Thursday, March 18, 2021

Notes on the Excidium Troiae

The Excidium Troiae [Destruction of Troy] (also known as the Rawlinson Excidium Troiae) is a short, anonymous Medieval manuscript that tells the stories of Troy, Aeneas and the founding of Rome.  At around 35 pages, more than 20 of them describe events after the war.  It is a Latin text, perhaps based on an earlier Greek text.  It uses the names of Roman gods, rather than the Greek names Homer used. An English version of the Excidium is available online, along with a scholarly treatment that points out the uniqueness of several stories in the Excidium, especially the story of Achilles birth and upbringing. 

I noticed three references to marshes outside the walls or gates of Troy.  I  do not recall seeing that sort of description anywhere else. The following paragraph appears after the Greeks have gone to the nearby island of Tenedos to build the wooden horse.   

And as this was happening in Tenedos, the day being bright, the Trojan citizens spread out through the walls where the armies and ships of the Greeks used to be, they saw no one and they were filled with joy. Thinking that they were free of enemies, they started to sing in Virgil's tongue: 'Here lay the Dolopian bands, there stern Achilles had pitched tent, here with fleets, here armies accustomed to fight.' And when they were filled by joy, they threw open the gates of the city, and all herds and beasts of burden already secure rushed out into the marsh before the walls. And when Troy already stood secure, at Tenedos a wooden horse was created in the manner of divine Pallas. And when it had been perfected, they started to deliberate how would that horse be brought out to Troy. Then one of the people by the name of Palamedes Sinon said: 'I will make it so that the horse be led to Troy.' To him they said: 'By what way?' Sinon answered: 'Cudgel me and go around before a slope, and send me in the marshes of Troy through the night.' And it was done. Indeed, the day being bright the shepherds of Troy as usual went out in the marshes with their herds and stocks, where they found Sinon cudgeled and girded lying before the slope, whom with great clamor they brought to king Priam with hands tied to the back.  (print edition page 14)

Palamedes Sinon goes on to gain the favor of the king, and to influence him into bringing the horse into the city.  Note these two remarks: 

1 "they threw open the gates of the city, and all herds and beasts of burden already secure rushed out into the marsh before the walls"

2 Sinon's story mentions marshes twice ("send me into the marshes of Troy", and "the shepherds of Troy as usual went out in the marshes")

The first passage  describes marshes outside the walls of Troy.  Sinon's story treats the marshes as integral to the city and its way of life. This does not sound like the city on the ridge at Hisarlik.  Rather, the Excidium seems to be describing a city in the plain. 

The manuscript also makes a clear distinction between the city and the acropolis at Troy.  

Behold, before my eyes the most mild Hector seen come to me shedding many tears, with stiffening and rough beard, having thong of swelling feet. Thus he said like this: 'You sleep, oh goddess-born; your enemy holds the walls, rushes down from the high summit on Troy. We are no longer Trojans, Ilium and the great glory of Troy no longer exist.' (print edition page 18)

This passage speaks of a "high summit on Troy".  

Laocoon hastened down from the top of the great citadel accompanied by a crowd. (print edition page 16)

This passage speaks of "the top of the great citadel" at Troy.  

When Priam, indeed, saw his son killed by Pyrrhus before his eyes, he started to rebuke and curse him, Pyrrhus killed Priam before the altar like he did him, as Virgil described: This was the end of Priam's fate, this result of the lot bound him: witnessing the burned Troy and its collapsed citadel, and him, the supreme regnant of Asia over so many peoples and lands. He, a large trunk, lay down at the beach, and his head torn away from the shoulder, a corpse without a name. [This is the end of Priam.] (print edition page 19)

This passage speaks of "the burned Troy and its collapsed citadel" as though these are two distinct sights.  .  

So, the Excidium describes the walls of Troy as contiguous with marshes, and distinguishes the citadel from the city.  Dares Phrygius also distinguished the citadel from the city of Troy. 

During the whole night the Greeks did not cease wreaking slaughter and carrying off plunder. With the coming day, Agamemnon called all of his leaders to a meeting on the citadel. After giving thanks to the gods, he praised the army and ordered that all the booty be gathered together and fairly divided. (41f) 

This passage distinguishes the carnage of the city from a meeting place "on the citadel."  


 


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