For some scholars there is speculation about the veracity of the Trojan War, even after the excavation of the Troja site (Turkish for Troy) by the German adventurer, Heinrich Schliemann in the 19th century. The best source about the Trojan War is from the oldest of western classic literature, the Iliad, by the epic poet, Homer.
But others point out that much of the soaring verse in the poem mingles Greek mythology into the possible actual events thus raising doubts about the historical aspects of the war.
The Greeks passed this way.
Homer is thought to have lived around the 8th century B.C. when the first Greek alphabet was introduced. The language used by Homer is an archaic version of Ionic Greek, mixed with certain other dialects, such as Aeolic Greek, the basis of Epic Greek, the language of epic poetry in dactylic hexameter.
In Homer’s time the oral history of the Trojan War was passed down not only in Greece, but in Anatolia (Turkey). Many poetic tales were lyrically sung. Homer is known to have traveled far and wide throughout Greece and even to Troy to study the various dialects and then incorporate the oral tales into his written work. Gods and mythology were important to the Greeks and Trojans to explain events that were unexplainable, and both cultures shared the same gods, so it is conceivable that Homer naturally added the immortals into his tale as legitimate characters.
To the ancients the Gods held the secrets of nature and the Gods were no fables. The mostly scholarly accepted translation of the Iliad into English is by Alexander Pope in 1720, but how much of Homer’s Greek was lost to the modern pen.
The Romans were here.
The most exciting tour of the Troy archaeological site is with Insight Vacations. We had just crossed the Dardanelles by ferry from a more modern battle site, Gallipoli. The 15 minute barge across the Dardanelles (name after the early Greek King Dardanelles) was chilly, and we all were happy to check into the Kullin Hotel on the banks of the Hellespont, in the city of Canakkale. The family owned Kullin was a pleasure, with hardwood floors in the spacious rooms looking out on the age old waterway. The hotel had an indoor pool and the wonderful dinner and breakfast buffets were included in the Insight Vacations tour package.
Our group was excited to visit Troy the next day; after passing orchards of walnuts and chestnuts; it was a surprise to see the arid and scrubby plains of Troy with pockets of spring blooms in the undulating hummocks spread across the landscape within the ancient fortified city.
Boardwalks wrap about the Troy ruins.
Troy is actually made up of nine layers of different era civilizations, dating back over 5,000 years. Layer VI is thought to be the Troy of the Iliad, and possibly parts of layer VII(a), which dates around 1,200 B.C.
Oguz, our private guide.
In the Iliad Homer referred to the city as Ilion or Ilium and as Troy. Oguz, our Insight Vacation tour guide procured our entrance tickets and I noticed broken Roman era column strewn around the front gate to the actual ruins.
Troy was an easy hike through the grounds; only about 20 percent has been unearthed by archaeologists. Wooden boardwalks raised us above the site so not to trample their work or disturb any artifacts.
At one of the ancient gates I looked out past a reconstructed tower of smooth fitting stones and spied the Aegean Sea in the near distance, it once lapped the sandy shore below the tower, but fertile fields were the byproduct of river siltation. In the morning sun flecks of mica blinked in the mortar-less gray walls. In one area a short flagstone ramp was polished smooth, leading into a former tower or building or maybe even Helen’s chamber.
The characters in the Iliad have been proved to have lived — this was during the power of the Mycenae empire. Please read the Jetsetters Magazine feature about Agamemnon: Acropolis at Mycenae to get a feel of where the combatants came from. Agamemnon was the king of Mycenae and his brother Menelaus was the king of Sparta and husband to Helen. Paris, prince of Troy, kidnapped Helen during the wedding ceremonies. The Iliad brings all the characters of the ten year siege back to life in full of speeches, councils, battles, and episodes, descriptions, images, similes, and noble ideals, woven in an epic, dignified idiom of language.
A raised ramp leads to . . .?
No aspect of the Trojan site has the scars of modern development around the park. It was like stepping back exactly into nature in 1,200 B.C. We followed the curving pathways and took photos in the cool spring time air.
Troy sits on an abrupt bluff, but the fields of war stretched around it on three sides with the sand shore below the brow. I still imagine the Greek ships in the Aegean, the fierce chariot battles on the sand, the hand-to-hand duels, and the overwhelming slaughter on both sides. There were about 120,000 Greeks pitted against the same number of Trojans. The Greek lands had been emptied of its strongest sons; Troy depended on the arms of Lycia and other provinces.
A breached wall or one of the city gates?
Homer’s Iliad spans a time period of about
45 days in the tenth year of the siege.
The Greeks had sacked many neighboring villages around Troy and made off with loot, livestock, and women, Chryseis was claimed by Agamemnon, commander-in-chief of the entire Greek army; Briseis was claimed by Achilles
Chryseis’ father came to the camp and begged for her return but Agamemnon refused and a plague befell the Greeks, seen as a bad omen. Achilles urges the return of the nymph and Agamemnon reluctantly does so but then claims Briseis as his own and insults Achilles before his men. Achilles rage builds up over the slight and in anger withdraws his men from the battle. For many of the Greeks, the recapture of Helen is a private matter, not a public duty. Homer catalogs the kings and their kingdoms that participated in the siege, and the number of ships each sent to Troy.
The terraced ruins spread across the large site.
In the Iliad, Menelaus and Paris fight a private duel before the walls of Troy to spare the slaughter on both sides, but Paris, brother to Hector, son of Priam, is beaten down and crawls back to the gates to safety behind its walls; Helen and all Troy looked on. The first battle ensues, with Menelaus wounded by an arrow, but not mortally. Great numbers die on both sides. Nestor, the oldest Greek king, advises a withdrawal from the field. One of the fiercest Greek warriors is Diomed, who distinguishes himself as the battle rages on the next day. Hector, the god/warrior and his forces hold a steady stance. Diomed, with the assistance of his warriors, rally with the battle backdrop between the rivers Simois and Scamander.
A possible grave marker?
Ajax confronts Hector in the din of the battle and they fight hand-to-hand. Hector returns to the city in his chariot and pleads with Paris to rejoin the battle. In the meantime Ajax and his forces are driving a wedge of slaughter through the Trojan lines. Hector returns to the field but the battle is put off for the day, but the challenge goes out for Hector to fight single handed any of the Greek warriors to determine the fate of Troy. The Greeks cast lots for the challenge and the gigantic Ajax draws the token. Night falls and the Trojan citizenry entreats Paris to return Helen to the Greeks; he refuses with the influence of the goddess Venus.
The trenched ruins prevented chariot warfare.
During the night the dead are taken off the field of battle. Nestor builds a ditch and a wooden wall before the Greek fleet at the beachhead. The next day the battle re-engages and the Trojans overrun the Greeks, with Nestor surrounded, but Diomed rescues him, with many Trojans killed. The Trojans beg the gods to take Diomed out of the battle. At nightfall the Trojans camp in the field, the Greeks retire behind their fortifications. Agamemnon proposes that the Greek sail back to Greece, but Nestor and Diomed oppose him.
Only a small part of the city is excavated.
A plea goes out to Achilles to join the battle, but his anger against Agamemnon prevents any empathy towards his countrymen. With Achilles’ refusal to fight, Agamemnon orders Diomed and Ulysses to sneak into the Trojan camp to learn their plans.
The next day, the Third Battle sees the Trojans overrunning the Greeks; Hector takes the war to the Greek Wall; leaving their chariots at the ditch they breach the wooden wall. The Ajaces under Ajax form a close phalanx that thwarts Hector while the rest of the Greeks escape to their ships. Ajax and Menelaus save the Greeks and push Hector back to his chariot. The Trojans are repulsed when Ajax hurls a huge stone at Hector and knocks him out of his chariot and he retreats to the woods to recuperate. Hector regains his senses and encourages his forces back to the wall and opens a larger breach, but Ajax is waiting and kills many Trojans.
A Troy dig site is protected under a canopy.
Patroclus, seeing the Trojans breaking down the wall pleads again to Achilles to join the battle. Achilles, on his ship, sends his royal slave and male lover, Patroclus, to see who has been wounded. Achilles then agrees to allow Patroclus to lead his 2,500 Myrmidons warriors in his name. Patroclus dons Achilles’ armor and trademark plumed headdress. Achilles orders Patroclus to only rescue the fleet and not to pursue the Trojans. But Patroclus, in Achilles’ armor, lights a fuse for all the Greeks, thinking he is Achilles. The Trojans are horrified that Achilles has joined the battle and Patroclus chases Hector and his men to the brazen gates of the city, where Hector turns and fights and kills Patroclus. Menelaus defends Patroclus’ body after Hector has stripped it of its armor and realizes he has not killed Achilles.
Famous Trojan speakers stood in the Troy theater.
Patroclus’ body is carried back to Achilles. Achilles’ anger increases against Hector and he appeases his claims with Agamemnon; the god Vulcan casts him new armor and the best of the Greeks joins the fight. It is the 30th day of the Iliad. Before all of Troy and in the fields before the city Achilles pursues Hector, but by fate, he is able to stay at a distance as he watches his army destroyed by the wrath of Achilles. The Trojans forces split in two, half race to the security behind the Trojan towers, Achilles and his minions chase the rest into the woods and streams of the Scamander River where the waters turns red with Trojan gore.
A water source behind Trojan walls.
With his ragtag army safe behind the walls, Hector faces his fate, but his resolution fails him as Achilles approaches. The fury chases the fear around the city walls three times; Achilles flings spears and notches arrows and finally brings Hector down from his chariot and kills him with a spear. Achilles wraps Hector’s legs in rope and drags him by his heels three times around the Trojan walls.
Achilles dragged Hector behind his chariot around the walls.
Achilles retreats the fields with the body of Hector. Then for three days a feast and funerary games are held to honor Patroclus. Oaks are cut for a funeral pyre. Achilles cuts his golden locks and tosses them into the fire that engulfed Patroclus’ body. In the last book of the Iliad Trojan king Priam sneaks into Achilles camp at night and pleads for the return of Hector’s body; after gifts and lamentations are presented, Achilles agrees, and a truce is declared for three days so the Trojans can mourn the loss of Hector.
Homer makes no mention of the death of Achilles by an arrow to the heel by Paris. There are no descriptions of the Trojan horse and the men of Ulysses falling out of its belly to open the Trojan gates. Virgil in the second book of the Aneid does mention these details. Shortly after Achilles death Troy fell to the Trojan Horse. Virgil also describes what happened to the rest of the cast of characters: Priam dies at the hand of Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles; Ajax, after the death of Achilles has a feud with Ulysses for the armor crafted by Vulcan, but defeated in his aim, kills himself; Helen, after the death of Paris, marries his brother, Deiphobus, but she betrays him and returns as the wife of Menelaus, who again takes her in; Agamemnon on his return to his capital at Mycenae is killed by Aegysthus in a plod by the king’s wife, Clytemnestra, to gain the Mycenae throne; Diomed returned to his kingdom and it is not known how he died; Nestor lived in peace in his country, Pylos; Ulysses struggled for ten years on the stormy seas to get back to his native Ithaca, which Homer wrote about in the Odyssey.
Hollywood's version of the Trojan Horse.
After the Brad Pitt film of Troy was filmed, Hollywood donated the present Trojan Horse that stands in front of the entrance to Troy, and tourists snap photos to show that they too visited Troy. Not much has changed in warfare since the Trojan War- armies still declare that “God is on our side”, just as the ancients pleaded for the favors of the supreme god, Jove, and lesser gods of Mercury, Juno, Minerva, Apollo, Neptune, Mars and others. Logic was invented by the Greeks, and Troy logically speaks that the war di d occur — by Jove!
Visit Insight Vacations to view their upcoming itineraries for Turkey that includes many other ancient and modern archaeological sites; also check out their Glories of Greece tours could be part of an eastern Mediterranean vacation package. Visit www.insightvacations.com
— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.