BMCR 2011.10.34

Response: Kolb on Kennell on Kolb, Tatort ‘Troia’: Geschichte, Mythen, Politik

Response to 2011.07.12

Response by

Stefanie Kennell has written a superficial and rather unfair review which does not inform the reader about the content of the book and tends to belittle me and the quality of my work.

At the beginning, she gives an introduction into the history of research on the Troy problem which is nothing more than an abridged version of p. 41-55 of my book.

She maintains that “Kolb speaks out against what he considers the ‘instrumentalization’ of the myth of Troy since antiquity”. This is a misrepresentation of what one finds on p.19-39 of the book: a sober overview of the use of the Trojan myth for legitimizing political actions and social status throughout history.

Therefore, another of Kennell’s statements is problematic, too: “Kolb misses an essential point” in not realizing that “instrumentalization is inescapable”. What I speak out against is the opportunistic abuse of the Trojan myth and the excavation site by a modern scholar, the excavator Manfred Korfmann, who supported an nationalistic Turkish interpretation of history in which the Turkish people are presented as the origin of European and World civilization, as the descendants of all Anatolian peoples starting with the Hittites and the Ionian Greeks with all their political, scientific and cultural accomplishments. Homer, his poems and the site of Troy are interpreted as Anatolian/Turkish heritage and used as arguments for the Turkish claim to membership in the European Union. Kennell presents my criticism of Korfmann’s favouring such ridiculous claims as “anti-Turkish tone”. This may be the reason why she calls my book “politically conservative”, obviously regarding “conservative” as something detestable. But should not everybody be conservative, if this means criticising, unmasking and deconstructing the use of pseudohistorical arguments for political purposes in the way Korfmann did and Turkish political propaganda does in creating nationalistic myths?

Next, Kennell allows herself a little bit less than 11 lines to inform about what one might come across in reading the central, most important chapters of the book which comprise p.53-202, that is 80% of the written text. The reader learns little about my arguments and the results presented in these chapters, which means that he is prevented from appreciating the character and the quality of the book. How does Kennell explain this grave deficiency of her review? “It is for specialists to judge the validity and relevance of Kolb’s evidence”, she comments. This declaration of scholarly bankruptcy raises serious questions: Why did the editors of Bryn Mawr Classical Review entrust the review of this book to somebody who admits being unable to tackle the core of it? What are the objectives of this review?

Perhaps its purpose is revealed by certain unfair suggestions as the following ones: “Kolb’s characterization of Schliemann is ambivalent, not least because he considers Korfmann as a would-be improved version of Schliemann”. My characterization of Schliemann is ambivalent, because he was ambivalent! Kennell goes on to maintain that my judgment of Schliemann did not “mainly derive from direct contact with Schliemann’s own writings” but “from previous scholarship”. Naturally, I have used the results of previous scholarship; anything else would have been irresponsible. I make extensive use of Schliemann’s original writings throughout the book, especially in the 80% of the book that Kennell glosses over.

Moreover, she maintains that I ask the excavators of Hisarlik (so-called Troy) to stop “defending their excavation findings”. No, I ask them to stop defending their fictions (p.250). Furthermore, nowhere in my book will the reader find a statement or the opinion “that only philologically trained historians” … are “fully able to evaluate archaeological data”. Nor did I conceal from the readers of my book that “the current Troia Project director Ernst Pernicka” is an “archaeometallurgist”. You will find this on p.228 of my book, together with the statement, criticised by Kennell, that an archaeometallurgist is a chemist and neither an archaeologist nor a historian – what I would expect an excavation director to be, especially in the case of such a complicated and historically charged excavation.

Finally, Kennell states that I wrote an “intellectually … conservative” and “inherently German book”. In fact, she does not explain what she means with these labels, it just sounds as if they are disqualifying marks. But why? What exactly would be a ‘progressive’ attitude regarding the topic of the book? And, as for German scholarship: An English specialist of epic poetry, Martin West, has just recently published a book on the Iliad. In the bibliography of his book you will find predominantly German publications of the 19th and 20th centuries, which West obviously regards as particularly important. Therefore, why not read another German book – in spite of Stefanie Kennell’s problematic review?