To promote the release of his self-published book The Discovery of Troy and Its Lost History, historical researcher Bernard Jones published an article in Ancient Origins highlighting the book’s central claim, that the ancient city of Troy (Ilium) was not located in Asia Minor as has been assumed since ancient times but instead was located in the Celtic world. His evidence is Homer’s Iliad, whose poetic descriptions he takes as literal depictions of a voyage to the New World.
In the Iliad, a coalition of Bronze Age Mycenaean chieftains, the Achaeans, travel from Greece to Troy in order to demand the return of Helen, the wife of Menelaus, whom the Trojan prince Paris had kidnapped. Jones believes that Homer’s use of the adjective “salty” and description of the see as “wine-dark” and stormy means that it better describes the Atlantic Ocean than the Aegean Sea. This is a matter of opinion, of course; the Mediterranean, of which the Aegean is an arm, is salt-water, and how tumultuous you find the open water is probably more a function of how big your boat is and how far you travel by sail than it is an objective measurement of wave height. Jones claims that the “wine-dark” sea refers to the gray color of the Atlantic, but the issue of “wine-dark” water has been debated in scholarly circles for ages now, and I’ve never heard it discussed as gray. Instead, one common theory is that the Greeks had no word for blue and therefore did not distinguish between blue waters and purple wine. I don’t really believe that since the Greeks used blue in their wall paintings, but it shows you that Jones’s assumptions are speculative at best.
In another argument, Jones misunderstands Homer’s figurative language literally. In referring to a passage from Book 12 of the Iliad, he alleges that Homer describes a wintry landscape that does not agree with the warm climate of Troy. Here are the lines in question:
As the flakes that fall thick upon a winter's day, when Jove is minded to snow and to display these his arrows to mankind--he lulls the wind to rest, and snows hour after hour till he has buried the tops of the high mountains, the headlands that jut into the sea, the grassy plains, and the tilled fields of men; the snow lies deep upon the forelands, and havens of the grey sea, but the waves as they come rolling in stay it that it can come no further, though all else is wrapped as with a mantle so heavy are the heavens with snow--even thus thickly did the stones fall on one side and on the other, some thrown at the Trojans, and some by the Trojans at the Achaeans; and the whole wall was in an uproar. (trans. Samuel Butler)
“Such an overwhelming blanket of snow that covers the whole land excepting only the rolling waves appears to indicate some northern land,” Jones writes.
But the key part of that passage is at the end, when the snow is revealed to be metaphorical and describing what the projectile stones hurled by the Greeks and Trojans looked like from a distance. Since Homer is emphatically not describing the actual weather at Troy, it doesn’t matter what Troy’s climate was like.
Jones supports his Nordic Trojan idea by noting that Homer described Helen’s skin as white. She was not a Trojan by birth, so this is irrelevant. . Ajax, whom Jones calls “white,” is also not Trojan. He further claims Lycaon of Troy had “white flesh.” Well, this is partly true. When he dies at the hands of Achilles in Book 21, Achilles threatens to let the fish eat his “white” fat. But no matter what you make of this, Greek terms for skin color don’t map easily onto modern racial categories, so any references to “white” skin cannot be assumed, as Jones assumes, to be “at odds” with the Mediterranean’s olive skin. The Greeks described skin colors in many ways that we would not today, and their definition of “white” was much broader than our Aryan-influenced pigment charts.
His other arguments are similarly weak. He assumes that when Homer sings the praises of a rich and fertile Greek homeland that Homer is speaking literally and therefore cannot refer to Greece, whose soils are notoriously thin. He alleges that the metals used in the Achaean armor could not be found in Greece, though he seems baffled by the idea that the Mycenaeans had extensive trade networks that stretched across the known world, or that Homer might have spoken of things known to him rather than those things that were known to the Mycenaeans. His poem, after all, is a product of the Greek Archaic, at least 500 years removed from the Mycenaean period.
Because Jones is stubbornly insistent on a literal reading of poetry and a belief that it must reflect conditions of five centuries earlier perfectly, he makes this absurd claim: “Here again it is puzzling that the society that Homer describes is a warrior aristocracy more easily recognizable in that of the early Celts. This heroic age is reflected in the Irish tales commonly known as the Ulster Cycle.” Do I even need to say that the Celts didn’t live on the Atlantic coast of Northern Europe in 1200 BCE during the Mycenaean period, or even around 700 BCE when Homer wrote? The current consensus is that Celtic language and culture arose in central Europe after 1300 BCE and developed into what we identify as Celtic culture today only around the time of Homer. They did not expand to the Atlantic coast until after Homer’s epics were composed.
This is hardly the first modern effort to relocate a Greek myth somewhere else. Jason and the Argonauts have been placed in Peru, and Atlantis was once famously relocated to Sweden. Homeric stories have been placed everywhere from England to the Amazon, and there isn’t really anything to recommend Jones’s ideas, which seem to be exceptionally under-baked, even by the low standards of the genre.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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