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Competent Authorities

In response to:

Digging the Trojans from the August 3, 1967 issue

To the Editors:

The space kindly allotted by the Editors will permit the discussion of only one of the dogmatic assertions and half-truths contained in Mr. M. I. Finley’s review of Mycenae and the Mycenaean Age [NYR, August 3]. After quoting my sequence of dates he asserts in his usual dogmatic way: “whenever” one “sees such a date as ca. 1200-1900 B.C. he must seek the ulterior purpose” and concludes “Myloans has to get Nestor back from the fall of Troy to his throne in Pylos and then keep him there nine or ten years so that he may be visited by Odysseus’ son, Telemachus. Then he can be swept away without further delay, bones and all, but not one minute earlier.” Perhaps these statements, typical of detective thrillers, are not worth considering; but they should be discussed since they give the reader the measure of the reviewer’s lack of objectivity and inadequate knowledge. If Finley had even a casual acquaintance with the existing archaeological evidence, he would have realized that a sound scientific foundation underlines my chronology.

The excavators of Troy VIIA, of Priam’s Troy, in their final publication conclude that pottery found in the destruction level of that settlement belongs to the end of the Late Helladic IIIB period. Competent authorities who actually handled that pottery agree in this. The pottery from the thirteenth-century destruction level of Mycenae found by English scholars (from Cambridge University itself) and by myself, belongs to the last years of the Late Halladic IIIB period. Competent scholars who handled that pottery agree with the date. The pottery from Mycenae is almost contemporary with that of Troy VIIA, but presents traits that are somewhat later.

In the first volume of Pylos, which I presume Finley read since he reviewed it, it is reported that on the floors of the burned rooms were found not only Late Helladic IIIB, but also Late Helladic IIIC pots. These date the destruction of the Palace. Not a single sherd of the Late Helladic IIIC variety found in Pylos is among the pottery from Mycenae or Troy; and this variety chronologically is later than the Late Helladic IIIB found in those sites. We, therefore, have a sequence of pottery scientifically established: the latest from Pylos, next that from Mycenae and almost contemporary that from Troy VIIA. The sequence naturally reflects a sequence in time; the destruction of Troy VIIA comes first; almost contemporary with it the destruction of Mycenae; last the destruction of Pylos. This chronological sequence I gave, based on scientific evidence that any scholar of good faith can check and not as Mr. Finley states on ulterior purposes and in accommodation for the return of Nestor. The most charitable view of his statements is to attribute them to incomplete knowledge. This can be illustrated also by other statements made in the review he wrote, presumably in the name of scholarly objectivity, the value of which the reader can determine for himself.

George E. Mylonas

Washington University

St. Louis, Missouri

M. I Finley replies:

What a pity that archaeological dating isn’t as neat and certain as Professor Mylonas tries to make out. But what is absolutely certain is that he has no right to co-opt the “competent authorities who actually handled that pottery” in support of his own tight chronology. Professor Caskey reminded us as recently as 1964 that the “exact dating of Mycenaean shapes and styles has not been established.” Blegen has at various times suggested three different dates for the fall of Troy VIIA, all earlier than the end of the Late Helladic IIIB period. As for the destruction of Pylos and Mycenae, which is the point immediately at issue, Vincent Desborough writes in The Last Mycenaeans and Their Successors (1964): “What we can, I think be reasonably sure of is that the destruction at Tiryns and Pylos was contemporaneous with the second disaster at Mycenae.” That, I believe, is the view which commands the support of most authorities. Anyway, I am happy to agree with the final sentence of Professor Mylonas’s letter.

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