National Geographic : 1999 Dec
were highly prized by ancient Trojans and Greeks. But suchpas toraljoys were denied to those engaged in the "grimwork" of war. When Homer's armies clashed across this land, "the screamingand the shouts of triumph rose up together of men kill ing and men killed, and the ground ran blood." ANCIENT GREECE I gold:' the city leading the united Greek invasion across the Aegean Sea to the gates of Troy. For centuries the wealth of these legendary cities was thought to exist only in the realm of imagination. But between 1870 and 1890 Heinrich Schliemann, an ambitious and ruthless businessman from Germany, put the "lost" cities on the map. Acting on the advice of a local amateur archaeologist (whom he did not bother to credit), Schliemann revealed the ruins of Troy, then found the gold of Mycenae. The Iliad's every description of Mycenae speaks of its power. And from the base of the rocky acropolis on which Homer's "strong-founded cita del" stands, I looked up to discover that these descriptions still hold true. Even in decay the great fortress remains imperious, still commanding, as it did centuries ago, the mountain-ringed plain of Argos, now a blur of purple-gold in the hazy heat. Making my way up the entrance ramp, I paused before the citadel's famous Lion Gate-posts and a lintel of colossal stone overarched by two weathered heraldic lions. Later, at the end of the day when the tour buses had left, I stood alone on the empty acropolis, listening to the wind sigh over its massive walls as it has done for well over 3,000 years. Above me bare mountains seemed to stand as protective sentinels over the extinct city. Alert guards would have spotted approaching enemies from miles away. s AN EPIC, the Iliadis mostly interested in the fate of kings and warriors, not of the common man. And while archaeologists have uncovered traces of the small timber and mud-brick Dwellings of humble people, it is the relics of Mycenae's rich and powerful that are most in evidence. The massive walls enclosed a palatial administrative complex-houses, sanctuaries, store rooms, and royal courts with colorful frescoes and sculpted stone. Wander ing through the vacant citadel, past walls that had collapsed into rubble, across a floor of beaten earth that had once been decorated with painted stucco and gypsum slabs, I felt a lingering air of regal might. In the Iliadthe king of Mycenae, Agamemnon, is also commander in chief of the Greek forces-not on account of any special qualifications but because he has inherited Mycenae's wealth and power from his father, Atreus. The historical Mycenae dominated the Argolid, the important and wealthy region of the northeast Peloponnese that in turn controlled much Aegean trade. Schliemann and later archaeologists have located almost a dozen major Mycenaean centers in addition to Mycenae itself, as well as hundreds of settlements and tombs, all with a shared culture. Midea, Tiryns "of the huge walls," "sacred" Pylos, "thirsty" Argos, Orchomenos "rich in sheep"-the names of many of these centers were known to the Iliad. The story turns mainly on a single application of Mycenae's broad power-that of leading united Greeks into war against the Trojans. Pos sibly no work ever written can compete with the Iliad in its depiction of war. With great subtlety it simultaneously evokes both the glory-seeking bravado of its young heroes and the carnage of their individual deaths. But Agamemnon stabbed him, as hepressedforward, straightin theface, with his sharp spear. Nor did the helmet, bronze heavy, contain it; but straightthrough it and the bone the spearpassed, and all his brains inside were spattered... So Iphidamasfalling there went into the brazen slumber, pitiableone who helping his own people, left his new bride.