By Aamir Butt
‘Rage—-Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles, murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses, hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls, great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion, feasts for the dogs and birds.’
Above are the opening lines of an epic poem, known to the world as The Iliad. Though exact dates are unknown it is thought to have been composed around 2700 years ago by the Greek poet Homer. The poem contains 15,693 verses and almost certainly was recited verbally and memorized by heart before it was written down. There is some misconception that the poem narrates the history of the Trojan war, actually by and large it deals with events spread over only a few weeks that occurred towards the end of the ten year war. The poem did introduce the world to Helen of Troy/Sparta, who was the apparent cause for this disastrous war. Helen of course is a much disputed character, some even doubt that she existed. Some say
she was the most beautiful woman ever while others think she was just plain Jane, some think she was a queen, others say she was a tart, we will never know the truth. I will revisit Helen again in another post. Coming back to the Iliad and Trojan war the events are thought to have taken place around 1200 BC. The geographic location was a city believed to be located on the Western coast of Turkey called Troy. This city ruled by king Priam was located at the crossroad between the Eastern Hittite empire that dominated much of present day Turkey and parts of the Near East and the Greek city states to the West. In other words it was the first East v West or Europe v Asia conflict in history. The spark that ignited the war was Helen’s abduction by Priam’s son Paris. Helen was the wife of the king of Sparta Menelaus who was also the brother of Agamemnon ruler of the most powerful Greek state of that time, Mycenae. No one knows if Helen was taken by force or eloped with Paris, however it resulted in Agamemnon uniting all the Greek city states in a military confederation against Troy. Now just like the assassination of Ferdinand was not the real reason for WW1 there certainly were deeper reasons for this military adventure. Due to its location and the trading opportunities it had, Troy was fabulously wealthy and was reputed to have 2000 tons of gold in its treasury! So the conspiracy advocates would say that actually, like the CIA carried out the 9/11 attacks it was actually Agamemnon who got Helen to be kidnapped to create an excuse to sack Troy.
Troy was well defended surrounded by a high fortified wall. The Greeks came by sea in an armada of ships. So Helen is popular as the face that launched a thousand ships. In actual fact the number of ships, as stated by Homer was 1196. The war lasted 10 years and in the last year as narrated in the Iliad the Greeks during a raid captured some Trojan women who were distributed among the Greek commanders. Agamemnon got as his share a girl who was the daughter of a priest of Apollo. So Apollo in response to a request from his priest sent a plague that killed Greek troops by scores. The greatest warrior on the Greek side was Achilles who called a council of war and demanded that Agamemnon returns the girl. Angry but having no choice Agamemnon agrees but in return he takes the girl who had been given to Achilles. Furious Achilles announces that he will take no
further part in the war and retires to his ships. As a result the Trojans start to get the upper hand and push the Greeks towards the sea. One day during the battle Achilles’ best friend Patroclus is killed by Priam’ eldest son Hector, who is the commander and greatest warrior on the Trojan side. One hearing this, Achilles goes mad with rage, finds Hector and kills him. He then ties his dead body to his Chariot and drags it back and forth watched by the grieving Priam from the fortified wall. Eventually Priam goes to him and begs for Hector’ remains which after some reluctance he does. Priam brings Hector’s body back to troy and here the poem ends with the lines:
‘And so the Trojans buried Hector breaker of horses’.
While the poem ended here the war went on a bit longer but eventually the Greeks did capture and sack Troy. And although they were able to
recover Helen they did not find any gold as all of it had been consumed in financing the ten years of war. The long war had also exhausted the Greek cities and not long after a series of invasions by the mysterious sea people destroyed the Greek cities and ended the what is called the Mycenaean Greek civilization and started the 400 years of Greek dark age from which Greece emerged with no literacy or written script around the 7th century BC.
The legend of Troy lived on and many European nations claim to have a decent from Troy, the most notable being the Romans who claimed that Rome was found by descendent of Aeneas, one of the Trojan princes who was among the handful of Trojans who escaped.