Hidden histories: 'The Odyssey' and 'The Iliad' are giving up new secrets about the ancient world By Jonathan Gottschall:
In the last 50 years, most scholars have sided with the great classicist Moses Finley, who argued that the epics were "a collection of fictions from beginning to end" and that - for all their majesty and drama - they were "no guide at all" to the civilization that may have fought the Trojan War.
But thanks to evidence from a range of disciplines, we are in the middle of a massive reappraisal of these foundational works of Western literature. Recent advances in archeology and linguistics offer the strongest support yet that the Trojan War did take place, with evidence coming from the large excavation at the likely site of Troy, as well as new analysis of cuneiform tablets from the dominant empire of the region.
In a project that has now been underway for 20 years, the German archeologist Manfred Korfmann and hundreds of collaborators have discovered a large lower city that surrounded the citadel. Using new tools, such as computer modeling and imaging technology that allows them to "see" into the earth before digging, Korfmann and his colleagues determined that this city's borders were 10 to 15 times larger than previously thought, and that it supported a population of 5,000 to 10,000 - a big city for its time and place, with impressive defenses and an underground water system for surviving sieges. And, critically, the city bore signs of being pillaged and burned around 1200 BC, precisely the time when the Trojan War would have been
In his influential book, "Troy and Homer," German classicist Joachim Latacz argues that the identification of Hisarlik as the site of Homer's Troy is all but proven. Latacz's case is based not only on archeology, but also on fascinating reassessments of cuneiform tablets from the Hittite imperial archives. The tablets, which are dated to the period when the Late Bronze Age city at Hisarlik was destroyed, tell a story of a western people harassing a Hittite client state on the coast of Asia Minor. The Hittite name for the invading foreigners
is very close to Homer's name for his Greeks - Achaians - and the Hittite names for their harassed ally are very close to "Troy" and "Ilios," Homer's names for the city.
"At the very core of the tale," Latacz argues, "Homer's 'Iliad' has
shed the mantle of fiction commonly attributed to it."