Saturday, September 15, 2007


We drove past the ancient site of Tiryns as we arrived at Nauplio, and then again the next morning on our way to see Mycenae, before finally stopping that afternoon. The walls are simply overwhelming; they stand out even among other examples of cyclopean style masonry. In Homer's catalogue of ships it is Diomedes who leads Τίρυνθὰ τειχιόεσσαν to Troy. Herakles was also associated with the city, some saying that he was sent there from Thebes by the Delphic Oracle, others that he was born there. The city is found in the story of Bellerophon in the Iliad, which appears to be the only reference to writing in the Homeric poems. There were, in fact, vessels inscribed with Linear B signs discovered at Tiryns. In the story, Bellerophon sought refuge at Tiryns under King Proetus, but when the king's wife tried to seduce him, and he refused her, she complained to her husband that B. made advances on her. The king decided to send B. to Lycia, the kingdom of his father-in-law, with σήματα λυγρὰ, terrible signs, inscribed on a tablet, instructing the king to kill B. on his arrival. At Iliad 6.168:
πέμπε δέ μιν Λυκίηνδε, πόρεν δ᾽ ὅ γε σήματα λυγρὰ
γράψας ἐν πίνακι πτυκτῷ θυμοφθόρα πολλά,
δεῖξαι δ᾽ ἠνώγειν ᾧ πενθερῷ ὄφρ᾽ ἀπόλοιτο

Bellerophon isn't aware of the instructions, since he cannot read the signs, but the king of Lycia fails in his attempt to kill B. with a series of dangerous tasks. He was so impressed with B., in fact, that he offers his daughter in marriage and half of his kingship. But when B. becomes hated by the gods (Il.6.200):
ἤτοι ὃ κὰπ πεδίον τὸ Ἀλήϊον οἶος ἀλᾶτο
ὃν θυμὸν κατέδων, πάτον ἀνθρώπων ἀλεείνων

There is also a lost play by Euripides, the Bellerophontes, of which a few fragments survive in other authors, suggesting that it dealt with his attempt on Olympus.

My visit to Tiryns was especially pleasant because absolutely nobody else was there. It was a sweltering hot day during the heat wave at the very beginning of the devastating fires this summer. The site, of course, is made up of dirt and rocks in the direct sun, with one very slight tree for shade, under which I rested more than once.

In order to enter the city you pass through what were once two gates. Some of the largest stones are incorporated in this part of the wall. The upper part of the site has the remains of a megaron and surrounding rooms. In one of these rooms was a pit in the corner which looked very much like a toilet, with a stone drainage system leading into the ground, and, indeed, I later discovered that the site map at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens labels it as such. The lower part of the site is an open space, with what looked like storage rooms along the west wall. There were two very interesting tunnels leading through the wall, but they were both off limits, and heavily supported with metal braces.

There were almost no signs here of a tourist destination, and I cherish that experience of exploring an ancient site in silence and solitude, at my own pace, and without any supervision. In my imagination I was stumbling upon a mysterious bronze age site, but, of course, it would not be nearly as interesting if it weren't for the work of archaeologists.


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