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"From Troy to Gallipoli" By Tony Perrottet Part -
Posted 17 December 2003 - 14:12
From Troy to Gallipoli
"These war-torn shores are strewn with blades, bullets, and bones."
TRUVA, OR, TROY, IS TODAY WIDELY REGARDED AS ONE OF the Mediterranean world's greatest disappointments; guidebook after guidebook insists that it's not worth the effort to visit. In fact, the ancient ruins are so notoriously abject that desperate locals have built a giant wooden model Trojan horse-just to give baf- fled tourists something to photograph.
Apparently even this wasn't working, but it was irresistible to me. After all, the mystique of Troy is as potent now as ever-thanks as much to cinematic versions as to Homer's thunderous verse. Today, Homer's screed is admired but rarely read; for modern tastes, its 15,600 lines of mythological digressions, genealogy, for- mulaic combat, and bombastic rhetoric comprise an all but im- penetrable quagmire. It's an effort for us to imagine how utterly revered the Iliad was in the Roman era, when it was considered the ultimate text, as profound as Scripture and as insightful as Shakespeare. I was carrying an extraordinary new translation by Stanley Lombardo, which was more approachable: His terse, clipped lines made the narrative crackle again, and the heroes' speeches fluid. But even for those who have never read a line of Homer, the stories of the siege remain brilliantly alive, embeddeddeep in the Western psyche. In the.nineteenth century, the quest to discover "lost Troy" became one of the great historical adven- ture stories of modern times. And the site can grab headlines: The war of words about the factual basis of Homer's account is as emo- tionally charged as when the redoubtable "father of field archaeol- ogy," Heinrich Schhemann, dug his first spade here in the 1870s. And then there are those endless reruns of Uysses and Helen of Troy, circa 1955...
How could you be in Turkey and not make the pilgrimage to Troy?
So noted the poet Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, who visited the site around A.D. 60, in the reign of Nero, and used his impressions to describe the tour ofjulius Caesar.
He walked around what had once been Troy, now only a name, and looked for traces of the great wall which the
god Apollo had built. But he found the hill clothed with thorny scrub and decaying trees, whose aged roots were embedded in the foundations.
The sightseeing Caesar in the poem doesn't pack up and leave in disappointment, or wish he hadn't bothered. To Romans, the disappearance of Troy's famous fortifications was logical and expected-after all, the city had been caught in a "whirlwind of doom," as Aeschylus said in one play, its glories "ground to dust." So the absence of major ruins actually added an extra poetic dimension to a visit, allowing visitors to poignantly muse on the fragility of human endeavor. Empires pass; fame and memory endure. "Every stone had a name," notes Lucanus, and Caesar's guide sardonically warns him not to tread on Hector's ghost.
This, I had a feeling, was something that modern visitors might need to keep in mind; standard tourist expectations might have to be left by the wayside.
The nearest town for visits to Troy today hes directly above the pebbly shore of the Dardanelles Strait. Canakkale-pronounced cha-knuckle-a)---is yet another of Turkey's mysteriously faceless cities. It exists to the tune of high-pitched drilling, with every street and building in a perpetual state of renovation from earth- quake damage. Its fractured hotel balconies provide ringside seats for the parade of supertankers on their way to the Black Sea; down below, car ferries break loose of the Asian shore and plow through the syrupy waters, describing a wide parabola as they defy the powerful current. On both sides of this two-mile wide pas- sage one of the great strategic bottlenecks of history-Ottoman fortresses squat like bloated gargoyles. Turkish air force jets regu- larly buzz overhead, naval recruits fill the streets, and worried neighbors still rattle sabers over Turkey's dominance of crucial oil shipping lanes.
On our own visit, the weather remained resolutely English. Day after day, walls of rain and fog advanced and retreated in subtle tac- tical maneuvers.
Les wasn't getting any healthier in this damp northern climate, but at least she seemed to be enjoying the view, staring in mes- merized prenatal bliss at the eddying currents. As for me, I wan- dered the sodden streets of the town, meeting up with provincial scholars at the museums, watching Turkish navy drills, returning with lamb kebab dinners and bottles of Troy Pilsner, the local brew with-of course!-the silhouette of the Trojan Horse on its label.
We'd been trapped in industrial outposts before, caught by bad weather, and accepted our lot; gloomy Canakkale was almost a wel- come punctuation in the regime of constant travel. But then, on the fourth morning, the skies cleared up without warning. It was like the opening credits of ne Simpsons. By noon, not a cloud was left in the pearly blue sky. Down below, Turks were blinking at the bril- liance with the expressions of coal miners emerged from the pit.
I left Les wrapped in a blanket, pondering the same dark waters that Lord Byron had once swum (tour companies now help swim- mers emulate the feat at. a mere $550 a pop), and headed out into that "whirlwind of doom," birthplace ofWestern civilization's most cherished tales.
From the Canakkale bus station, a crowded dolmus was carrying cotton farmers into the fields. It already felt like a serious step back in time. The men sat silently -in peaked caps and woolen suit jackets; the women's gold teeth sparkled in the sun as they belly-laughed.
I sat with my knees against my chest, watching the driver work his way, cigarette by cigarette, through the pack. He passed me some Turkish delight ("Turkish Viagra-with cashew flavor"). Outside, it might have been French wine country; the pastures were filled with canary yellow wildflowers. But inside the bus, this was definitely Asia. Manic music clawed its way out of the radio. Piled boxes full of fish and cheese swayed in the aisles. Now I knew why one of the infatuated British expats I'd spoken to down south had compared rural Turkey to Spain fifty years ago. It felt a million miles away from the coast with its English pubs and ATMs.
The driver stopped outside the Helen Restaurant, which was nearly obliterated by plaster sculptures, and directed me down an empty agricultural road. A glossy black snake slithered in the thickets nearby. Overhead, a pair of Turkish F-111s shot past like Apollo's silver arrows; they tore the sky open as they broke the sound barrier. Then it was back to millennial silence, broken only by the scuttling of beetles on the stones.
So this was it-the high road to Troy. I couldn't quite believe it. The approach to the most famous city in history --- symbol, in a way, of all man's cities-the place where the ancients felt the his- torical enmity between East and West had begun.
The entrance to the site was announced by a ranch house, where the guards were sipping tea from tall glasses, too pleased with the weather to bother charging me the entrance fee. I gath- ered I was the only visitor that afternoon. A shady path wound on- wards directly to the main attraction-a wooden horse standing above a trimmed rose garden.
Today's Trojan horse isn't quite the "steed of monstrous height" sung by the poets; in fact, it's a bit of a dwarf. It had been lacquered with a staunch dark gloss; the mane was trimmed into a brittle mohawk. You could climb inside its belly and play Ulysses; win- dows were inserted for a better view of the flowers. The recon- struction wasn't an entirely risible effort, though. After all, even the guidebook writers who cruelly mocked it had included pictures. It filled a need, obviously, as much as ancient Ilium's guides had needed imaginative props like Paris'lyre. Naturally, I took several photographs. A rocky path led out to the hill now called Hisarhk-a spear- head of land jutting above an apple-green plain, which runs five miles out to the indigo sea. Only after drinking in the space ;ind light did I realize that there were some archaeological trenches around my feet. A few haphazard mounds of excavated earth rose like refuse heaps. Id passed through the legendary Scaean Gates of Troy-or at least their foundations-and hadn't actually noticed.
Yes, it was undeniably a far stretch from the standardized visions of the city's grandeur-not only Homer's grandiose epithets, but all those chintzy film versions. In the execrable Helen of Troy, for example, the ancient towers look taller than Babylon's, giant gates swing back and forth, while 30,000 extras and war chariots charge in and out. Kirk Douglas himself had been needed to get past them in Ulysses. But the walls of Troy today look like they've been pul- verized by a giant hammer. A sailor passing through the Dardanelles would barely glance at this mutilated hillock-an in- dustrial slag-heap, perhaps, or an abandoned Turkish mine?
The frustration is that there has never been just one Troy. Archaeologists have actually found nine Troys, each built on the ruins of the last (and just to make things even more confusing, there are forty-seven subdivisions, too). The hill is best thought of as a giant chocolate wafer with layer upon layer of Troys inside. The oldest version of the city, called prosaically enough "Troy I," dates back 5,000 years. The Troy everyone is actually interested in-Heroic Troy, of Homer's heroes fame, which fell around 1260 B.c.-has been identified as Troy VI. The Roman city of Novum Ilium, or New Troy, is the last exposed layer, called Troy IX.
And while there is a -glut of Troys on the site, there's not really very much left of any of them. The city suffered a second devasta- tion at the end of antiquity. Sacked by Goths from beyond the Black Sea, its port silted, the site was abandoned in the sixth century A.D. Tremors and floods did the rest, burying the remains for 1,500 years. Modern excavations have exposed slivers of one Troy, frag- ments of another, the rubble of the next.
I wandered about the kaleidoscope of centuries, trying to pry the Troys apart. As it happens, the remains of Troy IX-the lucky, wealthy outpost of Rome's "New Troy"-make the most sense. There are the clear outlines of its two amphitheaters and the def- inite foundations of the temple of Athena. Of course,just like any ancient tourists, I was compelled to seek out the shreds of Homer's version-Troy VI. Ever-sensitive to foreign interest, Turkish au- thorities have put up signs pointing out any relic. And there it was-a single exposed corner of the world's most famous fortress wall, angled and steep,just as the poet promised. I stopped, stared, and-pathetic as the fragment was--couldn't help shuddering with amazement.
It was no effort at all to imagine that these stones once echoed with the howls of soldiers.
I could finally taste the sheer anticipation that ancient sightseers felt when standing on this blood-soaked spot. All along their Grand Tour, Romans had been fed a tantalizing diet of Trojan War bric- a-brac. Rhodes had had Helen's personal silver cup, fashioned in the shape of one of her perfect breasts; Sparta, the egg from which she emerged (she was the daughter of Leda, who had been violated by Zeus in the form of a swan; the giant egg was probably an African ostrich's). A temple in southern Italy displayed the carpentry tools that the Greeks had supposedly used to build the Trojan horse; cities in Asia proudly displayed the papyrus letters of war veterans to their loved ones. But nothing could compare to standing on the hallowed turf of Troy itself--or drinking in the famous view of the seashore. By the time of their visits, fourteen centuries of silt had already begun to distort the coastline's shape. But miraculously, everything else about the topography fit the precise descriptions of Homer: the landing cove with its "gaping mouth, enclosed by the jaws of two jutting headlands" (now called Besika Bay); the course of the two rivers, the Simois and the Scamander; the locations of the burbling freshwater springs. On clear days, ancient tourists could make out the distant island mountain peak from which the god Poseidon, swathed in pale sea mist, had watched the battles.
After dinner on their first evening, the visiting tourists would leave their inns and gaze down upon the moonlit scene, perhaps reciting one of the most beloved passages from Homer, when the Trojan soldiers camped before the foray they hoped would shatter the siege:
The Trojans had great notions that night,
Sitting on the bridge of war by their watchfires.
Stars: crowds of them in the sky, sharp In the moonglow when the wind falls And all the cliffs and hills and peaks Stand out and the air shears down From heaven, and all the stars are visible And the watching shepherd smiles.
So the bonfires between the Greek ships And the banks of the Xanthus, burning On the plain before Ilion.
And I, finally gazing out at the same storied scene, could almost smell the smoke of those fires; once again, the past was lurching to life.
. The next morning at dawn, tourists prepared for a sightseeing routine that was by now almost second nature to them. After a perfunctory breakfast of bread dipped in wine, they sallied forth to meet the Ihan guides, accompanied by servants carrying some sim- ple food for lunch-cheese, olives, fruit-a spare cloak in case of rain, and the papyrus guidebook. Many would also have copies of Homer and Virgil-eved though educated Romans knew the lines of both by heart. Some had no doubt picked up the pulpy "eye- witness accounts" of Trojan heroes; like war comics, un-poetic, but full of the clash of swordplay and dust of the plains.
And then they set off down the hill to the world's most fa- mous battlefield.
"From Troy to Gallipoli" By Tony Perrottet Part - I -
Posted 17 December 2003 - 14:30
[b][size=18]From Troy to Gallipoli
We can reconstruct the standard format of the tour from such disparate sources as the geography of Strabo, the biography of Apollonius, Tacitus' descrip- tion of prince Germanicus' visit and accounts of Hadrian's trip in A.D. 120. It began with a visit to the beach where the Greeks' thousand black-hulled ships had made the first recorded amphibious landing. The warriors in boar's tusk helmets had forced their way onto Asian soil against stiff Trojan resistance; the armada was soon moored by the "gray churning surf," the tents of troops making a miniature city in the grass. As ever, the "historical" was mixed with the mythological: those an- cient Roman tourists clam- ored to see the actual cave where the Trojan prince Paris judged the beauty contest be- tween Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, starting the god- desses' jealousy that would dog mortals throughout the war, and the exact spot where Zeus, shaped as an eagle, had swept down on the handsome Trojan prince Ganymedes and carried him off to be his wine bearer in Olvmvus. As the tour groups proceeded inland,,the landmarks allowed them to relive the story.
Ruins, yes-immortal ruins. Not for 3,000 years has a day passed but some Greek, or Roman, or Byzantine, or mod- ern Occidental has dreamed of Troy, or read of Troy, or gone to Troy. Its fame is imperishable; its romance is inexhaustible. To our own faraway new world its great name has echoed, and 1, for one, am proud to have answered its calling, to have lain atop the crumbling battlements in the twilight with the wind whim- pering fi7etfully through the grass-grown ruins, and with the ghosts of Priam and Hecuba, Helen and Andromache drifting beside me, as each night they mount to the Scaean Tower to watch, with hollow anguished eyes, the ghostly horses of the ghostly Achilles dragging Hector's shadowy body before the silent, sleeping, sorrow-laden mound that once was Troy.
-Richard HaUiburton, ne Glorious Adventure
Here was the site where Achilles, the greatest Greek warrior, had argued with commander King Agamemnon, and in his majestic sulk threatened to abandon the campaign. Over there was where Achilles' lover Patroclus was killed by the Trojans, inspiring Achilles with a new lust for blood. Here was where Achilles cor- nered and slew Hector, the greatest of the Trojan warriors (the Iliad actually ends after this point; the rest of the Troy tale is re- counted in myriad poems and plays). This was where the wooden horse was built, here it was found by the Trojans. 77tis was the spot where the skeptic Laocoon denounced the horse as a trick-and was plucked into the sea by a giant serpent for his pains, with his sons. This divine signal convinced the Trojans that the horse was a genuine gift, convincing them to go on their all-night drunken bender...
The conclusion of the tale hardly needs repeating.
Next stop on the tour was the graves of the war dead-not the common foot soldiers, but Homer's heroes. To keep Roman inter- est at fever pitch, the Ilians made sure there were helpful visual aids: Each tumulus, or fimerary mound, was crowned by a fine statue of the character whose bones and ashes lay inside; Ilian priests kept a small fire burning year-round at his feet.
The hands-down favorite, out on the windy Sigeurn promon- tory, was the tomb of Achilles, the Homeric killing machine-in- vulnerable except for his famous heel. This was the perfect place for Roman tourists' displays ofpietas, religious piety. They anointed its weathered stones with oil and perfume, garlanded the statue with fragrant flowers, and burned incense at its base. The more sophomoric ran around the tomb three times naked, mimicking Achilles'chase of Hector around Troy's walls (Alexander the Great had repeated the feat). Two miles east, doused by ocean waves at high tide, lay the cairn of Ajax, the Greeks' second-string warrior. This was the scene of one of ancient tourism's most memorable sensations when, around A.D. 120, the burial mound collapsed from erosion and revealed the bones of a powerful giant. Awestruck Ihan priests measured the hero's skeleton at eleven cubits (seventeen feet) high. No less a personage than the Emperor Hadrian himself traveled to New Troy to restore the grave, with all the pomp and ceremony the occasion demanded. He reverently placed the bones into a new marble tomb, kissing and embracing them as he did so.
Again and again, the discovery of "heroes' bones" would prove a tourist boon for Ilium. The most sensational moment came in A.D. 170, when the collapse of a coastal cliff exposed dozens of monstrous skulls and rib cages; sightseers sailed from all over the Aegean to inspect skeletons over thirty feet in length, many pur- loining them as souvenirs. (In her study, The First Fossil Hunters, Adrienne Mayor suggests that they were probably the remains of Mastodons from the Pleistocene Epoch; the skeletons of these giant mammals appear to the untrained eye to be enormous human bones. Ancient scientists like Pliny the Elder studied them closely, and mourned the fact that mortals were obviously becom- ing punier with the passage of time.)
After Achilles and Ajax came the Trojan tombs-King Priam was buried there, as was Paris, buried with his jilted wife. The local favorite was naturally Hector-the noble, doomed family man, who gave his life to defend Troy, despite his conviction that Helen and Paris' adultery was wrong. It was the perfect site for soulful musings on filial duty: Many a Roman was moved to record his thoughts, such as the prince Germanicus in A.D. 18, who com- posed an epigram On the Barrow of Hector. Unfortunately, the lines are now lost.
In such an emotionally-charged, evocative locale-Troy was more a pagan Jerusalem than an ancient Gettysburg---it's hardly surprising that some Roman tourists had visions.
Specters of the heroes might be encountered by night, illumi- nated under flashes of lightning; even at noon, the clash of arms could be heard as the pair eternally reenacted their famous duel. The statues astride their burial mounds were credited with super- natural powers by local herdsmen. Achilles' image-a dandyish figure, apparently, wearing a fine cloak and an earring-foretold the future: If it was covered in moisture, floods were coming; a layer of dust meant drought; speckled in blood, plague. Hector's statue was sometimes seen to breathe; during Troy's annual athletic Games, it perspired in sympathy with the competitors. An Assyrian traveler who foolishly insulted Hector's statue was drowned soon afterwards in a raging river; eyewitnesses said that an armored man ordered the waters to rise. And shepherds kept their flocks away from the tomb of Ajax: The Greek hero had gone mad at the end of his life, and started slaughtering sheep, so it was said that the grass around his grave was poisonous.
Christians accepted that Troy was a powerful node of pagan be- lief, and avoided it on any journey. If forced to travel nearby, they continually crossed themselves-and as they passed Troy's haunted tombs, they hissed between their teeth to ward off evil spirits.
The ghost tales were all fascinating, if a little unnerving, for Roman tourists. But at least one visitor actively sought out the supernatural: Apollonius, the pagan holy man. According to his bi- ography, he took the standard Troy Battlefield Tour in the mid-first century, then at dusk alarmed his followers by announcing that he would spend the night alone at Achilles'tomb.
"Oh Achilles!" Apollonius chants after dark. "Most of mankind declare that you are dead, but I do not agree with them. If I am correct, then show yourself to me..."
Thereupon a minor earthquake shook the area around
the tomb, and a man came forth eight foot high, wearing a Thessalian cloak.
Apparently Achilles is far more handsome than his statue sug- gests, with rippling muscles, long flowing hair, and "the first down of youth" on his cheeks-the contemporary Greek pinup boy. The ghost then grows to twenty feet in height and-in exchange for a promise that Apollonius will travel to his birthplace in Thessaly@ allows Apollonius to ask five questions. To modern ears, the queries he chooses are painfidly obscure, focusing on the Iliad's finer details. (Why does Homer not mention a Greek hero called Palamedes? Was Helen really brought to Troy, or was she hidden in Egypt as some suggest? Is Achilles buried in the way Homer describes? Were there re4y so many great heroes in the war as Homer says? Yes, answers the ghost-for "at that time excellence flourished all over the earth.")
Achilles then vanishes "with a flash of summer lightning"just as dawn is breaking.
If a modern traveler were put in the same position as Apollomius, the first question would be far more basic: Did the Trojan War ever really happen?
Nobody in antiquity ever doubted the historical reality of the Trojan War. The opinion that Homer's epic was a fantasy only emerged in the modern era, when travelers battled their way to the Dardanelles and found no trace at all of the pagan sanctuarr-just fields of brushwood crossed by shepherds and camel traders. Romantic visitors grasped at straws. But in the absence of physical evidence, most historians became convinced that the Iliad was a beautiful fiction. King Agamemnon, Achilles, Helen, and Hector were fairy tale figures.
Famously, it was the larger-than-life adventurer Heinrich Schhemann who, in the early 1870s, argued that not only did Troy exist, it could be found by using the Iliad as a guidebook. He iden- tified key passages which corresponded to physically identifiable locations, and decided that the undistinguished hill. of Hisarlik was really the Homeric site. As a fellow excavator later joked, it was as if Schhemann's tiny wiry-rimmed spectacles gave him X-ray vision. The balding, beetle-like German accompanied by his Greek mail- order bride proceeded to dig a series of trenches that revealed an ancient fortress, and then a cache of treasure@-weapons, diadems, sixty earrings, and no less than 8,750 small gold ornaments (for dra- matic effect, Scl-Aiemann combined all the objects he'd found over the course of thj;ee years into the one "find"-a rampant case of result-fudging, but the artifacts themselves were authentic). Schhemann proclaimed the cache to be "King Priam's Treasure;" he took photographs of his wife wearing "the jewels of Helen."
It seemed as if Schhemann really had found Homer's Troy- until it was proven that the artifacts were around 1,000 years too old to correspond to any Bronze Age invasion by Greeks. It was left to another German, Wilhelm Dorpfeld to solve the riddle in 1894. It was he who proved that there were, in fact, nine different Troys. In his excitement, Schliemann had delved down to Troy II-circa 2500 B.C. Dorpfeld did identify the parts of Troy VI we can now see the imposing, angled bastion that fitted the time frame of Homer's war.
Unfortunately, this in itself did not prove that the Trojan War had ever occurred.
Today, while there is still violent dispute over the historical basis of Homer's war, most archaeologists accept that there is a kernel of truth to the poetic story.
The most thoughtful assessment to date is given by Michael Wood in his book, In Search of the Trojan War. Although the finer details can never be entirely proven, evidence for some sort of con- flict is now considerable. In 1275-1260 B.C., a Bronze Age Greek force probably did mount an amphibious invasion of Troy and lay siege to its imposing walls. Their motive may well have been dis- appointingly unromantic: seizing the trading routes from the Aegean to the Black Sea. It's certainly not impossible, however, that a Spartan woman named Helen was abducted to Troy; the capture of women as prisoners was a common practice in that piratical era. The leader of the Greek alliance may well have been called King Agamemnon and, given the chaotic relations between cities at that time, he certainly would have spent much energy in controlling his unruly gaggle of self-serving warlords from around Greece.
Even the Trojan horse--the least plausible but arguably most beloved part of the tale-may be an imaginative reinvention of a real event. One hypothesis explaining the fall of Troy is that an earth tremor shattered the impregnable fortress (there is some evidence for this at the site). The horse was sacred to Poseidon, god of the sea and earthquakes, and the triumphant Greek warriors-who had clam- ored to victory over divinely-broken walls-may have left a cult statue of a wooden horse as a thanks-offering when they departed.
Homer himself-if he was only one man, and his works aren't a composite of different poets-didn't visit Troy until around 750 B.C., 500 years after the fact. By then, Greek storytellers had already turned the war into a national epic of Gods and Heroes.
Whatever the original truth, Troy was rebuilt on Greek mythomania.
As the return dolmus barreled back through the vegetable patches to Canakkale, I had to wonder: What was it about the Dardanelles and patriotic myths?
In the Middle Ages, both the British and French royal courts claimed to trace their lineage back to the original Trojan refugees-just as Roman Emperors had looked to Aeneas. Then, in the early twentieth century, two even more remote countries proclaimed that they were'born'from a defeat on the Dardanelles. Today, their citizens come in droves to pay homage to the war graves, join battlefield tours, lay wreaths and libations-very much like our Roman friends. Their governments fund special conunis- sions to make sure that war graves are kept intact.
Those distant lands-improbably enough-are Australia and New Zealand.
One spring dawn in 1915, the age-old conflict of East versus West was replayed on a grisly industrialized scale when a huge amphibious force stormed ashore on the peninsula opposite Troy, called Gallipoli. The Allies, led by the British and under the com- mand of the young Winston Churchill, planned in one bold stroke to knock the Ottoman Empire out of the First World War; the ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) were cho- sen as the most expendable shock troops. They were pinned down on the beaches and slaughtered by the thousands before gaining a tenuous finger-hold on the coast; the Turks settled in to brutal trench warfare, with obscene losses on both sides. The stench of rotting corpses filled the air for miles around. (As one observer memorably put it: "the smell of death was tangible ... and clammy as the membrane of a bat's wing.") Finally, after nine months of carnage, the Allies withdrew.
As one of the most fiitile campaigns in the most futile of wars, Gallipoli might have sunk into the black hole of history. But for the Australians particularly, the I'oss of so many young men in the country's first full-scale war-8,587 killed, nearly 20,000
wounded-was a national trauma, a shocking swathe of casualties torn through the small population. Nationa- lists hailed Gallipoli as a "baptism of fire." The day of the invasion, April 25th, is still commemorated with undiminished emotion each year in Australia. Every little town has its ANZAC pa- rade. Endless books and newspaper articles annually explore the event. It was the subject of one of Australia's first international hit movies, Gallipoli, starring the fresh- faced Mel Gibson.
And thousands of Aussies make the pilgrimage to the battlefield every year-mostly young backpackers who in- clude Gallipoli in their own Grand Tours somewhere be- tween the running of the bulls in Pamplona and Oktoberfest in Munich.
The Turks have certainly buried the hatchet. Dusting the Trojan soil from my boots, I dropped by ANZAC House, the biggest backpacker hostel in Canakkale and a Middle -
[i]The curve of the hill startles my eye, delineated by white crosses against a murky landscape of scrappy grass and low-lying shrub. It looks like nothing here could put down a root, find a core. Only rhizomes creeping forward, spreading a lattice of suckers under the sandy earth. We look at our feet amongst the stones and cigarette butts, searching for the detritus of conflict, which apart from the yawning pits capped with marble tribute In Loving Memory, is invisible. A pebble draws my eye because it is too round to be a pebble. I pull it out of the dirt and feel remarkable weight. I look at the patina of years since it dropped to the earth and imagine its velocity. I feel no inclination to mourn or celebrate. "Bullet," says the guide, and flicks his cigarette into a pool of water. "We'll find plenty more tkan that, it has been raining."
-Anna Hedigan, "Canakkale," Meanjin: Fine Writing & Provocative Ideas
"From Troy to Gallipoli" By Tony Perrottet Part - II -
Posted 17 December 2003 - 14:42
[b][size=18]From Troy to Gallipoli
Eastern shrine to suburban Sydn.ey. In the hostel's caf6 were jars of Vegemite stacked up for the breakfast toast. There were towels em- blazoned with koalas pinned to the walls, photos of the Opera. House and football stars. The Turkish desk clerk grunted "Gday, mate" with a pitch-perfect Paul Hogan twang, while in the back room, a TV showed a scratchy video of Gallipoli on a perpetual loop: Mel in army fatigues, the Aussie Achilles preparing to die for eternal glory.
"Ow are yuz?" said another Turkish guy in a Bondi Beach t-shirt (it turned out he'd once run a kebab restaurant in Sydney's Woolloomooloo).
I asked about the battlefield tours they operated every day. "Too easy, mate. Captain Ali will see you right."
The desk clerk chimed in: "Captain Ali's tops. Used to be a submarine commander in the Turkish Navy. Knows everything there is to know about military yarnsJust get here at 9 A.m.-sharp, eh?"
I paid up with a sinking feeling. Despite the obvious parallel with Roman war buffs visiting Troy, I felt an unexpected resistance to this particular blast from the past.
As it happens, my great-uncle fought in the Gallipoli invasion. He was killed there, at the age of twenty-two. Lesley's own grand- father was wounded there.
Perhaps it was impending paternity again, but it all seemed a ht- de close to home.
At 0900 hours precisely, Captain Ali appeared in the doorway of ANZAC House and cast a disapproving eye around the messy dining room. He was short and intense, without an ounce of fat. His silver hair was trim and slicked down. In his peacoat and creased trousers, with a. pillar-box naval cap that emphasized his large ears, he looked like Starbuck from Moby Dick.
Methodically, he checked off his clients from a clipboard, then frowned. Two people were missing@--apparently they'd gone to the bathroom.
Captain Ali shook his head at the suggestion of waiting. "We have a ferry to catch;' he barked. At 0903 hours, he strode pur- posefully out into the street, leaving us racing to catch up.
At 0910, he looked at his wristwatch with a weary, knowing smile. The ferry was late, as it always is in Turkey. The two people who went to the bathroom caught up with panicked looks on their faces. They've learned a valuable lesson. Stragglers win be left behind the lines.
Two hours later, on the opposite shore, Captain Ali was talking about carnage-unimaginable stupidity and waste. He swept his arms dramatically across the stony beach of Anzac Cove, explaining how the Australians landed at this location by a tragic n-iistake-fol- lowing a light buoy that came adrift in the night-only to be trapped in the surf beneath a steep bluff. It was the First World War's version of Omaha Beach, with corpses clogging the waves.
Captain Ali-nobody ever referred to him by any other name, as if he were born with the title-was unexpectedly eloquent for a submarine commander: In fact, he was the ultimate military guide, the New New Trojan, who spoke with the mixture of envy and compassion peculiar to officers who have never seen action. He orated with a distant expression, as if he was reliving the battle itself. At the most poignant moments, his eyes welled up with tears. Then he paused, embarrassed by his emotion: "Historical fact! Tell it to your children."
The blueprint of Ali's tour might have been taken from the Romans. At a small museum, he carefully pointed out the sacred curiosities--skulls with bullets embedded in them, photos of the battle, bayonets, uniforms.Just as ancient temples would reverently store the papyrus correspondence of Trojan veterans, there was a letter from a young Turkish soldier to his mother, describing the beauty of the cornfields and poppies. He was killed-needless to say-two days later. There was a ritualistic element to the displays, as well as to Ali's anecdotes: Our motifs of war must include tales of sensitive youth untimely plucked. Common soldiers must sur- vive against incredible odds. And there must be unexpected humanity amongst the savagery-assistance of the wounded and informal truces (enemies to 'ssing one another food and drink at festivals, or playing games between the trenches). These are our conventional images of combat, which turn up like some cathartic roster in everything from All Quiet on the Western Front to Full Metaijacket, and they all derive from Homer's fliad.
Anzac Cove was the most incongruous place on earth to be talking about slaughter. The day was even more brilliant than when I went to Troy, and we were all lounging about on the downy green grass like this was a picnic scene from Renoir. The golden sun, the lapping waves, the warm sea breeze-it made the idea of Turks killing Aussies more absurd than ever.
Captain Ali turned sternly toward the first cemetery." Five min- utes!" he barked.
After a snack of Vegemite sandwiches, Captain Ali led us into the hills where the most ferocious battles occurred between trenches that were only five yards apart. Whole companies of men were mowed down within seconds of putting their heads above the dirt. For every six feet of soil that each side gained, a thousand lives were lost. The topography of the area seemed to change as bodies were piled into artificial hillsides. Even today, the millions of cartridges and shards of shrapnel turn the soil into a glittering metal conglomerate.
At least the commander of the Turkish forces, Mustafa Kemal- later Atatürk, father of the nation-was frank with his troops: "I order you not simply to attack," he told them cheerily, "but to die. And in the time it takes us to die, other troops will arrive to take our places."
"We call this the Hill of Courage," Captain Ali said. "We Turks respect suicidal valor."
The Australians looked at one another uneasily. We weren't so keen on suicidal valor.
At last, we arrived at Lone Pine Cemetery, a lawn surrounded by cenotaphs engraved with thousands of names of the dead. It's a memorial for those without graves. "Five minutes, ladies and gentlemen! "
The marble panels were blinding in the afternoon sun. There it was: BJ PER- ROTTET 1" May, 1915. Age 22. 1 ran my finger over the golden letters, amazed that they spelled our name right. He'd lasted only six days here in Gallipoli. I thought of a line from the Iliad, about a wounded Trojan soldier: Gasping out his life, he writhed along the ground
like an earthworm, stretched out in death, blood pooling, soaking the earth dark red...
At first, Lone Pine seemed poles apart from the war memorials of New Troy, so beloved by the Romans. The ancients glorified their individual superheroes, and sung the praises of Achilles and Hector; the mass graves of Gallipoli convey the slaughter of hum- ble soldiers, many of whose bodies were never identified. The idea of glorious war has taken a serious battering.
But the final effect of both battlefield tours wasn't so different. No Roman tourist would have left the Dardanelles skipping with joy about the human condition.
Coincidentally, nowhere was this clearer than at the ancient site of Gallipoli itself, which Romans would visit on sailing day trips from Ilium. At the tip of the peninsula-a few miles from where Lone Pine Cemetery stands today, they found the most ambiguous of all ancient war shrines-the tomb of the Greek soldier Protesilaus, first casualty of the Trojan War.
As Homer relates, the Gods had decreed that the first Greek sol- dier to step ashore in Asia would die. In a scene worthy of Saving Private Ryan, young Protesilaus decided to sacrifice himself for the cause. He leapt first from the ship-and was immediately speared.
[i]You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.
-Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
His body was given lavi@h honors by the Greeks-they certainly also respected "suicidal valor." By the Roman Era, Protesilaus's ashes were still kept in a small temple on the Gallipoli peninsula, surrounded by divinely blessed elm trees: Every time their leaves reached a height where the Asian shore was visible, they nuracu- lously withered-reenacting the warrior's sad fate. And ancient tourists could ponder how Protesilaus's decision had had conse- quences far from the battlefield. Back home in Thessaly, his wife tore her face in grief, and eventually committed suicide; the house they were building together burned; his father went mad.
It was a place that commemorated the hidden cost of heroism. For all their bluster about glory, the ancients weren't blind to
the downside of war. In Homer, death in battle is never a pretty sight. Wounded warriors scream in agony until seized by "hateful darkness;" the prospect of Hades is cold comfort. Even Achilles, the greatest of the Greeks, meditates around the campfire on the futility of the soldier's life. He reappears in the Odyssey as a lonely ghost in the Underworld, confessing that he would rather be alive as the lowliest slave on a peasant's farm than lord of all the hosts of Hades. In fact, much of the poetic force of the Iliad comes from its unflagging reference to the domestic lives soldiers have left be- hind-those distant villages alive with farming, threshing, plowing, goat-herding.
And Homer's broader message in the Iliad is rather bleak. Troy, symbol of all great cities, was doomed by its own civilized achieve- ments, which made it vulnerable to the rampaging Greeks; any era of peace, by softening its benefactors, contains the seeds of its own dermse. Romans readily believed this idea (as indeed, do many people today, in the midst of our own span of comfort). They loved to scourge themselves for their love of luxury, and predict their own imminent decline. Troy was the perfect place to meditate on the coming holocaust.
But what did all really matter, the Iliad finally asks-the end of one life or an entire culture?
Human generations are like leaves in their season. The wind blows them to the ground, but the tree Sprouts new ones when spring comes again. Men too. Their generations come and go.
It was getting dark when Ali launched into his last, emotional oration.
"My dear ladies and gentlemen. Have many children. They will be the apple of your own parents' eyes, and make them happy."
The backpackers and I don't know quite how to react, here at this serene slaughter site; we resist the urge to salute, and quietly applaud.
After drifting back to Canakkale on the ferry in the starry dusk, I pick up some k6fte for dinner. The smell of spiced lamb is deli- cious; fresh olives and basil leaves are on the side.
Les is up in our room, reading. She seems to be feeling a little better, but the Urchin has been kicking a lot today. I try to feel him with my hand, usually an absent-minded gesture for me.
I'm surprised how emotionally drained I feel. This is all too profound, this life and death thing. Way too serious for me.
Under a brilliant filll moon, the straits are so calm they seem to have stopped flowing.
The whole city is still under that bright night sky. Even Hector and Achilles must be asleep tonight, dreaming of their distant hearths.
Tony Perrottet is a travel writer and editor with numerous Insight Guide titles to his credit. This story was excerptedfrom his book, Route 66 A.D.: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists.
"From Troy to Gallipoli" By Tony Perrottet Part - III -