From Troy to Afghanistan 2

This week I revisited the Trojan War: I gave the John C. Rouman Classical Lecture at the University of New Hampshire. Although I’ve told that story before, it’s been a year or two, and I couldn’t help but feel how fresh it is. “The past is a foreign country,” as the saying goes – or is it? A long war, winnable only by unconventional means, speaks to our current condition. So does the world of Homer, a place where life is struggle and nothing good comes without pain. And somewhere, somehow, some shrewdie is building a wooden horse – and some shlmiel is going to buy it.

As for Troy, archaeology shows that it really existed, in what is now northwest Turkey. It was destroyed by a raging fire around 1200 B.C. Vast fortifications, arrowheads and spear points, an unburied skeleton, and the absence of most items of value: these all suggest that the city had been sacked. Was this the Trojan War? The ancient Greeks, who were the greatest skeptics who ever lived, believed that the Trojan War really took place. That is good enough for me.

Fault Lines 5

The sunny, summer scene deceives. In the foreground are swimmers and a beach. Look again and you will see a cemetery and a ruined fort. The place is Gallipoli, site of one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War.

Beyond the fort lies one of history’s most fought-over waterways, the Dardanelles or Hellespont. On the other shore lie the hills of Troy. Across these waters came some of antiquity’s greatest armies of invasion, both mythical and real: Agamemnon and the Greeks, Xerxes and the Persians, and Alexander and the Macedonians.

In the foreground of the photo lies Europe; in the distance, lies Asia. So the summer scene also marks the fault line between East and West.

On the eve of negotiations between Iran, the United States, and other countries, we might all tremble at the forces approaching history’s frontier.