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I recently read a book by Hans Baumann called Lion Gate and Labyrinth: The World of Troy, Crete, and Mycenae.  I read the English translation which was published in 1967, the original was published in German in 1966.  The book largely covers the archaeological expeditions which uncovered the cities in the title of the book.  While a lot of facts (and some nice pictures) are given to outline the events which led up to these discoveries the narrative is actually pretty romantic.  While talking about Heinrich Schliemann and Arthur Evans there are often asides going into colorful detail about what they experienced and even felt while on the dig and in their homes at night thinking about their treks.  These facts and narratives are occasionally broken up by Greek myths which pertain to the areas being excavated.  A bit of the Iliad is given, as well as the story of Theseus and the Minotaur and Daedalus and Icarus.  Overall it's an interesting look at some of the modern stories being built around ancient myths.

One of the biggest things that stuck out to me while I was reading the book was some of the history which was given.  Of course around any history is a bit of speculation.  My favorite example of this is when Baumann talks about a different version of the Fall of Troy.  A group of people's called the Achaeans came from the north, the Danube region.  These people would eventually coexist with a group of native peoples in modern day Greece to become the ancient Greeks so many people are fascinated by today.  Well these Achaeans came with domesticated horses, and with these horses came their god of horses and earthquakes Poseidon.  When these peoples came to the Mediterranean Sea it was their first encounter with an ocean.  From the locals they learned about salt water fishing and boat making.  Soon the Achaeans became better boat makers than the locals and took to the sea in hopes of conquering new and unknown places.  These boats were their horses on the sea.  It was in this way that Poseidon came to hold dominion over the oceans.  As the story goes, it was Poseidon who built the walls of Troy expecting payment from King Laomedon.    The King didn't pay Poseidon who could do nothing to collect because he had been building the walls as punishment in the first place, brought down upon him by Zeus.  Well generations later the Greeks would come to Troy to reclaim their beauty Helen.  While this transpired Poseidon saw his opportunity to indirectly get revenge on these people.  He arrived in the form of a giant horse, just as the Greeks were about to give up.  He then broke a hole in the walls he himself had built.  The Greeks flooded in and in the end sacked the mighty city.  This is of course in opposition to the traditional story told about Odysseus and the wooden horse which infiltrated the stronghold in the guise of a gift.  Baumann speculates that Homer elaborated on the story which I just told in order to appease those modern audiences who wanted to hear about Greek heroes and not gods getting revenge. 

In this forty year old book I found wonderful stories and speculations like the one above.  It was those aspects that made this such an interesting read.  It was fascinating to learn about the lives of two (and more) of the foremost classical archaeologists but the major draw was what they found and what it meant.  It was these finds which theoretically prove that if the events of Greek mythology didn't transpire as written, many (if not most) of the places and people involved in those stories really did exist.  Burial sites containing treasures and written records along with geographic evidence show that there was indeed a city called Troy, and that at various points in time actually, it was razed to the ground.  There were palaces on the island of Crete and even a palace at Knossos with a floor plan which echoes the designs of a labyrinth.  Double-headed axes and bulls (in the form of statues, paintings, pottery, etc.) are scattered through all of Crete.  With things like this to take as evidence, the truth behind the myths has been at least partially uncovered. 

There have been more discoveries made since 1966 of course.  Some ideas have changed, some have stayed the same.  Something that I have found though is that if nothing else the ideas presented in this book can be fresh and new to those who have only heard about, been taught, and read the commonly accepted theories surrounding these classical races.  I would suggest anyone interested in Ancient Greece give this book a read.  My wife found this one in a surplus store, but libraries might have them, and there's always looking them up online.

Having had more of a technical look at it above, I'd like to say some more personal things about it.  People venerate "great" civilizations like this one.  Looking at what this book helps present it's easy to see how history repeats.  The Greeks venerated the Achaeans as their ancestors the way we do with the Greeks today.  Going back far enough we see a lot of the same patterns emerging.  I think it's important to keep an open mind and not have such a concrete view of things, especially things which can never be verified (short of time travel).  I was a part of the Junior Classical League for three years (and competed nationally) and some ideas this book brought forth were new to me.  Admittedly there's only so much that can be covered in a high school Latin class, but even in mainstream (and adult geared) media and thought it is hard to come across anything other than the same ideas that have been espoused since the Golden Age.  More often than not things are not set in stone and they change constantly, even if they happened hundreds or thousands of years ago.  Don't take what a textbook or professor says as gospel.

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