Echoes of The Iliad through history
The Iliad was largely believed to belong to myth and legend until Heinrich Schliemann set out to prove the true history behind Homer’s epic poem and find the remnants of the Trojan War. The businessman turned archaeologist excavated a number of sites in Greece and Turkey, and caused an international sensation. While many of his claims and finds have since been discredited or discovered to be contaminated, he set many on the search to reveal life in Ancient Greece. A number of images that convey the real objects and places where scholars have drawn connections to the Trojan War (both historical and fictional) are included Barry B. Powell’s new translation of The Iliad and the slideshow below.
The Walls of Troy
Fig 0.4 - The translator standing before the walls of the sixth city at Troy.
The Skamandros River
Fig 21.1 - Two shepherds herd their sheep on a hill above the Skamandros River in the Troad. Homer seems to have had personal knowledge of the Troad and the river’s steep banks. Photo taken May 1, 1915.
“Cup of Nestor”
Fig 11.2 - From the fourth shaft grave at Mycenae (sixteenth century bc), this amazing solid-gold cup, excavated and named by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876, does bear a remarkable resemblance to the cup described in Book 11 of the Iliad. It could be said to have “four handles” with “two supports beneath” and “two doves” feeding at the handles, except that the birds seem to be falcons. In modern excavations on the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples off the southern Italian coast, a modest clay pot was found with one of the two oldest known Greek inscriptions. It is from about 740 bc and may be a literary allusion. The inscription seems to refer to the text of Homer, one of the strongest pieces of evidence in our effort to date Homer. Whatever its exact meaning, somebody who knew how to write hexameters in the earliest days of Greek literacy inscribed this joke on the “Cup of Nestor.” It was later placed in a child’s grave and rediscovered in the mid-twentieth century.
Fig 10.1 - Little sense could be made of Homer’s description of the boar’s tusk helmet until in modern times actual specimens were found. Here is the only surviving example of a complete Mycenaean suit of armor, from a Mycenaean grave, c. 1400 bc, at Dendra in the Peloponnesus near Mycenae. The reconstructed boar’s tusk helmet is of a type most popular around 1600 bc, but pieces of helmets are found from as late as Homer’s own day c. 800 bc, so it was a traditional type of helmet in use for nearly a thousand years. The helmet Homer describes is an heirloom. Similar armor appears as an ideogram on Linear B tablets from Knossos, Pylos, and Tiryns.
Trojans and Achaeans Fighting Hand to Hand
Fig 8.2 - In this carving on a Lycian Tomb, Trojan and Achaean warriors fight in the hand-to-hand. The warrior on the left has just speared his opponent, who falls dead. The figures are dressed as contemporary hoplites with round shields, horse-hair crested helmets, and shinguards. The Lycians, who lived in the southwest of Asia Minor, were not Greeks but were deeply influenced by Greek art and culture, and in Homer’s Iliad they are the most important Trojan allies. They used the Greek alphabet to record an unknown language and on this tomb carved many scenes from the fighting at Troy. Limestone relief on the tomb of a Lycian prince, from the west side of the Heroön of Goelbasi-Trysa, Lycia, Turkey, c. 380 bc.
Fig 5.3 - One of the four Horai or “hours, seasons,” Spring is shown as a young woman picking flowers and holding a basket of flowers. Her body is turned in the S-curve long favored by Greek sculptors. Fresco from a Roman private house in Stabiae, Italy, c. ad 60.
Greek Against Greek
Fig 4.2 - From three hundred or so years after Homer, both men are armed as hoplites, but the warrior on the left is in “heroic nudity,” except that he wears shinguards (greaves). The design on the shield of the naked warrior is probably a tripod, a metal object of high value. The warrior on the right wears bronze shinguards, a chest-protector (cuirass), and a helmet with horse-hair crest. Both fighters use the single thrusting spear. Athenian red-figure painting on a wine-cup from c. 450 bc.
The “Lion-hunt” Dagger
Fig 4.1 - Discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in the late nineteenth century, many scholars find remote echoes of this kind of fighting in Homeric accounts, preserved in the oral tradition. Here the shields are “like towers” and are carried by a strap around the neck, the telamon. On the far left a man wields a Cretan-style figure-of-eight shield, made of a convex frame covered by cowhides (unfortunately, no examples survive). The man wears no armor. He carries the single thrusting spear. Next is a bowman without shield. In the middle, the man’s shield is rectangular-shaped. The man to his right uses his figure-of-eight cowhide shield as protection against the lion, which he threatens with a single spear. In front him lies the body of a companion, killed by the lion. The companion also carried a rectangular tower-like shield, which stans upright. Gold, bronze, and niello, sixteenth century bc, from Tomb IV, Mycenae.
A Typical Greek Warship
Fig 2.2 - Although this illustration is from the sixth century bc, its features are the same as earlier ships from Homer’s day. The steersman sits on a kind of platform at the rear of the ship, to the right, and steers with a large double-oar. The many rowers are represented as black circles, their shields affixed to the side. At the front of the ship, on the left, at the water line, is a ram for penetrating enemy craft, and, above, a chair for the captain (here unoccupied). The sail (not visible here) is attached to a mast that can be lowered into the belly of the craft on a kind of hinge when not in use. Ropes hold it in place. There is no jib so that such ships could only run before the wind; for this reason, much travel is by rowing. On an Athenian black-figure wine-cup, c. 530 bc.
The superimposed settlements of Troy, from c. 3000 bc to c. ad 100.
Fig 0.3 - The enlarged illustration shows Troy VI, c. 1300 bc. (After drawing by Christof Haussner)
Sophia Engastromenos wearing the Jewels of Troy
Fig 0.2 - Having divorced his first wife in an Indiana divorce court, Schliemann married seventeen-year-old Sophia Engastromenos (1852–1932) in 1869, despite the thirty years difference in age. Here she is shown wearing jewelry that Schliemann found in 1873 in a level of the city that we now know is much too early for the Trojan War, c. 2400 bc. Schliemann called the cache “Priam’s Treasure.” Schliemann smuggled the jewelry out of Turkey and gave it to the University of Berlin. Feared lost after the Russian sack of Berlin in 1945, the jewelry emerged at the Pushkin Museum in 1994, but who owns it remains a matter of international dispute.
First Seven Lines of the Iliad
Fig 0.1 - This reconstruction is based on what we know about the earliest Greek orthography.
Barry B. Powell is Halls-Bascom Professor of Classics Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the author of a new free verse translation of The Iliad by Homer.
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