Monday, November 17, 2008


Sing, goddess, of Achilles' ruinous anger
Which brought ten thousand pains to the Achaeans,
And cast the souls of many stalwart heroes
To Hades, and their bodies to the dogs
And birds of prey.

 - The Iliad, first lines, Book 1

The first Troy I knew came from the World Book encyclopedia. I was really into Greek myths as a kid, and the Trojan War was the ancient world's equivalent of a red carpet parade at the Oscar's. After reading all the articles, I was curious whether Ajax the Lesser ever had resented being compared to Ajax the Greater. 

The second Troy I knew was from this book they got us to read in Year 7, "The Luck of Troy". It was an account of the Trojan War from the point of view of Helen's kid by Menelaus. It's a sanitised version of the events, with Helen being bewitched by Paris, Achilles being a gentleman, and Menelaus being a concerned husband and father who just wants his family together again. 

The third Troy I knew was from school textbooks. It's where I learnt about Schliemann and his penchant for dynamite and ancient buried treasure. It was also my first exposure to the scale of the plunder that 19th century Europeans carted back to their cities.  

The fourth Troy I knew was from the Iliad. It had got to the stage where I was so curious about this stuff that I wanted to read from the source. I wasn't really prepared for the galleons of blood, guts and gore that our heroes waded through, nor the 400 pages of prose verse I had to wade through. It was moving, though, especially went I got to the lines, "and then they buried Hector, tamer of horses".

The fifth Troy I knew was from the film. It starred Brad Pitt as Achilles, Eric Bana as Hector and Darryl Hannah as Helen. It was panned by the critics, but it wasn't too bad. Of course, Oliver Stone's decision to take away the supernatural aspects from the film was like stripping a Disney film of smultz, but I liked the realpolitick elements. And Rose Byrne is a bit of alright. 

The sixth Troy I know, I visited today. It's the real Troy, a city perched on a hill overlooking a plain, with the Dardanelles on the horizon. The walls are high and strong and if you squint, you can almost see the armies of Agamemnon arrayed on the fields below the city. There's nothing much else left of the city - it's been called a "ruin of a ruin" - but it's a big kick to walking around it. 

There are nine Troys all up, built one on top of each other. The sixth one is considered the Troy of the Iliad, and the ruins date mainly from the ninth, Roman Troy. Schliemann blasted through a lot of strata to get to Priam's treasure, and it's been exposed to looters and sticky-fingered tourists ever since. So it's not like Ephesus or Pergamum, with their restored buildings and ruined grandeur. But it is something to imagine that sixth Troy, with all the armies of Greece crashing against the walls and not prevailing. 

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