Parrot Press (2017) h/b 280pp £11.421 [Kindle] (ISBN 9780987155696)
‘Over 170 photographs, 38 old paintings and drawings, 31 historical maps, 27 annotated excerpts from satellite imagery’ says the blurb, and it certainly feels and looks like it. This is without doubt a magnificently illustrated volume, on which the Australian Parrot Press can be heartily congratulated; and at a price of $35 Australian dollars, a great bargain too, though the reviewer could find only a Kindle price for it in the UK.
B. studied classics in Canberra, was a diplomat and lawyer, and is clearly besotted with the Homeric poems and the connection, if any, between them and the town we know as Ilium in the area we know as Troy. The problem is, of course, determining what is meant by saying ‘This is the hill Callicolone from which the gods urged on the two sides’: to put it at its sharpest – in whose eyes was it that hill? (Forget whether it was also called Callicolone.)
The answer cannot be traced back to Homer, let alone a historical Trojan War, because the evidence which would allow us to do so does not exist. All that is available to us is to report where later generations either seemed to locate it, or actually did locate it.
As the first chapter makes clear, B. is well aware that this is the case. But he rather seems to get carried away by it all, because he constantly writes as if we know what Homer thought; indeed, he occasionally quotes ‘expert’ views on e.g. where the Greek camp lay. If there is no agreement, he often raises questions as if the answer could ever be found (‘Did shepherds gather these stones from the ruins of the Achaean wall?’). On the other hand, after examining in detail the evidence for thirteen so-called ‘tombs’ of the heroes, he sadly concludes what archaeology tells us, that all the tombs date from 600-300 BC and none contain any remains of Trojan or Mycenaean warriors. Which raises the question: where did Homer locate them? Or are they dramatic figments of his or other oral poets’ imaginations? And why should this not apply to the whole epic?
This beautiful book is best understood as a description of men’s efforts down the millennia to find in Homeric epic an accurate account of either a historical Trojan war or of Homer’s perception of it, or a mixture of the two. Seen in that light, it is an enjoyable read and an even greater delight for the eyes.