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Brief outline of the major archaeological themes in the Iliad and the Odyssey

The question of historicity in both the Iliad and the Odyssey has been debated throughout the centuries. Educated Greeks up to the fifth century continued to accept the events and locations depicted in the Iliad and the Odyssey at face value, although philosophical scepticism soon began to question their faith in the intervention of the gods in human affairs. At the time of Strabo, heated discussions about the topography of the sites mentioned in Homers epics began. Both, Schliemann's success in using the Iliad to locate major Bronze Age sites at Troy, Mycenae and Tiryns, and the possibility of identifying most of the places mentioned in the Iliads Catalogue of Ships1 with the remains of of late Bronze Age sites , led to the assumption that both Homeric epics would relate directly to other aspects of the late Bronze Age as well. Still, quite a few archaeologists and historians never ceased to point out that all events and locations depicted in Homer's works could very well be entirely fictitious. Others conceded that there might have been some historical basis to both of Homer's epics. In recent years, scholars have suggested that the subject matters of the Iliad as well as the Odyssey may have to be regarded as a synthesis of many old Greek folk tales of various Bronze Age sieges and expeditions, merged during the Dark Ages. According to them, there is no proof whatsoever that the city of Troy actually existed. The colonisation of the hill at Hisarlik, which later was came to be identified as Troy, according to them, is dated to a time following the Greek colonisation of Asia Minor in the 8th century BC. A growing understanding of the geography of the Hittite Empire boosts the theory that the Homeric city of Troy is identical to the Hittite city of Wilusa. Although neither 'Troia' nor 'Wilios'/Wilusa, due to an early disappearance of the letter Digamma in pre-Homeric Ionic, appear in any of the Greek records from Mycenaean sites, the lack of written evidence does not necessarily rule out this interpretation, because Mycenaean 2 Greeks, after having colonised the Greek mainland and Crete, were only just beginning to venture into Anatolia. Since historic Wilusa was on Arzawa land, loosely connected to the Hittite Empire, any written reference to the city would have been found in Hittite correspondence rather than in Mycenaean palace archives. I would also like to point out that there are several archaeologists as well as historians who affirm that with Homer being heir to an unbroken tradition of oral epic poetry reaching
1 2

cf. Iliad, II, 494-759 The sound /w/ existed in Mycenaean Greek, as attested in Linear B and several archaic Greek inscriptions.

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Brief outline of the major archaeological themes in the Iliad and the Odyssey

back into Mycenaean times, events and locations depicted in both poems must be dated to the very end of Mycenaean civilisation. Even though Homer was Ionian, the Iliad as well as the Odyssey, as they persist, reflect a geographical knowledge probably common among Mycenaean Greeks, who were familiar with the geography of the mainland,but not that of the Ionian Islands or Anatolia. This again seems to suggest that both the Iliad and the Odyssey recount events handed down by tradition, to which the author did not add geographical knowledge of his own. In the Iliad, Homer describes a city near Mount Ida in northern Turkey as one of the main locations of his epic. Such a city did indeed exist at the mound of Hisarlik, which today is an archaeological site by name of Troia, close to Truva, situated near to the coast in presentday Anatolia, southwest of the Dardanelles under Mount Ida. As Latacz

explains, Troy was by no means impressive in Homer's day, but the

remains of Troy VI or VIIa, both the citadel and the lower city, were. Contemporary as well as later audiences would have been able to recognise the places where events took place from the references given in the Iliad. The town of Troy, according to Homer, stood on a hill, across the plain of Scamander. Today the site is about fifteen kilometres from the coast, but the ancient estuaries of Simois and Scamander, modern day Dumrek Su and Kara Menderes, at that time were probably to be found some five kilometres further inland4. In the Iliad, the Greeks are encamped and their ships drawn up on the south shore of the Hellespont. Across the sea there is the Thracian mainland to be seen, and out in the Aegean there are the islands of Imbros and Tenedos 5. All the battles, save one are fought in the plain between camp and town which is enclosed 6 by two rivers, Simois and Scamander, which in one passage 7 are said to converge. At the end of the second day's fighting the Trojans set up camp on the plain between the ships and the river Scamander. A ford over it is mentioned several times, but the river is never actually crossed by anyone, a detail which asks for profound mythological evaluation, as it seems to be at some distance both from the camp and from the town 8 . Geologists compared the geology with the landscapes and coastal features described in the Iliad and in Strabo's Geographia, and found the locations of Troy, the Greek camp, and the

5 6 7 8

cf. Latacz , J.: Troy and Homer: Towards a Solution of an Old Mystery, Oxford University Press 2005 Geologists investigate Trojan battlefield , in: BBC World Science In Action , Friday, 7 February, 2003, 11:42 GMT, retrieved on Monday, 30 June 2008 cf. Iliad, XIII, 33 sq. cf. Iliad,VI,4 cf. Iliad,V,774 cf. Iliad, XIV, 433; XXI,1sq., XXIV,692

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Brief outline of the major archaeological themes in the Iliad and the Odyssey

battlefields to tie in nicely both with the geological evidence and the topography9. The western gate of Troy, called the Scaean Gate, apparently looked towards the Greek camp. Not far from it there was an oak, noted as a landmark 10 , somewhere in the immediate vicinity of the town there also was a wild fig tree 11 and two springs with stone troughs 12 , which Hector passes running before the duel in which he meets his death 13. The Iliad is full of references to places most of which can still be located nowadays, such as the spot where the Achaeans14, who come from the Greek mainland with 1186 ships, draw up their ships, supposedly the south shore of the Hellespont. The Hellespont is mentioned repeatedly in the Iliad, twice in references concerning the fleeing Achaeans15 , once in a statement about the god Hermes 16 , once before the fight between Hector and Achilles takes place. From what Hector promises Achilles when he challenges his rival to hand-to-hand combat 17 , it becomes quite evident that the battlefield, on which those memorable lines are uttered, is situated between the city of Troy and the Hellespont. In the Odyssey, the main course of events takes place on the Peloponnesus and todays Ionian Islands, the island of Ithaca being situated off the north coast of Peloponnesus18. There are some other islands in its vicinity, like Dulichium, Cephallenia and Zacynthus, from where fifty-two, twenty-four and twenty of Penelope's suitors arrive respectively, with another twelve coming from Ithaca itself. There has been some difficulty concerning the exact location of Ithaca, but the position of present-day Ithake measured in terms of distance to the Greek mainland and Telemachus' journeys to and fro is a perfect match for Homer's Ithaca. Archaeologists have pointed out that in the Odyssey the island is described with specific attention to topographical detail. Whereas in the Iliad there is little direct description of the locations of the poem, the audience is given quite an elaborate



12 13 14

15 16 17 18

Kraft, John C.: Bronze age Paleogeographies at Ancient Troy , in : Archaeological Geology 2001, Session No. 125 , November 2001 cf. Iliad ,VI,237 IX,354 XI,170 cf. Iliad ,VI,433 XXII,145 again , but less obvious in XI,167 cf. Iliad , XXII,152 cf. Iliad, XXII, 147 sq. Achaeans, collective name used for the Greeks in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, synonyms: Danaans or Argives cf. Iliad , XV,233; XVIII, 150 cf. Iliad , XXIV, 346 cf. Iliad , VII, 7786 cf. Odyssey IV,635, XV,297

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Brief outline of the major archaeological themes in the Iliad and the Odyssey

portrayal of topographical highlights such as Phorcys Haven 19 and the adjoining cave, whose relation to the epic remains rather doubtful. In the Iliad as well as in the Odyssey there are references to various objects of art, such as Nestor's Cup, or the helmet plated with boar's tusk 20 , the latter a genuinely Mycenaean artefact despite containing linguistically late forms 21 . As archaeologists do not hesitate to point out, since the description of the former22 is by no means entirely clear 23, such objects should not be paralleled by Mycenaean artefacts at all costs. Certainly other mythological topics apart from the Trojan War were also depicted in early Greek art, such as, for example, Heracles and his labours 24 . Material goods are considered important signs of social status within society both in the Iliad and the Odyssey. The items traded or exchanged as gifts are mostly made of gold, silver, iron or cloth: Glaucus and Diomedes exchange gold and bronze armour 25. Achilles gives tripods, cauldrons, mixing bowls, unworked iron, armour and weapons, but also animals and female slaves as prizes at the funeral games of Patroclus 26 . Odysseus receives thirteen tripods from the Phaeacians27 Menelaus gives Telemachus a silver mixing bowl 28 and Helen gives him a dress meant to be kept for his wife-to-be 29. Other objects are carefully identified by their origin like a silver wool basket and silver bathtubs from Egypt 30 as well a silver-studded sword from Thrace31. The Greek soldiers at Troy trade bronze, iron and slaves for wine32 brought by Lemnian ships. All of these goods seem to have correlates in finds from late Bronze Age excavations. Yet ,as Dickinson points out, one must keep in mind that epics do not primarily aim at a realistic presentation of a society or an age, but rather create a fantasy which keeps being disrupted by reality.
Its [the epics] characters move part of the time in a world of dreamlike magnificence,

encountering gods and other supernatural beings, but at other times their behaviour and preoccupations will be familiar to the audience and may be slightly incongruous in their
19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32

cf. Odyssey XIII, 96; XIII, 345 sq. cf. Iliad, X, 261-5 Chadwick, J.: The Mycenaean World, Cambridge, 1976, p. 183. cf. Iliad , XI, 632-7 cf. Burgess, The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle, 2001, p.114 cf. Burgess , p.43 cf. Iliad, VI, 230-36 cf. Iliad, XXIII, 257-897 cf. Odyssey, XIII, 13 sq. cf .Odyssey, IV, 589-619 cf. Odyssey, XV, 99-129 cf. Odyssey, IV,125 -129 cf. Iliad, XXIII, 807-8 cf. Iliad, VII , 467-75

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Brief outline of the major archaeological themes in the Iliad and the Odyssey

magnificent setting. 33 Homers description of ornate palaces, silver bath tubs 34 , chariots, the treatment of iron as a precious metal might have been a means of ensuring the attention of the audience, as it put the world described at a distance from any eighth or early seventh- century audience. In the case of the silver-studded sword35, the Homeric phrase is a perfect match for the words that appear on the Mycenaean clay tablets inscribed in Linear B script. Manifold descriptions of burial practice in the Iliad bear witness to an activity common to any society. The burial of heroes as well as the dining that accompanies both sacrifices and burials are considered just as important as proper relations with the dead or the gods in general. Patroclus36 and Elpenor37 remind their comrades that they still have to be buried, and Priam even ventures behind enemy lines to recover the body of his son for burial. Funeral rites are roughly the same for all warriors: the body is burned on a pyre 38 , which is quenched with wine. The bones are collected and buried and the burial site is marked. Patroclus' funeral is taken even further by the slaughter of both animals and men 39 .Cremation has only been attested as a rite for a minority for the late Bronze Age, whereas both inhumation and cremation are documented as commonplace for the period between the eleventh and the ninth century. Archaeologists have claimed that from the seventh century onwards several episodes of both the Iliad and the Odyssey have been found as depicted on geometric pottery. 40 Some items might be dated to the seventh century or later, like the Gorgon on Agamemnons shield41 . Worship of the gods is considered crucial. Sacrifices are pictured as frequent both in individual households and at larger gatherings 42 in both epics. There are temples mentioned at Troy and altars to be found in the Greek camp43 . Another topic most thoroughly dealt with by Homer, especially in the Iliad, is

34 35 36 37 38 39 40

41 42 43

Dickinson , O. T. P. K.: Homer, the Poet of the Dark Age, in: Greece & Rome, Second Series, Vol. 33, No. 1, Apr. 1986, pp. 20-37 cf. Odyssey, IV, 128 cf. Iliad, XXIII, 807-8 cf. Iliad , XXIII,81-89 cf. Odyssey, XI,56-86 cf. Iliad, XI,218-22 cf. Iliad, XXIII,166-82 Burgess, The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle, The Johns Hopkins University Press , 2001 Iliad,XI,36-37 cf. Iliad, II,402-31, VII,313-18, IX, 772-4, Odyssey III,418-463, XIII,24-27, XXII,334-6 cf. Iliad, XI,.807-8

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Brief outline of the major archaeological themes in the Iliad and the Odyssey

warfare. Armour is frequently described as made of bronze, presumably bronze-plated, and such armour is certainly known to have existed at a very late Mycenaean period. Warfare within elite groups of society supported by carefully wrought weapons is backed by the archaeological finds of elaborate body armour, greaves and boar's tusk helmets at Dendra, and superbly crafted spears, swords and daggers at Mycenae. Chariots were already in use at that period although we do not have any documents concerning the use of chariots in war. Armed conflict in Homer is shown on various levels, at the level of families as in the final battle on Ithaca, at the level of cities, or at the level of the Greek alliance against Troy. Although the question of how Homeric battles are to be visualized has led to heated scholarly debate, it is safe to say that if its not battle strategies that are discussed, the spotlight is on the individual warrior and his armour. There are innumerable arming scenes to be found in both epics and the basic fighting equipment of cuirass, sword, shield and crested helmet essentially isthe same. Both the protagonists as well as the common soldiers repeatedly appear heavily armed44 . Armour is considered such a vital part of a soldier's identity that even men like Elpenor, being a soldier of negligible importance, are cremated in it. The description of the Shield of Achilles45, as Snodgrass holds, mixes the artistic techniques of several periods with a healthy dose of imagination as some images on the shiled are clearly reminiscent of Geometric art, whereas the shields making might be compared to bronze and silver circular shields of the early seventh century46 Only major champions, however, are entitled to move around the battlefields in chariots. The first move in any armed combat is the throwing of spears , as can be seen on various extant pieces of pottery. Hand-to-hand fighting develops only occasionally, and the overall impression is that of conflicts being carried out without any rigid battle formation, with masses of soldiers flooding together to protect a comrade or rescue his body for burial 47. As historians agree, both epics are highly political: whereas the Iliad explores the feud between two cities, the Odyssey analyses the issue of succession under especially dire conditions. There are assemblies in the army at Troy among humans as well as gods, but I feel that the concept of a functional community is taken further in Homer's exploitation of meetings which also include business transactions48 in the Odyssey.
44 45 46

47 48

cf. e.g. Iliad, XIV, 340-3 cf. Iliad , XVIII, 478-608 cf. Snodgrass , Anthony : Homer and the Artists: Text and Picture in Early Greek Art , Cambridge 1998, p.70 cf. the fight over the body of Patroclus XVII,352-65 cf. Odyssey, II,6-257;IX,105-115 ; XXIV,420-466

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Brief outline of the major archaeological themes in the Iliad and the Odyssey

There is another fundamental difference discernible which concerns communal life: while Priam's palace with its sixty-two bedrooms for offspring may have been inspired by the great palaces of Egypt and the Near East, wealth is mostly gauged in terms of livestock in the Odyssey, which, according to Dickinson, might reflect living conditions quite common during the Greek Dark Ages. Rulers and their families are shown as managing most things themselves ,without the help of slaves: Nausicaa49 is responsible for the linen in her father's palace, Nestor's daughter does not mind running a bath for Telemachus , and Menelaos' guests herd the sheep meant for his banquet to the palace themselves, while their wives prepare bread 50. Odysseus is able to work a plough and seriously challenges Eurymachos, one of Penelope's suitors, to a ploughing match51. I am afraid I've only been able to touch upon very few of the major archaeological topics of both the Iliad and the Odyssey within the limited scope of this essay. A discussion however brief of many very important themes of both epics, specifically of the Odyssey , such as the themes of revenge, loyalty, wandering , to name only a few , had to be omitted for the sake of keeping the essay to a reasonable length and would have exceeded the task set in the assignment.



cf. Odyssey, VI,60 sq. cf. Odyssey, IV, 622-3 cf. Odyssey, XVIII,424 sq

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First Assignment Brief outline of the major archaeological themes in the Iliad and the Odyssey

Beate Pacher

Burgess, Jonathan: The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle, Baltimore 2001 Chadwick, John: The Mycenaean World, Cambridge 1976 Dickinson , O. T. P. K.: Homer, the Poet of the Dark Age , in: Greece & Rome, Second Series, Vol.
33, No. 1, (Apr., 1986), pp. 20-37

Kurman, George: Ekphrasis in Epic Poetry in: Comparative Literature, Vol. 26, No. 1, (Winter,
1974), pp. 1-13

Kraft, John C.: Bronze age Paleogeographies at Ancient Troy, in: Archaeological Geology 2001,
Session No. 125, November 2001

Latacz, J.: Troy and Homer: Towards a Solution of an Old Mystery, Oxford University Press 2005 Mueller, Martin: The Iliad, London 1984. Snodgrass, Anthony: Homer and the Artists: Text and Picture in Early Greek Art, Cambridge 1998

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