Friday, August 12, 2022

A Theory about the Greek Camp in the Iliad

Perhaps it is a myth

Perhaps the idea of the camp is based on looking down from Hissarlik and seeing shapes and even standing stones in the plain. It comes from a time when the existence of the city in the plain had faded from memory, and the citadel on the hill was all that anyone knew for certain.  One explanation for the irregularities and blocks in the plain was that a city had existed in the plain, the other was that the Greeks had built walls and lived behind them for ten years while besieging the city. Eventually, the heroic untruth won out over the boring truth, and Trojan constructions were thought to be Greek after that. 

I have been wanting to write about an anomaly in the plain of Troy that is not among the 17 so far discussed on this blog.  This seems like a good place to bring it up.  There is an unnatural looking, 800 meter long, isolated hill NNW of the great city in the plain.  

This isolated mound lies NW of the citadel around 1.7 miles. The ancient geographer Strabo (1st century bce) tells us that the Greek camp was 20 stades from Troy, which is around 2.2 miles.  The far end of the anomaly lies 2.1 miles from the citadel.  

I don't know what this mound looked like in Strabo's time. But perhaps it seemed more like a construction than a mound at that time.  Before that, it was perhaps a ruin, perhaps a tower and supporting structure.  This would have challenged imaginations to explain it.  Once the idea that the Trojans had lived in the flood plain had been lost, the idea that the ruins in the plain were Greek was easier to accept.  With that, the utterly unlikely story about invaders getting off their boats and building walls and towers could gain currency.  

The alleged Greek camp is not the only theory that might have been invented to explain the irregularities in the plain.  The theory of the Fort of Heracles might also have originally gained life as an explanation for an irregularity in the plain, maybe the one we see above.  Below are two quite different translations of Iliad book XX, line 144f; first by Andrew Lang and Walter Leaf, then by A.T. Murray.

Thus spake the blue-haired god, and led the way to the mounded wall of heaven-sprung Herakles, that lofty wall built him by the Trojans and Pallas Athene, that he might escape the monster and be safe from him, what time he should make his onset from the beach to the plain. There sate them down Poseidon and the other gods, and clothed their shoulders with impenetrable cloud.
So saying, the dark-haired god led the way to the heaped-up wall of godlike Heracles, the high wall that the Trojans and Pallas Athene had builded for him, to the end that he might flee thither and escape from the monster of the deep, whenso the monster drave him from the seashore to the plain. There Poseidon and the other gods sate them down, and clothed their shoulders round about with a cloud that might not be rent; and they of the other part sat over against them on the brows of Callicolone, round about thee, O archer Phoebus, and Aries, sacker of cities.

The Fort of Hercules was supposed to have been built with divine assistance to protect Hercules when he fought a sea monster. Could the idea of such a fortress have been based on the mound in the pictures above? It would have been much closer to the shoreline in Homer's time.  

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