The Iliad: Overlapping Mycenaean Bronze Age And Dark Age Allegories

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Homer, Iliad, Trojan War, Bronze Age, Greek Dark Age, Mycenaean, Iron Age, Hisarlik, Heinrich Schliemann, Achilles, Oral Tradition, Lefkandi

The Iliad: Overlapping Mycenaean Bronze Age And Dark Age Allegories

Known as the “Age of Heroes,” the Mycenaean civilization (1600-1100 BC) was immortalized in the Homeric epics by such noteworthy characters as the imperious commander-in-chief “king of men” Agamemnon, the “swift-footed” war hero and demi-god, Achilles, and the enchanting “queen among women,” Helen herself.  The glittering gold glory of the late Bronze Age is known for its Cyclopean masonry, palatial states, reinforced bridges, fortified citadels, and giants with larger-than-life personas. Since the Mycenaeans could not speak for themselves, it has long been supposed that Homer (or the poets known as Homer) spoke for them. At last, when Homer put stylus to papyrus, he recorded for posterity a time when heroes roamed the earth side by side with the gods, and the resplendent Mycenaean civilization was still dominant. 

Wooden board (writing tablet) inscribed in Greek in ink with lines 468-473, Book I of Homer's Iliad, from Egypt, (400-500 AD) British Museum (Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin/ CC BY-SA 4.0)

Nevertheless, a space of 500 years separates Homer’s time (eighth-century BC) from the last vestiges of the late Bronze Age powerhouse. Is it appropriate to assume that the Homeric epics were reflective of the Mycenaean era exclusively?  After all, 500 years is no small matter. It would be as if events in a hypothetical prehistoric civilization, from 500 years ago, could be accurately reported by historians today. The preponderance of the 500-year interval is the blank slate otherwise known as the Greek Dark Age (1100-750 BC), an era that has often been easily glossed over by historians throughout the ages.

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