Me on My High Horse- A Visit to Troy

I would love to say that, as a half decent humanities major, I spent some of my profligate youth reading the Iliad and the Odyssey, but the farthest I got was borrowing one (can’t remember which) from the library, then procrastinate reading it, then forget to take it back on time, then pay a modest fine to a librarian with sad but judgmental eyes. I simply found all ancient poetry very confused and confusing, strange sentences coming from very far away, both temporally and physically. My only salvation from the dark realms of ignorance is the absolute hero that is Alexandru Mitru, a fine gentleman who undertook to retell classical Greek myths to Romanian children. His Legends of Olympus was my trusty companion all the way through college when it came to bridging shameful gaps of knowledge- that and Wikipedia, but Wiki is decidedly less romantic.

The long and the short of it is that, as we were veering off the E87 (in more local terms, that would be the Çanakkale to Ezine road, part of the European route connecting the Ukrainian city of Odessa to Antalya along the scenic shores of the Black and Aegean seas) towards the ruins of ancient Troy, I was still labouring under the misconception that the Trojans themselves were Greeks. What I did know was the general outline of the whole Trojan predicament, which I shall convey here in the manner of old TV  programme magazines trying to sum up an episode of Dallas or Murder, She Wrote:  having been given the apple of discord, inscribed with ‘to the fairest’, by Eris the goddess of, well, discord, Athena, Hera and Aphrodite decide, frankly for no apparent reason, to let Trojan prince Paris choose. Bribed by Aphrodite with the promise of Helen, incidentally the world’s most beautiful woman, and even more incidentally the wife of the Spartan king, Paris chooses Aphrodite to be the fairest, then kidnaps Helen, whereupon all hell breaks loose, and the Greeks besiege Troy. This proves to be a fairly fruitless endeavor until, in a moment of extreme Balkan astuteness, they build a giant ass wooden horse, climb into it, pretend it’s a gift for the Trojans who let the thing into the city and are met with the unpleasant surprise of a horseload of Greeks pouring out from it. The rest if stuff of legends- well, the whole of it is stuff of legends, so much so that for a good while no one really knew where Troy was, just as I did not know who Trojans were.

As per all the current evidence we have, they must have been Luwians, or at least speakers of the Luwian language, a now defunct Indo-European tongue related to Hittite. Their city, in a bout of further confusion, is referenced under many names, such as Illium, Wilusa or Troya- current Turkish road sings add to the mess by alternatively using Truva or Troya or occasionally Troia, I dare all Italian speakers not to chuckle at that one. In the 19th Century, with people suddenly having increased time for leisurely activities, German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann became obsessed with identifying its true location- in the previous centuries it was dismissed either as a fanciful legend or placed somewhere around what is known as Alexandria Troas, 20 kilometres south from the currently accepted location. Generally, this bit of Turkey can be summed up as an Inventory of Discombobulating Ancient Stuff, but Schliemann persevered and finally found Troy, though his dating of its remains proved dodgy and he also managed in a bull in a china shop manner to ruin many intriguing layers of the city’s history.

For there isn’t one Troy, but many, more precisely nine, with Troy I being placed around 3000 BC and Troy IX, up to 500 AD. Of these, sub-Troy VIIa, roughly dated to 1300-1190 BC is what I shall scientifically call Horse Troy, so the probable setting of whatever conflict which may have served as the historical source of Homer’s legend. If you’re already tired by all of this, I share your pain- so was I. For the site itself, given its age, is much less spectacular, to the uninitiated, than Ephesus. The ticket costs 42 liras, and gives you access to a labyrinth of wooden paths hovering over the ruins proper, which come with plentiful explanations but actually not much to be seen for anyone who belongs to that large chunk of the world’s population that is not an expert in archaeology and/or Ancient history. There is also a museum nearby, which houses many more delicate artifacts found on the site, but we decided to skip it because, was trying to find a decent excuse here, but actually we just drove off to buy some famous Ezine cheese in Ezine proper- do try it in case you’re around and feel like nine Troys are about eight too many to take in.

Before you conclude that diamonds have been wasted on pigs here, let me tell you that in spite of my utter incompetence I found Troy hauntingly beautiful, its horizon wide and open on all sides, olives and cypresses swaying gently in the salty breeze. It may look like a glorified pile of rocks, but some of these rocks were placed here by our ancestors a dizzying 5000 years ago, and in the middle of this sleepy and seemingly unprotected plain they built a city that in some form or other survived for millennia and became the stuff of legends, or, put in the parlance of our times, it went viral before it was cool.

Albeit completely unrelated to Troy, but nevertheless as some sort of a coda to our Turkish adventures, you may find here a batch of pictures from Yenișakran, including some much loved Mediterranean commonplaces: cats, olives and the sunset.

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