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Chapter 2: Historical Background of Greek Mythology


Read the Commentary for Chapter 2.


Familiarize yourself with the maps of the Peloponnese and the Aegean Sea, paying particular attention to the locations of Mycenae and Troy.


For a solid overview of the early history of archaeology in the Aegean, consult the following link: http://www.projectsx.dartmouth.edu/history/bronze_age/. Explore the visual tours of Bronze Age sites and click on Minoan Civilization and Mycenaean Civilization to learn more about these periods.

Learn about the work of Sir Arthur Evan and the archaeological finds of Minoan Crete through the following link: http://www.dilos.com/region/crete/evans.html.

Explore the work and contributions of Heinrich Schliemann through the following link: http://www.utexas.edu/courses/wilson/ant304/

Investigate the historical evidence for the historicity of the Trojan War through the following link: http://devlab.dartmouth.edu/history/bronze_age/lessons/27.html

If you wish to read about the current archaeological work going on at Troy, go to the following link: http://classics.uc.edu/troy/eng/info.html.


Read The Discovery of the Greek Bronze Age by J. Lesley Fitton, which contains a admirable survey of the excavations.

Enjoy the biography of Sir Arthur Evans entitled Minotaur: Sir Arthur Evans and the Archaeology of the Minoan Myth, by Joseph Alexander MacGillivray.

Consult In Search of the Trojan War by Michael Wood. The updated version remains one of the best surveys of the archaeologists, the excavations, and the various interpretations of the evidence.

Essay Questions

  1. Discuss the relationship between the historical and mythological traditions of Minoan Crete.

  2. What are the major differences between the sites in Minoan Crete and those in Mycenaean Greece? How might these differences be interpreted?

  3. How convincing are Blegen’s claims that Troy VIIa is the Troy of Homer, as compared with those of Dörpfeld?

  4. What interpretations have been put forward to explain the destruction of Mycenaean centers of power and the emergence of the “Dark Age”?

  5. Discuss the relationship of the poems of Homer to the historical period enshrined in the two epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey.

  6. If you were to discover the site of Odysseus’ palace, what would you expect to find in the course of your excavations?

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