Thursday, April 15, 2021

Was Memnon a Hittite?

Recently a video appeared from geoffreyM2TW making a case for the Hittites as participants in the Trojan War.  The author has two hypotheses.  One is that the Ceteians are Hattians, that is, Hittites.  The other is that the Ethiopians are Hittites.  I had heard the first theory, but I had not heard the second one until I watched this video.  

geoffreyM2TW traces the idea that the Ceteians were Hittites back to G.L. Huxley's Acheans and Hittites, which appeared in 1960.  

The author offers his own reasoning on the second point.  He suggests that the word Ethiopia comes from Greek roots meaning sky or air + appearance or face (16:15).  When Memnon, their king, died in battle, the Ethiopians turned into birds and flew away, on at least one telling of the tale.  The usual derivation of Ethiopia, which is a Greek word, appeals to roots meaning burnt + appearance or face.  

I have often thought that Homer might not have known precisely where Memnon was from -- perhaps he knew that he was from an area near Egypt, and picked their neighbor to the south.  There is a Merneptah stele that talks about a war with Libya (and the sea people).  Perhaps Memnon was from Libya (Egypt's neighbor to the west) and Homer got it wrong.  Perhaps Memnon is a memory from the war Merneptah talked about.  

I looked into Homer's remarks on Memnon and discovered that Homer does not tell the story. Memnon is primarily a tale from the non-Homeric, Epic Cycle poems.  I believe Memnon is mentioned only once by Homer, and that is in the Odyssey.  

At around 15:40 of the above video, an excerpt from an ancient summary of the lost Epic Cycle poem known as the Aethiopis is discussed.  Memnon is said to have arrived in Troy from Susa (in Persia), and to have conquered all the peoples between the Choaspes river (in Afghanistan) and Troy.  According to another Roman era source, his soldiers came from Ethiopia and India.  

At 17:55 Herodotus is quoted on screen claiming that a relief in Anatolia that was thought to represent Memnon might actually represent a pharaoh instead.  The relief shown looks Hittite to me, but is in fact Arzawan. It is on the road to Sardis, and is thought to be the king of Mira.  

geoffreyM2TW draws the conclusion that Memnon was probably a Hittite at 20:05.  His inference is based partly on the identification of the relief with Memnon, partly on the assertion that the relief's style and dress are Hittite, partly on the derivation of the first syllable in Ethiopia from the Greek Aether, and partly on the fact that ancient accounts say that Memnon came from the east. Herodotus even calls Susa the city of Memnon.  

At that point the author adds one more observation.  Eurypylus and the Ceteians are mentioned by Homer alongside Memnon.  He says that might not be an accident.  He is right, it might not be.  Perhaps Memnon's army and the Ceteian army are one and the same.  

As for geoffreyM2TW's argument, grant him the derivation of Ethiopia and take into account that Memnon came from the east.  That is not enough to decide the issue. After all, if Memnon marched from the Nile to Troy, he would have come to Troy from east of there. And it doesn't really matter what the Greeks call other groups. The name and its roots seem irrelevant.  

The author's other premise is complex. Herodotus says that people in the area claim that the relief on the mountain depicts Memnon.  Ok.  Let's accept that they do.  

The next step is done by geoffreyM2TW.  He looks at the relief, says it is Hittite in style and dress, and wants to add it to his case for Memnon being Hittite.  He also accepts the people's belief that it depicts Memnon.  This part of his argument comes down to these two premises:

1 Local people told Herodotus the relief depicts Memnon

2 The relief is Hittite 

These two premises can do nothing for the thesis that Memnon is a Hittite unless we accept another premise, namely, that the relief does in fact depict Memnon.  

Locals might have told Herodotus the relief depicted Memnon because Herodotus was interested in Memnon, and they might have told others it depicted whoever they were interested in, such as Xerxes or Midas.  Thus, we need not believe that they believed what they told Herodotus.  

So, while it is interesting to think about the possibility that Memnon was a memory of the Hittites, the case laid out by geoffreyM2TW does not motivate us to believe it.  We need not accept that the relief is of Memnon. We need not accept that it is Hittite. 

One feature geoffreyM2TW did not mention was the size of Memnon's army, which is perhaps the largest Trojan contingent.  Surely the Hittites would have had the largest army?  

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