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Heroes of the Iliad
by David Talbott

In The Foundation of Myth, we began a review of a 1974 article by James Fitton. We shall now continue that discourse, with a twofold purpose: first, to examine the logic of the comparative method; and second, to illustrate the ACID TESTS for verifying even the most extraordinary conclusions.

Following this path will require us to go far beyond a mere "answer " to Fitton's contentions and to consider the groundrules of a more promising perspective on the entire field of study. Fitton wrote:

"One of Velikovsky's most brilliant passages is that in which he cites the famous scene in the _Iliad_ where Ares and Athene fight on the battleground before Troy. Athene, says Velikovsky, is the planet Venus, and Ares the planet Mars. Here is an allegory of a great cosmological drama of the eighth century B.C., when, as Velikovsky believes, these two planets nearly collided in space. The myth seems decisive evidence for his beliefs. But, on looking more closely at Homer, we see that this incident is one of several that occurred in a scene where various gods and goddesses were depicted as lining up against each other. In another part of this sequence Athene trounces Artemis, a goddess of the earth; in yet another Apollo, the sun god, contemplates a trial of strength with Poseidon, god of the sea. What great cosmological events are referred to in these lines of Homer? Velikovsky does not say; he does not refer to them...."

This paragraph reveals a deep misunderstanding of the Comparative method. The presence of isolated and unexplained images does not invalidate any conclusions with  respect to images that ARE explicable through comparative  analysis. Repeated similarities in the accounts of diverse cultures - similarities at the level of concrete detail,  similarities that cannot be explained by coincidence - MUST refer to a common origin or common experience. And the more unusual or "out of the ordinary" the shared details, the more powerful the evidential value, as we have already noted. Moreover, as we will also see, a model based on recurring, global motifs will often throw surprising new light on more fragmentary images, even in cases where the fragments originally appeared to have no explanation whatsoever.

When it comes to ancient memories of Mars and Venus (as we Previously observed), one faces a staggering volume of material. These are, in fact, the two most active figures in archetypal myth, while the Universal Monarch is a far more passive figure, often fading into the background in later transmissions.

But the issues here are complicated by Velikovsky's own assumptions in his treatment of the Iliad. Velikovsky argued that Homer's narrative describes tribal conflicts on Earth at a time when the planets Venus and Mars moved on catastrophic courses, appearing to battle in the sky. At the outset of my own research, I was eager to consider this  possibility. But soon a quite different possibility emerged.

Here was my conclusion: there is no local history whatsoever in the poet's narrative! The entire story of the "Trojan War" is a localization of a much more ancient memory - the earthshaking celestial conflagration called the "wars of the gods".

How can I assert this sweeping conclusion with such confidence? Theconfidence comes from the comparative study itself, which exposes the taproot of worldwide cultural traditions. It is this deeply-rooted cultural memory that fed all of the later accounts of heroes and warriors, as the chroniclers brought formerly celestial gods down to earth and presented them in mortal dress. First there was the story of a heaven-shattering conflagration, in which celestial powers battled in the sky. Then, centuries later, there were the chronicles of "tribal" wars, of "nations" battling "nations", all highlighting the exploits of a great warrior, and all sounding as if the events occurred on a terrestrial landscape.

But who were these heroes, whose feats and ordeals fill the pages of Homer's Iliad, or the Aeneid of Virgil, or the Mahabharata and Ramayana of the Hindus, or the Celtic Mabinogion (not to mention countless other native chronicles)? It is simply impossible to undertake a comparative study of such figures without confronting the ARCHETYPAL warrior-hero presented under a vast range of symbols - what Joseph Campbell called "The Hero with a Thousand Faces".

In tracing various hero-motifs to the earliest strata of civilization, it became crystal clear to me that the later figures are nothing more than echoes of the great celestial warrior celebrated in the oldest written records of humankind.- Nergal, Ninurta, and Irra of the Akkadians; Shu, Horus, and Sept of the Egyptians, to mention the barest few examples. The archetypal warrior-hero moves in the sky. And yet centuries later this same personality is seen on a local landscape, and the entire texture has changed. (For example, he no longer stands in relationship to a central sun or Universal Monarch, but instead serves a TERRESTRIAL "great king", a literary echo of the central sun.)

The principle of localization is almost certainly the most misunderstood tendency in the evolution of myth. And the Iliad would make an excellent case study. Homer's story is presented as an account of the tenth year of the "Trojan War", as a confederation of Greek tribes under the rule of Agamemnon and led by the hero Achilles, sought to avenge the abduction of Helen, wife of King Menelaus, by the warrior-hero Paris, son of the Trojan king Priam. On the face of it, the conflict is something like a feudalistic war, in which far-flung communities are mobilized against a common enemy. In concept it is certainly believable, though the respective warriors appear (suspiciously) as mirrors of each other, and the abduction of a famous princess by an equally famous warrior-prince does have an eerily familiar ring to it.

By comparing attributes and key episodes in the lives of the great heroes, one sees that the "best" or most illustrious tribal "ancestor" expresses archetypal images and storylines (flight of his mother, miraculous birth, abandonment at birth, exposure on a mountaintop, or fall into a river, ignorance of his father, spectacular growth and amazing feats as a child, possession of an astonishing weapon with which he is inseparably identified, servitude to a great king, murder of a great king, abduction of the daughter of a great king, torrid love affair with the daughter of a great king, confrontation with chaos powers (dragons and other monsters), defeat of chaos powers, and a good deal more, down to numerous remarkable or bizarre details ranging from intimate associations with a cosmic pillar to such potentially comic episodes as being dressed, or disguised as a woman. These unexplained but recurring motifs are, in fact, far too numerous to be detailed here, but must all be confronted under the rules of the comparative approach.

On the cosmic origins of these motifs I no longer have any doubt. The hero was originally a god seen in the sky. Indeed, in the Iliad, the demarcation between "mortals" and celestial "gods" is incessantly blurred Throughout the story, gods and goddesses intervene in critical events, and historians would have us believe NONE of this. Nevertheless, many of the same historians DO ask us to believe that within Homer's narrative are embedded the accounts of actual historical personages, despite the fact that all efforts to find evidence for their historicity have failed.

In the intricate web of genealogies, divine intrigue, and heroic combat we meet numerous great warriors on both sides of the confrontation. On the Trojan side, Paris, Hector, Troilus (all "sons" of Priam) and the hero Aeneas. On the Achaean side, Achilles, Odysseus, Ajax, Patroclus, Diomedes. (Numerous others flit in an out of the story, of course.)

But these figures are virtually indistinguishable in underlying concepts from the heroes Heracles, Perseus, and Theseus, whom Greek literature treats as "mortals", but who are beyond question the echoes of older warrior-gods helping to organize kingdoms, not on earth, but in the sky..Heracles was a Greek name of the planet Mars. And it is of no small significance that Theseus, a virtual carbon copy of Heracles, was himself said to have abducted Helen - before the events recounted in the Iliad, of course. The birth of Paris and his feats as a child replicate the universal "birth of the hero" theme: abandonment at birth, exposure at birth on a mountaintop, super-human strength, defeat of "bandits", and rescuing of stolen "cattle" as a child (c.f., "cattle of the sun" rescued by the Hindu warrior-god Indra). Like so many heroes, he begins his life as a slave (servant motif), though he is actually a prince, wins contests of strength, speed and skill, is loved by goddesses, carries off and marries the daughter of a famous king, murders another famous king while on adventures in foreign lands, and so on.

So too, his alter ego Achilles entered the world by a miraculous birth. The event was followed by the flight of his mother. He was dropped into a river, raised on a sacred mountaintop, performed extraordinary feats as a child; was disguised a girl, placed in the service of a great king, and consorted with the daughter of the king. (I might also mention that the armor of Achilles was fashioned by the god Hephaestus, the same god who fashioned the shield of Hercules, around which OCEANUS flowed.)

As celestial gods and goddesses are localized, they shed their cosmic dimensions, becoming the far-famed "ancestors" of the tribes telling the stories - the great kings, queens, heroes, and princesses of a lost epoch. In the same way, the spectacular dwelling of the gods - the "wheel of the sun " (habitation of the Universal Monarch) - becomes a legendary town, or city, or kingdom which fell in the distant past, when vast armies were mobilized and the world shook from great battles. Of course, in epic literature, the memories of numerous tribes are woven into linear narratives, depicting one warrior after another fighting beside or against his own alter egos. That is, in fact, the primary artifice by which poets succeeded in honoring and integrating diverse tribal traditions. These heroes are not just "descendants" of the gods. They WERE the gods - once!

Actually, even in Greek literature it is virtually impossible to separate the epic heroes from the domain of the gods. In the Iliad, the gods Zeus, Apollo, Ares, Athena, Hera, Aphrodite, and Poseidon are very much a part of the key episodes, conversing with heroes, standing beside them, falling in love with them, consorting with them. More than once, the gods themselves take part in the fighting, as when Apollo delivers the first blow to Patroclus, before the hero is struck by Euphorbus and then Hector. It was Apollo who guided the arrow that struck the "heel" of Achilles.

Agamemnon is likened to Zeus in his upper part and Ares in his lower limbs. (Those familiar with the Saturn model will have no difficulty discerning the concrete origins of the idea.) Numerous ancestors or relatives -Tantalus, Niobe, Pelops, Atreus and Thyestes, among others - were closer in character to gods than to men. Helen was the daughter of Zeus. Her mother Leda was also the mother of the "heavenly twins",

Castor and Pollux. (Indeed, more than one scholar has recognized Helen as a local transcript of Aphrodite, astronomically identified with Venus). It was said that the walls of Troy were built by Apollo and Poseidon. Cassandra, foretelling the destruction of Troy, is strangely reminiscent of the ancient lamenting goddess, roaming about with wildly disheveled hair and disturbing the land. In truth, there is not a shred of historical evidence that such personalities originated as flesh and blood figures.

It is not my purpose here to merely suggest that there are archetypal themes and connections yet to be discerned by historians. Our claim must be much more explicit. There is an archetypal Universal Monarch or king of the world, an archetypal mother goddess, and an archetypal warrior hero. ALL OF THE RECURRING THEMES AROUND THESE ARCHETYPES AROSE IN RESPONSE TO SPECTACULAR FORMS IN THE SKY. THESE FORMS ARE NO LONGER PRESENT.

But such a claim is surely preposterous! Well, the very outlandishness of this claim will provide a unique value under the comparative approach. It will make the acid tests both obvious and decisive. And it is these tests to which I will refer the reader in our next installment.

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