Troy and world cul­tural her­itage

Timeless Travels Magazine - - FOCUS ON TROY -

Cul­tur­ally and geo­graph­i­cally, Troy is the bridge be­tween Europe and Asia, be­long­ing both to the West and to the Ori­ent. Xerxes the Great hon­oured the Tro­jans as a Per­sian, while Alexan­der the Great did the same as a Western Mace­do­nian. Nov­els, plays, po­ems, and films about Troy res­onate equally in the East and in the West.

There is no other an­cient site, in fact, which has so deeply in­flu­enced the cul­ture and spirit of Europe, and through­out his­tory, dif­fer­ent Euro­pean peo­ples have sought to iden­tify them­selves with Troy. In the present day, in­ter­est in Troy re­mains at an all-time high, fol­low­ing the ex­ca­va­tions of the an­cient city by Sch­lie­mann in the nine­teenth cen­tury.

Hein­rich Sch­lie­mann, work­ing from the text of Homer’s po­etry, un­cov­ered Troy and proved to the world that Homer was not sim­ply re-telling leg­ends, but was re­count­ing an ac­tual his­tor­i­cal event. Al­though many in Europe, and around the world, doubted Sch­lie­mann’s claims to have found the fa­bled city of Troy, many more at the time ac­cepted the ev­i­dence as pre­sented and rec­og­nized the im­mense im­por­tance of Sch­lie­mann’s work in es­tab­lish­ing the story of Troy as his­tory, not mythol­ogy. Long be­fore Sch­lie­mann, how­ever, peo­ple un­der­stood the story of Troy as his­tory and drew cul­tural and per­sonal pride from as­so­ci­at­ing them­selves closely with the city.

Thanks to Homer, Troy has long held an es­teemed po­si­tion in the great Euro­pean tra­di­tion. In the tales of knights of the 12th and 13th cen­turies of the Mid­dle Ages, lit­er­ary works men­tion the 'former sol­diers of Troy' and two sources are cited - Dic­tys of Crete (1st-3rd cen­tury A.D.) and Dares of Phry­gia (2nd-5th cen­tury A.D.) – on the sur­vival of a num­ber of Tro­jans fol­low­ing the Achaean vic­tory.

In the works at­trib­uted to them, both these au­thors claim first or sec­ond-hand knowl­edge of the fall of Troy; Dic­tys was al­legedly an eye-wit­ness and Dares drew on rep­utable sources. To­gether,

these two au­thors formed the ba­sis for the me­dieval fas­ci­na­tion with the so-called 'Mat­ter of Troy'. In re­al­ity, nei­ther au­thor prob­a­bly had any pri­mary knowl­edge of the fall of Troy, but their works were ac­cepted as his­tory by the Euro­pean in­tel­li­gentsia of the Mid­dle Ages. These peo­ple were quick to as­so­ciate them­selves with the sur­vivors of Troy and trace their lin­eage back to the city. Like the Ro­mans be­fore them, the Franks, Bur­gun­di­ans, Nor­mans, Bri­tish, and Turks claimed de­scent from the sur­vivors of the fall of Troy.

In 1203-1204 A.D., dur­ing the Fourth Cru­sade, the Euro­pean Cru­saders who sacked Con­stantino­ple (Is­tan­bul) ex­cused their crimes by claim­ing that their pur­pose was to take re­venge for the fall of Troy. The Crusader Peter of Bracheux gave the fol­low­ing ex­pla­na­tion to an en­emy com­man­der: “The Tro­jans were our an­ces­tors and those who es­caped and were saved came and made their homes where we come from; they were our an­ces­tors, we came to these places to re-con­quer their coun­try.” In­ter­est­ingly, this same ex­cuse was given by the Ot­toman Sultan Mehmed II in 1453 A.D. who also iden­ti­fied his peo­ple with the Tro­jans and claimed his sack of Con­stantino­ple was mo­ti­vated by re­venge for the sack of Troy.

Troy, there­fore, is clearly un­der­stood as ex­ert­ing a pow­er­ful cul­tural in­flu­ence on both the East and West. The fall of the great city through the de­ceit of the Achaeans elicited sym­pa­thy for the Tro­jans and, even though the Greeks were the vic­tors, peo­ple reg­u­larly iden­ti­fied with the de­feated most likely be­cause it was un­clear who the Tro­jans were and, there­fore, they could be claimed by any na­tion­al­ity.

This is clearly seen in the Europe of the Mid­dle Ages where the story of the Tro­jan War (the Mat­ter of Troy) con­sti­tuted a sig­nif­i­cant as­pect of the ba­sics of the ed­u­ca­tional cur­ricu­lum. The Mat­ter of Troy, in fact, was as pop­u­lar as the Mat­ter of Bri­tain (the Arthurian Leg­ends) and Euro­peans, re­spec­tively by coun­try, felt bound to­gether by this com­mon his­tory. The peo­ple of Europe iden­ti­fied strongly with the Tro­jans and saw them­selves united to an­cient world his­tory, part of an il­lus­tri­ous past, rather than adrift in time af­ter the fall of Rome and the rise of Euro­pean na­tion-states.

Thus, the Tro­jan War as­sumed a cen­tral role in Euro­pean his­tory. The de­struc­tion of the great city, not through su­pe­rior mil­i­tary skill but by trick­ery, was a tragedy which later peo­ple, in both West and East, iden­ti­fied with. By the time of the Mid­dle Ages, the Qu­ran in the East and the Bi­ble in the West were con­sid­ered the Word of God and ex­plained the his­tory of the world to the peo­ple and hu­man­ity’s ori­gin over­all but did not ad­dress their spe­cific an­ces­try. The story of Troy filled that void by of­fer­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that any­one – from Arab to Crusader – could be a de­scen­dant of the no­ble and tragic Tro­jans. Un­for­tu­nately, this iden­ti­fi­ca­tion was seized upon by the var­i­ous na­tion­al­i­ties to dif­fer­en­ti­ate and sep­a­rate them from each other, es­tab­lish­ing in their minds a su­pe­ri­or­ity to oth­ers, rather than as a means of em­brac­ing each other’s su­per­fi­cial dif­fer­ences and rec­og­niz­ing a com­mon an­ces­tral bond.

To cite only one ex­am­ple, Hierony­mus (d.419/420 A.D.), one of the great men of the church, wrote to his friend Paulo in Rome that his lin­eage went back to Agamem­non, the leader of the Greeks in the Tro­jan War, while his wife’s lin­eage went back to Ae­neas of Troy. Hierony­mus was able to rec­og­nize that two peo­ple of dif­fer­ent an­ces­tries could live har­mo­niously to­gether but could not ex­tend that un­der­stand­ing to oth­ers who were non-Euro­pean or not of his same so­cial class. The Euro­pean aris­to­crats rou­tinely as­so­ci­ated them­selves with Troy and the same par­a­digm ap­plies to the cities of the Mid­dle Ages.

In Italy, the cities of Rome, Padua, and Venice – to name only three of the many – claimed Troy as their an­ces­tral city and el­e­vated the names of Ae­neas, Hec­tor, An­tenor and the other Tro­jan he­roes. In France, writ­ers such as Fulco of Neuilly also claimed Troy as their own but, in­stead of al­low­ing a com­mon bond to unite them with the peo­ple of Italy, in­sisted they were su­pe­rior be­cause they had preserved the an­cient Tro­jan tra­di­tions bet­ter than any­one else. In Bri­tain, English writ­ers mocked the French claim and stressed their own lin­eage from Troy. In all these cases, and many more left un­men­tioned, peo­ple strongly iden­ti­fied with Troy in an ef­fort to de­fine them­selves but al­ways at an­other peo­ples’ ex­pense. This model of be­hav­iour, how­ever, need not be ad­hered to in the present day.

All peo­ple, ev­ery­where, are free to claim Troy as their own be­cause the story of the fall of Troy is not spe­cific to one na­tion­al­ity or re­gion. The strug­gle to main­tain one’s home, one’s free­dom, and keep safe those one loves is uni­ver­sal to the hu­man con­di­tion no mat­ter where one lives in the world. It is hoped that, in the 21st cen­tury, peo­ple will em­brace Troy as they do each other in mu­tual un­der­stand­ing and re­spect for both their many sim­i­lar­i­ties and their dif­fer­ences.

The an­cient walls of Troy

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