Letters From Crete III: The Trojan War
I am writing this overlooking the Libyan Sea, high up in the mountain village of Agios Ioanis. We reached here three days ago, calling in at Gortys along the way – the ancient capital of Crete – in 39 degree heat, & far too hot to explore very much. I did pick up a copy of the oldest Law Code in Europe however, & have a mind to mixing it in with some classical poetry Emily gifted me as translated by Robin Skelton. All in the relatively near future of course. From Gortys, we took a wrong turn & ended up back at busy Heraklion, which was perhaps serendipitous as it allowed the girls to have another blast at Star Beach.
At 5 in the evening we set off for our next residence, crossing the island again from sea-to-sea as far as Ireapetra. As we drove south I was delighted to see the stone boat sunk by Poseidon near Pseria, the island I presume to be that of the Phaecaens of the Odyssey. I had searched for the stone boat in vain on Google Earth, thinking it would be hard at the Pseria’s twin Minoan harbours – but is instead closer to the mainland & the Minoan city of Gournia, which may be of some significance.
Agios Ioannis is a 9K drive to the head of a wonderful olive-smitten U-shaped mountain recess. Stacked white against the mountains, it is half dilapidated & half regenerated in the Calcata fashion. Once a bustling town, in the 70s & 80s the inhabitants drifted to easier lives in the city & by the coast, leaving an insanely beautiful ghost-town. Even today, in the winter, there are only six full-time residents. Our house is large… two wings behind an excellent garden tended by the grey-bearded Adonis. Five cats, three dogs & a timid goat contribute to the safari-like nature of our domicile, along with all those grievously nasty mosquitos that are ravaging the girls. There are no shops & only two places to eat; the modernistic, uniquely-detailed Route 55 Café Bar & Kristina’s tavern, where we can take away genuine Greek food to eat at varius places at our homestead & garden. It is over one of these meals, with wine to hand, in the gentle evening light, sat at the table on our porch, that I shall now ruminate on the true Trojan War.
As I have stated in previous essays, the Homeric epics are a grand jumble of creochisps; a wooly ball of well-woven threads of numerous origins. Having extracted the Menalean string at Karames, let us now examine the orgins of the war which Homer clearly sets in NW Turkey. We begin with the supposed date, deduced by examining The Life of Homer – said to have been penned by Herodotus (scholars prefer to call him Pseudo-Herodotus) – which tells us that the poet was born 168 years after the Trojan War & 622 years before the Persian invasion of Greece by Xerxes I. With the Xerxean battle of Thermopyles taking place in 480BC, if we wind back another (622+168=) 790 years, we may assume the Trojan War ended in 1270 BC. This year also fits information supplied by Herodotus’, ‘Pan who was born of Penelope… came into being later than the wars of Troy, about eight hundred years before my time.’
To Herodotus the Trojan War was fought before 1250 BC. To this period, we may also pin the Locrian Curse, which gives us the exact year of the fall of Troy, 1264 BC. The story goes that the Locrian hero Ajax was shipwrecked by Poseidon for raping Cassandra in the temple of Athena just after the fall of Troy. Swimming for his life, when he reached the coast of Eobea he was struck by a bolt of lightning & slain. Lycophron, in his ‘Alexandria,’ describes the Locrians as being subsequently cursed for a thousand years, & were forced to send two unmarried maidens to the temple of Athena at Ilion of Athens each year, where they would spend the remainder of their lives. It was only in 264 BC that the Locrians finally satisfied the curse’s conditions.
Another route comes via combining the date given by ‘Timaeus the Sicilian,’ for the foundation of Rome, who says it was founded at the same time as Carthage, in the thirty-eighth year before the first Olympiad. This year would be 814 or 813. Anchoring our investigation on this date, when we examine the writings of the celebrated 2nd century BC orator Porcius Cato – Cato the Elder – we learn that the Trojan War occurred 432 years before the foundation of Rome. This gives a date of 1246/45.
As for where this war was fought, up until the end of the nineteenth century the enlightened opinion of academia considered the Trojan War to be a battle non gratia, on the basis that nobody could actually find a city called Troy. It took the financial fortune & dogged persistance of Heinrik Schliemann to uncover the long-lost capital citadel of Ilium. As a boy he had been entertained upon his father’s knee by the tales of Achilles, Helen, Paris & Menaleus. Growing into manhood, these stories gripped his imagination more & more, until he decided to plunge his business fortune into a search for the city of Troy. Choosing a site where the Roman ‘New Troy’ had been built – & very much to the scoffs of the scholars – Schliemann began to excavate a certain Hisalrik Hill in NW Turkey. The results were simply astonishing as he & his team of Turkish workers, toiling daily in the sun, slowly unearthed the massive cyclopean walls of a great citadel; the long-lost ‘high-towered Troy.’ Schliemann also discovered a great entranceway, which he dubbed the Homeric ‘Scaean Gate,’ leading him to declare to the planet, ‘I have proved that in a remote antiquity there was in the plain of Troy a large city, destroyed of old by a fearful catastrophe, which had on the hill of Hisalrik only its Acropolis with its temples and a few other large edifices, southerly, and westerly direction on the site of the later Ilium; and that, consequently, this city answers perfectly to the Homeric description of the sacred site of Ilios.’
Scholars were unsurprisingly skeptical as to the size of the city; such a palace, though undoubtedly large, could never have housed the massy legions which swarmed on the Trojan side. Schliemann would eventually die dissapointed that he had not discovered the true Troy. But, to please his ghost, since his passing, layer by layer, like the skins of a field-fresh onion, archeologists have uncovered a series of Troys dating back thousands of years, including parts of a long wall which would have encircled Hisalrik hill, vastly enlarging the city’s size. In total, there are seven ‘layers’ to Troy, ranging from 3000 BC to the aforementioned ‘New Troy,’ built by the Romans c.100 AD. These seven cities are divided into sub-stratific layers, of which Troy VIh & VIIa are the most interesting. Troy VI was initially built on massive scale c.1400 BC, a solid edifice of carefully fitted ashlar blocks, with two of its towers erected not long before the destruction of VIh by an earthquake, about the year 1300 BC.
It is possible to match these events to a creochisping mythomeme of a demigod called Herakles, & his own destruction of Troy. According to Herodotus (c.450 BC), Herakles was born ‘about nine hundred years,’ before his own time, ie c.1350. The legend of the demi-god’s destruction of Troy, as found in the Iliad & the Bibliotheke of Apollodorus, shows Poseidon, The Earthshaker, attacking Troy with the help of a sea-beast, a probable euhemeristic account of an earthquake & tsunami striking the shores of Asia Minor. The Roman historian Strabo tells us;
Poseidon, as the story runs, became angry with Laomedon the king of Troy in connection with the building of its walls, and sent forth from the sea a monster to ravage the land. By this monster those who made their living by the seashore and the farmers who tilled the land contiguous to the sea were being surprised and carried off. Furthermore, a pestilence fell upon the people and a total destruction of their crops, so that all the inhabitants were at their wits’ end because of the magnitude of what had befallen them. Consequently, the common crowd gathered together into an assembly and sought for a deliverance from their misfortunes, and the king, it is said, dispatched a mission to Apollo to inquire of the god regarding what had befallen them. When the oracle, then, became known, which told that the cause was the anger of Poseidon and that only then would it cease when the Trojans should of their own free will select by lot one of their children and deliver him to the monster for his food, although all the children submitted to the lot, it fell upon the king’s daughter Hesionê.
Luckily for Hesione, Herakles turns up just in time & offers to slay the monster in return for some of Laomedon’s quality horses. After Herakles upheld his side of the bargain & slew the beast, Laodemon then went back on his word, resulting in a very angry demigod sacking Troy. Another Roman historian, Diodorus Siculus, writes;
Aye, what a man, they say, was Heracles in might, my father he, steadfast, with heart of lion, who once came here to carry of the mares of King Laomedon, with but six ships and scantier men, yet sacked he then the city of proud Ilium, and made her streets bereft.
During the slaughter, Herakles killed Laodemon & all of his sons except a young Priam, the Homeric king of Troy. Hesione also survived, marrying Herakles’ companion Telamon & settling in Greece. According to the myths, Herakles placed the young Priam on the throne of Troy. The actual foundations of this story can be discerned through certain letters discovered at Hattusa, the capital of a Near Eastern empire ruled by the Hittites. In them we may read how, in about the year 1290BC, a certain Tawagawala, the brother of the King of Ahhiyawa (Grecian Achaea), supports a certain Piyamaradu in southern Turkey. It is time to assemble a couple of babel-chains;
That Herakles is Tawagalawa is supported by the Hattusa letter placing him in Lycia, a region on the southern Turkish coast. ‘When the men of the city Lukka transferred their allegience to Mr. Tawagalawa, he came into these lands. They transferred their allegience to me in the same way, and I came down into these lands.’ These events are also mentioned by Panyassis of Helicarnassus – a student of Herodotus – whose epic poem on Herakles, the Heracleia, has the hero rescuing certain Cretan colonists in Lyica. ‘It is certain,’ states Christoper Prestige Jones, ‘that Panyassis’ epic brought Heracles to Lycia, & here too the poet may well have followed local tradition.’
The Hittite letters describe Piyamaradu as a renegade ‘adventurer,’ who at one point tries to reassert his dynastic claim to the throne of Troy, called Wilusa in the letters. We also learn how he married his daughter off to Ata, the ruler of Millawanda, or Miletus, the very same city where Hesione is said by the Greeks to have sought refuge from her unwanted marriage to Telamon. From Miletus, Piyaramadu launched his quest to regain the throne of Troy, at which time was occupied by a certain Alaksandru. This name is the Hittite philochisp of Alexandros, a confusing alternate name given to Paris in the Iliad. According to the Hattusa letters, Alaksandu wrote to Muwatalli II asking for assistance against Piyaramadu, which resulted in a treaty between Troy & the Hittites, concluded about 1280 BC. Troy was now a vassal state of its neighbouring superpower, & the treaty was guaranteed by a god named Apaliunas, ie Apollo, a diety of the Iliad who stands firmly on the side of the Trojans. Just after the treaty was signed, the ancient world was witnessing an epic conflict being played out between the Hittites & the other near-eastern superpower, Egypt.
It very much seems that the battles of Troy were less the greatest conflict of the heroic age, more a side-show in a much larger conglagaration in which was fought the famous Battle of Kadesh on the Orontes River near the border between Syria & Lebanon. The gargantuan struggle would last for two decades, between 1278BC & 1258BC, into which time-frame fits the historically dated Trojan War. That the Trojans were involved in a larger war can actually be seen in the Iliad, where Hittites are listed as among the allies of Troy. The city’s location as the watchtower over the vital Dardanellian gateway to the Mediterranean, would have been motive enough for either side to want its control.
There is a problem, however, & that is the date given for the fall of Troy by the normally reliable & accurate 3rd Century Greek geographer, Eratosthenes; 1184BC. This date. However, falls extremely close to the destruction layer of the next Troy. After the destruction of Troy VIh the builders of its successor, Troy VIIa, patched up the fortification walls & created a city which would last until 1190 BC – the date of its destruction layer being supported by pottery styles discovered in that strata. This layer seems to record the city being razed during the invasions of the so-called Sea Peoples. King Ammurapi of Ugarit, writing about 1185, describes the onslaught;
My father, behold, the enemy’s ships came (here); my cities were burned, and they did evil things in my country. Does not my father know that all my troops and chariots are in the Land of Hatti, and all my ships are in the Land of Lukka…Thus, the country is abandoned to itself. May my father know it: the seven ships of the enemy that came here inflicted much damage upon us.
What exactly went on up there in turbulent, windy Troy is uncertain. The Sea-Peoples attack may even be remembered in the Iliad as the army of ships beached on the sands of Ilium, forming another ingredient in the Homeric soup. Mixing all the names & dates together suggests that Priam was replaced on the throne of Troy by a man – Alexandros – who could not have been his son as stated by Homer. A chispological embellishment seems evident, with Homer understanding Priam & Alaksandu were both in Troy at the right time, but got things muddled up whether purposefully or not. As for Alexandros being also called Paris, this supports my theory that the Helen abduction motif was played out in Egypt three centuries before the battles in NW Turkey. Paris was perhaps the name of the 16th Century BC abductor of Helen, while Alexandros was the chieftan of the 13th century BC citadel at Ilium. In the same way, the Egyptian Troy was conflated with the Turkish Ilium by Homer, the fusion of which created something more-than-real, something majestic enough to become the subject of his superhuman poetry.
13th July, 2017
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