December 11, 2017
"Of arms and the man I sing"On this day in 1184 BC, according to calculations made some 900 years later by the North African Greek, Eratosthenes, Troy was sacked and burned. The precise date is now regarded as pretty much a wild guess, although no less substantiated than the legendary events of the Trojan War. The city itself, long thought to be as legendary, has been identified -- or rather, ten distinct Trojan settlements have been identified at Hissarlik, in present-day Turkey, each built upon the ruins of the others. The Troy of Homer and Virgil, if it existed, is most likely "Troy VIIA," a settlement that appears to have been destroyed by fire at about the time calculated by Eratosthenes.
In Book Two of The Aeneid, Virgil has Aeneas (now escaped to North Africa) tell Dido of the awful events. How he and his countrymen, despite being told to "beware the Greeks, even bearing gifts," put their backs into self-destruction:
All stripped for the work; under the horse's feet
we slipped rollers, and from its neck we rove
hempen halyards. Up rode the death machine,
big with armed men, while boys and virgin girls
sang hymns and joyed to lay hands to the lines.
our glory. A heartless Jove has handed all
to the Greeks. Our city is ashes! Greece is lord!
Tall stands the horse inside our fort, and births
her soldiers. Sinon, prancing his glory-dance,
sets fire on fire. Through gates flung wide, they come...."
Greece owns our walls; the towers of Troy are tumbling!
To country and king all debts are paid; my hand
had saved them, if any hand had power to save.
Her holy things, her gods, Troy trusts to you.
Take them to share your fate; find walls for them:
wander the wide sea over, then build them great."
All quotations are from Frank O. Copley's translation (Bobbs-Merrill, 1965) of The Aeneid.
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