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Homer and the Romance of Troy

THE civilized life of Egypt and Asia first passed into the wilderness of Europe through the AEgean peoples. The earliest AEgean city was Knossos, in the isle of Crete. This seems to have been the capital of a great sea empire. Here, in Knossos, scholars have discovered a great palace like those of Egypt and Babylon. The palace shows a highly civilized life. It was well drained, heated with stoves, and fitted with baths; it had a great winding staircase, and a large banqueting-hall.

The cellars, where wine and olive oil were stored, were vast and meandering. So the old Greeks called it a maze or "labyrinth," and told stories of how the monster Minotaur, half man and half bull, lived there, and how the famous King Minos ordered seven Athenian boys and seven girls to be sent every nine years for the Minotaur to eat.

Knossos has the oldest paved road in Europe. Her Potters made beautiful cups and vases. And the women, as seen in the fresco-paintings, look almost modern. "They wore large shady hats, close-fitting puffed-sleeved blouses ... wide-flounced richly-embroidered skirts, and they had belts like the men's."

Now the most famous of the ancient cities of the AEgean coasts was Troy, and the old story of Troy, as told by Homer, is one of the immortal stories of the world. Moved by these stories, a boy determined, when he grew up, to find Troy. He made his way to the great mound that marked the site in the north-west corner of Asia Minor. There he dug and dug until, to the surprise of the world, he came upon a city that was a thousand years older than even Homer's Troy.

In the course of four years he and his workmen had dug a hole to the bottom of the mound, and in doing so had passed through no less than nine cities. At the bottom they found a late Stone Age village, with its sun-baked brick huts and stone weapons of 5,000 and more years ago. In the second, or next city above it, copper was found and some fine gold jewellery. The sixth city (c. 1500 B.C.) was the Troy of the wealthy rulers of the days of Homer. Its ancient walls of wood have been uncovered. They were built to guard against the attacks of the early Greeks, who laid the city in ruins in the Trojan War, as described by Homer. The ninth city, at the top, was Roman, and remains of their buildings were found.

Another famous AEgean city was Mycenae, in Greece itself. Its most famous king was Agamemnon, who led, Homer tells us, the attack on the city of Troy. Its walls were so massive that later Greek invaders thought they must have been built by Titans, the giant gods, and its "Lion Gate" -- with lion heads made of bronze -- can still be seen.

These AEgean cities were in time destroyed by the early Greeks, savage herdsmen who wandered south from beyond the Danube, several centuries after the time of Hammurabi and Abraham. They called themselves Hellenes. Zeus was their chief god, living on Mount Olympus, which is high enough to be seen from almost all parts of Greece. As they moved south they saw the castles and high walls of the AEgean cities, and during the centuries they were settling down, they learnt from them how to use metal swords instead of stone axes. By about 1500 B.C. they had destroyed Knossos, and by 1100 B.C. Troy.

The poems of Homer are our first record of the early Greeks and their thoughts about men and gods. We read how they lived in open huts and villages, without iron or writing or cities. They were governed by chieftains or kings, each aided by a council of elders, and they brought all great matters before the assembly of free men. In the famous Greek legends -- the stories of Circe, the Sirens, the Cyclops, etc. -- is mirrored much of their early life.