Black Africans of the Ancient Mediterranean
By Dr Anu Mauro
PART TWO – UP IN THE AIR
HELEN OF TROY
Which brings us to the well-known story of Helen of Troy and the Trojan War. It is a legend that lies at the very core of what is commonly called Western Civilization and Culture.
People constantly speak of ‘working like Trojans’, or having vulnerable ‘Achilles heels’. Furthermore malicious programs that sneakily infect computers are compared to the Greek warriors who hid in the large wooden horse to secretly gain access to the besieged city. They are called ‘Trojan Computer Viruses.’
In the current ‘always narrowly focused’ so called information era perhaps one can be forgiven for asking, “What connection could the story of the Greek woman Helen possibly have with Egyptians, Phoenicians, and African people’s culture and history. Or life today for that matter?
The short surprising answer is: ” Obviously quite a lot!”
Troy is the famous city of Greek legend, located on the Aegean Sea on the northwestern corner of Asia Minor in present-day Turkey. It was strategically situated at the entrance of the Hellespont (now Dardanelles), which is the first of the two straits that connects the Mediterranean to the Black Sea via the Sea of Marmara.
The legendary founder of the city was Ilus, the son of Tros, from whom the name is derived.
In the founding myths of the city of Troy the god Heracles (Hercules) is recorded as having captured the city. In early eras Hercules was known as an ‘ethiopic’ god of Egyptian origin. Even in the Greek myths, the Greek Heracles is described as being a child of black parents – Amphitryon and Alkmene – who were of Egyptian-Ethiopian origin (41)
Furthermore legends also state that Poseidon (the North African god of seafarers) is supposed to have helped Laomedon, one of the kings of Troy, build the walls of the city. (42)
To some researchers, these myths indicate that at some point in the history of Troy, the god Hercules or rather people connected to the God Hercules (and Poseidon)”captured” and began to exert influence on the indigenous Thracian society. (43)
As late as the 5th century BCE ‘Thracians’ were a numerous, still warlike barbarian people who occupied the greater part of the eastern Balkan Peninsula from the Danube River to the Aegean Sea. This included the Bosporus and the Dardanelles (together the present day countries of Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey). Like the Scythians, the Thracians were also conquered by the Egyptian king Sesostris the Great, which, may partly help to explain the Hercules connection.
Heracles/Melquart (King of the City) was an especially favorite god of the Phoenician Kena’ani (especially Tyre). No doubt partly because of the role Heracles is supposed to have played in discovering the purple dye so vital to the Phoenician economy. According to the legend Heracles was walking on the beach in Tyre one day, when his dog bit into the shell of a live Murex, which stained the dog’s snout purple. This got Heracles thinking of it’s potential as a dye, and – as they say- the rest is history. (44)
As seafaring traders the Phoenicians had a strong connection with the profitable Black Sea region to the north of Troy. For one thing grapes grew wild on the southern shores of the Black Sea. The Phoenicians seem to have been the first people to commercialize grape cultivation and winemaking. They used fermentation techniques that had already been employed for thousands of years before in Egypt.
In addition Thrace was covered with forests and possessed mineral deposits, especially gold, which the local tribes used for headgear, belts and girdles and to bridle their horses.
These may have been among the practical incentives that prompted the Phoenicians to establish a Black Sea colony in Thynia very early in their settlement activities (when seeking Europa). Thynia (currently Izmit/Kocaeli in Turkey) is the peninsula north of Troy that separates the Sea of Marmara from the southern Black Sea.
The city of Troy was therefore undoubtedly a key part of the Phoenician maritime commercial network.
It should therefore be no surprise to learn that similar to other places where Phoenician traders established communities, a temple of Heracles was also to be found in Troy.
As it turns out, not only are the Phoenicians directly linked to the story of Helen of Troy but the Egyptians as well were also major players in the entire sequence of events that led up to the Trojan War. The significance is that in the end, the story of Helen of Troy and the Trojan War are not exclusively “European” events at all. They are very much a part of any proper examination of African or Kushite (‘ethiopic’) history and heritage.
THE SEEDS OF THE DISPUTE
The story of Helen and the Trojan War occurred during the reign of Priam the grandson of Ilus the founder of the ancient city of Troy.
Modern archaeological excavations have shown that Troy was destroyed by fire sometime in the early 12th century B.C.E., which matches the traditional date of the war. Given Troy’s strategic location some historians have suggested that the war may actually have been prompted by the desire of the Spartan Greeks either to loot the wealthy city or to put an end to Troy’s commercial control of the Dardanelles strait and access to the Black Sea.
Whatever the geo-economic reasons might have been, it appears that the origins of the Trojan War can also be traced back to a spate of female kidnappings that seemed to have been a regular feature of that time. It is also notable that the Phoenician-Kena’ani were deeply involved in the whole matter from the outset.
According to the historian Herodotus, the problem is supposed to have all started when Io the daughter of the Greek king of Argos along with a handful of other women were either kidnapped by the Phoenician Kena’ani or –as some others claimed — voluntarily ran off to Egypt with the captain of a Phoenician ship because she had become pregnant by him and was ashamed to face her parents.
At any rate, the Greeks viewed it as a kidnapping. Princess Io ended up in Egypt with the Phoenician man and the incident apparently created a lot of bad blood between the Greeks and the Phoenicians.
It was allegedly in response to this first abduction of Io that the Cretan Greeks then kidnapped the Phoenician Princess Europa from Tyre. However the matter did not end there as it could have.
Not content with the abduction of the ‘broad-faced’ princess Europa, the Greeks struck again. At a later date Greek sailors sailed an armed merchant ship to Colchis and also abducted the ‘ethiopic’ princess Medea who was the daughter of the King of Colchis and took her to Athens.
Now some forty years after the abduction of Medea, Paris of Troy who was the son of Priam, was apparently inspired by these stories to obtain a wife for himself out of Greece. It seems he was confident that he would not have to pay for his actions any more than the Greeks had been required to.
Paris sailed to Sparta in Greece, where by all reports he was hospitably received by Helen and her husband, Menelaus, king of Sparta. However although she was supposedly living happily with her spouse, Paris was not only able to seduce Helen but also to persuade her to run off with him back north to Troy.
Once their departure was discovered, and apparently even before Paris and Helen had ever reached Troy, the Greeks sent a demand for financial compensation and for Helen’s return.
The demand was met by a Trojan reference to the earlier seizure by the Greeks of the princess Medea. The Trojans it is reported also remarked on the injustice of the Greeks in expecting compensation when they themselves had refused to give any redress after they had abducted the Colchian princess. Not to mention the fact that they had also kept her.
Ironically it was this simple woman-stealing dispute that is supposed to have started the great enmity between the Persians (today Iran) and the Greeks. This hatred eventually led to the massive Persian invasion of Greece in 480 B.C and the subsequent Greco-Persian wars that marked a major turning point in European and world history.
Among other consequences, these ancient wars between the proto-European Greeks and Asiatic Persians greatly helped to create and widen the Europe/Asia, Western Mediterranean/Eastern Mediterranean, Occidental/Oriental divide. This initial discord, over time took on not just political but also religious overtones, and in one way or another continues to influence the quality of international relations and the media headlines of today.
The enmity seems to have stemmed from the fact that at the time of Helen’s kidnapping the leaders of Asia took great offence to the Greeks coming into what the viewed as ” Asiatic turf” with such a huge force; especially over what was generally considered to be only a minor matter.
For one thing, everyone at the time thought it obvious that the woman Helen would not have allowed herself to be ‘abducted’ if she did not wish to be taken.
Nonetheless the Spartan Greeks went ahead and dispatched their huge invading army under the pretext of going to get Helen back and in the end they completely destroyed Troy and the empire of Priam, sending into exile those Trojans who escaped.
Now the very great irony is, that although she is known throughout history as “Helen of Troy”, this woman never ever once set foot in that city. She should properly be called only “Helen of Sparta.” If she is to be connected to any other place at all, there is a great deal more justification for calling her “Helen of Memphis’ ( i.e. Helen of Egypt).
Apparently after her abduction Helen was never taken directly to Troy, but ended up in Egypt of all places or as it was then known: Kmt (The Black Land).
As it happened, while Paris was on his way back to Troy with the woman he had stolen from Sparta, somewhere in the Aegean Sea he met with bad weather. This drove his ship towards Egypt and he was forced to come ashore. His point of landing was the mouth of the Nile, in the very ancient Phoenician Kena’ani port district of Buto, where there was a temple dedicated to Heracles: that favorite god of the Phoenician purple dye traders.
One of the features of the temple of Heracles in Egypt was its reputation as a shrine where runaway slaves could take refuge. Once in the temple they could not be touched by their former masters provided in return the runaways went into lifelong service of the god Heracles.
Unfortunately for Paris, not only was his behavior not likely to gain him any friends, but it did not seem to have inspired much loyalty from his staff either.
On landing in Egypt, his servants apparently fled to this temple of Heracles (which was conveniently located on the beach), and there they “spilled the beans” about the abduction. The servants explained to the temple priests that in addition to seducing the wife of his friend and host and running off with her, Paris had also left with a quantity of treasures from the man’s house.
It should be noted that in ancient times the Egyptians were widely known for being a very just and righteous people who did not at all condone such kinds of uncivilized behavior; especially the abuse of hospitality. As a consequence, the warden in the district of Buto sent a message about the matter to the Pharaoh Proteus in Memphis, who then ordered that Paris be arrested.
The Egyptians captured Paris and his ships and along with Helen sailed all of them up to Memphis to meet the Pharaoh. When they arrived, Paris tried to make light of the accusations, but the servants again told their story, this time directly to the king.
Because Paris was a stranger and the ancient Egyptians had a policy of not punishing anyone who had reached their shores due to bad weather, they apparently agreed to just let him go. They gave Paris three days to get out of the country, but kept Helen and the treasure until the Greeks could come to fetch them.
However as it turned out the Greeks unknowingly went ahead and sent their strong force to Troy to demand the restoration of the girl and the treasure. When the force arrived, naturally the Trojans told the Greeks what they were looking for was not there but back in Egypt, and explained that they could not return something they did not have.
But, it seems the Greeks thought the Trojans were just giving them the “run-around” and it is this that caused them to lay siege to Troy for some time until it finally fell. Nonetheless even after the city was taken there was still no Helen to be found. It was only then that the Spartan Greeks finally believed the Trojan’s story, which was that if Menelaus wanted his property back he needed to go visit the Pharaoh Proteus in Egypt.
So leaving Troy in ruins Menelaus sailed off to Egypt, met the Egyptian King, and related his account. Apparently the Egyptians then entertained him very hospitably and both Helen and his property were duly returned to him.
However like his former ‘friend’ Paris, King Menelaus of Sparta did not seem to have been a man of any particularly high virtue either. He subsequently proved to be less than a friend of Egypt because despite all the Egyptians had done for him, he reportedly repaid them in a most abominable manner.
When it was time for him to leave Egypt, Menelaus the Greek was delayed for several days by unfavorable winds and in an effort to change his fortune he reportedly took two Egyptian children and OFFERED THEM UP AS HUMAN SACRIFICE.
The Egyptians were understandably quite angry with this and pursued him, but he managed to escape. Later the Egyptians built a commemorative shrine to Helen in Memphis, which was still around when Herodotus visited.
That then, is the Egypto-Phoenician version of the Story of ‘Helen of Troy’
as told to Herodotus by the Priests of Egypt. (45)
It clearly shows that in ‘actual history’ Helen never ever once set foot in Troy. What’s more there was never any decisive single-combat duel between Paris and Menelaus that was bravely watched by noble Helen and the two opposing armies. There was no compassion felt by all present prompted by her matchless beauty and great sorrow and Menelaus did not take her back home to Sparta from Troy but instead retrieved her from Egypt and ritually sacrificed two innocent children before he left.
There are very strong practical reasons for considering the authenticity of the Egypto-Phoenician version of that classic story compared to the Homeric tale. For one thing the Egyptian authorities seemed to have been directly involved in the whole matter from the beginning. Additionally, being the major economic and geopolitical power in the region at that time (like their maritime Phoenician allies) the Egyptians would have been quite concerned about any prolonged conflict that disrupted maritime trade in the lucrative Black Sea area.
Furthermore unlike the other mainly oral cultures in the rest of the region, ancient Egypt had a strong tradition of keeping quantities of written records of past events going back thousands of years, which the temple priests carefully preserved in their libraries.
Nevertheless despite the integral role played by people of African origin in the story of ‘Helen of Troy’, the incident has come down to us mainly as a ” lily white” classic Euro-centered legend. A noble tale of violated female virtue, clever military subterfuge, male bonding and gallant revenge in the ‘heroic age’ of Greek history.
In reality though it appears that everyone who was involved behaved rather badly, and apart from the mediating role of the Egyptians, the word ‘heroic’ hardly seems appropriate.
Today in hindsight it is obvious that like most fraternal conflicts, the Trojan War need not have happened and if the story were properly told, probably there would be a whole lot less “romance” now connected with it.
As Herodotus argues, it stands to reason that if Helen really was in Troy at the time of the multi-year siege, the Trojans would no doubt have immediately given her back. It is very unlikely that either Priam the King of Troy or his other sons would have allowed their city to be destroyed just because of a stolen woman their reckless relative wanted to keep.
Even more so, since Paris was not the heir to the throne and therefore undeserving of such staunch national backing.
It was Hector his elder brother who was to have succeeded Priam. According to legend Hector was among those of Priam’s sons who were killed, and the whole empire ended up being destroyed by the vengeful Greeks because of the rash actions of his brother Paris.
FANCIFUL TALES AND CURRENT LIFE
For most of us today, ancient history is often comprehended and absorbed as easy catch phrases and saleable icons like bronze helmets, laurel wreaths and leather sandals. Unfortunately this approach tends to provide an incomplete and simplistic impression of what may have actually occurred at any particular time. We can partly thank the ancient epic poets for this attitude, since to some degree they may have laid the foundations for this enduring trend.
For example the ancient Greek writer Homer seems to have known the correct ‘Helen’ story, but apparently preferred to exercise poetic license. Nonetheless the ‘Iliad’ does hint at both the stay of Helen in Egypt as well as other Egyptian elements; and the ‘Odyssey’, also mentions the stay of Menelaus in Egypt. (46)
Homer in ‘Odyssey IV’ makes Menelaus say to Telemachus:
“In Egypt the gods stayed me, though I longed to return
For I had not paid them their DUE SACRIFICE. ”
And also in the ‘Odyssey’, Homer writes about Helen ” the daughter of Zeus” being in Egypt, and simultaneously refers to the significant medical knowledge, which the early Egyptians possessed.
“These drugs of subtle virtue, the daughter of Zeus was given
By an Egyptian woman Ploydamna, wife of Thon;
For the rich earth of Egypt bears many herbs
Which steeped in liquor have power to cure, or kill.”
For some researchers those stanzas particularly highlight the deep cultural link between ancient Egyptians and that enduring indigenous African tradition of practicing herbal medicine.
As it happens, although it is essentially a ‘Homeric’ tale, the version of the story of Helen’s trip to Troy that became implanted in western popular imagination is probably not really from Homer. It is contained in the work called the ‘Cypria’. This was most likely written by one Stasinus of Cyprus. It is in this poem that one can find the inaccurate story of Paris reaching Troy with Helen a mere three days after he left Sparta and having a huge wedding.
However it is the constant retelling of the more popular (but dubious) versions of ancient tales without referring to the true natures of the players involved that has helped to perpetuate the fantasy of the so called ‘noble European past.’
Consequently the story of “Helen of Troy” — the face that is said to have launched a thousand ships– is now universally considered to be an exclusively pan-European tale. We are never told that ‘ethiopic’ people of Africa exercising their traditional values of truth and righteousness were apparently major players in the whole drama. Nor are we told of the destructive, bloodthirsty, ungrateful, and barbaric behavior of some of the Greeks involved.
Notes for PART TWO – UP IN THE AIR
41. Herodotus, Ibid; pg. 146.
42. In legend Poseidon, was the son of the giants or Titans named Kronos and Rhea, of the Libyan coast. Kronos was king of the Cyclops, who were known as “the inventors of tower-building.” Rhea, his wife was known as the goddess of fortifications and Kronos was worshipped under the names of Bel and Bal, which ultimately links them to Cush (Ethiopia).
(Source: The Two Babylons: http://philologos.org/__eb-ttb/sect221.htm (9 of 15)
43. The name Thrace was most likely derived from ‘Tros’. Like their Scythian neighbours (and kin), the Thracians had a very low opinion of agricultural work preferring instead to make a living from war, plunder and child trafficking. Thracians considered tattooing a mark of high rank. Thracian men purchased their wives and the main Thracian export trade item was reported to be their own female children. (Source: Herodotus, Ibid; pg. 341)
44. ‘Hercules and the Hero of the Punica Edward L. Basset, edited by Luitpold Wallach, Cornell University Press. Copyright 1960
45. Herodotus, Ibid; Pg.170-174
46. The ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey, are the two most celebrated works of ancient Greek literature but they have a very misty past. Homer is traditionally considered to be the author of these two works dealing with events that supposedly occurred at least 500 years before being written down. Despite the fame and enormous influence, nothing is really known about Homer. There is the great so-called ‘Homeric problem’, which is an ongoing debate as to whether there was ever just one ‘Homer’ who could have written both poems. Even Plato in his day was skeptical and had doubts as to the Greek origin of the ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey. Historical and linguistic analysis suggests only that the poems were composed on the west coast of Greek Asia Minor, after having existed as ‘handed down’ oral history for several centuries before. They were apparently inscribed sometime in the 8th century B.C.E. This is some 700 years after writing is supposed to have been introduced into Greece.
(Sources for documents and debate:
3. http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~joelja/odyssey.html )