Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.10.03

Christoph Ulf, Robert Rollinger (ed.), Lag Troia in Kilikien? Der aktuelle Streit um Homers Ilias.   Darmstadt:  WBG (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft), 2011.  Pp. 448.  ISBN 9783534232086.  €49.90.  

Reviewed by Catalin Pavel, Kennesaw State University (

In eighteen German and two English articles, this volume offers an evaluation of an academic “scandal” surrounding Troy—one sparked by the ideas of poet and professor of comparative literature Raoul Schrott, published as Homers Heimat: Der Kampf um Troia und seine realen Hintergründe, Munich 2008. In its twenty-four chapters (each named, just as the Iliad’s songs, after a Greek letter), Schrott proposes that Homer was an Akkadian-speaking Greek from a flourishing Greek community in Cilicia (SE Turkey). Around 660 BC he compiled the Iliad from Near Eastern sources, read in original, particularly the Gilgamesh, Enuma Elish, Erra, and Atrahasis epics, together with Assyrian royal war inscriptions describing the fall of Babylon, the siege of Jerusalem, etc. He projected them onto the older Greek epic of the Trojan War and embedded in it the three contemporaneous Cilician rebellions against Assyrian rule. Homer’s description of Troy, in Schrott’s understanding, is modeled after the late Hittite Karatepe fortress in Turkey’s Taurus mountains; most toponyms and anthroponyms in the Iliad are seen as reflecting Cilician onomastics. The Iliad’s attacking Greeks are easily recognized as the attacking Assyrians; the Trojans are the defending Cilicians and their allies the Greeks. The Archaic features of Homer’s Greek are for Schrott the result of the influence of the Luwian language. Homer, a migrant successfully integrated in a multicultural society, who became a priest or a eunuch scribe, wrote the Iliad to give Cilicians a national epic.

In Germany, Schrott’s book, presenting the Mycenaean Heldenlied as an Assyrian roman à clef (with Achilles being Assarhadon or Assurbanipal), has triggered the ire of philologists, raised the eyebrows of archaeologists, and elicited a sort of embarrassed benevolence from those in Near Eastern studies. The book was, in essence, seen as Schliemannesque; those reviewing it,1 after pointing out countless inadvertencies, have often tried to play down the scandal with elegance. For P. Jablonka and P. Dräger, Schrott’s theses are related to his former work on Dadaism and surrealism; for J. Latacz, Schrott is simply an outsider passionate for ancient history, and this is “cute”; for Th. Blank, he is a poet trying hard to empathize with a (much greater) poet. Many, though, including I. Hajnal, W. Burkert, and G. Lanfranchi in this volume, have praised Schrott’s endeavor to draw attention to Near Eastern influences on Greece, still understudied. Certainly the “Kilikien-These” is better than placing Troy in Finland, as F. Vinci did in 1995. Schrott’s volume does not seem to have elicited much interest yet in the Anglo-Saxon world, with a solitary review by S. Marchand2 dismissing it as “absurd,” albeit without engaging Schrott’s arguments. For her, Homers Heimat could encourage Classicists to direct their eyes more towards the East, but its brashness might as well put them terribly off. The huge public interest for this controversy in Germany, expressed in and reinforced by the media hype, has underpinnings as varied as the vivid memory of Schliemann’s exploits; the seductiveness of “cracking the code” of the Iliad; the modern sensitivity for multiculturalism; Turkey’s putative accession to the EU; and, above all, the shock at the thought that the fundamental text of European culture could be a massive import from cuneiform tablets. In J. Cobet’s view (this volume), after Korfmann rooted Troy irremediably in Anatolia, now Schrott is stealing away the Iliad.

C. Ulf’s opening article is one of the few that endorses Schrott’s approach. Ulf indirectly addresses Schrott’s critics, seen as impervious to the Cilicia-hypothesis, as being straitjacketed in a romantic vision of pure nations. Their Eurocentrism results in a visceral upholding of the Iliad’s immaculate Greekness. Two further claims are treated as being mind-bogglingly obvious. First, a 700-650 BC date for the Iliad is so certain that it is not worth discussing earlier dates in earnest (cf. protests from E. Visser and particularly P. Dräger, who calls this late date a “fashionable obsession”). Second, the Iliad has been composed in writing, with Homer astutely imposing upon it, as a patina, a “secondary orality” (A. Wolf, 1995).

R. Rollinger too warns that there is no such thing as the singularity of Greek spirit. There is just a little condescendence in this, as if the editors hoped that the readers have grown up and stopped believing in miracles (Greek or not). It is proposed indeed that Homer cannot be understood outside the context of the Assyrian empire as a center of written culture. As to the place where Homer may have been exposed to this culture, it need not have been Cilicia necessarily, since other suitable candidates exist, such as Cyprus and North Syria (cf. J. Wiesehöfer’s article in this volume; W. Burkert once said that the Greeks’ contacts with the Near East were a broadband cable, not a single connection).

D. Hertel discusses Schrott’s topographic objections to Troy’s Hisarlik location and finds no reason why one would have to abandon it, given how firmly the Iliad identifies the Trojan landscape by geographic benchmarks such as the Hellespont, Tenedus, and Scamander, and given how this landscape has changed from the Bronze Age to now. M. West’s article also reminds that Homer’s best known geography is all North Ionian—Kayster Plain, Icarian Sea, and Mount Sipylus.

M. Meyer discusses the Greek presence in Cilicia, which, as O. Casabonne stated after reviewing the evidence in 2004, remains an illusion. Although around 800 BC Greek pottery begins to be imported to the Cilician coast, probably from Cyprus, colonies are probably much later than the literary sources would have it. There is no Rhodian pottery in the “Rhodian” colony Soloi, no Wild Goat and Fikellura in Nagidos, and even if the Tarsus tablets may include Greek names (Meyer does not discuss P. Schmitz’s “Archaic Greek names in a Neo-Assyrian Cuneiform Tablet from Tarsus”, Journal of Cuneiform Studies 61, 2009, 127-131), this is not enough to speak of a Greek community. Discussing the alleged Greek influence on the reliefs from Karatepe, Meyer concludes that the only trace of it is the relief depicting an Aegean type warship. In W. Röllig’s article, this warship is a sign that one of the sculptors was Phoenician, and the reliefs, far from having anything to do with Greeks, bespeak Cilicia’s relationships with Assyria and the Levant.

A. Mehl shows why the Cypria epic, named for Aphrodite, cannot have had the strong relationship with Cyprus indispensable to Schrott’s argument, wherein Cyprus is seen as irradiating the Trojan myth into nearby Cilicia. Mehl also proves Schrott wrong to group Cyprus and Cilicia together as an organizational unit of the Assyrian empire, which in fact linked Cyprus politically to Phoenicia.

For G. Lanfranchi, the impact of Assyrian imperialism on Greek history is grossly underestimated by scholars. In his view, the Iliad contains an appeal to unity against Assyrian expansionism, one which the Greek elites cannot have been unaware of, and similar messages soliciting resistance against Assyria may well have been circulated by Gyges and Psammetichus. Whichever its intrinsic merits may be, in combination with Schrott’s thesis, Lanfranchi’s conjecture amounts to no more than the fact that the Greek poem denouncing Assyrian expansionism features invading Greeks described as Assyrians (minus the name), which is counterintuitive at least. Could Aeschylus write a Persae in which the Persians are Greeks in disguise?

What I. Hajnal in turn denounces is Schrott’s dubious use of onomastics to establish Homer’s potential “Cilician connection.” For example, “Achilleus” is derived by Schrott from a Hittite “Ucha-lu”; however, “Lu” is not a syllabogram but a Sumerogram meaning “man” (and of course the name Achilleus is attested already at 1400 BC in Crete).

For G. Steiner, the Hittites did not care and did not know about the Mycenaean cities of Greece, and if we are interested in Greece, there is no reason to search the East. Greek names (say, Priam) for which Anatolian (Luwian) etymologies have been proposed can be explained well enough by Greek language alone, and no Greek names will ever be confidently identified in Hittite texts—it is just our wishful thinking (Alaksandu, Tawagalawa, Kukkuni, often compared with Alexandros, Eteocles, and Kyknos are presented as purely Anatolian). S. De Martino’s article recapitulates why, from the point of view of Hittite sources, one must place Wilusa in NW Anatolia, and why one cannot place the land of Achaeans (Ahhiyawa) in Cilicia.

W. Kofler takes Schrott to task for viewing any resemblance between the Iliad and Near Eastern texts as necessarily a Homeric allusion, if not a quote. Just because Aen. 9.791-800 is inspired by Il. 12.41- 49, it does not follow that Virgil comes from a land full of lions—and even less so (concludes Kofler sarcastically) that Virgil comes from Cilicia. He rejects even the resemblance between the incipit of book 23, wherein Patroclus’s ghost visits Achilles, and the end of the twelfth tablet of Gilgamesh (appended 705 BC). B. Patzek’s article, on the contrary, welcomes Schrott’s view of Homer as a hungry recipient of Near Eastern literature, a view for which M. West’s East Face of Helicon (Oxford 1997) has done so much. Patzek reminds one, however, that (fragments of) none of these epics have been so far found in Greek translation, and this concern is echoed in W. Burkert’s article, which notes that a Greek-Akkadian translation literature failed to appear, although later Greek-Latin or Greek-Arabic ones flourished.

K. Raaflaub contributes a piece on the caveats of using Homer as a historical source and dwells on the Iliad’s rhetorical manipulation of apparently historical de/cor and paraphernalia. His example is the war chariot, shown to be used in the text as only a means of heroic exaggeration, as it is absent from the description of routine battle scenes, but invariably there to enhance an aristeia. Raaflaub also puts forward that the way to advance our understanding of the Iliad is to have a better grasp of how the bard “composes” (as in de Jong’s (1997) narratological approach) and also to resort to comparisons with other epics, as demonstrated by M. I. Finley using the Chanson de Roland or here by G. Danek’s article which reconsiders the South-Slavic Krajina epos of Kolakovic and “Montenegrin Homer” Mededovic.

F. Breyer’s article deals with Egyptian information on Cilicia, and J. Haubold evaluates Homer’s interest in Cilicia as a supposed resident. To begin with, Cilicia is never mentioned in the Iliad. Cilicians show up twice, but many an occasion to pick up on a Cilician cue is ignored by Homer. This squares well, it should be said, with the absence of any reference to Assyria.

M. West and W. Burkert’s articles both date the Iliad around 650 BC and agree that Homer or his informants had access to written texts, most probably in Cyprus, where Burkert hypothesizes that the alphabet was adopted into the Greek world. One would have expected more targeted comments on Homers Heimat from these two outstanding scholars whose brainchild (no matter how indirectly) the book is.

Because it treats the Iliad as a post-modern poem for which anything goes in its interpretation, Schrott’s book was called by reviewers a mindgame, a scientific satire, anything but a study in Homer. Indeed, the less one knows about the Iliad, the more fascinating Schrott’s arguments are, and Iliad scholars are not bound to want to answer the appeal to jettison all they thought they knew about it. In opposition to this dismissal, the present volume, while presenting some adhesion together with criticism of various calibers, conveys the idea that Schrott’s theses do deserve to be discussed seriously. Even the title (“was Troy in Cilicia?”) is an indication of this— unless it is a mere concession made to the popularity of the scandal in Germany, with its commercial implications.

Table of Contents

Christoph Ulf (Innsbruck), Die Diskussion über Ilias und Homer: alte Thesen – neue Zugänge
Robert Rollinger (Innsbruck), Homer und der „Orient“
Dieter Hertel (Bochum/ Köln), Übereinstimmungen und Widersprüche zwischen Text und Örtlichkeit (Hisarlyk und Troia)
Marion Meyer (Wien), Kilikien: örtliche Gegebenheiten und Archäologische Evidenzen
Wolfgang Röllig (Tübingen), Zur Bedeutung der Inschriften und Reliefs von Karatepe - Aslantas
Josef Wiesehöfer (Kiel), Homers „orientalische Verbindungen“, oder: Kulturelle Verkehrswege zwischen Orient und Okzident
Francis Breyer (Berlin), Kilikien, Hethiter und Danaer in ägyptischen Quellen der Spaetbronzezeit
Stefano de Martino (Torino), Western and South-Eastern Anatolia and Syria in the 13th and 12th centuries. Possible Connections to the Poem
Andreas Mehl (Halle), Zyperns Einordnung in die politische Welt Vorderasiens im spaeten 2. und fruehen 1. Jahrtausend v. Chr.
Giovanni B. Lanfranchi (Padova), The expansion of the Neo-Assyrian empire and its peripheries: military, political and ideological Resistance
Ivo Hajnal (Innsbruck), Namen und ihre Etymologien – als Beweisstücke nur bedingt tauglich?
Gerd Steiner (Marburg), Namen, Orte und Personen in der hethitischen und der griechischen Überlieferung
Georg Danek (Wien), Die Ilias als Produkt einer mündlichen Epen-Tradition
Wolfgang Kofler (Innsbruck), Die Ilias als fiktionaler Text
Martin West (Oxford), Die Entstehung der Ilias. Ein Roman
Kurt Raaflaub (Providence) Auf dem Streitwagen des Sängers: Die Suche nach einer historischen „epischen Gesellschaft“
Johannes Haubold (Durham, UK), Lykien (und Kilikien) in der Ilias
Barbara Patzek (Essen), Altorientalische „Textvorlagen“ für die Ilias?
Walter Burkert (Zürich/ Ulster),Varianten der Kulturbegegnung im 8. und 7. Jahrhundert v. Chr.
Justus Cobet (Essen), Europa, Asien und die Ilias


1.   German reviews of Homers Heimat: the best is P. Jablonka, Literaturen 2008 (4): 76-82; also Th. Blank, Gymnasium 116, 2009, 469-474, E. Visser, Pegasus-Onlinezeitschrift VIII/2 (2008), 80-83, P. Dräger 2009 on Tübingen University’s website , and J. Latacz’s interview in G-Geschichte (s.a.).
2.  Archaeological Dialogues 17 (1), 2010, 127-131.

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