geek that I am, in my spare time I can oft be found on the hunt for a new empire, epoch or otherwise to dive into, and this time it happened to be the Fall of Troy. So down I dove.
The lecture I stumbled upon was from a scholar I was familiar, one Eric Cline. In 14 parts of 30 minutes each, he lays forth the characters, their places, the geopolitical scene, trade, and empires, weather, giving insight into the elements that lay within the lines Homer penned, in 750BC (give or take a few years, I imagine).
Homer was meshing aspects from the Bronze Age, the birth of the warrior, with his own time, the Iron Age, updating an old familiar tale of the lost magic of a time before, a golden age.
It occurred to me how there is a particular echo within the basic elements of the story that now has a different resonance against the backdrop of current events, at least for me.
This framework has come down to us through time and has often served as the foundational themes behind many of our European and near eastern legends (or one of). Here are these myths that stand up through time, the characters, their backstories, that tell of fantastical Kings and warriors, great Women who defied the rules (and odds), come forth through the misty doors of time, on chariot and foot, you know, great tales of when it was all hunky-dory and halo light.
That story, the one Homer shares, is thought to have come down from an older oral tradition, to which Homer was perhaps the first (or one of) to write it down, and this is why we have it today. As Troy is thought to concern events that took place in the mid to late 1200’s BC.
Looking back to the “good ol’ days” is a theme we understand, and apparently use to pick leaders, sometimes. Although, our memories are often marred perhaps by the propaganda machines that have twisted and turned the narratives, spun them to match lockstep with some agenda, eventually having more feelings of how it was than with the realities of how it was.
Unless, you are a teller of stories, a Bard born from an oral tradition, one who could recite long lines of poems and histories, and stories from the ages, embellishing here and there for effect, but keeping to certain parameters, as set out by those who had come before, the teacher(s?) who had taught him, as in taught Homer. Or, some say Homer wasn’t a name but rather a title, as in his name wasn’t Homer, that was his profession, a homer.
This Trojan War that he shares with his audience is the story of the last 100 days of a 10-year long siege, they are the tales and tragedies of what for many centuries was thought to be merely a mythical place, and a war that existed only in tales, or merely up on the silver screen with Brad Pitts bronze abs bursting at the seams (or some such early Victorian equivalent).
Or, just occurred to me, perhaps the 100 of 10 is a numeric device that his audience would have understood to mean, this war that happened 1000 years before? Sorry, sidetracked.
Anywho, in the closing decades of the 19th century, in the throes of the Victorian Era, one Frank Calvert, an early Archaeologist, began a “careful, exploratory excavations on the family-owned land which incorporated the mound of Hissarlik. He was convinced that this was the site of the ancient city of Troy, but in 1908 he died and was never officially associated with the discovery of Troy” [wikipedia].
With a significant larger purse, Heinrich Schliemann took all the credit for himself, and Calvert is rarely if ever mentioned but as a side note.
Legend had it that the Trojans ruled that region, but no one had ever actually found Troy, or really knew where to look. Well, Calvert did, or suspected he did, had dug some pits and found indications of settlements, but had not the funds to go farther down, to the Bronze Age. When Schliemann turned up he told him about his interest in the site, and how it matched the description, and of the layered settlement remains indicating the possibility of successive generations of cities on the same site.
They partnered up, and in 1870 the site of Troy was rediscovered.
Schliemann didn’t know this and instead just kept on digging through, down to a level back farther than the Troy he wanted, no doubt because he was really just looking solely for booty and grandeur he presumed would show the magnificent Troy. Brought his prejudice with him on the dig, a big no-no, and certainly not his first mistake, or only one.
He’d gone back a few hundred years more distant and come up with all this gold jewellery and other wonderful things, but none of it from Homers Troy, he was later to discover.
No, he’d dug so thoroughly through what is believed to be the main Palace of Troy, that he probably also destroyed any records that may have laid in that layer, such was his enthusiasm to find riches. He ended up destroying the humble remains, as some may have been, that would have been invaluable towards having a clearer view of the site.
But back to those rich themes of heroes in chariots, those arm to arm combats, Achilles Heel, and Paris running away with Helen, and hence setting off this 10-year siege of Troy. Her husband, King Menelaus of Sparta, wanted her back, a ‘Greek’ (though they didn’t call themselves that at the time and there was no country, just various city-states, run by Kings). So all the ‘Greeks’ trudged across the water to the far East Coast of today’s Turkey and laid siege to Troy.
Or so the story goes.
In fact, some scholars believe the events of the Trojan War are the telescoping (their word not mine) of perhaps a few different wars, and Homer, or a Homer, wrote it all down [see notes at the end for more on this].
The Horse? Well, that is a tougher one to puzzle out.
The horse left at the walls of Troy could simply be some sort of battering ram type contraption the ‘Greeks’ had brought with them in pieces, reconstructed on the beach, and Bobs your Uncle with a great big battering ram left rotting at the gates of mighty Troy after it’s destruction, may be seen off in the distance as the survivors were led away in chains from Troy towards a life of slavery.
Cause, there were no Trojan’s partying at the belief the ‘Greeks’ had trudged back home, after a brutal 10 long years, and left them this beautiful wooden horse as an offering of peace, I mean seriously. You don’t control one of the largest cities in the known world and fall for the first wooden horse that shows up outside your gates.
Or, maybe you do.
There is a deeper motif at play I think, and the symbolic elements of the story would probably have been more obvious to his audience of 750 B.C. This story would have been known to them, the telling of this great tale would have been an event, a morality tale, a worldview, and with his writing of the words down he cast the web of this tale through time, like a wizard, and in effect immortalizing it.
Even if missing some of the finer points, but I digress.
Certainly, part of it was that the Trojan Horse was representative of the great power of the horse itself, for which the Trojans were known. Horses riding across the plains of Troy is a beautiful thing to behold, if merely on a small laptop screen, and one can imagine the vast swaths of mounted warriors flying across flat grasslands along the eastern coast of what is now called Turkey, but in that time would have been under the rule of The Hittites.
Some scholars believe the horse motif used is a reference to the powerful horse of the waves, of Poseidon in his dominion over the Oceans, as humanity at this time had grown to dominate the animals, as well as the land underneath their feet.
The ‘Greeks’ dominated the waves, while the Trojans ruled the land and therefore as well trade routes through to the east, and this, my friend, could very well have been at the core of the conflict – the ‘Greeks’ wanted what the Trojans had. Familiar theme.
And not just the riches, not just the great gobs of gold, evidently plentiful going back centuries in time, oh no, the ‘Greeks’ were more envious of the spot itself, all about location, location, location.
They desired something, perhaps something they had once had [The Golden Fleece]. Those riches that lay beyond Troy, and with them gone, the’Greeks’ could go get for themselves the booty, and wipe out the pesky middleman. Go to the source. No one likes the taxman, after all, even the ancients I guess.
Taking a look deeper, maybe the horse fools us all, not merely just the Trojans.
The audience Homer was addressing understood these finer details, these motifs, and I wonder if our reading is far more fantastical? Thus has masked their reflective nature.
There is a certain truth that doth lie within this Trojan Horse for us, even still.
Maybe we should look at it as more of a representative of that which we most desire, an offering of peace, and offered in such a way, and we fall for it, every time. And the message is, perhaps, like the medium, our shared humanity, shared faults, shared blindness to the effects of greed.
The chaos, the trials and trivial details, the show, the throes of digital warfare, draining us, all of us, and we begin to not see what lays hidden within the belly of that horse, as we are blinded by the light of those who merely want to be seen, and heard. As the journalists, like Cassandra, as she bruised poor Apollo’s fragile ego and thus cursed by him to have her words turned to gibberish in the ears of her doomed people.
Yes, these are familiar tales.
Troy did rise from the ashes, as within the stratigraphy of the Iron Age and beyond, remnants of more settlements were found (in recent digs). Yet, never at the grandeur of the Troy of which Homer told his tales. And it was destroyed many times, twice by greed (that we know of).