The Iliad

In conclusion of this series of articles concerning the ancient Greek Civilization we give a brief description of the two Epic Poems that de facto became its religious texts. Greek literature begins in the 8th century B. C. with these Epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, attributed to the blind poet Homer, about whom we have little information. Probably he was born in Chios[1], where a guild of bards (kavi), called Homerids, had been active for many centuries.

In the prologue of the Iliad (Ἰλιάς, read Iliàs), the poet affirms that the very Zeus wanted to provoke the war. The explanation of this important statement lies in a fragment of the Cypria[2]. There it is said that the Goddess of the Earth, afflicted by the weight of a degenerate humanity on her, asked Zeus to relieve her from it. The King of the Gods listened to her prayer and sparked out a long and fierce conflict to diminish the number of those wicked ones.

The Iliad tells of a war fought at the end of the Bronze Age (i. e. Dvāpara yuga) between those Greeks called Achaeans[3] (or, sometimes, Mycenaeans) and the Trojans, the inhabitants of Troy[4], also known as Ilion (Ἲλιον, read Ílion). Troy was located on the western coast of present Turkey. The conflict broked out because Paris, one of the sons of the King of Troy, abducted the beautiful Helen[5], wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta and daughter of Zeus and one of his human lovers.

King Menelaus, to avenge such offense and rescue Helen, sought help from all the other Greek Kings. They then gathered a huge army and a powerful fleet of more than one thousand warships to cross the Aegean Sea and reach Troy. Agamemnon, King of Mycenae and brother of Menelaus, was elected leader (King of Kings) of the expedition.

The siege of Ilion lasted ten years. However, Homer narrates only the last fifty-one days of war. On the battlefield the most illustrious heroes were Achilles on the Greek side, and Hector on that of the Trojans. Achilles, King of the Myrmidons (the Ants), was the finest among all the warriors for courage and thirst for glory; he was also invulnerable at any part of the body with the exception of his left heel[6]. Having received the opportunity to choose between a short but glorious life and a long but inglorious one, Achilles chose the first.

The city of Ilion was protected by high walls and had numerous allies. The commander in chief of the Trojan army was Hector, the beloved son of King Priam, valiant and firm in his duty to fight to the end. Hector too aspired to glory, but primarily he aspired to save the city. While knowing he could not win Achilles, he bravely faced him in a duel. He was killed and his corpse barbarously outraged. Finally, however, Achilles returned the body of Hector to his old father, the King Priam. The poem closes with the funeral pier of Hector. The Trojans wept the death of their hero knowing that their hope of surviving went down with him. Therefore, Homer does not narrate the conquest and destruction of Troy.

Also the Olympian Gods took part in the war: each of them took the side of one of the contenders, helping their own devotees, until Zeus forced them to stop because Fate (Niyati), to which none of the Gods can oppose, had to be fulfilled. Troy was to be destroyed.

The heroes of both sides fought for the glory. They knew their duty was to fight; they did not fear the enemy and faced death valiantly to fulfil their svadharma and to be remembered by posterity. The only inglorious episode is a nocturnal expedition that Odysseus, the cunning King of Ithaca, led to the enemy camp, making slaughter of the sleeping Trojans.

From fragments of ancient works and from the Odyssey, we know that Ilion was conquered with deceit. Odysseus, famous for his deceptions, built a huge wooden horse in whose belly a group of warriors was hidden. The Greeks dismantled their camp, and their fleet set sail from the beach, pretending to return to Greece. The great mysterious wooden horse was left in front of Troy as a gift to the Goddess Athena, protectress of Troy. Jubilant for the departure of the Greeks, the Trojans imprudently introduced the horse with its burden of death into the city. During the night the Greeks came out of the horse and, with their comrades promptly returned from the sea under the cover of darkness, they massacred the sleeping inhabitants and destroyed the ancient Ilion with fire and sword.

Only Aeneas, son of Anchises, the blind brother of King Priam and of the Goddess Aphrodite, managed to escape with a small group of Trojans. After many adventures, he reached Italy where he founded Alba Longa, the first nucleus of Rome. Thus, the Trojan offspring continued its glorious history, giving rise to Rome, the city that later took revenge by conquering Greece and all the lands around the Mediterranean basin.

It is easy to recognize similarities between the tale of the Iliad and the Indian Itihāsas. First of all, the premise: the Earth lamenting to the King of the Gods the weight of the human kind that she had to sustain. Zeus then initiates the war that will lead to the extermination of the Bronze Age heroes. This remembers the following passage of the smṛti:

In the early age[7], when still there was no fear and danger, the primal God, Yama, dedicated himself to the sacrifices so no one died and the creatures continued to multiply. All creatures multiplied: birds, cattle, horses, fairs, and men, they grew in a disproportionate number.[8]

 

The text goes on describing how that uncontrolled multitude pressed the Earth under its weight, obliging Yama to assume his role as God of death. Earth then requested the help of Lord Viṣṇu. He, transformed into a wild boar, hooked the Earth-Vārāhī with his tusk and pulled her up until she emerged again.

The war was motivated by the abduction of Helen by the Trojan Prince Paris. Menelaus gathered all Greek tribes and organized the expedition against Troy. This remembers the abduction of Sītā by Rāvaṇa, and the expedition organized by Rāma against Laṅkā.

Also the Gods participated in the Trojan War; and similarely the army of Śrī Rāma was formed by Gods disguised as monkeys and bears, whereas the troops of Rāvaṇa were made of rākṣasas and asuras.

However, in the Homeric tale the two sides appear inverted. In the Iliad the field of dharma does not correspond, as it should be, to the city of Troy, the Vārāhī of the Hyperborean-Arctic Tradition but to the Achaeans-Atlanteans, who should represent adharma. On the contrary, in the Rāmāyaṇa the demonic Atlantean inhabitants of the oceanic island are defeated. Likewise, in the Mahābhārata, the Greeks should correspond to the Kauravas and the Trojans to the Pāṇḍavas.

The battles and duels described in the Iliad look like those described in the Mahābhārata. Even in the saṃskṛta poem, the Gods participate in the fighting, especially through their human offspring. The episode of the night raid is practically the same both in the Iliad and in Mahābhārata. The difference is that in the Iliad the treacherous night attack and the consequent massacre of Trojans are considered as a ruse of war. On the contrary in Mahābhārata the night attack lead by Aśvatthāmā in the Pāṇḍava’s camp is described as a vile abomination.

What differentiates the Iliad from saṃskṛta Itihāsas is that in this Greek Epic Poem there are no sapiential sections: no chapter comparable to Yoga Vasiṣṭha, Bhagavad Gītā or Anu Gītā, demonstrating in this way a trend merely kṣatriya. Only vague descriptions of sacrifices and cremation rituals or some symbolism and allegory can be found; for instance, the illustration of the shield of Achilles, on which was chiselled a cosmography; or the description of the warrior code, the respect for the priests, the inevitability of Fate, but nothing else.

Heraclitus (535.475 B. C.) stated that the so-called great masters as Homer and Hesiodus put together all the greatest and most important events in a complete confusion. Homer, generally considered as the wisest among the Greeks, could not understand a simple riddle proposed to him by a group of children! Heraclitus has been one of the greatest Greek wise men, comparable to Pythagoras and Empedocles. He had been initiated in Eleusis and with his exceptional intellectual qualifications he reached the intuition of the eternal Truth beyond the illusory world.

Durgādevī

 

 

[1] Aegean Sea Island.

[2] A lost Epic Poem, which was part of the Trojan cycle Literature.

[3] The Achaeans were one of the Sea Peoples, so they were of Atlantean origin.

[4] Romans called this city in such way. Troy in Latin means the female of boar, Vārāhī. This proves Troy as a city of Arctic-Hyperborean tradition.

[5] Helen (Ἑλένη read Helène). Her name has been linked to the moon (σελήνη, read Seléne), and to its splendour (σέλας, read sélas). Elena is described with a pale complexion: her skin, in fact, recalls the candid lunar splendour. In Rāmāyaṇa, Sītā as śakti of Rāmacandra also has lunar features.

[6] The myth narrates that the goddess Thetis, wanting to make her son immortal, immersed him in the water of the Styx, an infernal river. Thus, she made him invulnerable throughout his body except the heel from which she was holding him. In fact, Achilles was wounded to death on his heel by Paris.

[7] It does not matter that the two episodes refer to different yugas. As we know, human events are cyclically similar to each other.

[8] Mahābhārata, Droṇa Parvan, LIII. 4.