been reading and thinking about Homer’s Iliad, and I have this idea that I can’t get rid of that of course it is a story from the Greek dreamtime, from the pre literate time when all was remembered was stories and legends, in much the same way that in Australian aboriginal cultures we have the dreamtime legends.
Homer is not unique, but perhaps the best attested because we know that the places he described existed, in part because they were never really completely lost – just misplaced.
There are other stories for example the Tain, the stories from the migration period of German history, or indeed some of the early anglo saxon accounts of the settlement of Britain.
So we know that pre literate societies can construct a body of story and myth that contain a history of events and places that we believe to have occurred and have existed.
Now of course when we come to Australian aborigines, it’s mysteriously different. There are people who deny for political reasons that the original inhabitants did much more than wander about, eat snails and grubs, and recount the days doings, eventually turning them into legends to form some sort of social glue. But strangely it’s not history.
And that’s really all the Iliad is – a story that recounts the history of a fight between the rulers of two towns, villages really more like a hill fort than a classical city, over a woman. It could be the Tain. And doubtless other societies have similar stories, I’m sure some of societies in PNG have similar stories of fights between villages.
And of course it’s also the story of Ten Canoes.
One of course is classical and one is told by people who did not walk about wearing bedsheets. But actually both sets of stories are equally likely to contain a memory of significant events and really belong in the context of what stories from per literate societies can tell us of events past – just because they’ve been retold and celebrated by our culture for three millenia doesn’t make them any more special than that of other cultures.
After all folk tales and legends are storytelling and even now, in much of the world informal history is spread by story telling – be it Berber peasants on the edge of the Sahara watching soap operas from Dubai or kids in Honksville, Idaho watching Xena re-runs – and we should recognise that these are all equally important, as it is the informal history that colours most people’s opinions, not the scholarly analyses of professional historians –ask any politician …