Digging the Trojans

The Palace of Nestor at Pylos in Western Messenia: Vol. I, The Buildings and Their Contents

by Carl W. Blegen and Marion Rawson
Princeton, Part 1, 470 (text) Part 2, 484 illustrations pp., $40.00

Defending his acceptance of the legendary history of Britain, John Milton wrote, “Yet those old and inborn kings, never to have been real persons, or done in their lives at least some part of what so long hath been remembered, cannot be thought without too strict incredulity.” No historian of Britain takes such an argument seriously today, nor does anyone solemnly repeat that English history began with Brute (or Brutus) the Trojan, or Roman history with another Trojan, Aeneas. But suggest, as I and others have done, that on present evidence it is an open question whether the legendary history of Bronze Age Greece isn’t also unhistorical, that as individuals even Agamemnon and Nestor may be as fictitious as Brute and Aeneas, and down come torrents of scorn, anger, and sometimes pity. Study the work of several generations of archaeologists, is the crushing reply, and you will find all the proof a reasonable man could ask for.

No one would dream of denying that since Schliemann a fascinating lost world has been brought to light. That is not at issue. Since Schliemann, furthermore, archaeologists have raised their methods of excavation and analysis to remarkable heights. None more so than Professor Carl Blegen, who, in his eighty-first year, is the Olympian among Greek archaeologists, as coolly precise in his work as ever, with an unrivaled ability to publish his results rapidly, clearly, and with the utmost reliability. Thirteen successive seasons at Pylos ended on July 31, 1964, and we already have the first volume of the final publication. (Three further volumes are planned: one on the frescoes; a second on the pre-palace finds, the ruins of the lower town below the acropolis, and tombs in the neighborhood; and a third on the Linear B tablets.) Anyone who has consulted Professor Blegen’s Troy volumes or his earlier publications of lesser known sites in the Peloponnese will know what to expect, and will not be disappointed. Anyone who has not should be told in advance that this is a book for the specialist, apart from the concluding five-plus pages on the “character, date and identification of the palace.”

THE “PALACE,” with more than one hundred rooms, corridors, and courtyards, occupied a ridge, 170m. at its longest, 90m. at its broadest, at Epano Englianos, some five miles north-north-east of the Bay of Navarion in western Messenia. Built about 1300 B.C., it was burned about 1200 and the site was abandoned, so that in time it was not even identifiable as an ancient ruin (unlike Mycenae). In general design and scale it is similar to Mycenae or Tiryns, except for the remarkable fact that it was wholly unfortified. It is also remarkable that, among the many bones recovered, there is “not a single identifiable human element.” Thus far, no comparable building complex has been found in the western Peloponnese, and the conclusion therefore seems logical that Homer’s Pylos has been rediscovered. Confirmation comes from the fact that the name “Pylos” has been read on…

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