As a dis­tin­guished scholar shifts the site of the Tro­jan War from Turkey to Greece, Luke Slat­tery weighs the arche­o­log­i­cal and lit­er­ary ev­i­dence

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Essay -

About 6km in­land from Turkey’s Aegean coast stands a pile of an­cient ma­sonry be­lieved to be the site of leg­endary Troy. An out­sized Tro­jan horse — very Dis­ney — rears be­side it. A few bro­ken doric col­umns lend a clas­si­cal air. And tour guides ex­plain how at this strong­hold, more than 1000 years be­fore the birth of Christ, the Tro­jan cham­pion Hec­tor fought the Greek su­per­hero Achilles in a war over a faith­less beauty named He­len.

Now one of Ger­many’s most dis­tin­guished an­cient his­to­ri­ans, Frank Kolb, is chal­leng­ing this ar­ti­cle of faith with claims that the Tro­jan War was fought not in Turkey but in main­land Greece. Kolb, a pro­fes­sor at Tub­in­gen Univer­sity, is out to de­flate the pop­u­lar be­lief in a real Tro­jan War fought at the arche­o­log­i­cal site iden­ti­fied with Troy since the Ger­man am­a­teur arche­ol­o­gist Hein­rich Sch­lie­mann be­gan ex­ca­vat­ing there — the lo­cals call it His­ar­lik hill — in the 1870s.

Kolb, an ex­pert in the an­cient his­tory of western Turkey, ar­gues in the next is­sue of Talanta, jour­nal of the Dutch Arche­o­log­i­cal and His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, that the leg­end of the Tro­jan War was formed in Greece be­fore mi­grat­ing be­tween the 11th and the 8th cen­turies BC to Turkey, or Asia Mi­nor as it was then called. “To­gether with the Tro­jan leg­end, the names of per­sons, set­tle­ments and tribes were trans­ported into that re­gion, which thus be­came a kind of looka­like of cen­tral Greece,” he writes.

The Tro­jan War story is told in The Iliad, an epic poem writ­ten around 700BC. The work, com­posed by a re­put­edly blind bard named Homer, is the dis­til­la­tion of an even more ven­er­a­ble body of myth pre­served in the aspic of for­mu­laic verse. Homer was the first epic poet in Western lit­er­a­ture. Some schol­ars be­lieve the Greek al­pha­bet was de­vel­oped to bear his work. Lit­tle, though, is known about him.

Through­out its 2700-year life­span The Iliad has been many things. It tells of the rage of one war­rior, Achilles, and its con­se­quences. Of the sor­rows, and the splen­dours, of war. And the ne­ces­sity — the democ­racy — of death. Th­ese days it is of­ten read as a clash-of-civil­i­sa­tions tale pit­ting the Greek West against the Ori­en­tal East. Kolb’s es­say, ti­tled Phan­tom Tro­jans at the Dar­danelles, sug­gests the clash at the heart of the poem is Greek-on-Greek. Achilles’ fa­mous duel with Hec­tor, he claims, can­not have been staged on Turkey’s Aegean coast. In­stead, it “re­flects a war be­tween neigh­bour­ing tribes in cen­tral Greece”.

Ilios is Homer’s pre­ferred name — a Greek name — and The Iliad is, by def­i­ni­tion, “the story of Ilios”. The word Troy, which re­lates to the sur­round­ing re­gion — the Troad — is used less fre­quently and never ex­plic­itly to name the set­tle­ment. And yet it is Troy, and not Ilios, to which our cul­ture has the deeper at­tach­ment.

The idea that the Tro­jan War was re­ally a kind of Hel­lenic war that shook it­self from its moor­ings, drifted east across the Aegean, and washed up in Turkey, will likely cause a stir. Athens will be de­lighted to re­claim its foun­da­tional epic from the hands of its Turk­ish an­tag­o­nist; Ankara will be net­tled.

Turkey is deeply at­tached to the idea that the Tro­jan cham­pion Hec­tor, whom many read­ers of Homer see as the poem’s real hero, was one of its own. In 2009, a 5m statue of Hec­tor was erected near Canakkale, the jump­ing-off point for tours of the World War I bat­tle­fields of the nearby Dar­danelles as well as the arche­o­log­i­cal site of Troy. In that year the lo­cal mayor, Alaaddin Ozkur­naz, told the Ana­to­lia news agency: “It is very im­por­tant for us to have a per­ma­nent mar­ble work of art about Hec­tor, an Ana­to­lian who we em­brace as one of our own.”

Kolb, how­ever, ar­gues that the name Hec­tor has no Ana­to­lian, or Turk­ish, roots. But it does turn up in Myce­naean Lin­ear B tablets, which pre­serve the ear­li­est form of writ­ten Greek, along with other names of im­por­tant Tro­jan fig­ures in The Iliad. In fact, Kolb writes, in The Iliad “the large ma­jor­ity of the per­son­nel on the Tro­jan side bear Greek names”. Homer’s Greek he­roes, such as Achilles and Ajax, are also men­tioned on the clay Lin­ear B tablets. “There is, how­ever, noth­ing heroic about their role in the Myce­naean world,” Kolb adds. “They ap­pear as ser­vants, ar­ti­sans or ad­min­is­tra­tive func­tionar­ies in Myce­naean palaces.”

An­chises is an­other name pow­er­fully con­nected with the Tro­jan War. He was the lucky Tro­jan who got to sleep with the love god­dess Aphrodite. She bore him a son, Ae­neas, who fought valiantly for his home town. Ae­neas es­caped from the ru­ins of Troy, af­ter the quin­tes­sen­tial Greek ruse of the Tro­jan Horse, to found Rome. That story is told in Vir­gil’s epic The Aeneid, a Latin se­quel to The Iliad. How­ever, as Kolb points out, An­chises was also a fa­mous Greek aris­to­crat in the Greek Pelo­pon­nese.

This might ex­plain why Greek place names, such as Thebe, turn up in Homer’s Tro­jan world. An­other ex­am­ple is Larissa, which in The Iliad is in­hab­ited by a tribe loyal to the Tro­jans. But Larissa also hap­pens to have been a city in an­cient Thes­saly, now north­ern Greece. The Leleges and the Pe­las­goi, groups that Homer places near Troy — the poet has ram­pag­ing Achilles de­stroy their cities — were in re­al­ity in­hab­i­tants Greece. In Homer’s time the Aegean coast of Asia Mi­nor was land rich for the tak­ing. Mi­grants set out for th­ese shores by boat (much like to­day’s refugees) in search of a new life. Homer was, in all like­li­hood, part of this mi­gra­tion. His po­etic lan­guage is a fu­sion of two Greek di­alects, Io­nian and Ae­o­lian, both of them used by im­mi­grant Greeks to the east­ern Aegean. And he has clearly, in com­pos­ing his story, braided to­gether heroic tales from dif­fer­ent re­gions of Greece and Asia Mi­nor. But one thing, Kolb ar­gues, is cer­tain: there were never any Tro­jans at this place. There were Dar­da­ni­ans, and they gave their name to the Dar­danelles; but the Tro­jans, he be­lieves, are a Homeric in­ven­tion.

Homer is the orig­i­nal dead white male and The Iliad is the tap­root of Western civil­i­sa­tion.




north­ern The poem was glam­orous in an­tiq­uity — it was the “milk” on which Athe­nian boys were raised. And its glam­our — its al­lure — has never dimmed.

When the Bri­tish poet Pa­trick Shaw Ste­wart, who fought at Gal­lipoli dur­ing World War I, gazed across the Dar­danelles to the ru­ins Sch­lie­mann had ex­posed less than half a cen­tury ear­lier, he spied there a god of war and com­rade in arms. The Homeric hero Achilles chose im­mor­tal death over a long, yet for­got­ten, life. And it was to him that the poet penned th­ese heart-wrench­ing lines: Was it so hard, Achilles, So very hard to die? Though knewest, and I know not — So much the hap­pier am I. So I will go back this morn­ing From Im­bros over the sea; Stand in the trench, Achilles, Flame-capped, and shout for me.

In the past 12 months two new trans­la­tions of The Iliad have ap­peared be­tween hard cov­ers, while a live-re­lay read­ing by some of the finest ac­tors of the Bri­tish stage — in­clud­ing Si­mon Rus­sell Beale, Si­mon Cal­low, Sinead Cu­sack, Ben Whishaw and Sa­muel West — was broad­cast in Au­gust last year to a global au­di­ence. The pro­fes­sors, mean­while, are at odds over the poem’s pre­cise re­la­tion­ship to the ru­ins in Tur-

Hein­rich Sch­lie­mann

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