Posts Tagged ‘Homer’

Why Not Call it Troy?

February 19, 2012 1 comment

My last post gave a basic feel for False Light, the novel I’m writing. Its story begins about twenty years after the Trojan War ends, when tales of that victory are still part of daily life. In that post, I also use the name ‘Wilios’ to mean Troy. A reader asked “Why?” That’s a good question. Below is what I hope you will think is a good answer.


Who conquered Troy? And what happened to the victors after that? We think we know. But do we? Achilles died in the Bronze Age, when Egyptians and Hittites were the two super-powers always clawing for lands in between. On the other hand, Homer lived in the Iron Age, when a faded, inward-looking Egypt was still there, somewhere to the south, but the bard had never heard of anybody called a Hittite. Hmmm… .

Homer’s story of Achilles’ rage amidst the Trojan War was a bard’s song passed from one poet’s memory to the next for twenty generations until it was finally written down. That memorized song somehow made it through the chaos of a centuries-long Dark Age about which we know almost nothing—except that four out of five people died at the start, writing was lost and each surviving village raided the next one for centuries. Today, only a handful of dug-up hints give us even a clue about how bad those times must have been. Or what collapsed the Bronze Age. Or how the Achaeans morphed into the amazing people who thought all those brand new thoughts and made up out of thin air most of what we call Western Civilization.

With False Light I want to bring that lost time and its people to life for you. I also hope to highlight the differences between how things truly were then and what we might assume. In addition, I want to show that human nature is a near-constant, barely changing over thousands of years. Love, hate, villainy, nobility, greed, sacrifice, courage, wisdom, foolishness, seekers of truth and corrupt demagogues have always been with us, and barbarians are always at the gate.

Most of all, I hope to tell a good story.

To help realize these hopes, I’ve chosen to use a lot of scholar-verified words and views from that ancient time. The intent is to make it easier for you as a reader to let go of the Troy you think you know—the Troy with shirtless Brad Pitts and Sean Beans conquering it (just before a ripped Gerard Butler holds off a million or so decadent Persians) or the Troy you fell asleep hearing about for weeks on end in High School. Or both.

So, how does calling Troy ‘Wilios’ fit in with that? Historical accuracy is a factor.

First, Homer called it Wilios. In the Iliad, the bard names the conquered city both ‘Troy’ (Τροη) and ‘Wilios’ (Ϝίλιος). That makes sense. Especially, if you’re a master bard with ten thousand lines of poetry to remember and you have to modify it on the fly each night to please the audience in front of you. Having two or more names for a thing—each with a different number of syllables—makes it much easier to tell a story as a poem, which was Homer’s thing. ”Thank you, thank you! I’ll be here all week. And don’t forget to tip your waitress. House Master, more wine; my throat is dry!.”

Second, Wilios is what its conquerors and defenders called the city. As I noted above, Homer lived as long after the Trojan War as we live after Drake’s victory over the Spanish Armada, or Shakespeare. Language changes over several centuries—wouldst thou not agree, mayhap, sire? And so it was for Homer. The Greek spoken by Troy’s conquerors used a ‘w’ sound, but Homer’s Greek did not. And Hittite records from the time of the Trojan War name the city and its lands Wilusa.

So, for False Light, ‘Troy’ had to be named Wilios, restoring the dropped ‘w’. And ‘the Greeks’ had to be called what they called themselves, Achaeans (also corroborated by those helpful Hittite scribes).

Make sense? I hope so. Even more, I hope these and my other author’s choices will help carry you away into this fascinating time with your mind wide open. You’re going to meet some intriguing people doing some interesting things.

Categories: Period, Settings Tags: , , ,

The Ancient Middle

February 12, 2012 4 comments

The events in my novel, False Light, take place long ago in Western Greece and the Central Mediterranean. Things were not the same back then.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

Our story begins twenty years after the fall of Troy, so long ago that most of the Mediterranean Sea was still a vast mystery. In that time, the exciting tales Homer spun out for us in the Iliad and the Odyssey were not myth but the stuff of daily life. There was no ‘Middle Sea’, as the Romans would call it more than a thousand years later, only a Great Sea that had no end, stretching on forever into the West.


The people of False Light  lived when Aegypta was the world’s invincible super-power and had been since time began. For our characters, the ‘middle’ of things was somewhere toward that impossibly huge river delta, perhaps at an imaginary spot between the islands we call Crete and Cyprus.

Back then, Italy was not Italy, but a barbarous wilderness in the Far West where belief in magic held sway while Gods were few and terrible, a place often populated by vicious cannibals eager to draw dark power from the spirits of their ritually sacrificed enemies. Even the first thought of a place called Rome was four hundred years in the future.

Primeval forests grew and thick topsoil lay where, today, three millennia of wood fires, shipbuilding and sheep have given much of the Mediterranean region its barren, rocky slopes and scrub pines.

Back then, Greeks called themselves Achaeans. Over the previous few hundred years, they’d taken the mainland of southern Greece and learned civilization’s value from a powerful people called the Islanders, who also—inadvertently—taught them the secrets of the sea. So, of course, the Achaeans took the Islanders’ empire as well. Then, they took more. Finally, the allied kingdoms of Achaea invaded and conquered The Island itself, Crete. Today, we call those defeated, ancient islanders Minoans.

The Achaeans were a strong, proud and vital people. They looked down on the old, effete empires that had come before and from whom they’d wrested glory and their own place in the sun. Now, Achaea is a full and rising member in the brotherhood of civilized powers. And Pylos in the western Peloponnese is first in honor among all Achaean kingdoms.

With the capture of Wilios—Homer’s Troy—and its countless treasures, Achaeans rule all of the Great Sea worth having. Nine Achaean kingdoms spread across southern Greece, the Aegean islands and Crete. Three more control much of what we know as the coast of western Turkey. And, the new Achaean Kingdom of Wilios has opened a great door to another vast sea with more riches waiting to be taken.


To the north and west of Achaea, twenty or so scattered Achaean Princedoms dot the wild, barbarian coasts and occupy some choice inland sites. One of those sites will become Olympia, where games to honor the Gods go on for a thousand years. By chance—or the will of the Gods—those games will begin right around the time that a tiny settlement on a single hill near a bend in an Italian river names its first king. This insignificant village calls itself Rome.

Greatest of the Achaean Princedoms is Thapsos on the east coast of modern Sicily. Beyond Thapsos is wilderness. There’s nothing there except more barbarians, those pillars that Hercules will tell of in a few hundred years and then the end of the world.

For Achaeans, salt water is both enemy and friend. There are no maps or charts and the open sea will kill even a hundred-oared galley as fast as a starving lion rips the throat from a newborn lamb. Sailors who want to live never stray much beyond sight of land. But, thousands of them follow those rocky coasts and make the dangerous crossings that allow Achaea to be a great empire rather than just a scattering of kingdoms.

In the Far West, is one other place of note, the mysterious, vile Spider Island of Sardu, a land of looming, black stone castles built in strange, circular patterns, where everyone’s hand is raised against his neighbor. For Sards, war and treachery have been the warp and weft of life since the Gods overthrew the Titans. For a century now, Sard Warfathers have supplied tens of thousands of men as mercenaries to civilized kingdoms around the Great Sea. The strongest of the black castle keeps also send vast quantities of copper and bronze on Pylosian ships to feed foundries and workshops in the civilized world. And they grow rich.

Thanks to its fertile land and secure position, Pylos became the first powerful Achaean kingdom. And, it’s still the richest because of those metals flowing in from Sardu. Pylos is first in honor among the Achaeans because its king and heroes led Achaea to finally defeat Wilios after 200 years and four great wars, though Achaea’s King of kings now rules in Mycenae to the east.

The vigorous Achaeans have made themselves great in the world, and their future is bright. Or so they think.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

The map sums up who is where as the story begins in 1,202 BC, twenty
years after the Trojan War and near the end of the Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean.

Meandering in Miletus

April 16, 2011 2 comments

More than three thousand years ago, it rivaled Troy.

Looking North from the Roman Theater to Where the Meander River Once Flowed

Back then, Miletus was the major Mycenaean port city in Asia Minor. The Mycenaeans, Homer’s Achaeans, had taken it from people he called Carians, and it was under constant threat from the powerful Hittites inland who called it Millawanda.

Thales of Miletus was famous as one of the Seven Sages. Later, the city was conquered by Alexander, Romans and Goths. Then, finally, the Turks. Today, the famous river Meander no longer flows past at the end of its winding course, and the coast now lies miles away. But a thoughtful stroll through the monumental Roman ruins almost brings these ancient memories back to life.

The 15th Century Mosque Built on the Ruins. Note the Huge Birds Nest on Top

I was in the Miletus a few years ago to research a setting for part of a book. Before the trip, I’d studied maps, ancient texts, scholarly works and Google Earth. Very dry stuff. So, it was good to be on the ground at last, scrambling over the stones in a place where so many ancient powers had once held sway. I did a lot of exploring there and was happy to discover all I had hoped to find.

By the way: Three cheers for the Turks! One of the many things I appreciate about the Turks’ approach to archaeological sites is the access an interested visitor can have. They preserve and protect the fragile things, but use common sense, treating stones as a bit more durable than glassware. In most of Europe on the other hand, the various ministries of antiquities hire thousands of make-work employees whose only purpose seems to be access prevention. And, as with many entrenched employees of the state, their attitude is mostly so pointless and surly that it can make you long to be back home, suffering abuse from a slightly less truculent DMV window clerk on Crack. Go Turks!

Ruins of the Baths

In Miletus, the 15,000 seat Roman theater used to face the sea and is still mostly intact. Though the structure dates from about 240 BC, some form of theater had likely been in that place for a thousand years then.

And the nearby Baths of Faustina (c. 40 AD) were the model from which Turkish Baths came into being. Before taking Miletus, nomads from the steppes had little use for bathing. And, the Turks conquered this area long before finally taking down the last of the Roman Empire in the East. So they had plenty of time to adopt the practice.

But these things are so new. Even if you don’t know all the details of what happened here, as you explore the ruins, you can know that few places on earth are so steeped in continuous history, including Troy.

And at Miletus, you can touch it! Go there when you can.

Rosy-Fingered Dawn

April 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Homer got it right.

In the Iliad, he speaks of the incomparable Aegean dawn:

“Now, when rosy-fingered Eos in robe of saffron hastens from the streams of Oceanus, bringing light to mortals and immortals… .”

Off the Island of Delos

Ever since reading the poet’s words as a boy, I had dreamt of seeing Eos perform her magic. So, when I first had the good fortune to sail the Aegean, I was up on deck well before dawn that first morning. The beauty I found there brought me back every morning.

On that trip, my companions were enthralled by the Dodecanese evenings. And those too are not to be missed. But I happily chose to ease up a bit on night life in favor of those special dawns. I was never disappointed except for one stormy morning as a grumpy and no doubt hung over Zeus hurled his lightning bolts all around us. Even now when I return, I still jump out of my bunk at zero dark thirty every day to gobble up another helping of dawny goodness.

Eos in the Sky Near Samos

Photos are sometimes tough to get while sailing along in the dim early light. Tough but worth it. Riding at anchor is better. Ashore, with the camera on a tripod is more so. But the privilege of just being there before sunrise is always best.

Ancient Greek myth had the dawn goddess, Eos, with her rosy fingers and golden arms opening the gates of heaven every day. This allowed her brother, Helios, to bring his chariot into the world, carrying light across the sky. As you might imagine, people back then took care to make sure Eos stayed happy.

We moderns know better of course. Isaac Newton figured out that it’s all just soulless math. But when you are out there, alone with the sea, gazing at that storied sky, an Aegean dawn doesn’t feel like mundane celestial mechanics. It feels like a miracle.

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