Thursday, May 20, 2004

Achilles et al.:

n the middle of my forced high-school reading of the Iliad and the Oddysey, I remember being amazed when I figured out that these were stories relating events from the Bronze Age, collected by an Iron Age poet. I wasn't forced to read the rest - I devoured it. If I remember correctly, we were reading the Fitzgerald translation.

While I have to admit that I did get swept away by the movie version (Troy), I was nagged by several inconsistencies. In the movie, the view of the city from the citadel stretches off into the distance. But I have walked through the mound at Hisarlik, the commonly accepted site for historic Troy, and it's tiny. The building I curently work in has a larger footprint, and it only holds about 500 people. Hisarlik and its surrounding metropolitan area covers, oh, maybe 2 acres -- and that's the remains of Troy including the subsequent 3275 years of settlement/development! I can however accept that for cinematic needs, a tiny hamlet just would not do.

As pointed out in some recent Discovery Channel specials, there are some problems with the size of the Trojan Horse as seen in the movie. The gate that it would have been dragged through is pretty small - only a meter or two wide - limiting the height of any stable structure. The consensus: if it existed at all, the horse would have only held a handful of men. There is no evidence besides Homer's words that this ever happened.

I didn't remember Achilles having a love interest from Troy's royal family either. The movie deftly avoided the idea that Achilles' love interest was probably Patrocles by making him a cousin. In the very beginning of the Iliad, Agamemnon does take away Acilles' concubine, Briseis, so at least they did obliquely include that source of Achilles' anger by having Priam's daughter(?) be the contested trophy.

An impressive sight was the zoom-to-wide shot over the fleet sailing to Troy, showing the 1,000 ships. So impressive that I realized there are significant logistical problems with a 1,000 ship fleet that neither Homer nor the film addressed. How do you land them? How do you hide them?

Of course, I should also point out that there is debate about whether Homer existed, and if he did, whether the Iliad and the Oddysey are both his, partially his, or only his compilations.

Time for me to read about Heinrich Schliemann - one of the earliest people to work on this site, but lately of somewhat tarnished reputation. Not only for his methods (standard for the time, but considered extremely destructive by today's standards), but also for his scholarly integrity (there are serious questions about his interpretation of the finds and the data in promoting himself). The "Treasures of Agamemnon" found in a royal burial at the site, are currently believed to have come from a much earlier stage. In fact, it looks like Troy was sacked at least nine times, with the sacking by Agamemnon ocurring a little under half-way through the site's occupied history.

Another item for my "is history truth" theme that I keep promising to post...

Here's a fun romp through one version of Homeric truth.


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