After Homer's "Iliad," a Walk

Trip Start Feb 08, 2008
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Trip End Sep 11, 2009


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Flag of Turkey  , Çanakkale Province,
Wednesday, November 26, 2008

On the 25th of November 2008 on the Trojan Plain, I concluded my reading of Homer's Iliad beneath the mound of Hisarlik, the many cities of Troy. It was a beautiful day. Warm even in the sunlight. Nevertheless, there was a pretty constant breeze to wind, and experience told me to keep covered. I read all day, finally finishing my third reading of that story. The second had been in late March or early April of 1970. This time I paid attention to the story.


I had been able to construct a fairly comfortable reading "chair" from debris found around, left by field workers.             

These were styrofoam seedling crates and some woven plastic bags. This was comfortable enough. But, even in the warmish sunlight, I had to keep covered from the ceaseless light wind or breeze. If it had rained the previous night it made for a mucky walk across the recently plowed field.

I read one of the more recent translations of Homer's Iliad, this one by Robert Flagles. I got a little concerned about his choice of words, especially for metals. It was the war, such as it was, was during the Bronze Age. I have read since that there was some iron. But steel? Is that an appropriate alloy to insert in Homer's text?

 Concurrently with reading of the Iliad,in the evenings I was reading Finding the Walls of Troy: Frank Calvert and Heinrich Schliemann at Hisarlik, by Susan Heuck Allen. This is a book I was fortunate to come across in the Pandora Bookstore in Istanbul.

Most people believe--and certainly I came of age believing--that Heinrich Schliemann was the the founder of the archaeological site now credited with being the Troy of Homer's Iliad. And so Schliemann would have had eternity believe. Now we're into what I think is called "revisionist" history. Or, if that is really meant as the opposite, then perhaps books such as Allen's are correctionist history. Frank Calvert, a British archaeologist, and also, by the way, served as the United States consular agent, was the main guy. Now, in my enthusiasm after finishing the book, it is hard to restrain from quoting almost the entirety of the book jacket:

The relentlessly self-promoting Heinrich Schliemann took entire credit for discovering Homer's Troy. For over one hundred years that credit has been accorded to him, and generations have thrilled to the tale of his ambitions and achievements. But Schliemann gained this status as an archaeological hero partly by deliberately eclipsing the man who had guided him . . . Frank Calvert had lived in the Troad and excavating there for fifteen years before Schliemann arrived, learned the local topography and stratigraphy. He was the first archaelogist to test the hypothesis that the mound at Hisarlik would be a good place to look for the Troy of Hector and Helen. To have unrestricted access to the site, he purchased part of the mound and conducted the first excavations there. Running out of funds, he interested Schliemann in the site and aided him in his excavations. The thankless Schliemann stole Calvert's ideas, exploited his knowledge and advice, and finally, by successfully foisting upon an impressionable and unsuspecting world his claim to be the man who first unearthed the walls of Troy, stole Clavert's glory and subjeted Calvert, his benefactor, to [a] century of oblivion. . . .

After several days of reading sitting in the field, the day after finishing the Iliad dawned and looked to be a beautiful one. And so it turned out. A very light breeze came in from the southwest. November 26 and I spent the whole day with just two tee shirts on! I decided to take a long walk and investigate the surroundings. There were three mounds visible from Troy, and I decided to make the northern-most my objective. Its name is Kesik Tepe.

The paved road went to the next village, Kalafat, just 2km away, then, outside the village dropped the pavement. A line of trees and reeds marked the fabled Scamander, "the great deap swirling river" (Flagles). Oh, Homer, you do like to make everything a superlative. Yea, yea, poetic license.

Just beyond the river I came by this lone, partially completed fluted column lying beside the road. The latest carving that had been done on it was by the blades of a tractor's plow. A little way along I breakfasted on a couple of field fresh tomatoes found as yet unharvested.

Not too long after the road came up to the top of a mound that supported an irrigation canal. It branched to the right and left. I walked to the right until it curved away from the distant mound of my destination. Then it was a matter of walking across fields, some recently plowed, some flattened and fallow.

I came to another smaller water course pretty much hidden by thick reeds, no bridge in sight. I again went to my right, and walked along it for about a half mile finding no bridge. Fortunately, just as I was second-guessing myself, a farmer finished one of his fields and drove my way in his tractor. I hailed him and asked in my limited Turkish, "Köprü nerede?" Bridge where at? (Actually, that's a complete sentence in Turkish since they don't employ a "to be" verb). It wasn't a real efficient exchange, as he wanted to know more from me than I could understand (like, where did I want to go? ) Or answer (Well, just get over the water and on to that hill we can't see). But eventually he kindly indicated that my best bet was to go back the other way. And, thanking him, off I went.

(After that friendly exchange I conjured in my imagination an encounter in America, as a farmer finds a stranger walking in his fields. The farmer, a burly guy, in a plaid shirt and open vest, his gut amply hanging out over his belt (but no ass to be seen), his bristly large head, atop folds of a very red neck, topped by a mesh baseball cap with the padded front emblazoned with a farm implement or feedlot logo: "Hey you! Who the hell are you, and what the hell are you doin' on my land!?"
  Of course, in America he might have reason for such an approach.)

Sure enough, there was a bridge about a quarter of a mile in the other direction from where I had turned. From over the bridge it was just a matter of dead reconning across the fields, skirting the freshly plowed ones, toward the Kesik mound.
 
Ok, the mound. It was on the coast, as I had somewhat thought in advance. I don't know if it was artificial or not. But overgrown and eroded dips at the top indicated archaeological or robber probes. From there one could see the entrance to the Dardanelles, and at that moment one ship approaching.

I headed off along the shore bluff to the south. Down below the mound I came to a deep, pretty surely man-made gorge. I'm terrible at guessing, but say it was 60 feet at its deepest. My guess is that it was of ancient origin as it pointed directly from the coast to the mound of Troy. It was easy to get down one side and up the other. (Later it was told to me to be a latter-day drainage canal. But I'm still wondering.)

At the top of the second side there was a small grove of olive trees. I was about four and a half hours into my walk (It was around 1:30, I think), and I had had only a tomato to eat yet that day.  In my usual, forgetful haste to get going I had not eaten before I set out, and had forgotten my fruit juice. The tomato was all I had eaten. (Or, maybe I had breakfasted on my usual peanuts and fruit juice. I forget). But I finally did pause for another tomato and some nuts.

It was then that I reconsidered my plan to continue along the coast. I thought I'd better just head straight back to "my" village of Tevfikiye, and with luck I'd get back in time to have a good meal at the Hisarlik Hotel, just outside the entrance to the Troy World Heritage site, before they closed at 5.

I had a quicker walk on the return as now with bearings I could set a more direct line, especially for the two bridges I needed.

At one point I was walking down across a flat fallow field, headed to round the corner of a field under plow. There was a fellow standing at that corner. Imagine his seeing strange man just come walking down to him out of nowhere across an open field. I approached and said hello to him in Turkish, "Merhaba." He said, very kindly, exposing a mouth of yellowed and decayed teeth, "Nereye, Truva?" Where to [Where are you going], Troy?  I said, yes,--Evet. He pointed to the bridge. And that was it. I walked on with a grin at his unquestioning aplomb.

A short way after recrossing the Scamander I hailed a ride from a passing farmer heading home from plowing his fields. Any little tractor ride helps. It was only about a mile and a half (bumpy) ride into the village next to Tevfikiye; and then another 2km on foot to the Hisarlik Hotel restaurant, where I had a very fine meal. And lots to drink.

I didn't have enough Turkish lira to cover the cost of the meal. I sought to leave some euros as a deposit. But that was waved off. "We know you now. Pay the rest tomorrow."

I went to my place, took a shower, and was in bed before 5:30pm. I thought I'd get up after a nap. But I didn't.
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