‘The world does not have tidy endings. The world does not have neat connections. It is not filled with epiphanies that work perfectly at the moment that you need them.’
Considered one of the greatest western literatures in the world, the Iliad still generates enthusiasm and intellectual discourse. A story which spans almost 3000 years it is a phenomenon I am sure Homer did not envision. Of course every storyteller hopes their creative scribbling’s would have such impact and be remembered long after they have left the world. Even if people haven’t read the story, they have heard of Helen, the Trojan War, Akhilleus, Hektor and Paris. What a legacy to leave behind!
What is fascinating and drives the story are the characters. Some may be two dimensional and quite a few are one dimensional, it those elements which add to the layers of the epic tragedy. They are all flawed in some way even if considered heroes of the story. And the gods were no different. The gods had their quirks, showed favoritism, argued and fought against each other, much like any family. This clever ploy by Homer demonstrated while yes the gods controlled the fate of their subjects, they too could not control their emotions.
There has been numerous discussions, documentaries and still academics argue whether the events as told by Homer are true. A few telling points:
1. The sites of Ilios, Mykenae, Tiryns, Pylos, Ithaka the list goes on not to mention the cultures on the west coast of Turkey existed.
2. There was a war, the Hittite texts have confirmed the city Wilusa, was under siege and King Alaksandu was reigning at the time. The Hittites fought as allies with the people from Wilusa against the Ahhiyawans (Greeks). According to their records, the Ahhiyawans came from the west and interfered with the Hittites political interests.
3. A probability there had been numerous conflicts in the region and the memory of those wars told and re-told and based on fact.
4. Women, since Palaeolithic times, been captured and taken as spoils of war or from tribal feuds.
As for the characters in the story, I think it’s the storyteller in me, but I believe they existed. Obviously not in the exact manner Homer described them but a representation of the people. For example, let’s take Jason and the Argonauts. Archaeologists have been busy digging in Iolkos, Jason’s home and have found strong evidence he existed and did set out on a journey to find the ‘golden fleece’—gold in Georgia. If there was a Jason, why cannot the characters from the Iliad exist?
The bard knew how to keep his audience enthralled right to the end. The opening sequence starts with a bang, an argument between the King of the Akhaians and their champion. Wait, that’s not all. They have been fighting for ten years! Right from the outset, Homer had his listeners in the palm of his hand and keeps them there till the end for the sobering scene of Hektor’s funeral. The story is replete with romance, cunning and antagonism, blood and gore, death, adrenaline jumping scenes and war.
Was the war over a woman? A great plot for a story but no. The location of Ilios/Troy was right at the mouth of the Hellespont (Dardanelles), a highly trafficked region from the west to the east and vice versa. This made Priam wealthy and powerful as every ship stopped at his city before sailing on. Greed and power was the impetus behind the war, a political stratagem. Conquer the city command the straits, gain wealth and power. No wonder the Hittite king lent his support; no way a westerner gain a foothold on their turf.
Homer’s Iliad is a cautionary tale about hubris, the effects of war, tragedy and humanity. Yet, despite our knowledge of the past, wars still happen. Sorry Homer, the human race are slow learners.
Thank you for visiting and reading. I always look forward to your comments.