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In Our Time: The Trojan War

Friday 1 June 2012, 16:13

Melvyn Bragg Melvyn Bragg

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Editor's note: In Thursday's programme Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed The Trojan War. As always the programme is available to listen to online or to download and keep - GS

Trojan Horse

Hello

I am in such awe of scholars that when they pronounce and I think that I have an alternative, nay, contradictory opinion, I clam up. And such it was this morning, ladies and gentlemen, when Susan Sherratt said that I was wrong to say that Aeneas was half man, half god. Edith Hall (after the programme!) said that I was right. His mother was Aphrodite. This tiny patch of knowledge on the subject is only because I "did" the Aeneid for A-level!

Otherwise, it was again an example of a programme that was both full of scholarship and questioning scholarship. In that way, similar to the Marco Polo programme.

And so out into London. The West End is en fete. Regent Street, Bond Street, Jermyn Street, all sorts of streets in the West End are flying the flag. Hundreds of flags. Big Union Flags. Arrayed in, as it were, columns, they're rather like the guards marching in full step, with the red stripe down the outside leg and the drums beating the time. The Union Flag en masse becomes impressive. Shops, coyly or boldly, express their loyalty and affection to HM The Queen, and again it is always centred around the Union Flag, save in the Burlington Arcade where we have paper coronets (but are they merely paper in the Burlington Arcade?). Apart from most of the centre of London being shut off for the Great Day(s), there is a pleasant murmur on the streets.

Of course, this early flash of summer is a help. It brings out the smiles and the feeling of being rather blessed, which we English always have when we get good weather. But snatches of conversations tell you that in this village they are resurrecting the notion of boundary stones. In this street they are having a party which will go on until midnight. In this other place they are doing nothing but rather embarrassed about it, and perhaps if they get a move on they can do something.

It is tempting to think that the general geniality and affection which is being displayed for The Queen is not only for herself and her sixty faultless years, but also to emphasise how much a deeply trusted person doing a job well and, indeed, to the highest possible standards, contrasts with the witterings of Westminster.

That is a cross-party remark.

And so to wandering around the town to have lunch with a pal and back to the offices, which we still boast of as being the smallest offices in Soho, and we are suffering for that with the intense humidity. But never mind, it's London, it's 2012, we have a special bank holiday, The Queen has been on the throne for sixty years. I'm leaving the office in an hour or so to go to another meeting at seven o'clock. I'll be walking through Green Park and St James's Park to get there and having a deep conversation with the ducks, half expecting the pelicans to be painted in stripes of blue and red to go with their white.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

PS: (Sorry Ingrid!) In St James's Park, looked across to Buckingham Palace. It had disappeared. What faced me was a monstrous meccano of scaffolding, quite fantastical. Might be worthwhile keeping it up for a few months.

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    Comment number 1.

    Melvyn seems to be eternally quartered with academics who can blag on endlessly about myths,legends and poetry,but when it comes to substantiating them as historical facts, places,cannot do so.This little trio of females were in solidarity at the end that they did not believe the Trojan War happened.There was no great enthusiasm to build up this
    episode of Homer’s work beyond the (usually male) hypotheses and speculations that the site of Troy has garnered.Excavations told us more about Troy rather than the Trojan War.Indeed did Homer even exist or even write both books,or was it a committee?

    The mound of Hissarlik,known to the Greeks as Ilion,overlooks the Dardenelles in Turkey.Schliemann showed 9 successive cities stood on the site,of which he considered the 2nd to be that described in the Iliad.Dorpfield continued his work and established a chronology for the cities,preferring the 6th.Blegen the American in the 1930s argued for the earlier part of the 7th.Troy I was a small fortified citadel of 1.25 acres(3000 BC).Troy II(2700BC) has the megaron palaces and ‘Priam’s Treasure’,showing a control of trade. This was sacked.Then Troy IV(1800-1300),5 acres with elaborate walls and gates,new houses,a cremation cemetery and grey Minyan ware point to new arrivals.Extensive trade shown by imported Mycenaen pottery.After serious earthquake,poorer ware,Troy VII.The 1st of its 3 sub phases were sacked,perhaps by the Achaeans seeking Helen c1260 BC and the last fell in the upheavals which heralded the Iron Age c1100 BC.The site lay waste until it was settled by the Greeks in 700(Troy VIII) and on into Hellenistic and Roman times (IX),after which it was finally abandoned.Don’t get me wrong I love Homer’s Iliad but not to prove the Trojan War happened.Troy is an important archaeological site in itself.

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    Comment number 2.

    Was Susan Sherratt's mistake a merely existential one? That is, did she momentarily hear Lord Bragg describe something he seemed to believe, beyond what he actually intended. On reflection, it is obvious that no one in the 21st century would embrace polytheism, so the comment is akin to someone appearing to be deficient in spelling when writing inaccurately, whereas in fact it was a mere 'typo.' The matter is clarified by the adverb 'reportedly', Aeneas was reputedly, son of a god. Thank you, Lord Bragg, for your very interesting programmes and interviews, which fill many an idle moment with valuable insights.

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    Comment number 3.

    Over many years I have enjoyed IOT on subjects I know little about and those where I know something. I have assumed that guests are carefully selected on the basis that they can impart correct factual information as a basic for lively discussion based thereon. It was very disappointing this week to have a sub standard academic on board who categorically restated despite challenge a rather basic subject error (Aeneas' parentage). Until now I had expected IOT to avoid being part of Radio 4s slow decline in standards and I do hope this incident will have been a rare failure. I was reminded of the decline I mention the following day when a news report on the Irish Referendum stated that 60% of the electorate had voted in favour rather than 60% of those who voted....quite a different “fact”.

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    Comment number 4.

    Following Melvyn's post programme email, and his frustration with the evidential weaknesses associated with oral history, I was reminded of a book I must have read about 50 years ago. The author was the anthropologist Bill (W.E.) Harney, who worked among the aboriginals of northern Australia who were his life's work. They had no written tradition at all, but I recall he evaluated the accuracy of inter-generational story transmission and found it to be remarkably high. I wonder if any recent research has updated this, although I imagine the number of isolated communities and ethnic groups still free of literacy and the internet is very small!

 

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