The Aegean Edicts (1): The Tomb of Achilles – early clues
Literary essays from a pilgrimage to Troy
With the world some weird kind of pagan ritual lockdown, I thought it a better time than most to head off the beaten tracks & go searching for the fabled burial mound of Achilles & his best pal, Patrocolus. Since Schliemann digging Troy out of Hisalrik Hill in the 19th Century, the idea that Achilles fought & died in the Troad moves from phantasy to possibilty – the next two stages are plausable & probable, but we’re not there yet. So, leaving rainy Edinburgh behind I caught a train to Burnley for a pleasant couple of weeks family time – the first in months with train after train from Edinburgh being cancelled on me. Then it was off to Manchester airport & a 6AM flight – I spent the overnighter chatting to a homeless guy who sleeps there, recently turfed out on the streets again about the same time medical staff were ordered to pay hospital parking again! Anyway, I’m leaving the UK to get away from all that, so off I tripped to Thessalonika on a plane full of mask-wearers. I stayed in the steep old town a couple of days – full of hundreds of street cats who apparently are fed by all & sundry & get routine visits from the vets. From there I went to Sithonia, the middle finger of the Chalkidki peninsular, with Mount Athos – the holy mountain – rising gloriously across the bay. I’d set off walking at 6.30 AM, at sunrise, & got as much as I could in while the sun wasn’t yet blazing – its reached the late thirties most of the week. There’s also a lot of blooming steep bits! Anyway, as soon as I’d get tired I’d settle at the nearest campsite – VouVouro was nice & also the latest one – Paradise Beach – a few k north of sea-girt Sitra, where I am writing this now over some strong double greek coffees & uploading the video below. Trust me, Paradise, is, well Paradise, & they even let me DJ on the beach after I imposed my audition on them – they were loving my skills! The video basically has me blethering on about a series of clues latent within Book 23 of the Iliad – Patroclus tear-stained funeral & mourning games – which give some interesting pointers for a would-be investigation into the site, being;
THE BEACHED SHIPS
‘The Acheans withdrew to the Hellespont’In recent years a theory has arisen that Besika Bay – to the west of Troy – is where the Greeks landed their ships. Homer clearly states it was to the north, by the Hellespont. Two stalwart contenders for the tomb have been the burial mounds of Kum Tepe & Kesik Tepe, both facing the Hellespont. However, archeaology at the sites has only ever gone back as far as the 6th Century BC, meaning the real tomb is out there, elsewhere.
THE TURNING STONESThere is a dead tree stump, an oak or a pine, rotted in the rain, & it is flanked by two white stones. The road narrows at this point, but the going is good on both sides of the monument, which either marks an ancient burial or must have been put up as a turning-post by people of an earlier age. Homer is here describing the mid-way point of a chariot race. The turning post will be long gone, of course, but the two white stones might well stand in the same spot still. Homer also describes the turning-point as being ‘far away on level ground,’ giving us further detail.
Antilochus, that veteran campaigner, saw a place where the sunken road grew narrow. It ran through a gulley…Between the beach & the turning point Homer is describing a narrowing of the road.
THE BARROW OF ILUSThere is one final clue found in Book 24, in which Priam goes to plead with Achilles to stop dragging his son Hektor’s body about & leaving it the dogs. On the way we learn that once the old king of Troy & Hermes (in disguise) ‘had driven past the great barrow of Ilus & stopped their mules & horses for a drink at the river.’ So that’s plenty of info to start visualizing what to look out for when I get to the area. Also helpful is the fact that the Bronze Age coastline was apparently much closer to Troy than it is today, making my job that little bit easier. I’ll also be studying the rest of the Iliad for my clues – I’m reading it backwards at the moment actually, I find the first few books a bit heavy & stifling, & I want to retain my excitement about the project, to be frank. I shall finish the first of my Aegean Edicts with a couple of sonnets from my time so far in Greece. In the morning I am heading to Alexandroplis & from there by ferry to the island of Samothrace, arriving at sunset & within spitting distance of the Troad. Its good timing really, the Greek government this week has gone mask crazy making folk wear them in hotels & hostels & all public space. I think a rugged island away from all the world’s worries is the best place to be right now.
There is a heat they call the burn of Greec Beginneth in July, by Autumn screams Out in the day we English pray for peace In shady spots as lava spurts & steams.
In the labyrinth of Saloniki Street cats handsomely treated as they prowl Door to friendly door thro sweet, unsneaky Hunts for meaty morsels; fresh, fair & foul.
Adventuring against the mid-day sun Sauntering slow slopes up to Genti Koyle Hat soak’d in sweat, what buenavista won, From Mount Olympus, between sea & soil
The coast drove east to Chalkidiki’s hand, Three-finger’d, into blue Aegean fann’d!
I found myself in Paradise a few K shy of Sarti I’d headed there solely beacuse it rhymes with ‘wild love party’ A wee secluded nudist beach with pyres of burnish’d driftwood So thought I’d stay a gracious while as Thracian poets should Across the soft, Singitic Gulf Mount Athos rose redeeimng All souls who gazed upon its point immortally updreaming As monkish men swam out to heaven seven times a day Libating skinsalt to exalted Thetis in the spray I gazed on Aphrodite & I swoon’d before Athean & then I saw Cassandra I’ll die happy cos I seen her; The infinite projectison of her body set me blushing Into a catacoombe of lust, libido wolves uprushing, Then in the rockshade softening I drank my surf-cool wine Watching Cassandra frolicing, voluptuous, divine.