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Posts Tagged ‘Homer

“Troy has perished, the great city. Only the red flame lives there now.”*…

Detail from a 4th-century B.C. Persian sarcophagus, thought to depict a Greek-Anatolian battle scene, found in a tomb near Troy

It wasn’t just a legend. As Joshua Hammer explains, archaeologists are getting to the bottom of the city celebrated by Homer nearly three millennia ago…

It has been nearly 3,000 years since Homer wrote the Iliad, one of the foundational works of Western literature. The epic poem describes, in gory and lyrical detail, 52 days near the end of the ten-year siege of Troy, the “well-fortified” city ruled by the kindly King Priam. According to the legend, Priam’s son Paris (sometimes known in Turkey as Alexandros) ignited the war by seducing the “lovely haired Helen,” wife of the Spartan king Menelaus, and spiriting her to the Citadel at Troy. In response, Menelaus’ brother Agamemnon, the “king of kings” who ruled from Mycenae on the Greek mainland, led a fleet of warships across the Aegean to recapture Helen and take revenge against the city. 

The question of which of these people and events, if any, are historical has captivated scholars for centuries, and though there’s little conclusive evidence that any scene happened as Homer described it, he invested his characters with such vitality and complexity that it can be hard to remember that much of the story is likely made up. His epic, based on centuries of oral tradition, plays out among the ships in the harbor, inside the walls of Troy, and on the plain in between… It was there, according to the legend, that the Greeks, led by “god-like” Achilles, confronted Priam’s son Hector and his Trojan force. With its stirring descriptions of martial pageantry, its dramatic accounts of close combat, its heroic but flawed characters, its sacrifices, betrayals, grieving lovers and parents, and its powerful descriptions of loss and human suffering, the Iliad shaped Western literature through millennia. “Poets must sing the story over and over again, passing it from generation to generation, lest in losing Troy we lose a part of ourselves,” the British actor and scholar Stephen Fry wrote in his recent best seller Troy.

Until about 150 years ago, it was widely believed that Troy was a fiction, a mythical city like Atlantis or El Dorado. And yet throughout antiquity there was a tradition linking Hisarlik to Troy. The classical Greeks, who lived hundreds of years after the events described by Homer would have taken place, believed that Hisarlik had been the site of the Homeric city of Troias, and they built a Greek settlement with a lavish temple, theater and city council building there. Writing in the first century A.D., Plutarch described a visit by Alexander the Great in 334 B.C. to celebrate the Mycenaean conquest nearly a millennium earlier—and to grieve at the supposed tomb of Achilles. The Romans, for their part, believed that they descended from the Trojan hero Aeneas, who fled to Italy after Troy’s destruction, as recounted by Virgil in the Aeneid; Julius Caesar was said to have visited Hisarlik in 48 B.C. to pay homage to Aeneas, Hector and other Trojan heroes. The emperor Constantine even considered making Hisarlik the new capital of his empire before choosing Byzantium, later to become Constantinople, then Istanbul. In the fifth century, a series of earthquakes led to the city’s abandonment, and its links to Homeric Troy were largely forgotten. Still, as late as the 15th century, a Castilian traveler and writer named Pedro Tafur visited a collection of ruins—apparently Hisarlik—and described it as “that place which they say was Troy.”

In the modern era, the first person to suggest Hisarlik as the site of Troy was the Scottish polymath Charles Maclaren, a one-time editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. But it would be nearly half a century before an amateur archaeologist named Frank Calvert began to explore the mound overlooking the Dardanelles that the Turks called the “Place of Fortresses.” A wealth of detail in the Iliad suggested to him that Hisarlik and Troy were one and the same. Homer had placed the city on a hill situated between two rivers, the Scamander and the Simoeis, which some modern scholars suggest correspond to the rivers now known as the Karamenderes and the Dumrek Su. The Iliad also contains dozens of references to mile-high Mount Ida, 20 miles south of Hisarlik, from which Zeus “the cloud-gatherer” and his “ox-eyed queen” Hera observed the fighting and intervened on behalf of favored warriors. And there is a tantalizing description of “two well-heads of lovely water,” one hot and one cold, around which Achilles pursued Hector toward the end of the Iliad. (In the late 1990s, archaeologists discovered an underground reservoir that some believe fed the wells described by Homer.) Calvert uncovered temples and other ruins from Hellenistic and Roman towns, but he ran out of money to dig further. When he met a self-taught German archaeologist named Heinrich Schliemann, who was in Turkey conducting his own search for Troy, he encouraged Schliemann to pick up where he left off… 

Follow the story of discovery at Hisarlik from there all the way to today: “In Search of Troy,” from @Joshuaiveshamme @SmithsonianMag.

* Homer, The Illiad

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As we ponder the past, we might recall that it was on this date in 861 that the Viking burned Paris to the ground (for the third time since the Siege of Paris, on this same date in 845).   The invaders also torched the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which they pillaged again in 869.  In 870, King Charles the Bald ordered the construction of two bridges, the Grand Pont and the Petit Pont, to block the passage of the Vikings up the Seine.  In 885, Gozlin, the Bishop of Paris, repaired the city wall and reinforced the bridges, enabling the city to resist an attack by the Vikings, who tried again twice (in 887 and 888), but were repelled each time.

Paris then enjoyed 90 years of (relative) peace, until 978, when the city was laid siege by The Holy Roman Emperor Otto II.

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“I didn’t lie! I just created fiction with my mouth!”*…

 

Anybody who writes, directs, or consumes any form of entertainment owes a debt of gratitude to Homer. Had the ancient poet not written two of the best—and earliest—epic dramas in Western history, the Iliad and the Odyssey, who knows where our culture would be or what works of art we would cherish.

Would Shakespeare have become the genius bard? Would Cervantes, Faulkner, and Joyce have created the diverse masterpieces that they did, all with Homeric ancestry? Would we have cinematic gems like O Brother, Where Art Thou?

It’s impossible to know because our boy Homer (or whoever he was—more on that later) pulled through and set the foundation for modern day drama and tragedy. But what would have happened if he had written the first ever comedy?

That question is a siren song for scholars, though the work of comedy often attributed to the Greek poet was lost millennia ago. But while the text of Margites may have disappeared, we’re not completely in the dark about the form Homer’s comedic style may have taken…

Before The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer’s very first work—if Homer actually existed—is named Margites, after its main character who was nothing short of a bumbling idiot: “Before The Iliad, Did Homer Write The World’s First Comedy?

* Homer

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As we honor humor, we might recall that it was on this date in 1687, during the Great Turkish War (1683-1699), that Venetian bombardment ignited an Ottoman gunpowder magazine stored in the Parthenon and nearly destroyed the temple to Athena that is the crown jewel of the Acropolis.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 26, 2017 at 1:01 am

Being shy about retiring…

click here for access to larger version

As Flowing Data reports,

According to OECD estimates for life expectancy and retirement ages [2009 data in both cases], in countries like Mexico it is common for men to work up to the last year of their lives. On the other hand, women in Austria spend an average of 26 years in retirement.

In the United States the average years in retirement is 10 years for men and 16 years for women (mostly because men typically die earlier)—among the least in the world.

As we find work that we can enjoy, we might recall that it was on this date in 1178 BC that Odysseus returned to Ithaca at the end of his long trip home from the Trojan War.  This was the date of a solar eclipse, which scholars have surmised corresponds to Homer’s description of the day–“the Sun has been obliterated from the sky, and an unlucky darkness invades the world”; the particular circumstances of this eclipse were unique between 1250 and 1115 BC, the 135-year spread around the putative date for the fall of Troy.

Odysseus, of course, did not return to the comforts of retirement.  After offing the suitors who had flocked to his wife, Penelope, Odysseus retook his throne.

Head of Odysseus from a Greek 2nd century BC marble group representing Odysseus blinding Polyphemus, found at the villa of Tiberius at Sperlonga

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Uh-oh…

The shortwave radio station UVB-76 is known to DXers (serious shortwave listeners) as “The Buzzer” because it has been broadcasting a short, monotonous buzz tone (hear it here), repeating at a rate of approximately 25 tones per minute, 24 hours per day, since 1982…  that is, until this past weekend, when it stopped.

Satellite photo of the UVB-76 transmitter near Povarovo, Russia

Many believe that UVB-76 was being used to transmit encoded messages to spies, as is generally assumed for the many numbers stations that populate shortwave frequencies…. though no nation’s government will confirm or deny the existence of the stations or their purpose.  Or the constant transmission of its characteristic sound may have been signaling the availability or readiness of some kind of installation– a kind of “dead man’s switch” of a military or other installation– possibly for the infamous Dead Hand system.

But a more benign explanation is that the constant buzz was a High-Frequency Doppler used for ionosphere research of the sort described in the Russian Journal of Earth Sciences, in which radio waves are reflected from ionosphere inhomogeneities.  (This method involves comparing a continuous radio transmission which is reflected by the ionosphere with a stable basic generator.)  As it happens, the continuously-transmitted carrier frequency currently used for this research is the same as that of the UVB-76 (4.625 MHz).

Rest in peace (and quiet).

TotH to Above Top Secret.

As we keep our ears to the ground, we might note that this date, June 9, was a big one for the fifth and final Roman emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Nero:  On this date in 53 CE, he married his step-sister, Claudia Octavia.  Then on their anniversary in 62 CE, he had her executed. And on this date in 68 CE,  Nero committed suicide, after quoting Homer’s Iliad. (On hearing the approach of horsemen who’d been dispatched by the Senate, which had declared Nero a public enemy, the deposed Emperor declared “Hark, now strikes on my ear the trampling of swift-footed coursers!”)

Nero

It takes one to know one…

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With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare….
– George Bernard Shaw

Am reading more of Oscar Wilde. What a tiresome, affected sod.
– Noel Coward

A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.
– William Faulkner, on Mark Twain

The gifted can be so…  ungenerous to each other:  from Examiner.com, “The 50 best author vs. author put-downs of all time.”

As we consider that this may in any case be better than log-rolling, we might recall that it was on this date in 1982 that a member of the Hollywood nobility– two-time Oscar-winning actress, model, and anti-war activist Jane Fonda– released her first exercise tape.

Building on the success of her workout book, published the prior year, the tape helped Fonda popularize workouts for women, workouts in groups, workout videos, and indeed aerobics in general (a family of trends on which Richard Simmons, Judi “Jazzercise” Missett and many others have ridden).  Fonda invested the proceeds of what became a fitness empire into the Campaign for Economic Democracy, an advocacy group founded by her then-husband Tom Hayden (of Chicago Eight renown).   Fonda and Hayden divorced in 1989, and Fonda retired from the spotlight (though, of course, she has returned to the movie screen in the last few years).

The tape that started it all

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