HOMER'S TROJAN WAR

Project in Search for a Filmmaker

William Harris, Prof. Em. Middlebury

The epic account of the Trojan Wars has been so heavily overlaid by the succeeding levels of the Greek historians, by the later ancient literary tradition, with modern quasi-historical novelistic reworking and since Schliemann's discoveries in the l880's by the actually materials which come from archaeological research, that the basic setting of the actual Greco-Iluwian conflicts has been largely obscured.

First the tradition of nationalistic Greek history became firmly cemented into post-Renaissance Classicism, and then the development of a conscious "Western Point of View" which accompanies the political and economic interest of the West became the standard Classical viewpoint. Until well into the 20th century we thought of ancient Greece as the start of a new vein of thought and culture, and it only became evident later from the results of ongoing research that Greece was heavily involved with and indebted to the older cultures of the Near East.

Reading the Iliad some of us always had a sneaking suspicions that the Trojans might have been the good guys. Hector as a family man with family virtues, doomed to be killed by the samurai-like Achilles as one of the rougher and at times brutal Greeks, seemed warm and human even in death. The final interview between Achilles and Hector's old father at the end of the Iliad does turn the tide of brutality back to sadness and even a touch of regret.

In my essay Homer the Hostage I suggest that the actual composer of the Iliad, traditionally named Homeros meaning "a hostage" in Greek, may have been an intercultural person who combined knowledge of the Greek war lords with an awareness of the culturally different nature of the port-town of Ilion, which traced its background from the ancient empires of Eastern Turkey in the second millennium BC. So little is known about "Homer" himself, even if he existed or was one of a group of poets, that we cannot speak with authority of fact in discussing him. But the inter-cultural quality of the Iliad does seem to require some explanation, and the notion of an epic poet who was versed in both cultures does make sense as a way of explaining the difference of portrayal of Greeks and Trojan. The Iliad is not a one-sided nationalistic epic, it many has nuances from the other side.

A new film "Trojan War"

I: First we have to determine what is now historically known as the difference between the cultures of Mycenean Greece at the end of the second Millennium BC, as it is compared with our archaeologically and linguistically derived knowledge of Ilion and the cities of Eastern Turkey at the same period.

Much can be garnered from both sides of the Aegean sea, from archaeological findings with their detailed display of art, artifacts, architecture and the materials of daily life which come from archaeological research. When we separate the Western from the Eastern fronts at the time of the War, we can begin to visualize the two cultures as separate and different and at times perhaps antithetical in their social orientation.

II: As we put together a roster of details from these two separate social groups, we can observe which ones can be exemplified in visual terms. It may be art-styles, architectural techniques, portrayal of persons from artwork, and we may even capture details from the outlines of social organization. If we get enough coherent detailing, we can start to put together two visual scenarios, one for Mainland Mycene and another for Port-Based Ilion.

III: We now know far more about Troy and the Luwian language which it derived from earlier Hittite based sources, and since language and culture are virtually inseparable, we can trace details back from Troy to the empires which came before it. Place names and even personal names (e.g. Alexander) can show eastern roots, and Near Eastern linguists will have much to add at this point in the assembly of relevant detail.

IV: Now as a divided viewpoint begins to assemble itself, we can rewrite the story of the Trojan War in a new vein. Rather than see it as a victory of the powerful West over an inferior East, we can reframe the War as an example of a constantly recurring theme, the intuitive need to match powers and establish the stronger as Ruler over the weaker.

At the present time anno 2003 we are faced with the same situation again, as we of the powerful West again send our armies to the Near East with intent to establish our military and political rule over an entirely different culture, with underlying economic benefits clearly but not actually stated. In the case of ancient Troy, it was for the trade route and shipping to the Euxine Sea, for us it is trade route for oil sources and shipping from the Persian Gulf. I state this here not a political protest, which is abundant and can take care of itself, but as a suggestion that the treatment of the Trojan War which I am outlining is not only interesting in itself, but also timely in historical overview. Such a parallelism can hardly be missed, it is so clear than no mention need be stated at all. The "Trojan Horse" as a wood mobile figure with men inside is curiously similar to the modern metal tank which is the primary tool of desert warfare.

V: Combining the visual materials which can be gleaned from two centuries of art and archaeological research along with word-described details which are embedded in the Greek text of the Iliad and the relevant portions of the Greek drama series, we have an essential framework of a visual scenario for the new Trojan War. There is abundant material of both sorts here, almost an embarrassment of riches as it were, and selection will be more important than including everything .

VI: This project does NOT want to be another cheap historical potboiler with Hercules wielding his muscle in block-buster fashion. This project must be founded on consultation with solid academic scholarship, it must satisfy the judgment of those who have studied the Classics in detail. Yet at the same time, the traditional view of established Classicism is part of what must be avoided or this project will end up as a conventional recap of old viewpoints and traditions.

VII: The storyline: This need a good writer who knows the authentic texts on which our Epic tradition is founded, but is able to explore with care the work of the new Near Eastern researchers of the last half century . These things must be firmly in hand before starting to write the script for the StoryLine. But then of course it will be the story which carries the project, or it will run the common danger of much American film making, which is rich in visuals and over-rich in camera techniques, but often impoverished to the point of starvation in terms of the script. The old rule of having the Writers come first, then add visuals and the cameras under the Director's careful eye, is absolutely critical.

The Role of the Poet as interlocutor

VIII:From the pioneering work of Milman Parry in the l930's on the oral poet-bards of Serbia, through the research of Harvard's Albert Lord and on to a whole generation of bard-conscious scholars, we have an alternate view to the poet Homer in terms of world bardic poetry. Exactly what kind of bardic poet Homer was is not clear, whether he sounded exactly like Parry's recordings of the traditional Serbian guslars is not established. But the Iliad was clearly a performed and chanted poem in earlier Greek times, as a written text did not appear until well along in the sixth century BC.

There are still problems about how to read (or better how to chant) the Iliad in an authentic manner. Several recorded versions have been done, but unartistically and poorly, although new work in Chanting the Iliad is currently in progress. The reading/chanting has to be done by a trained actor or singer, coached with a score designed by classical language experts.

Such a chanted reading can introduce the first scene of the Project, with a Bard Poet singing the record of the War in ancient Greek. Fading from his full sound to a translating interlocutor, we can introduce the story of the Iliad selecting sequences from the beginning of the Iliad, starting out with the Greek armies.

IX: Inserting both historical FlashBack (with Nestor for example) and FlashAway to Mycene, to Crete, to Troy, we can insert vignettes of both Greek-Aegean and also Trojan-Iluwian settings, which show the two side of the wartime presence. By keeping the POET as interlocutor in the story, we have an indexing device which can switch to any part of the Iliad, to any scene or any dominant personality in any geographical setting.

From this point on a general layout and Scenario must be put together for a general storyline, with the Director expanding a series of Greek text-passages into a scenario of visual scenes which house the progress of the story. By dividing the Project into four segments, it can be adapted to a film for TV use as a practical necessity, while at the same time retaining even with breaks, a sense of the artistic unity of the Project.

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SCENARIO IN OUTLINE

PART I: Homer the Bard.

: Book I: The Priest's Curse and Disease brought upon the Greek army. Introduction to the Greek leaders, Agamemnon and Menelaos as rough and crude leaders of a vast army from many states, gold Death Mask. Achilles resists authority, the lone samurai figure of honor.

Book II (Catalog of Ships.). As the BARD chants in ritual fashion the names of places from which ships came and their count, the eye of the camera moves from place to place over the Greek mainland and Aegean islands, locating places mentioned. This gives a good series of view of Greek, the harsh and rocky ruins of Mycenae, the fortress Tiryns, a careful display of sites as archaeological places BUT continually under the rubric of the chanted lines of Iliad II in the voice of the Bard. This works selectively out of the text of Iliad II 484-785 for the Greek armies.

For the Trojan armies and coverage of sites on Asia we continue witho Book II 787-877, which is much shorter list, but there will be names here which can connect with Trojan side sites. Bateia may be used for Troy=Hissarlik, other sites need connections. But selection of images should be different in style, we are no longer in Western Greece, but in the nearer Near East.

PART II: Defeat for the Coalition

Achilles refuses service because of his girl lost to Agamemnon, alone with boyfriend Patroclus stays at his tent. The Greeks suffer defeat after defeat, materials selected passim from Books I-VIII.

Book IX: Achilles refuses to join the Greeks and fight, the "Coalition" falls apart as he said he will sail home on the next day. (Patroclus as his aide in solitary tent----Achilles enraged returns to kill Hector much later in the story at Book XVI.-- hold for Part III)

This is a section in which to show fighting gear, swords, helmets, chariots, heroic images from later Greek art even if not contemporary. Walls of fortresses, views of citadels with men moving in foreground. Enter in here the Dolon episode "A Night Foray" from Book X as an example of fast moving night attack with horses etc.

PART III: The Trojan Side of the War

Book III: The Scene from the Wall of Troy, as Helen and Priam view the Greek chiefs as seen from the walls of Troy. The duel of a hostile Menelaos with the light-headed Trojan Paris who is no match for him. This is also a good place for scenes of the excavations at Troy and surrounding countryside, also sea and Bosporos as gateway to the Euxine.

Hector says farewell to his wife and child Book VI 370-529 in a detailed and touching scene of human values. Gear, clothing and helmet are all indicated in this passage.

PART IV: Achilles Hector

His boy Patroclus is shamed by the army and puts on Achilles' armor to sail into battle, but is quickly dispatched by Prince Hector in Book XVI. Now retribution comes back on Achilles who grieves and recognizes his fault in withdrawing, as he prepared to fight

Book XXII: Hephaistos forges new Armor for Achilles in a forge-and-gire scene, Achiilles goes out to find Hector and savagely murder him Hector's bopdy is dragged from a horse chariot three times around the walls of Troy, reenact this with a dummy dragged around a standing archaeological wall, horror scene vis a vis ancient remains.

Contrastively Book XXIII switches from mangled Hector to Achilles youthful Patroclus who is given full funeral with proper rituals. Not only is the visual change a good contrast , but it offers a scene it items from ancient funerary rites and objects, altars, jars, images of gods.

But in Book XXIV we find Achilles has at last lost his angered thoughts. Priam comes to Achilles' tent to ask for the body of his son returned and not given as planned to the dogs to eat. A quiet scene between Achilles and Prim ensues, with ritual breaking of bread and wine between the two as sign of peace, and return of the body in sadness.

The Bard again, with chant and music

And so we turn to the poet chanting as close view, bringing together the violent mind (menis) of Achilles at the start, with the tragic and solemn interview of the killer and the victim's father at the end, and a note that all of this action terminating a ten years war between two opposed cultures, has taken place in the compass of just Four Days.

William Harris, Prof. Em Middlebury
harris@middlebury.edu