New Book Claims Homer's Iliad Proves Troy Was a Celtic City in Northern Europe
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.
5/22/2019 10:07:48 am
Helen can viewed as having three colors. Orange in the morning, white during the day and night, then appearing green when viewed through a telescope. She can even appear as a small white crescent. She is essentially the same as Persephone...AKA...Venus. like the Bible, personified astronomy taken literally.
5/22/2019 12:02:34 pm
Leaving aside the fact that day and night is pretty much everything, and the Greeks didn't have telescopes.
Just more nonsense
5/22/2019 12:16:00 pm
Like historians claiming Mark dates from the first century, despite internal topographical errors that could not have been made by anyone living during the first century. No gospel fragments dating from the first century have ever been discovered.
5/22/2019 01:16:51 pm
Be the name Guinevere, Venus, Aphrodite, Persephone, Hellen, or any other personification...It is still the SAME planet/god.
5/22/2019 04:52:44 pm
Ancient telescopes are NOT up for debate. Take that nonsense to Wolter's blog. Here's why: when someone invents the telescope the next thing he does is WRITE about it. And a telescope is not just "stacking lenses".
5/22/2019 05:07:06 pm
"Like historians claiming Mark dates from the first century, despite internal topographical errors that could not have been made by anyone living during the first century. No gospel fragments dating from the first century have ever been discovered."
5/22/2019 05:46:33 pm
5/22/2019 11:02:54 pm
Welcome to Thunderdome, Anthony Warren.
5/23/2019 03:19:50 am
5/23/2019 08:02:25 am
Nope, I'm the guy who took your Yahoo email away.
5/23/2019 09:24:10 am
It's not mental illness. He's just the dumbest one here. By far. That he insists on posting his moronic ramblings on a now daily basis is only because he mistakes rebukes for affirmation; thus believing he has a seat at the table.
5/26/2019 09:25:49 am
Is that table something to aspire to?
An Anonymous Nerd
5/22/2019 07:47:47 pm
So let's see here....
5/22/2019 11:17:11 pm
"... may have been... or... or... or..."
5/23/2019 02:44:46 pm
An Anonymous Nerd
5/25/2019 11:21:18 pm
[you don't get it.]
5/22/2019 10:32:53 am
Having a word for blue and using blue pigments doesn't actually correlate at all. Lots of languages have no word that translates directly into the English 'blue, for example modern Japanese 'aoi', their closest equivalent to 'blue' extends to cover sea greens.
5/22/2019 12:00:56 pm
You may enjoy this excellent analysis of the wine dark sea and Dionysos as a god of the boundaries by Maria Daraki: https://www.persee.fr/doc/rhr_0035-1423_1982_num_199_1_4750
5/22/2019 03:22:32 pm
5/22/2019 06:28:44 pm
This "theory" reads like a rehash of Jacob Wilkens book Where Troy Once Stood, (1990). Including the stuff about trans-Atlantic voyages.
5/26/2019 12:06:50 pm
The idea of Troy in Northern Europe is very old;
5/22/2019 06:44:03 pm
So Schliemann just made all that stuff up? And faked the artifacts?
An Anonymous Nerd
5/22/2019 07:52:02 pm
I could think of a lot of things that could lead to "wine-colored sea" and to assert a specific meaning would mean having a lot of supporting evidence. Here are two possibilities: foreshadow of the war; sunset or sunrise reflecting on the water strikes someone a certain way.
5/23/2019 04:46:13 am
I think it is a mistake to try to assert a positivist meaning to the wine-dark sea as much as it is reductive to only assert it as a cool writing.
An Anonymous Nerd
5/23/2019 09:40:49 pm
[ as much as it is reductive to only assert it as a cool writing.]
5/24/2019 04:09:35 am
I hope this comment will go in the right place, but nevertheless...
An Anonymous Nerd
5/24/2019 07:47:26 am
Even from the "it's just a cool story" perspective, point taken -- the audience, after all, has to understand what you're saying, and you have to write stuff that speaks to them.
5/24/2019 10:11:29 am
On that count we agree i think but it is a pretty low bar. And i was under the impression that you would not shrug some actual scholarship on a subject that gores deeper and is far more interesting than some fringe rambling.
An Anonymous Nerd
5/25/2019 11:18:34 pm
[On that count we agree i think but it is a pretty low bar.]
5/22/2019 08:57:25 pm
Besides the metaphorical aspect of the snow, it's not like it never snows down there.
5/23/2019 03:04:47 am
WE ARE ALL TALKING SERIOUSLY ABOUT RUBBISH ON THIS BLOG
5/23/2019 12:01:10 pm
5/26/2019 03:56:09 pm
There is no reason not to take "wine-dark sea" literally. I have sat at dusk in an open air restaurant by the harbour at Rethymnon on the north coast of Crete and witnessed the sea darken to a deep claret colour as the sun sank below the horizon.
5/26/2019 10:18:02 pm
There is a deeper meaning to Homer. The KEY to understanding is Hellen represents the PLANET we call "Venus". The "War" occurred in "Heaven".
5/27/2019 03:24:24 pm
5/27/2019 09:45:16 pm
5/28/2019 05:20:01 am
Why don't you try it? I guarantee you won't see a magnified image. In fact you won't be able to focus on a distant object at all. In a reflecting telescope the mirror has to be concave, to form a real image of the subject (i.e. a place where light from each point on the subject converges to a point on the image) which can then be looked at through the lens. A flat mirror will not do that.
5/28/2019 10:40:09 am
The "Nimrud Lens" was discovered next to 2 bowls. If, I remember correctly, other ancient lenses have been found with, or near bowls.
5/28/2019 10:58:19 am
You don't have to grind your own lens to test this. You can buy a magnifying glass (useful to have anyway) for a few pounds or dollars.
5/28/2019 11:00:52 am
PS Please don't break open all those thermometers. Mercury is poisonous. Also if it worked with mercury it would work just as well with water
5/28/2019 11:46:30 am
"You don't have to grind your own lens to test this. You can buy a magnifying glass (useful to have anyway) for a few pounds or dollars."
5/28/2019 12:04:35 pm
You are missing my main point. For a reflecting telescope to work, the main mirror must be concave in order to produce a real image. A flat surface will not do it, and when mercury balls up it becomes convex which is even worse. You can test this fact with a simple magnifying lens. There is no way that grinding your own lens will give a better result. Authenticity is a good goal but it won't circumvent the laws of physics.
6/4/2019 02:16:20 pm
6/4/2019 05:22:26 pm
I have not seen your explanation of how you think the ancients were able to achieve useful magnification with their very limited selection of lenses. As I have pointed out, a flat reflecting surface (even in a cenote) won't work. Nor will viewing through narrow slits.
6/4/2019 05:26:10 pm
PS Sorry, i misremembered your "small apertures" as narrow slits. But small apertures will at best reduce imperfections in the image. They won't increase magnification.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
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.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.