To Exist, or not to Exist

Ancient history and mythology long held a fascination for me and it stems from wanting to know where we came from. How did it all begin? Every civilisation has origins, oral and written traditions passed down through the generations explaining how the earth and humans were born, their achievements and morality stories. For me, it’s the richness of these legends in combination with the history that has lured and trapped my interest.

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Roman Amphitheatre
Sicily
Photo by L. Cavallaro

If it wasn’t for Heinrich Schliemann, who believed Homer’s epic story The Iliad was true, the sites of Hissalik (Ilios/Troy) and Mykenai may have continued to be a figment of the bard’s imagination. No doubt they would have been discovered, along with the sites of Pylos and Tiryns but their existence and the characters in the story may have languished for years until another believer in the story put the clues together. In spite of Schliemann’s crude and rough methods he uncovered the actual site of the Priam’s palace; though he was inaccurate as to which level it was. Many archaeologists followed in his stead and have continued to reveal evidence of the war, the size of the city and the famous cyclopean walls. I visited the site three years ago, and was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place and amazed by the walls. As I stood there mesmerised, I could almost hear the thunder of horses hooves as Akhilleus’ steered his chariot around the walls dragging Hektor’s dead body.

As I mentioned in my post ‘Fact versus Fiction’ legends and myths are not borne from nothing, these stories have developed from actual events and people. Who are we to say there was no Helen, a Paris, or a Odysseus? Evidence may be lacking in identifying such people but how can we accept they didn’t exist? (Paris’ name did appear in the Hittite tablets dating back to the time of the Trojan War).

How would we feel if in a 1000 years’ time, people say you and I didn’t exist because we didn’t leave behind some trail of evidence? I can hear you shouting ‘we have the internet, people writing and posting on it, plenty of clues left behind’. Yes, but what if in the future it’s gone, like when the Alexandria Library was set alight and the information and knowledge stored there destroyed? All we have left is the possibility of our existence. I am sure these people must have thought the same thing in their time.

In my next series of posts, I’ll be writing about the places and players during the time of this legendary war story and great romance.

Thank you for reading.

As always, I look forward to your comments.
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15 thoughts on “To Exist, or not to Exist

  1. Hi Luciana,
    This is music to my ears. How many times I have tried to tell people that myths and legends were actual events, but stories that had been fabricated over time with divine intervention. Did you know that there was a Greek Noah’s Ark? His name was Deucalion, there was a flood, he was saved thanks to the gods, and he left on a boat. Then there is the Mesopotamia story from the Epic of Gilgamesh,
    Utnapishtim, the survivor of the Sumerian flood. What I am trying to say is that, ancient people experience some kind of flood in their time, and wrote their own stories about it, fabricating the event with their own gods and tales. So like you, I agree that these events did exist, but over time, the stories were made more elaborate by different civilizations – plus, we must not forget that they were told by orators before they were written down.
    Cheers,
    Claire

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    • Hi Claire
      Started to read Gilgamesh, then had to return the book to the library! One day I will revisit the book. Funny you mentioned Deucalion, the Age of Deucalion has a few lines in my novel 😀
      Thank you so much for your wonderful comment.

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  2. Was there a Helen? I think there must have been a multitude of Helens, and Parises to boot, all perfect for injection into a yarn about a war that seemed endless, and that featured Greeks cooperating (!) with each other against a common enemy. Rare event, indeed, as the city-states tended to be cantankerous, at best. It’s no accident that the Homeric epics enjoyed their golden age right after another rare occurance of Greek cooperation – the Persian war. Of course, we know how all that togetherness went South after that, as the Peloponnesian War restored normalcy.

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  3. I’ve really enjoyed your short stories (just finished “The Curse of Troy”) and definitely look forward to reading your posts on the origin of these legends and ‘myths’!!

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    • Thank you so much! So glad you enjoyed the short story The Curse of Troy. It’s one of my favourite legends and myths and delving into the ‘truth’ of the story has been a bit of a passion.
      Thank you for sharing 😀

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  4. Great post, Luciana! I envy you your trip to Troy. Wow. I totally agree with you that myths and legends are NOT ‘borne from nothing’. Every legend has its basis in fact, however small. I’ve run into a lot of that when it comes to Arthurian studies over the years. It amazes me how much time people spend (waste) trying to disprove the very things that are so inspiring about human history. Schliemann was an awful archaeologist but at least he had some vision and imagination. I shudder to think that a string of vacation condos might have been built on the mound at Hisarlik without his work.

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    • It’s incredible the amount of people who go out of their way to say such events or people didn’t exist. Why is it their names and stories have persisted for centuries?

      I love Arthurian tales and have learned a lot reading your blog. Now King Arthur is one legend I’d like to sink my teeth into! Perhaps after my passion of Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt fades… maybe not ;D
      Thanks Adam!

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  5. This is one area where I would love to be able to travel back in time—to see the people and events that lie behind the myths and ancient tales. I can’t for one minute believe that they were entirely works of fiction!

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