Friday, 18 July 2014

Rediscovering Troy and the Letter "W"

Walls of Hissarlik (Troy?) today
I've just spent 2 surreal days in Hissarlik, north-west Turkey, generally believed to be ancient Troy. I was telling a great cameraman where the Wooden Horse, IF historical, MIGHT CONCEIVABLY have been dragged inside, in ABOUT the 13th century BCE.

Star of forthcoming TV Show
Everything in Trojan War Studies depends on the sound represented in our alphabet by the letter "w". Bronze Age Ilium/Ilion is better called Wilion. (W)ilion/Troy was known to its eastern neighbours, the Hittites, as WILUSA. But between 1300 and Homer the Greeks forgot the sound "w". The lost sound is known as digamma and represented by the symbol ϝ.

Cafe at Troy with Hittite Name
When "w" went missing, the word for wine, woinos, started to be pronouned oinos. The word for king, wanax, started to be pronounced anax instead. Etc. We must assume the existence of this sound to make sense of the metre of Homer's epic Iliad (or Wiliad). This means that the poem must include verses composed much earlier than Homer (operating in the 8th century BCE) and possibly composed as early as the 13th century BCE. On this rests almost the entire the argument that the Iliad, or parts of it, put us in direct contact with the reality of Bronze Age Troy.

But my great discovery this week is that the sound "w" has resurfaced in western Turkey after three millennia! The Prime Minister (and aspiring President) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has his name pronounced ErdoWAN. He has another strong connection with the Bronze Age,and that is in his attitudes to women. He has recently said that all Turkish women should be producing three children, and that a woman without a headscarf is equivalent to "a house without curtains"

The lost letter of the Greeks--digamma "w"
with producer SARAH DEAN & camera/sound TOM FOWLEY
Controlling my desire to imagine ErdoWAN with Venetian blinds crashing shut across his face, and squashing his nostrils, I took to adding "w" onto the beginning of all place-names in Turkey. Wistanbul etc. ErdoWAN lives in--ahem--Ankara.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Seattle Cassandra Foresees PITCHFORKS

"Wheat-crowned Demeter"

In an unusual ancient Greek poem, a peasant farmer called Lysixenos honours ‘Wheat-Crowned Demeter’, goddess of all things arable, by dedicating in her temple the tools of his trade: his sickle, his plough-share, which 'loves the Earth', and his ‘three-pronged wooden pitchforks’ (Greek Anthology 6.104). Lysixenos has become disabled through a life of hard labour, and yet remains grateful to the goddess. But at some point in the 16th century, the pitchfork began to symbolise something less humble: the wrath of the revolutionary peasant.

Cassandra of Seattle Super-Rich
Seattle Venture Capitalist Nick Hanauer, who claims prophetic status in the form of an unusual ‘intuition about what will happen in the future’ has just announced, ‘I SEE PITCHFORKS’. Not merely pitchforks, but ‘revolutionaries and crazies, the ones with the pitchforks’, who will endanger the fortunes and the very lives of the American super-rich.

The ‘pitchfork’ admonition comes in an article (in Politico magazine) addressed to ‘My Fellow Zillionaires’. Not being sure what a zillionaire is, I read on.  A zillionaire is a ‘.01%er’, anyone like Hanauer ‘with a life that the other 99.99 percent of Americans can’t even imagine. Multiple homes, my own plane, etc., etc.’

Primed to loathe Hanauer, I found myself intrigued.  Maybe he is so clear-sighted because he is a Philosophy graduate (from Washington University, Seattle--critics of the economic utility of Humanities please take note). I have not yet discovered whether Hanauer studied much Plato and Aristotle, whose works on political science would certainly have warned him about the dangers of extreme inequality.

Revolting Peasants with pitchforks, mattocks etc
His article is a non-apologetic capitalist plutocrat’s plea for his class to do something quickly about the rich/poor divide: ‘inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day… Unless our policies change dramatically..we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution. And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.’

Julio González 'Peasant with large pitchfork'
I am not convinced Hanauer is correct. People can be downtrodden for centuries before they realise there is any alternative, as the pious but disabled Lysixenos proves. It can take more centuries before they do anything about it. Cynically, I also wonder whether Hanauer’s political gestures are not just more shrewd money-making ventures: as if all his investments in Amazon etc. were not lucrative enough, his 2007 The True Patriot, co-authored with Eric Liu, is a bestseller. 

Grant Wood, 'American Gothic'
But my real problem is with his anachronistic ‘pitchfork’ image. If and when the poor of the USA do decide that Enough is Enough, they will struggle to find any pitchforks, which have long been rendered obsolete by mechanical harvesting and baling machines. The US poor now work in service industries rather than in producing anything useful like cereal products. Firearms, makeshift gasoline bombs and boiling oil, from deep-fat fryers in fast-food outlets, seem much more likely to me.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Black Sea Archaeologists versus Putin and Theresa May

Performers on Greek pot found in Ukraine

Lesson of the week: NEVER GIVE UP. I have finally achieved something I have wanted to do for thirty years, since I first realised that many ancient Greeks lived not round the Mediterranean but behind the (in 1984) Iron Curtain. With help from fantastic colleagues[i] I managed to get archaeologists from Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Georgia and Poland to describe to a lecture theatre at King’s College, London, full of westerners, the thrilling evidence that Black Sea Greeks were just as wine-, song- and theatre-mad as Greeks in the better-researched Med.

Diver Putin 'finds' planted Greek vases
I can hardly believe it has happened. The Cold War made it almost impossible, until 1989, even to communicate with the experts. The project has been rejected by almost every research funding body in existence (Loeb, British Academy etc.). Then Mr Putin, himself a keen investigator of Greek antiquities actually in the Black Sea, ‘annexed’ the place—Crimea—containing some of the most crucial sites.

The last of a thousand obstacles
Next, the incompetence of Theresa May and her Home Office minions meant that two speakers’ visas did not come through until less than 48 hours before the conference was due to open, and then only because of the tenacity of our Events Organiser (the best in the world), Laura Douglas. She should be put in charge of the UK Borders Agency immediately. Even after kick-off, at one tense moment it looked as though the atmosphere might be ruined, when a Pole challenged a Russian to compare historical and contemporary Imperialism.

Fresco from Sevastopol
But everything was perfect. We saw photos of theatre architecture emerging from the soil after centuries of invisibility. We asked why the super-rich of the Taman peninsula liked vases depicting comic actors placed in their tombs. We gasped at staggering Dionysiac scenes on Athenian vases found in Ukraine, Georgian mosaics and at clay marionettes from Kerch.  Mr Staniewski’s dazzling film of Iphigenia in Tauris took us into the heart of human darkness; the most beautiful room in King’s, the chapel, resounded with Ash Mukherjee’s sensational Indian dance interpretation of Medea, and Tony Harrison’s searing live recital of his profound Pontic poetry.

Greek Tragedy for Ukrainian children
In two weeks I am getting a free luxury cruise by lecturing. We were meant to circumnavigate the Black Sea, but Vlad the Annexer has put a stop to that. After Turkey, Georgia and Bulgaria we will now be sailing south-west to the Aegean, Macedonia and Lemnos. Losing the northern Black Sea sites meant that many of those booked on the cruise because they were interested in the Crimean War of the 1850s have pulled out. There are places available at bargain-basement prices. Just in case you’re free and sufficiently solvent, here’s the link: it would be fun to see any humorous Philhellene aboard!

[i] Professor David Braund and Dr Rosie Wyles