Visiting the ancient and alleged city of Troy was one of the destinations I was most excited about when we initially planned on traveling to Turkey. As we did more research on Troy, though, it was becoming too out of the way, too little to see as it has unfortunately not been excavated with the proper care, and a little ridiculous with the very commercial wooden horse for tourists to climb through. I was much more interested in the real thing and the real thing was simply underwhelming. However, our visit to Ephesus, or Efes, helped fulfill that void.
To be clear, there is no real connection between the old city of Troy and the old city of Ephesus other than the fact that they were old. The Troy I wanted to see was the site of the epic battle between the Trojans and Achaeans in Homer’s Iliad. I had recently read the Iliad with a work colleague and her well-ahead-of-his-age 11 year old son in a book club, devoting a week to each of the 24 books of the Iliad and then discussing at a very typical diner in New York. I guess we should have eaten at a Greek diner to make the experience more authentic (or cheesy).
In the past few years, I have made a conscious effort to revisit classic texts that I may have read in high school or college but not fully appreciated at that age or which were simply not selected by our teachers or the state. The Iliad actually fell into the later category for me. My colleague, her son, and I had a study manual, a teacher’s manual, and a copy of the text (I had a version in verse while they went with the prose version) and would spend about 90 minutes at a NYC diner once a week around lunch time discussing themes, observations, etc. We were a sight to behold.
Anyway, visiting Troy would have been a fitting conclusion to my half year study of the Iliad. Standing where Hector and the Trojans met the onslaught of the Greeks for ten years, where the gods intermittingly joined to sway momentum, where the mightiest warriors of ancient times earned their stripes, and where the hottest chick of all time, Helen, watched on at the war she effectively incited. That would have been cool.
Ephesus though was even cooler in that it is one of the largest collections of Roman ruins and in my opinion one of the best preserved cities. Walking along the pathways, we can literally get a feel for what life was like during the Roman era (harder to get a feel for the Greek era of Ephesus since there is not much left of that time). Walking along the marble roadways, imagining the political debates in the agora, watching a gladiator fight in the massive 44,000 person Theater, spending time in the library of Celsus (or slipping through the allegedly underground tunnel to the brothel next door – “Yeah, honey, going to the library again, be back in 15 minutes or so”), taking my once a week (or if I was spending too much money at the brothel, perhaps once a month) visit to the public bath and catching up on local gossip, or selling my wares in the massive public market, I can just picture it all now.
<pictures of Ephesus>
Which brings me to Hector. For all the press that Achilleus gets, that Agamemnon gets, that the gods get, and even Paris, I personally have been thinking a lot about the character of Hector. I feel like I can most identify with him these days. Strong warrior (yep, check), hot wife (check), devoted father (not yet, but expect to be in the future), future king of Troy (obviously check), a little hot headed but generally practical (check), loyal to his people despite knowing his fate (I guess check though I can’t say I know my fate), and while subject to moments of doubt, eventually manning up and facing his destiny (I would like to say check again). Standing on the steps of the Theater in Ephesus, looking at where the port used to be (it is now 5km further away, one of the key reasons Ephesus the city lost its status centuries ago), I tried to imagine what the Trojans saw when the nearly 1200 ships of the Greeks approached. As I walked along the marble streets, I imagined Hector paying his final visit to his wife Andromache and his son Astyanax. As the musicians tried to earn some Turkish Lira from tourists, I imagined Achilleus playing his lyre as a trio of representatives of Agamemnon arrive at his ship to convince him to rejoin the battle (which Achilleus of course refuses). Hector was a tragic character for me but also more tangible, more relatable. I liked Hector and especially liked how, despite his faults, he handled himself. He was real – he knew he had to face Achilleus. And while he ran away while in battle, which at the time was considered cowardly, let’s face it, if you were facing the greatest warrior of the time, you too would be a little terrified. But in the end, he faced up to reality and fought, and got himself killed. Life happens.
Yeah, I certainly am taking some liberties combining ancient Roman ruins with ancient Greek and Trojan stories, but it works for me. I’m sure Hector won’t mind – hopefully he can appreciate my faults too..