Letters From Crete II: Finding Menaleus
I am currently sat on the patio of an air B&B in Karemas, southern Crete, overlooking the Libyan Sea. It is morning. In the foreview to my left are the double rocks of the pretty Paximadian Islands, upon which the Cretans say Apollo was born. To my right is Gavdos, the most southerly point of Europe. There is a high wind blowing fiercely, as it has been for four days now, we are told. We drove here yesterday, first calling in at the many-peopled ‘funfair’ that the Knossos site has become; then entering & crossing the Cretan hinterland, a mixture of beautiful hills dotted with olive trees as if they were woven into some starlet’s hair, roughed up here & there by rather desolate villages. After stopping in at the oasis watering hole that are the Goanesque beaches of Agia Galini, we took a serendipitous wrong turn which snaked us out through the heart of the quite breathtaking Kedros range, via the villages of Apodolou, Nithavris, Agios Ioannis & Agia Pareskevi. Another wrong turn later & we were high up in the idyllic hilltop village of Vrisses, where, finally swapping our tourist map for a more detailed & accurate one contained in my portable library’s 1995 book on Crete, we finally came to Kerames.
On arrival we were met at the mini-market by stylish Kleopatra, a teacher of ancient Greek & Latin in Athens, who returns to her home village to rent out the house to erstwhile travelers. Built in the 16th century, it has been the home of two saints & a Cretan governor, & has also played host to many a village dance. An excuisitely beautiful building, made from a mixture of searocks & quarried stone, it is a geologist’s dream, & is ours for last night & the next two to come. Kleopatra delighted in showing us around the house, its history, & also walking us through the village so the locals knew we were with her. The encounter with her plump mother was amusing to say the least; with the mother mocking Kleopatra’s slight build & saying she was far too thin, that she was like a little girl, & that she needs to eat more… much to the agreement of the other plump women of a certain age sat on chairs in the vicinity.
Roll on three days & I am finishing this off in the pinkening sunrise on the lazy morning on the 10th of July. On tour first full day, upon a visit to the amazing Preveli Beach, via a rough & twisting Himalayanesque mountain road & reached only by footpath as in Gokarna; after swimming in a lagoon I suddenly found my foot pierced by a palmleaf spine &, well, ouch. The next dawn, me & Emily left the girls sleeping & drove to nearby Spili & its free health centre. Cue two female doctors writhing at my poor wound, trying to drag the thorn out. At one point one of the nurses turned her to mine & looking at me with a most solemn stare, said quite plainly, ‘pain?’ Through my acute grimacing I could only nod. The thorn, alas, was buried too deep & so with prescription in hand we returned to Agia Galini for another day at the beach & to buy some antibiotics. During that sunkissed day I collated my notes for this essay, which I am polishing off the now. Last night was very special, with us all getting dressed up & hitting the village square for a wonderful meal of native meat & salads which cost only 22 euros – our hostess refusing a tip & also joining us in the complimentary ouzo shots!
Kemares village is a white-washed, narrow-streeted affair in the Italian style, & rather the perfect place to work upon one of my thornier essays – that of the character of Menaleus, appearing in the Homeric epics. In summary, I believe he was not actually around in the thirteenth century BC to fight the traditionally dated Trojan War, but was instead active three centuries earlier, & that his deeds were later superimposed upon the story of the Trojan War by Thales. I believe his story was one of the ‘Homeric fragments’ discovered by Lycurgus & that the Trojan War in which Achilles fought was a different fragment altogether, with Thales splicing them together into a single story. I also believe that the War which Menaleus fought – in order to retrieve Helen – was not in NW Turkey, but in Egypt.
We shall anchor our investigation upon a figure in Greek mythology called Phineus, son of Bellus, the brother of Aegyptus & Danaus. Analyzing the contextus of Phineus, we discover a certain tale – as given by Ovid – in which he brandishes a spear against Perseus while squabbling over the daughter of Casseiopeia, who had been declared by her mother to be more beautiful than the Nereids. The names & situation massively reflect a Biblical figure called Phinehas, in whose tales we see an incident with remarkable echoes to that of Phineus. For Casseiopia we have a certain idolatrous Cozbi, & we may observe the Biblical Phinehas also brandishes a spear. The ‘most beautiful woman’ motif contained in Ovid finds its Biblical reflection in Flavius Josephus, who asserts that the enemies of the Israelites sent their most beautiful women to seduce the Jews into idolatry. Josephus explains the result was the slaying of Cozbi by Phinehas, after which God rewarded him & his posterity with the covenant of an everlasting hereditary priesthood.
The Biblical priestly Phinehas is said to have assisted Moses throughout the Exodus, even being master of the sacred Ark of the Covenant. Also active in those ‘days of Moses’ was a certain Gaythelos, or Goidal Glas, whose name seems to contain part of the Hebrew moniker for High Priest – the ‘Kohen Godal.’ According to Irish sources, the grandfather of Goidal Glas was a certain Fenius Farsaid. Thus Fenius, the grandfather of a Hebrew High Priest, can be matched on ethnological & phonetical grounds with Phinehas, one of the holiest men in the entourage of Moses.
The crux of the matter comes with the observance that between Fenius Farsaid & Gaythelos comes, according to John of Fordun, a ‘certain king of the countries of Greece, Neolus.’ Variant names given in other medieval sources include Nel (Lebor Gabala Erenn), while Geoffrey Keating gives Fenius two sons, Nenual & Niul, which seem to be a genflation of the same person. It is time for a wee babel-chain.
At the heart of this babel chain we see the name of Menaleus, whose eloping wife Helen initiated the Homeric Trojan War. In support of the Menaleus-Neolus connection, three ancient sources state that Menaleus had a son called Aithiolas, being the Scholion to Homer’s Iliad 3 (175th); Eustathius of Thessalonica & the Byzantine Suda (alphaiota 124). It is by no stretch of the imagination to see how the name Aithiolas transchispers into Gaythelos, or better still Gaithelos, as given by other records.
In my book, The Chisper Effect, I showed how Gaythelos was a prince with connections to Minoan Crete, & by studying the lineage of Menaleus, we can see why. The old tales have it that a certain Cretan king called Catreus begat a daughter called Aerope, who became the mother of Agamemnon and Menelaus, either by Plisthenes or by Atreus, in Mycynae. This means that Gaythelos was Minoan on his mother’s side, explaining why the treasures found at Mycynae contain, according to Martin Bernal, ‘an increase of the Minoan influences.’
The ancient city of Mycenae was sited in the northwest corner of the Plain of Argos, on the Peloponnese, in which place Pausanius, the Greek travel writer of the 2nd century AD, recorded, ‘the underground chambers of Atreus & his children, in which were stored their treasure. There is the grave of Atreus, along with the graves of such as returned with Agamemnon from Troy.’ In the late 19th century, a renegade amateur archeologist from Germany called Albert Schliemann excavated the site, discovering fabulous grave treasures which included the ‘Mask of Agamemnon,’ proving that the Homeric epithet, ‘Mycenae, rich in gold,’ was no exaggeration. Dated to 1550 BC, scholars have suggested that the treasures cannot be connected to the Mycynean leadership fighting a Trojan War in the 13th Century BC. But unraveling the factochisp & moving Menaleus & Agamemnon back three centuries, when Schilemann telegraphed the King of Greece that he had, ‘gazed on the face of Agamenon,’ his proud & swoony statement may bear out to be true, although not in the way standard Homeric scholarship has imagined.
When examining the other Homeric epic, the Odyssey, we encounter certain adventures of Menaleus which may be dated to the 16th Century BC. ‘It was nearly eight years,’ he says, ‘before I could get home with my fleet. I went to Cyprus, Phoenicia and the Egyptians; I went also to the Ethiopians, the Sidonians, and the Erembians, and to Libya.’ Each of these regions saw military activity during the reign of Amenhotep I (1546 -1526 BC); where the tomb biography of Ahmose Pen-Nekhebet says Amenhotep fought in Kush (Ethiopia) so Menaleus places himself in that same land; where Pen-Nekhebet states Amenhotep campaigned in Kehek – ie against the Qeheq tribe – so Menaleus places himself in Libya; where, in the tomb of Amenhotep I, we find a hostile reference made against the Transjordanian Qedmi, so Menaleus places himself among the Erembians, or the Arameans, the nomadic Bedouin tribes of the Syrian Desert.
It seems that the Mycyenean leadership of the 16th Century BC has been poetically superimposed onto the basic narrative infrastructure of the Trojan War. On investigating the matter deeper, it seems that there was a siege of Troy in order to reunite Menaleus with his errant wife, but this was not the citadel in NW Turkey, but was a site near Memphis in Egypt. In the Bronze Age, the city we now know as Troy was in fact Illium, or Wilusa, hence the Iliad. The earliest time the name ‘Troy’ is applied to Ilium was Homer’s poetry, i.e. the 9th century BC. As we are slowly discerning, the poet appears to have blended several strands of material from different periods & places in order to create his poems. That the Trojan siege occurred in Egypt fits well with the question mark that has hung since antiquity over the war’s causus belli. Stesichorus, for example, stated that Helen never went to the Turkish Troy & that the war was fought for a phantom. Euripides elaborated further, saying that Hermes took Helen to Egypt where she would spend the entire war. The grand old donjon of history himself, Herodotus, also raised serious doubts as to a Turkish Troy, making a serious study of the matter, from which we may read;
When I inquired of the priests, they told me that this was the story of Helen. After carrying off Helen from Sparta, Alexandrus sailed away for his own country; violent winds caught him in the Aegean and drove him into the Egyptian sea; and from there (as the wind did not let up) he came to Egypt, to the mouth of the Nile called the Canopic mouth, and to the Salters’. Now there was (and still is) on the coast a temple of Heracles; if a servant of any man takes refuge there and is branded with certain sacred marks, delivering himself to the god, he may not be touched. This law continues today the same as it has always been from the first. Hearing of the temple law, some of Alexandrus’ servants ran away from him, threw themselves on the mercy of the god, and brought an accusation against Alexandrus meaning to injure him, telling the whole story of Helen and the wrong done Menelaus. They laid this accusation before the priests and the warden of the Nile mouth, whose name was Thonis.
This mention of Thonis is interesting, as a remembrance of Helen in Egypt slipp’d into the Odyssey, where she is said to have had, ‘such ingenious drugs, Good ones, which she had from Thon’s wife, Polydamna, an Egyptian.’ Homer continues;
When Thonis heard it, he sent this message the quickest way to Proteus at Memphis: “A stranger has come, a Trojan, who has committed an impiety in Hellas. After defrauding his guest-friend, he has come bringing the man’s wife and a very great deal of wealth, driven to your country by the wind. Are we to let him sail away untouched, or are we to take away what he has come with?” Proteus sent back this message: “Whoever this is who has acted impiously against his guest-friend, seize him and bring him to me, that I may know what he will say.”
Hearing this, Thonis seized Alexandrus and detained his ships there, and then brought him with Helen and all the wealth, and the suppliants too, to Memphis. When all had arrived, Proteus asked Alexandrus who he was and whence he sailed; Alexandrus told him his lineage and the name of his country, and about his voyage, whence he sailed. Then Proteus asked him where he had got Helen; when Alexandrus was evasive in his story and did not tell the truth, the men who had taken refuge with the temple confuted him, and related the whole story of the wrong. Finally, Proteus declared the following judgment to them, saying, “If I did not make it a point never to kill a stranger who has been caught by the wind and driven to my coasts, I would have punished you on behalf of the Greek, you most vile man. You committed the gravest impiety after you had had your guest-friend’s hospitality: you had your guest-friend’s wife. And as if this were not enough, you got her to fly with you and went off with her. And not just with her, either, but you plundered your guest-friend’s wealth and brought it, too. Now, then, since I make it a point not to kill strangers, I shall not let you take away this woman and the wealth, but I shall watch them for the Greek stranger, until he come and take them away; but as for you and your sailors, I warn you to leave my country for another within three days, and if you do not, I will declare war on you.”
This, the priests said, was how Helen came to Proteus. And, in my opinion, Homer knew this story, too; but seeing that it was not so well suited to epic poetry as the tale of which he made use, he rejected it, showing that he knew it. This is apparent from the passage in the Iliad (and nowhere else does he return to the story) where he relates the wanderings of Alexander, and shows how he and Helen were carried off course, and wandered to, among other places, Sidon in Phoenicia.
In the 16th century BC, there was an Egyptian city called Troy, of which Diodorus Siculus recorded (in the first century BC); ‘even to this day exists on the bank of the Nile.’ Strabo gives us more gloss on the Egyptian Troy;
In the neighbourhood of the quarry of the stones from which the pyramids are built, which is in sight of the pyramids, on the far side of the river in Arabia, there is a very rocky mountain which is called “Trojan,” and that there are caves at the foot of it, and a village near both these and the river which is called Troy.
Diodorus describes Menaleus crossing into Egypt where facing the Trojans of the Egyptian Troy he, ‘maintained a warfare until he granted them safety and freedom.’ The actual story behind the original Trojan siege may be embedded in an account of Herodotus, who places both Menaleus & Helen in Egypt;
When I asked the priests whether the Greek account of what happened at Troy were idle or not, they gave me the following answer, saying that they had inquired and knew from Menelaus himself. When these were let inside the city walls, they demanded the restitution of Helen and of the property which Alexandrus had stolen from Menelaus and carried off, and they demanded reparation for the wrongs; but the Trojans gave the same testimony then and later, sworn and unsworn: that they did not have Helen or the property claimed, but all of that was in Egypt, and they could not justly make reparation for what Proteus the Egyptian had. But the Greeks, thinking that the Trojans were mocking them, laid siege to the city, until they took it; but there was no Helen there when they breached the wall, but they heard the same account as before; so, crediting the original testimony, they sent Menelaus himself to Proteus.
Menelaus then went to Egypt and up the river to Memphis; there, relating the truth of the matter, he met with great hospitality and got back Helen, who had not been harmed, and also all his wealth, besides. An idea is arising here that Menaleus thought Helen was at a city by the ‘Trojan’ mountain, known today as the Hill of Toorah near Memphis. After raising its citadel he discovered that Helen was in fact at Memphis, perhaps whisked there by the Pharaoh on discovering Menaleus was attacking the Egyptian Troy. That is all a great big ‘perhaps’ of course, but there are too many factors & facts pointing to an Egyptian locality for denoument of the kidnapping of Helen. Other memories of Menaleus in Egypt can be found at Canopus, an ancient coastal town, located in the Nile Delta & named after Menealeus’ pilot. Legend describes how Menelaus built a monument to his memory on the shore, around which the town later grew up. This leads us to a passage in the Odyssey, one of the ‘Cretan Lies’ told by Odysseus which distinctly remembers a military campaign in Egypt;
We came to fair-flowing Aegyptus, and in the river Aegyptus I moored my curved ships. Then verily I bade my trusty comrades to remain there by the ships, and to guard the ships, and I sent out scouts to go to places of outlook. But my comrades, yielding to wantonness, and led on by their own might, straightway set about wasting the fair fields of the men of Egypt; and they carried off the women and little children, and slew the men; and the cry came quickly to the city. Then, hearing the shouting, the people came forth at break of day, and the whole plain was filled with footmen, and chariots and the flashing of bronze. But Zeus who hurls the thunderbolt cast an evil panic upon my comrades, and none had the courage to hold his ground and face the foe; for evil surrounded us on every side. So then they slew many of us with the sharp bronze, and others they led up to their city alive, to work for them perforce. But in my heart Zeus himself put this thought—I would that I had rather died and met my fate there in Egypt, for still was sorrow to give me welcome. Straightway I put off from my head my well-wrought helmet, and the shield from off my shoulders, and let the spear fall from my hand, and went toward the chariot horses of the king. I clasped, and kissed his knees, and he delivered me, and took pity on me, and, setting me in his chariot, took me weeping to his home. Verily full many rushed upon me with their ashen spears, eager to slay me, for they were exceeding angry. But he warded them off, and had regard for the wrath of Zeus, the stranger’s god, who above all others hath indignation at evil deeds. “There then I stayed seven years, and much wealth did I gather among the Egyptians, for all men gave me gifts.
Further support for a 16th century BC date for the Menaleus-Helen story turned up in finds excavated at the 16th century BC palace near Xirokambi, just to the south of the Menalean kingdom of Sparta. Cups excavated at the site are both Minoan & Mycynean in origin, while Xirokambi’s bull motifs are evocative of images found at Knossos & Avaris. The latter connects with Menaleus’s Minoan son, Gaythelos. Furthermore, tablets found at Xirokambi indicate that the palace there was a center of two productions – perfume & fabric – which have strong echoes in the Odyssey. The following passage sees Helen at home in her native Sparta;
While he was thus in two minds Helen came down from her high vaulted and perfumed room, looking as lovely as Diana herself. Adraste brought her a seat, Alcippe a soft woollen rug while Phylo fetched her the silver work-box which Alcandra wife of Polybus had given her. Polybus lived in Egyptian Thebes, which is the richest city in the whole world; he gave Menelaus two baths, both of pure silver, two tripods, and ten talents of gold; besides all this, his wife gave Helen some beautiful presents, to wit, a golden distaff, and a silver work-box that ran on wheels, with a gold band round the top of it. Phylo now placed this by her side, full of fine spun yarn, and a distaff charged with violet coloured wool was laid upon the top of it. Then Helen took her seat, put her feet upon the footstool, and began to question her husband.
One final piece of evidence I shall include in my lecture are a couple of references to a Bronze Age Libyan peoples called the Meshwesh. Their first historical mention occurs during the 18th Dynasty during the reign of Amenhompet III (1386-1349 BC), being cited as a source of cattle provided to the palace at Malkata. The actual origin of the Meshwesh is defined by Herodotus himself;
West of the Triton river and next to the Aseans begins the country of Libyans who cultivate the soil and possess houses; they are called Maxyes; they wear their hair long on the right side of their heads and shave the left, and they paint their bodies with vermilion. These claim descent from the men who came from Troy.
This definitively places the Meshwesh after the ‘Trojan War’, which means that, as they existed during the reign of Amenhomet III, the Trojan War must have occurred before his floruit in the the 14th century BC. That the name of the tribe, Maxyes or Meshwesh, can be transchispered into Mycynae with relative ease suggests that the tribe was indeed founded by the soldiers of Menaleus. To conclude, it appears that Homer discarded the true story of Helen’s kidnapping & instead wanted to resituate his epic during the siege of Ilium in the 13th century BC, rather than in Egypt in the 16th century BC. In my next lecture I shall attempt to understand why.
10th July, 2017
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