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Genially factual (perhaps to make up for its theories), wide-ranging study of Homer's Troy, its historical, literary and archaeological records; complementing a six-part BBC-TV series which will begin on PBS in May. Author Wood also hosts the series, which should be strikingly visual if less elaborate than this involved, illustrated text. Was there even a Troy? Did Heinrich Schliemann actually dig it up? Or was what he unearthed just another buried village? Schliemann was strictly an amateur, a windy braggart who derived from others nearly everything he pretended to know about Troy (even how to camp and dig on a site). A compulsive writer and talker, he left behind him more diaries, notebooks, letters and other conflicting items than a single biographer could sift through and make sense of in a lifetime. But his prime virtue was imagination; without that, what we have today would never have been unearthed. Schliemann's dig, however, destroyed as much (or more) as it revealed; he left behind the ruin of a ruins. What's more, he stole the most priceless artifacts, including a headdress comprised of 16,000 tiny pieces of gold threaded on gold wire, named it the ""Jewels of Helen"" and had his wife photographed in it--one of the 19th-century's most famous images. Meanwhile, the so-called Treasure of Priam that he removed later vanished from Berlin in 1945. Digs on Schliemann's site by later archaeologists found considerable bolstering of the idea that this really was the Troy described by Homer (Schliemann's site seemed much too small). As for Homer's Iliad, what relation it has to Homer, ""if he existed, is no longer so easy to prove, but it seems likely that the Homeridae [sons of Homer] of the sixth century B.C. could give a reasonably close account of stories already formulated in the eighth century B.C. . . Later editors certainly played their part in altering the text. . ."" The definitive text was apparently not established until the third century B.C. The oral tradition made Homer truly clear for audiences who could not write, with bards dropping out words that were no longer understood. Did Helen really exist and was her departure to Troy the cause of the war? Evidence shows that ""the seizure of women on overseas raids was indeed a common feature of this world, and the more beautiful the better. Of a flesh-and-blood Helen we can at least conclude that she is possible! ""Is Wood's the last word on the buried cities of Troy and their artifacts? It has a durable ring to it--much like Homer. Though on Homer there can be no last word.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1986
Publisher: Facts on File