The question we left off with yesterday was: Do these three wars, Armageddon, Gog Magog, and Troy have anything in common?
The story of the Trojan War is, in Western Civilization, the greatest NON-religious story ever told. It has haunted the western imagination for over three thousand years. “In Troy there lies the scene,” Shakespeare said.
The story of Troy is at the bedrock of Western Culture from Homer to Virgil, From Chaucer to Shakespeare to Berlioz to Yeats. We talk about “Trojan Horses” and “Achilles Heels” and go on Odysseys and “work like Trojans” and on and on.
The tales of Achilles and Hector, Helen and Paris, and so many other great heroes all assembled into one story have lured a constant stream of pilgrims to the assumed region of Troy for all of that three thousand years; from Alexander the Great to Lord Byron to Heinrich Schliemann, the alleged discoverer of “Troy.” The British queen is referred to as the seed of Priam, and it was the fantasy of the Nazis to become the new Achaians, comparing Hitler with Achilles.
Troy has come to stand for ALL cities because of one tragic event: the siege and destruction and death of all its heroes – all because of a woman. Herodotus tells us that the Trojan war is the root of the enmity between Europe and Asia.
Homer is the starting point of our search for Troy. The Iliad deals with one episode of the war, a few weeks in the tenth year; a small fragment of the vast cycle of stories that dealt with the Trojan War. In classical times a series of epics now only available in fragments, or lost completely, told the rest of the story, drawing on a long and venerable tradition.
The hold that the legend of Troy had on the Greek imagination was such that, based on the story of a violation of Athena’s altar at Troy by Ajax of Lokris, the people of Lokris each year sent selected daughters to expiate this sin of their ancestor. They suffered indignities willingly, and it was said that the Trojans had the right to kill them. They lived out their days as slaves, in confinement and poverty. This custom continued into the 1st century AD as a testimony to the potency of the legend of Troy.
In the ancient world, it was uniformly believed that the Trojan War was a historical event. Anaxagoras was one of the few who doubted it because there was no proof. Herodotus, in the 5th century BC, inquired of the Egyptian priests as to whether or not the Greek version of the story was true, that is, did they have an alternative record of it, since there were no written records before Homer committed it to writing.
Based on the work of Homer, around 400 BC, Thucydides constructed a “history” of prehistoric Greece. No one knows how much of this was based on deductions from Homer, or derived from other sources that we no longer have. Thucydides wrote:
We have no record of any action taken by Hellas as a whole before the Trojan War. Indeed, my view is that at this time the whole country was not even called Hellas… The best evidence for this can be found in Homer, who, though he was born much later than the time of the Trojan War, nowhere uses the name “Hellenic” for the whole force.
Thucydides tried to deal with the problem of a story of a great clash of forces that seemed to be contradicted by the evidence of the small sites and relative primitive nature of the region where Troy was supposed to be. He tells us that, as far as he knew, Mycenaea had always been a village without great importance, while Homer referred to it as a “town with broad streets.”
…Many of the towns of that period do not seem to us today to be particularly imposing: yet that is not good evidence for rejecting what the poets and whatgeneral tradition have to say about the size of the expedition … we have no right therefore to judge cities by their appearances rather than by their actual power and there is no reason whey we should not believe that the Trojan expedition was the greatest that ever took place.
So it was that , even in the 5th century BC, Thucydides has commented on the fact that the only evidence for the Trojan war is the words of poets and “general tradition.” The fact is, many present day scholars doubt the existence of a “Mycenaean empire” because the archaeological evidence simply does not support the claims of the story.
Yet, the detailed nature of the descriptions incorporated into the work of Homer suggest that the original works were composed by eye witnesses of a significant conflict.
The problem that faces the scholars is this: if you were to remove the place names and read the Iliad, you would NOT think that the writer was talking about the Mediterranean. The text talks about tides, salty, dark, misty seas and a climate of rain, fog and snow. The tall, long-haired warriors raveling overseas in “symmetrical” ships “eager to kill their enemies” remind us more of the Vikings than the Greeks of the classical era. Several of the commanders in the story had honorific titles: “Sacker of Cities.” It even seems that, since the Greeks themselves could hardly imagine the behavior of these people in the stories, they consigned them to a “heroic age” and some of them to semi-divinity.
The Greek text of the Iliad speaks of “ceaseless rains” in the Trojan plain. The adjective is “athesphatos” which means “what even god cannot measure.” Such rains are certainly typical of the climate of Northern Europe, but most definitely not typical of Greece or the Mediterranean.
Iman J. Wilkens was intrigued by this as a schoolboy in Holland. He knew that he was reading a description of an environment much like his own, and not like that of the sunny south. Could the climate of the Mediterranean have changed so much since then? But even that wouldn’t explain the tides or the fact that Homer had placed Troy near to Lesbos and the Hellespont, from which Crete and Egypt are just a few days voyage by boat. That, of course, raised a question about the Odyssey: how could Ulysses have possibly gotten so terribly lost in the Mediterranean where nearly everything is just a day or two sail away?
The experts answer that Homer’s work was obviously just a fantasized version of a historical seed event.
We certainly know that the written versions of the Iliad and Odyssey originated in Greece, but do we know for sure that the oral version was about Greece as we know it today?
Thucydides noted certain anomalies in Homer’s text that may give us a clue. He was surprised that Homer never used the word “barbarian” for foreigners or non-Greeks. He wrote:
This word ought to have been used by the poet if the Greeks had really united to wage war against non-Greeks.
More than this, Thucydides remarks that barbarians were living in various parts of Greece and names the Taulentians “of the Illyrian race” living on the shores of the Ionian Gulf. From classical mythology, we know that a certain Galatea had three sons: Galas, Celtus and Illyrius, who founded the three major Celtic peoples: the Gauls, the Celts and the Illyrians. Professor Henry Hubert hypothesized that the ancient Greeks had been in contact with Celtic culture through the intermediary of the Illyrians, which seems to be confirmed by Thucydides remark. What if, during this contact, they received the epics sung by the bards and began to give the place names in the stories to their own settlements. In the manner of mythicization that I have described in The Secret History of The World, the Greeks might then begin to believe that the Trojan War had been fought by their own ancestors against an overseas kingdom. There is still another issue. Wilkens writes:
Quite apart from the difficulty of fitting most places described in the Iliad and the Odyssey into the physical reality of the lands surrounding the Aegean Sea, there is also a problem with the spiritual content of Homer’s works. Plato had doubts as to their Greek origin and the great philosopher was by no means an admirer of this imaginative poet whose gods, with their jealousies and vengeances, behaved like spoilt children. Plato was particularly worried about the corrupting influence of Homer’s poems on the minds of Greek youth, above all because of their “lack of respect” for the gods. He suggested that certain passages of the Iliad and Odyssey should be corrected or even expurgated and if he had been the dictator of his “ideal state,” he would have had them burned, thus breaking the chain of transmission of these unique and extremely ancient poems. […]
Reading the text [of the Iliad and the Odyssey] with an atlas of Greece on one’s knees, it is hard to understand the descriptions of many places, or the distances between places, or the sailing directions, or how it was possible to travel of drift in a boat with a head wind. In short, the place names in Greece, the pieces of the puzzle, seem completely jumbled. Once these names are sought in western Europe, however – and about 90 percent of them can still be found there, far more than in Greece – all the pieces of the puzzle fall perfectly into place and the events described by Homer become entirely logical and comprehensible. […]
I am certainly not the first to have the impression that the Trojan War must have taken place in western Europe. As early as 1790, Wernsdorf thought that the stories about the Cimmerians, one of the peoples mentioned by Homer, were of Celtic origin. He had a very precise reason for this: the classical Greek author Aelian mentions them in connection with the “singing” swan, Cygnus musicus, which is found in the British Isles and northern Europe, whereas Greece and the rest of Southern Europe knew only the “silent” swan, Cygnus olor.
In 1804, M. H. Vosz believed that the Odyssey most probably described certain landscapes in the British Isles and, in 1806, C.J. de Grave arrived at the general conclusion that the historical and mythical background of Homer’s works should be sought not in Greece but in western Europe. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Th. Cailleux wrote that Odysseus adventures had taken place in the Atlantic, starting from Troy, which by a process of deduction he concluded to be near Cambridge in England. [Where Troy Once Stood, Wilkens, Rider, 1990]
Near Cambridge in England? The Gogmagog hills?
In other words, Wilkens is proposing that there has been a transfer of western European geographical names to the eastern Mediterranean. He suggests that this occurred very late, about 1,000 BC. My guess is that it began much earlier, after the collapse of the Bronze Age Civilization around 1600 BC.
With the exception of the Bible, no other works of western literature have been more studied and commented upon than the Iliad and the Odyssey. Considering the fact that the prophet Ezekiel knew the name of a place in England that certainly looks as though it might be at least a very early mythical assimilation to the story of Troy, perhaps the Bible and the Iliad have a lot more in common than one would ordinarily suppose? I would like to quote a couple of sections from my book, The Secret History of The World, to give us some additional clues:
Gildas, writing in the sixth century AD, is the first native British writer whose works have come down to us. Nennius, writing about 200 years later, refers to the traditions of our elders. And Geoffrey of Monmouthpraises the works of Gildasand Bedeand wonders at the lack of other works about the early kings of Britain saying:
Yet the deeds of these men were such that they deserve to be praised for all time. What is more, these deeds were handed joyfully down in oral tradition, just as if they had been committed to writing, by many peoples who had only their memory to rely on.
The Stonehengestory told by Geoffrey of Monmouthbegins with a treacherous massacre of the Britonsby Hengestand his Saxons, which took place at a peace conference. The Saxonshid their daggers in their shoes and, at a signal from their leader, drew them and killed all the assembled British nobles except the king. Geoffreytells us that the meeting took place at the Cloister of Ambrius, not far from Kaercaradduc, which is now called Salisbury. He later describes this as a monastery of three hundred brethren founded by Ambriusmany years before.
As it happens, there is a place called Amesburyabout two and a half miles east of Stonehenge, which was originally called Ambresbyrig. This site in no way matches the description of the Cloister of Ambrius. The cloister is described as situated on Mount Ambrius, whereas Amesburyis in the valley of the river Avon. Geoffreytells us that the victims of the massacre were buried in the cemetery beside the monastery, not two and a half miles away. What is more, since it seems that Geoffreywas acting under the pressure of the mythical normof assimilating current events to the archetype, we then are left free to consider the possibility that this was the site of an ancient and famous massacre and that Stonehengeand the Cloister of Ambriusare one and the same.
The fact that Geoffrey called it a cloister is a curious choice of words since a cloister is a covered arcade forming part of a religious or collegiate establishment. That certainly seems to describe Stonehengevery well. Geoffreywas obviously trying to Christianize Stonehenge in his references to monasteryand monks.
The Saxonsgave Stonehengethe name by which we know it today. The Britons called it the Giants Dance, and Geoffrey certainly had a tradition to draw on there if he had wanted to since he begins his history with the adventures of Brutus, a descendant of Aeneas, who, after escaping from the flames of Troy, and much traveling and fighting, landed on Britain, which was uninhabited except for a few giants. Geoffreyhad a reasonable context here in which to place Stonehenge, but he ignored it and instead attributed the building of Stonehengeto Merlinafter the dreadful massacre by the Saxons. This enabled him to connect his Arthurto the great architectof the monument and all its glories. This suggests to us that there was a solid tradition behind this idea: that Stonehengewas the focal point of a people who had suffered a terrible, terminal disaster. In short, this tradition may reach back into the mists of antiquity.
In Geoffreys story, Merlinsuggests to Aureliusthat he ought to send an expedition to Ireland to fetch the Giants Ringfrom Mount Killaraus. The King begins to laugh and asks:
How can such large stones be moved from so far-distant a country? he asked. It is hardly as if Britain itself is lacking in stones big enough for the job!
Try not to laugh in a foolish way, your Majesty, answered Merlin. What I am suggesting has nothing ludicrous about it. These stones are connected with certain secret religious ritesand they have various properties that are medicinally important. Many years ago the Giantstransported them from the remotest confines of Africaand set them up in Irelandat a time when they inhabited that country. Their plan was that, whenever they felt ill, baths should be prepared at the foot of the stones; for they used to pour water over them and to run this water into baths in which their sick were cured. What is more, they mixed the water with herbal concoctions and so healed their wounds. There is not a single stone among them which hasnt some medicinal value.
As W. A. Cummins, geologist and archaeologist remarks, all of this sounds like a pre-medieval tradition about Stonehenge, possibly even prehistoric. However, instead of coming from Africa, or even Ireland, the bluestonesused in the construction of Stonehenge come from the Prescelly Mountains, or Mynydd Preselau. The so-called altar stone, however, most likely came from somewhere in the Milford Havenarea in Pembrokeshire. […] Cummins remarks astutely that Geoffrey was eight and a half centuries closer to the event than we are, so maybe his account is correspondingly closer?[…]
Diodorus Siculus, writing in the first century BC, gives us a description of Britainbased, in part, on the voyage of Pytheas of Massilia, who sailed around Britain in 300 BC.
As for the inhabitants, they are simple and far removed from the shrewdness and vice which characterize our day. Their way of living is modest, since they are well clear of the luxury that is begotten of wealth. The island is also thickly populated and its climate is extremely cold, as one would expect, since it actually lies under the Great Bear. It is held by many kings and potentates, who for the most part live at peace among themselves.
Diodorus then tells a fascinating story about the Hyperboreansthat was obviously of legendary character already when he was writing:
Of those who have written about the ancient myths, Hecateusand certain others say that in the regions beyond the land of the Celts(Gaul) there lies in the ocean an island no smaller than Sicily. This island, the account continues, is situated in the north, and is inhabited by the Hyperboreans, who are called by that name because their home is beyond the point whence the north wind blows; and the land is both fertile and productive of every crop, and since it has an unusually temperate climate it produces two harvests each year.
Now, it seems that there is little doubt that Diodorusis talking about the same location – but we notice that the climate is so vastly different in the two descriptions that we can hardly make the connection. However, let us just suppose that his description of Britain was based on the climate that prevailed at the time he was writing, and the legendary description of the Hyperboreans was based on a previous climatic condition that was preserved in the story. Diodorus stresses that he is recounting something very ancient as he goes on to say:
The Hyperboreansalso have a language, we are informed, which is peculiar to them, and are most friendly disposed towards the Greeks, and especially towards the Atheniansand the Delians, who have inherited this goodwill from most ancient times. The myth also relates that certain Greeks visited the Hyperboreans and left behind them costly votive offerings bearing inscriptions in Greek letters. And in the same way Abaris, a Hyperborean, came to Greece in ancient times and renewed the goodwill and kinship of his people to the Delians.
Diodorus’remark about the relations between the Hyperboreansand the Atheniansleads us to recall the statement of Platothat the Atlanteanswere at war with the Athenians, and we wonder if the Hyperboreansare the real early Athenians. After all, the Greekswere said to be Sons of the North Wind, Boreas. Herodotusexpounds upon the relationship of the Hyperboreans to the Delians:
Certain sacred offerings wrapped up in wheat straw come from the Hyperboreansinto Scythia, whence they are taken over by the neighbouring peoples in succession until they get as far west as the Adriatic: from there they are sent south, and the first Greeksto receive them are the Dodonaeans. Then, continuing southward, they reach the Malian gulf, cross to Euboea, and are passed on from town to town as far as Carystus. Then they skip Andros, the Carystianstake them to Tenos, and the Teniansto Delos. That is how these things are said to reach Delos at the present time.
The legendary connection between the Hyperboreansand the Deliansleads us to another interesting remark of Herodotuswho tells us that Leto, the mother of Apollo, was born on the island of the Hyperboreans. That there was regular contact between the Greeks and the Hyperboreans over many centuries does not seem to be in doubt. The Hyperboreans were said to have introduced the Greeksto the worship of Apollo, but it is just as likely that the relationship goes much further back. Herodotushas another interesting thing to say about the Hyperboreansand their sending of sacred offeringsto Delos:
On the first occasion they were sent in charge of two girls, whose names the Delians say were Hyperocheand Laodice. To protect the girls on the journey, the Hyperboreans sent five men to accompany them the two Hyperborean girls died in Delos, and the boys and girls of the island still cut their hair as a sign of mourning for them There is also a Delphicstory that before the time of Hyperoche and Laodice, two other Hyperborean girls, Argeand Opis, came to Delos by the same route. Arge and Opis came to the island at the same time as Apolloand Artemis
Herodotus mentions at another point, when discussing the lands of the barbarians, All these except the Hyperboreans, were continually encroaching upon one anothers territory. Without putting words in Herodotus mouth, it seems to suggest that the Hyperboreans were not warlike at all.
A further clue about the religion of the Hyperboreanscomes from the myths of Orpheus. It is said that when Dionysusinvaded Thrace, Orpheus did not see fit to honor him but instead preached the evils of sacrificial murder to the men of Thrace. He taught other sacred mysteries having to do with Apollo, whom he believed to be the greatest of all gods. Dionysusbecame so enraged; he set the Maenadson Orpheus at Apollos temple where Orpheus was a priest. They burst in, murdered their husbands who were assembled to hear Orpheus speak, tore Orpheuslimb from limb, and threw his head into the river Hebruswhere it floated downstream still singing. It was carried on the sea to the island of Lesbos. Another version of the story is that Zeus killed Orpheus with a thunderbolt for divulging divine secrets. He was responsible for instituting the Mysteries of Apolloin Thrace, Hecatein Aegina, and Subterrene Demeterat Sparta.
I would like to note immediately how similar the above story of the Maenadsmurdering their husbands is to the story of the daughters of Danausmurdering their husbands – sons of Aegyptus – on the wedding night, and how similar both of these stories are to the story of the massacre at the Cloisters of Ambriusattributed still later to Hengistand Horsa. The story of the Maenads adds the spin that it was a religious dispute between sacrificers and those preaching against the evils of sacrifice. Additionally, it is interesting that in the stories of the daughters of Danaeus and the Maenads, women have become as deadly as treacherous Helen was to Troy.
Was an original legend later adapted to a different usage, assimilated to a different group or tribe? More than once?
In fact, when you think about it, the stories in the Bible are remarkably similar to the Greek myths with most of the fantastic elements removed, names changed, and genealogies inserted to give the impression of a long history. One could say that the “history” of the Old Testament is merely “historicized myth.” And of course, the myths that it was historicized from may have belonged to an entirely different people.
Let’s talk about Helen of Troy now.