My Visit to Troy

Turkey is a treasure trove of great archaeological sites, but Troy (Truva locally), near Hissarlik, is not one of them.  I visited the site in June, 1990, before I ever imagined I would someday write a novel about it, but, even back then, I was into the Trojan myths and knew my Iliad, and I remember looking upon it with some dismay.  At the entrance you pass a sculpture of a wooden horse, resembling an undersized version of the horse in the 1955 movie, Helen of Troy.  In my mind’s eye, Troy should have been considerably larger and I could not envision it as the city of the Iliad.  If this is indeed Troy, I was thinking, the ruins we see must be of city’s inner citadel, the Pergamus, rather than the city itself.  The massive impregnable walls depicted in the Iliad, with its huge Scaean and Dardanian gates, cannot be mentally connected to this site and therein lies much of its disappointment.   But if you’re into Greek mythology or classical literature, you should go there (other sites like Ephesus and Pergamon provide awesome compensations).

I know that Heinrich Schliemann claimed he found the site based on descriptions in the Iliad, probably its proximity to the Karamenderes River -the Scamandrus River of the Iliad- and distant Mount Ida.  The site is now generally accepted as the real Troy.  There are actually nine Troys there (with Troy VI and Troy VII having sub-division layers) and the consensus is that Troy VII-A is the one of the Iliad (covering a time span of 1300-1190 BCE).  The layers denote separate destructions of the city (either by war or natural disaster).  Troy II rewarded Schliemann with the greatest treasures, and he believed it to be Homer’s city, but its fall has now been dated at around 2250 BCE, much earlier than the Troy of the Iliad.   Only reluctantly have I accepted this site as Troy.     

It was when I tried to imagine Achilles chasing Hector around the site that it really let me down.  For one thing, it is on a steady slope rising from the seashore (which is a long way off) to the hills behind it, with its inland side at a higher elevation than the side facing the coast.  Nowhere does it say in the Iliad that Troy stood on any gradation.  How could Achilles drag Hector behind his chariot around the walls if it was on a slope?   You readily assume the city was on flat grounds.  This is a classic (pardon the pun) example of romanticism and reality clashing, and I admit to being a romanticist at heart, preferring the idealized, imagined glory of a place to its grim, stark actual presence.

I suspect that Homer embellished Troy in his Iliad, giving it a grandeur that exceeded its times -much as we today tend to give King Arthur’s Camelot a magnificence exceeding the engineering capabilities and political realities of its days (if it even existed).  None of this detracts from the greatness and fascination of these stories; it’s their characters that hold our attention and rivet us to the drama depicted as having happened there.  The fact that there is a Troy, or a Tintagel in the case of Camelot, adds flavor, giving the stories a legitimacy; it doesn’t matter what the places look like -I am grateful that they are there.

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