The ruins of Troy in Turkey’s Troad region are a bit disappointing, even worse than the Roman Wall in Northumberland and not at all like the still awesome land walls of Constantinople in nearby Istanbul. The fanatical businessman-cum-archaeologist Schliemann drove a great trench through the huge mound of Hissarlik here in the 19th century looking for the object of his obsession and it turned out that there were numerous cities superimposed on one another in a palimpsest of flattened walls and muddled chronologies. Still, this is where the legend certainly sprang from so the view at least must be similar to what Homer had in mind.
The Turkish authorities very obligingly erected a Trojan horse after tourists expecting Brad Pitt and a cast of thousands kept complaining that there was nothing to look at. It’s so tacky as to be almost attractive, like the plastic dragons and Buddha statues in an Indian shop just along the road from here.
Agamemnon, leader of the Greek forces bent on recovering Helen, wife of his brother Menelaus of Sparta, from the clutches of the Trojan prince Paris, after 10 years of siege finally captured the city but was murdered by his wife Clytemnestra when he returned home, in the bath. This was because on the way to Troy the fleet had been becalmed and a helpful seer had advised Agamemnon that he’d have to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to get things moving again.
I remember when I was a child riding my bike with a friend on the pavement at the local shops and accidentally but very gently touching a toddler with the front of my tyre. He stared at me blankly then slowly sat on the ground and began screaming, and immediately this harridan from hell in a floral dress and a beehive hairdo came racing out of the local butcher’s and scooped her little darling up before rounding on me. ‘You STUPID boy!!!’ she hissed and clearly wanted nothing more than to rip my head off and stamp on it with her bright red high heels. I was only six years old.
So I appreciate the strength of the maternal instinct and how it cuts through everything else, as clearly Agamemnon did not. Whether it’s in a Neanderthal cave, a Mycenaean palace or an English suburban housing estate in the 1960s, the beast will out. The Greeks themselves must have appreciated this, even in their patriarchal society in which the function of women was purely to produce the next generation of workers and warriors, because the Furies and Gorgons were all female.
A modern Clytemnestra would be the 26-year-old, 5-months-pregnant mother of two who last year shot and decapitated her attacker and left his severed head in a village square in Turkey. When arrested by the police she told them, ‘Nobody dishonours me. He dishonoured me.’ She’s been praised by women’s groups across Turkey, where many communities continue to treat their women as if they’re still living in the so-called Age of Heroes of pre-Classical Greece, with cloth caps replacing bronze helmets and hand-rolled cigarettes for spears.