Troy and the Trojan War

21 August 2009
Steep Troy

Steep Troy

In 2003, my friend Marco and I visited Troy. To be honest, the site itself is a bit of a disappointment, but when you climb to the summit of one of the nearby funeral mounds and look over the wide plain, it is impossible not to be impressed, even frightened. You sense something dreadful in the air, which I also experienced when I climbed the Cithaeron south of Plataea and watched the Boeotian plain, “Ares’ dancefloor”. Yes, I am a hopelessly romantic soul.

Judgment of Paris; f.l.t.r. Hermes, Iris, Hera, Athena, Aphrodite. Etruscan amphora, c.530 BCE (Antikensammlung, Munich)

Judgment of Paris (Antikensammlung, Munich)

Still, the plain with the funeral mounds is more impressive than the site, which is fascinating as an archaeological site only. It’s interesting to stand at the Schliemann trench and to see how later generations have been digging there, certainly; but where science and scholarship rule, the legend cedes. Disenchantment is inevitable. That’s a good thing in itself, but the magic is gone.

Anyhow: the photos are now online here, with comments on Troy I-V, Troy VI and VIIa (“Homeric” Troy), and Troy VIII-IX (Classical Troy); a three-page summary of the Epic Cycle (Cypria; Iliad; remaining poems); the Scamander; and of course a page about the funeral mounds.

Pottery from Troy VI (Archaeological Museum, Istanbul)

Pottery from Troy VI (Archaeological Museum, Istanbul)

Writing it all was fun. It meant rereading the Iliad, checking those interesting Hittite texts (that Wilusa stuff is easily the most fascinating puzzle of the twentieth century), and seeing lots of ancient vase paintings, sculpture, and other works of art. I realized that I used photos from fifteen museums to illustrate my pages. Others may have written better poems (I would not mind trading a Homeric hymn or two for some T.S. Eliot); other archaeological sites may be more spectacular (e.g., Palmyra); and other wars may have been more important, but when all is said and done, Homer, Troy, and the Trojan War remain something truly special, and I am glad to have visited the place.


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