BMCR 2010.07.37

The Quest: John Morritt, His Travels to Troy, 1794-1796

, The Quest: John Morritt, His Travels to Troy, 1794-1796. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010. ix, 135. ISBN 9781443817745 £34.99/$52.99.

Homerists and Bronze Age archaeologists are interested in John Bacon Sawrey Morritt because of the book he published in 1798. In it, he argued that modern topographical features in the Troad could be related to places and events in the epics of Homer and defended identifications Jean-Baptiste Lechevalier had made in 1791.1 A Yorkshire gentleman also known for his friendship with Sir Walter Scott, his membership in the Society of Dilettanti (from 1799),2 and his art collection at Rokeby House, J. B. S. Morritt journeyed across Europe in 1794 shortly after receiving his B.A. from Cambridge. He wrote numerous letters home about his traveling experiences and eventually reached Asia Minor and Greece, where he took note of the topography. Fortified with copious references to ancient authors and his personal observations of 1794, Morritt’s little book took principal aim at the skeptical rationalist views championed by Jacob Bryant, a Cambridge man of an earlier generation who insisted on the purely mythological nature of the Iliad and Odyssey but had never been to Asia Minor; Bryant’s rejoinder to Morritt provoked a further pamphlet from the latter.3 As engaged traveler and sometime controversialist, Morritt has been recognized as the first person to write an account of Troy since Pausanias, situating him in the tradition of what used to be called “Homeric geography” before the excavations and publications of Heinrich (Henry) Schliemann.4 A proper reconsideration of Morritt’s contribution to the age when the Grand Tour intersected with the Napoleonic Wars is thus in order.

Unfortunately, the present book does other things. The author does not refer to the fact that he shares a last name with his subject and instead offers a preface (ix) illustrating both his enthusiasm and his grasp of the subject: “The quest to find Troy has captured the imagination of many such as the Homeric Myths and accounts by Heredotus [ sic ], Strabo, Pausanius [ sic ], and other Classical sources. The book gives descriptions of the archaeological excavations of Calvert, Schliemann, Blegen and Korfmann with recent discoveries and theories whether Troy existed in Myth or in reality. Contemporary letters of John Morritt on his travels to Troy (1794-1796) are included together with his correspondence with his life-long friend Sir Walter Scott.” The Introduction (1-2) conveys more of the book’s flavor, which can be sampled by way of the .pdf of the first 20 pages — TOC on p. 7 — available on the publisher’s webpage.

A disjointed and incomplete portrait of Morritt follows (3-49); since the DNB was not consulted, the year of his birth is given as 1772, not 1771. The excerpts from his correspondence, as well as the paragraphs which introduce them, are taken from Marindin’s 1914 edition of the letters without mention of that source or specific page numbers.5 They contain more society gossip from around Europe and the Levant (5, 11-33) and references to the Scott connection (35-46) than information about Morritt’s antiquarian and topographical interests or efforts to collect art objects (24-29). The letter Morritt wrote November 12-13, 1794 to his aunt Frances, for example, is reduced to less than two pages (28-29; pp. 128-147 in Marindin’s edition). Its first paragraph reads, “I write to you at last from the heart of Homer’s country, from the shore of the Troad. ..[ 13 pages omitted ] Out of the windows on the other side we see the barrows of the Trojan chiefs, one of which is supposed to be Hector’s.[ this should read“one of which he {sc. Chevalier, i.e. Lechevalier} supposes Hector’s…” after which 8 lines are silently omitted, producing this sentence fragment ] The pleasure of fancying myself at the Scaen [ sic ] gate and seeing everything around me correspond with Homer’s own account of it. Nothing can be more accurate…”

The rest of the volume is made up of texts related to the Trojan War tradition and the archaeology of Troy (51-131) and ends with a list of “Sources” (132-135). Opening with what is mistakenly termed a “facsimile” of Lechevalier’s title page (51; in reality a defective transcription) and remarks thereon, it rambles through a variety of topics transmitting quantities of fault-filled material. Topics range from “Frank Calvert, Archaeologist… Troy — Hittite Cultural Interaction” (58-62, from Saudi Aramco World)6 and the Dörpfeld- Schliemann collaboration (66-70, from a flawed English translation [uncredited] of Dörpfeld’s preface to the 1936 edition of Schliemann’s correspondence on the WWW plus a bit of the preface to the 1931 U.S. edition of Emil Ludwig’s Schliemann biography),7 to “WAS THERE A TROJAN WAR?”, ascribed to “Manfred Korfmann ( University of Tubingen, Germany)” but in fact copied from an Archaeology article by J.D. Hawkins, and “Bronze Age Refrigerators” and the 2008 Troy excavations (125-127, “Excerpts; from Blomberg ( sic) (Internet)”).8

The Quest is no more than a disjointed collection of excerpts of previously published material, including the monographs of J.B.S. Morritt and Schliemann, articles on popular archaeology, the 2006 Rough Guide to Greece (129: “THE TROJAN WAR (A more plausible theory)”) and items posted on the WWW, all “selected/edited by Robert D. Morritt” (57, 95, 104, 107, 120, 125, 129 et passim). Mistakes form the bulk of its originality, as the passages already quoted indicate. Every page is rife with errors.9 Some concern facts: Dörpfeld is “buried in Athens” (66) rather than Lefkada; Joachim Latacz is called an “(Archaeologist)” (87), and “‘pithoi’, or pitchers” passes without comment (126). Others concern grammar/usage (119: “His account was very interesting, vivid and one wants it to have it to have occurred.”) and orthography (7: “Mycenaen” [Mycenaean]; 23: “sherbert” [sherbet]; 54: “precipes” [precipices], “Baticia” [Batieia]; 62, 79, 105, 133: “Korfman” [Korfmann]; 66: “Tiryus… Aeropolis… Permagon” [Tiryns… Acropolis… Pergamon]; 118: “Boadecia” [Boadicea]). Issues of typography/punctuation also arise: Roman numerals I, II, and III, for instance, always appear as “1,” “11,” and “111,” producing “Rameses 11” (74) and “LH 111 b” (104), while diacriticals are absent, quotation marks rare, and missing/misplaced spaces, commas, and full stops beyond count. Nor does any system for citing and quoting sources — authors are credited intermittently and inconsistently — or for compiling a bibliography appear to have been employed. The effect is more disheartening than a bad undergraduate essay.

Current economic trends and publishers’ fondness for camera-ready text might suggest that presses need not be held directly responsible for their authors’ shortcomings. Indeed, other recent books on aspects of antiquity from CSP are worthy examples of scholarship.10 But for a book as defective as this to have escaped the editing process so completely should be a cause of general concern, particularly in view of its hefty price tag. Potential readers of The Quest would be better off with digital versions of the original works.11


1. J.-B. Chevalier, A. Dalzel, Description of the Plain of Troy: with a map of that region, delineated from an actual survey (Edinburgh 1791). J. B. S. Morritt, A Vindication of Homer and of the Ancient Poets and Historians who have recorded the Siege and Fall of Troy (York 1798), esp. 78-123.

2. L. Cust, S. Colvin, History of the Society of Dilettanti (London 1898), 145-146.

3. Jacob Bryant, Some observations upon the Vindication of Homer, and of the ancient poets and historians who have recorded the siege and fall of Troy, (Eton 1799). Not mentioned in the book under review: J. B. S. Morritt, Additional remarks on the topography of Troy, &c. As given by Homer, Strabo, and the ancient geographers, in answer to Mr. Bryant’s last publications (London 1800) [50 p.] J. B. S. Morritt, Miscellaneous translations and imitations of the minor Greek poets (London 1802).

4. Michael Wood, In Search of the Trojan War (New York 1985), cited on 5 as “Portion of an article from “In Search of the Trojan War,” listed twice in the “Sources” (132) under “BBC Publications…” and “In Search of ….”

5. The letters of John B.S. Morritt of Rokeby: descriptive of journeys in Europe and Asia Minor in the years 1794-1796, ed. G.E. Marindin (London 1914), reprinted as A Grand Tour: Letters and Journeys 1794-96, John B.S. Morritt of Rokeby, with an introduction by P.J. Hogarth (London & Toronto 1985). referred to only on 49 (in the “Acknowledgements”) and 133 (in the bibliography as “Murray, John, Albemarle Street , London -1914 The Letters of John B .S Morritt of Rokeby. Edited by G.E.Marindin”).

6. Graham Chandler, ” In Search of The Real Troy” (listed under title rather than author on 132). Missing from the Calvert section: S.H. Allen, Finding the walls of Troy: Frank Calvert and Heinrich Schliemann at Hisarlik (Berkeley 1999).

7. E. Meyer, Briefe von Heinrich Schliemann (Berlin and Leipzig 1936), 7-16, tr. Marius Balogh:; E. Ludwig, Schliemann: The Story of a Gold-Seeker (Boston 1931), v.

8. J.D. Hawkins, ” Evidence from Hittite Records,” Archaeology 57.3 (2004). Ernst Pernicka (interview by Catherine Hickley, September 16, 2008).

9. 56-57: “George Grote, English Classical Historian” (“Charles Grote” on 1).

1.71-72: Carl Blegen (“Excerpts selected by Robert Morritt from University of Texas-Educational Courses”[?]).

1.75-81: “Troy and Homer,” a “condensed version” of Ian Morris’ review of Joachim Latacz, Troy and Homer (with typos added).

1.81-100: Schliemann and Troy: at 95: “Excerpts selected by Robert Morritt / Page 322- THE TREASURE OF PRIEM / Troy June 17.1873” (from Troy and its Remains).

1.105-113: “THE FALL OF TROY,” quoting Bulfinch’s Mythology, Apollodorus, Pausanias (112: “Born in Lydia 176 A.D.”; cf. 5 n. 1: “early Classical traveler, died in 180 A.D.”), and a “Medieval Poem – Quintus of Smyrna (5th.Century A.D.).”

1.117-120: “TROY IN ENGLAND?”, against “a Cambridge lecturer,” with “A Dissertation Against the occurrence of a Trojan War in England Robert D. Morritt, 2009”).

1.128: “Trojan War a Mythic or real event,” from the introduction (19-25) to Richmond Lattimore’s 1951 translation of the Iliad.

1.131: “THE DARK AGE IN ASIA MINOR (500 ‘Missing Years of History”),” attributed to “Prof. Ekrem Akurgat” ( sic); cf. = E. Akurgal, Die Kunst Anatoliens von Homer bis Alexander (Berlin 1961), 5.

10. Two recent examples: BMCR 2009.10.60 and 2010.04.10.

11. Chevalier, Morritt, Bryant, and Maclaren in Google Books: Description of the Plain of Troy; A Vindication of Homer and of the ancient Poets and Historians, who have recorded the Siege and Fall of Troy; Some observations upon the Vindication of Homer, and of the ancient poets and historians, who have recorded the siege and fall of Troy, written by I.B.S. Morritt; A dissertation on the topography of the plain of Troy; A dissertation on the topography of the plain of Troy; The plain of Troy described and the identity of the Ilium of Homer with the new Ilium of Strabo proved.