Monday, July 30, 2012

Homer Tilted into Absurdity

Ancient bust of Homer
The following is a slightly reworked version of a few postings1 I did a few years ago on the book Where Troy Once Stood2 Having read it I was amused but not convinced at all.

In the past authors have located the Trojan war in all sorts of places like the Neretva valley in Croatia,3 with "hundreds" of geographical etc, correspondences, 87 such correspondences is not impressive. It is all quite blasé.

Wilkens fails utterly to deal with why the two epics are in such impeccable Greek if they were originally Celtic. Or why the Greeks were quite adamant that these people were their ancestors, or that they identified Troy with hissarlik in modern day Turkey. Or that the society described is Greek, that they traded with the Phoenicians etc. Wilkens relies on twisting the etymology of words in order to get around the quite serious problems with his idea.
To me the obvious origin of his notion is an acceptance of the Trojan founding myth as located in Geoffrey of Monmouth and Nennius, and the relocation of Troy to England in order to validate the myth.4

A great many scholars think that Homer's descriptions (like the plain in front of Troy) match hissarlik and that his other descriptions match Greek sites quite accurately.

Basically Wilkens relied on entomological twisting to transfer Greek sites like Knossos to Northern European locations. We haven't yet found the labyrinth, (Meaning hall of the Double axes.) of Minos in Norway complete with Minotaur, but we have found a vast maze like palace, with lots of images of Bulls and bull’s horns and lots of double axes in Crete at Knossos.

Wilkens thesis requires a steadfast ignoring of archaeological data. Wilkens explanation about how the tale was transposed into Greece is amusing question begging and he fails to explain in any convincing manner why the first renditions of scenes from the war occur c. 1000 B.C.E. in Greece even before Homer even wrote his poems.5

Wilkens' locating of were Homer was born (in the Netherlands) was hysterical. Although the Greeks could not locate what city Homer was born in, Wilkens can!. By the way the Greeks were quite adamant that Homer was an Ionian Greek and there was even a group of poets called Homerids who claimed descent from Homer and his relatives, and they composed in Greek.

In the early 9th century after Christ the Welsh writer Nennius wrote his British History; in his text Nennius claimed that the British (Britons) were descendants of Trojans who fled their conquered city. Nennius called the leader of the Trojans who conquered Troy Brutus. Later in the 12th century Geoffrey of Monmouth massively expanded on this story in his History of the Kings of Britain.6

Wilkens’ theory is simply a massive expansion of the Trojan foundation myth of British history, going beyond Geoffrey and beyond Nennius.

As for validity of the theory? Although I found the book amusing it is thoroughly unconvincing.

To give a few of the problems.

Wilkens claims to have found out that Homer lived on a Dutch island. No doubt flattering to the Dutch to claim one of the world’s great poets. A problem arises every single line of the Iliad is composed in Poetic Hexameter, and this poem is in Greek! What this means is that the poem was composed in Greek not merely translated from some other, presumably Celtic, language into Greek. To give an example try to translate into say French the exact poetic rhythm of Rape of the Lock, by Pope without quite literally having to recreate the poem, in other words do a new poem.

In other words even assuming that the plot, characters, geography etc., came from Western Europe, the poem would still have to have been composed in Greek, in other words literally recreated, and that composer would be the true author of the poem. So in other words "Homer", was almost certainly a Greek, composing in Greek.

The Greek in the Iliad and Odyssey is rather "pure" Greek. Despite Wilkens' desperate efforts to find Celtic words in the Iliad and the Odyssey he quite spectacularly fails to do so. If the Iliad and the Odyssey came from outside Greece, in Western Europe, one would think it would have significant numbers of non-Greek, presumably Celtic, words. Despite Wilkens assertions his special brand of linguistics he spectacularly fails to prove ANY such linguistic links.

The Greeks were quite emphatic about claiming the heroes and characters of the Iliad as their ancestors and were quite willing to admit to non-Greek origins to founders of cities etc. So why they would so fully appropriate a non-Greek story is beyond me. For example the Greeks pointed out such things as the birth place of Achilles, the Burial place of Hector etc., all in Greece.

The Linear B tablets have names that are the same as many if not all the names of characters and Gods in the Iliad and Odyssey,7 indicating a link between them. Also the Tablets are in Greek. The Greek of the tablets is clearly related to Homer's Greek, the difference between them is at most a dialect difference.

I could go on about the Archeology, such as "Golden Mycenae" in Argos "Nestor's Cup" etc.

Basically what we are asked to believe is that the Greeks took a geography of an entirely different area and imposed it on their own area, with an astounding accurate level of success., and then "forgot" they had done so!

As for the alleged resemblances in geographic descriptions, well ho-hum! In a previous E-mail I mentioned someone who found hundreds of resemblances between the Valley of Nerveta in the Croatia and the descriptions in the Iliad. See for example Homer's blind audience : an essay on the Iliad's geographical prerequisites for the site of Ilios by Roberto Salinas Price.8

I'm just not impressed by the piling up of geographic "coincidences".

The etymology of words has to be explained and Wilkens' “explanations” are politely weak. The words, names etc., can easily be traced to words found in the Linear B tablets. Tracing the names for example into Celtic involves very "creative" etymology to make them fit.

Given that the Trojan War was the central part of Greek mythology and so much of it interconnected intimately with it, Wilkens’ theory must lead to the conclusion much if not most of Greek mythology is not "Greek", but borrowed cart blanche.

As for Wilkens method of transmission of the Epic to Greece, via the Sea Peoples. Any evidence any of them came from North-western Europe? Any real discussion about how such Epic(s) could be transmitted intact to another cultural and geographic area and into another language with virtually no distortion? Nope! Of course if there was distortion then the geographic descriptions etc., are of questionable value.

Wilkens’ update of the Trojan myth of Britain’s foundation relies on questionable etymology and the piling up of geographic "coincidences", which can be done for all sorts of places all over the world.

The Ancient Greeks claimed the Epics for their own; the language / names are the same as theirs, so there is no compelling reason to doubt that this is in fact the case.

In another posting I responded to the following comment.

The introduction shown by the link in the first post of this thread shows the different opinions of some of your remarks.9
I  am pleased that in the second edition of the book Wilkens as abandoned his quite silly Homer was Dutch nonsense. It appears that Wilkens must have learned something in the meantime about poetic composition.

Regarding the intoduction's comments []10 a few remarks.

First the introduction is nothing more than splurge designed to help sell the book not serious analysis. Then it contains the following nonsense.

...that Hissarlik in Turkey could not have been the site of the great Trojan War as was thought by Schliemann in the 19th century and still today by Korfmann, despite the fact that not a single one of forty characteristics of Troy and the Trojan plain as described by Homer fit the region.10 
That is Since neither the Iliad nor the Odyssey fit in Greece and the Mediterranean, (sic) it must be the Atlantic and Western Europe. Well deluded is what I call this!

The piece also mentions the Druids in about 1200 B.C.E. How fascinating! I wonder how he explains that apparently the Druids entered Europe after 800 B.C.E.

The piece also has the following

Since neither the Iliad nor the Odyssey fit in Greece and the Mediterranean,...
Argument by assertion is so dull!

The assertion is made that the Iliad contains loan words from North-western Europe. In other words Celtic words are in the Iliad and Odyssey. Sorry but Wilkens’ etymology is bogus. The Pelasgian language(s) for example are apparently not even Indo-European.

Has for the Pelasgians of Herodotus, I suppose the fact that he apparently regarded them as indigenous is irrelevant. I should point out here that the Linear B tablets record words and personal names that are "Pelasgian", before the alleged Sea Peoples came. I further note that archeology does not support any idea of the Sea Peoples coming from Western Europe. 11

Any explanation about how this epic could be translated into Greek while being utterly and thoroughly faithful to the geography and topography, to say nothing of "history", of the original. Nope. Given that it was originally oral the epic MUST have been thoroughly distorted upon being translated. Assuming of course this happened.

The emphatic Greek tradition that the peoples in the Epics were their own ancestors must be flicked away with a few begging the question assertions and non-sequitur. The alleged fact that a few Greeks asserted that the Trojan war was elsewhere simply means very little. Please explain why the Greeks would geographically transpose the epics to their geographic environment and then convince themselves that the people in the epic were their ancestors? The etymological games required to twist the names to apply to Western Europe are simply risible.

I am waiting for the Labyrinth too be found in Norway. I am just amazed that a huge maze like palace was found at a Knossos in Crete complete with the ubiquitous bull, a la Minotaur, and Linear B tablets naming the site as Knossos.
A further quote:

When the Sea Peoples settled in Greece during the Dark Ages (c1200 to c800 BC) the epics were written down in Greek, apparently after translation, as the dactylic hexameter is badly suited to this language and also because it contains both Ionian and Aeolian dialect, suggesting that there has been more than one translator/bard at work, while furthermore the text contains many loan-words from north-west European languages.

A great peace descends on me; so dactylic hexameter is badly suited for Greek. And the implications is that both the Iliad and the Odyssey are mere translations; and not good ones at that. This is unmitigated bullshit, worthy of utter contempt. And anyone who thinks that 20,000+ lines of hexameter can be "translated" from one language to another without literally having to recreate it is not worth taking seriously. I suppose the vast amount of Greek poetry in hexameter meter means little.

As for the fact that frequently Homer's descriptions are not entirely accurate may I point out he was writing poetry (Wilkens other purposes are un-demonstrated), and comparisons with other epic poems reveal that geographic etc., distortions, errors happen for both poetic and for poor information reasons.12

It has been known for quite some time that Homer's poems do not describe the Mycenaean world. The world described seems instead to be Greece of the Dark ages (c. 900-1000 B.C.E.) with elements of Homer's own time and Mycenaean survivals.

Finally Hittite archives (c. 1250 B.C.E.) seem to mention both Troy and the Achaeans, and possible wars of Troy. There is much controversy over this, but it may supply the needed context for the war.13

Finally if the Epic(s) had come from Western Europe originally, comparison with other epics would indicate that simple time following would have introduced massive distortion in the epics. The added factor of geographic transference would have added another measure of distortion. The fact that Wilkens postulates little distortion is frankly unbelievable and absurd.

In all I can't take Wilkens’ fantasy seriously.

1.  See In the Hall of Maat Here  Here Here

2. Wilkens, Iman, Where Troy Once Stood, Rider & Co, 1990. There are two subsequent Editions.

3. See Price, Roberto Salinas, Homeric Whispers. Intimations of Orthodoxy in the Iliad and Odyssey, Scylax, San Antonio, 2006.

4. See Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain, Penguin Books, London, 1966, Nennius, British History and the Welsh Annals, in Arthurian Period Sources, v. 8, Phillimore, London, 1980.

5. See The essays in Shelmerdine, Cynthia, W, Editor, The Cambridge Companion to The Aegean Bronze Age, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2008, Finkelberg, Margqalit, Greeks and Pre-Greeks, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005, and the essays in Morris, Ian & Powell, Barry, Editors, A New Companion to Homer, Brill, New York, 1997.19

6. Footnote 4.

7. See Finley, M. I, Economy and Society in Ancient Greece, Penguin Books, London, 1982, pp. 199-245, Osborne, Robin, Greece in the Making, 1200 – 479 B.C.E., Second Edition, Routledge, London, 2009, pp. 35-56.

8. Price, Roberto Salinas, Homer's blind audience : an essay on the Iliad's geographical prerequisites for the site of Ilios, Scylax, 1984.

9. Footnote 1.

10. The link to the quote no longer works. As the introduction seems to have been removed from the web.

11. See Sandars, N. K, The Sea Peoples, Thames and Hudson, London, 1978. I note there is no evidence any of the Sea Peoples were Celtic speaking. Regarding the Druids see Piggott, Stuart, The Druids, Penguin, London, 1968.

12. Homer was a poet trying for maximum effect so of course he would “distort”. See Finley, M. I, The World of Odysseus, Revised Edition, Penguin, London, 1979, pp. 15-50, and Aspects of Antiquity, Penguin, London, 1969, pp. 31-42.

13. Footnote 5, See A New Companion to Homer.

Pierre Cloutier

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