(Vinci Team for Epic Ancestor Mapping)
Recent scholarly research by Felice Vinci indicates that the origin of the Homeric epics centers around the Baltic Sea, not the Mediterranean. We seek to retrace the Achaean voyage to Troy, as described in the Iliad, given Vinci’s theory. Along the way we will re-read the Homeric textual landscape that existed in the ancient Baltic via modern day observation. The goal is to expand and improve our understandings of historic identities and the ways in which they intersect with our own experience of places and people.
In recent years there has been a broadening of the exploration of ancient cultures from an archaeological perspective based on site excavations to the study of landscape and geography as a whole through a cultural lens. Cultural geography looks at space and landscape, concentrating on the ways in which the context of a landscape serves to shape personal and cultural identity. This marriage of culture with landscape is clearly evident throughout the Homeric epics. From the outset of the Odyssey one of the principal achievements of its protagonist is to “see the cities and know the minds of many men”. Our project will follow the example Odysseus set forth so many centuries ago. We will explore the classic tales of “Homer” in a newly envisioned landscape.
Our primary goal is to examine the effects that the unique landscape of the Baltic has on our understanding of Homeric epics. These works serve as a foundation of our cultural history, and to be able to reinterpret them in a new environment is an extraordinary opportunity. It is our aim to document the similarities that may exist between Homer’s descriptions and the landscape that we will be traveling through. If we are able to discover and document parallels between past and present landscapes, it would provide another piece of evidence for a promising new theory of a Baltic origin of the Iliad and Odyssey, and ultimately our own historical roots.
Incongruities in the geography of the Homeric epics have confused scholars of ancient history for hundreds of years. The towns, countries, and islands described in the Iliad and the Odyssey do not always match the geographical realities of the Mediterranean. A new theory by Dr. Felice Vinci suggests that the origins of Homer’s epics can be traced to the Baltic region. In his book, Homero nel Baltico (1995), which recently appeared in English as The Baltic Origins of Homer’s Epic Tales (Inner Traditions Press, 2006), Vinci posits that the Achaeans migrated from Scandinavia to Greece around the 16th Century B.C.E. in search of a warmer climate, after a climatic downturn (well established by mainstream climatologists) from the third millennium B.C.E. “Post-Glacial Climatic Optimum”.
This migration resulted in the founding of the Mycenaean Civilization. Recognizing in the eastern Mediterranean, configurations of archipelagos and peninsulas the Achaeans replicated place names from the Baltic world in this newly settled region. Similar use of “homotopes,” or replicated place names mapped onto a new country, is widespread, and can be traced in the Navajo Indians migrations from the north to their present homeland and even also in the Greek colonist to Sicily and southern Italy. Large-scale transposition of a body of ancient oral poetry from an earlier to a later homeland is most strikingly evident in the phenomenon of the corpus of Indian texts called the Vedas. There is a consensus among contemporary scholars that these texts have no specific rooting in the northern Indian terrain where they were later established. Instead it is believed that the Vedas originated in some location further north and were brought down by one particular branch of the migration of the scattered Indo-Europeans from their original homeland. Within the context of Indo-European studies as a whole Vinci is working in a parallel paradigm.
Two conclusions can be drawn from the discrepancies of Homer’s geography. Either Homer’s epic poems are fictional, or the epics in their earlier forms (before the time of the Indo-European migrations from a common homeland and common culture) are geographically misplaced. For our purposes we will rely on the latter assumption, that the true origins of the geographies of the Iliad and Odyssey lie in the North of Europe, in the Baltic region, and were only later remapped, with imperfect fit, onto the eastern (and later the western) Mediterranean.
We will set sail from Stockholm, Sweden, which is near what was, according to Vinci’s reconstruction, the rallying point at Aulis of the Achaeans before the Trojan War, and travel to what he posits as the original beaches of Troy in Toija, Finland, near Helsinki. Exact locations will be based on places named in Vinci’s The Baltic Origins of Homer’s Epic Tales. A charter with a captain has been reserved and will depart 11 June 2006 returning 1 July 2006. This exploration will be crewed by five individuals in addition to the hired captain. Members of the crew include two former Bard students, two current Bard students, and Professor William Mullen, who has taught Classics at Bard College since 1985.
During the voyage a daily journal will be kept to record observations and thoughts in order to compare the crew’s experiences to those of the Achaeans’ as described by Homer in the Iliad. Scholarly sessions led by Prof. Mullen will fine-tune our perceptions of the textual, archeological and geographic issues raised by each phase of the journey in the light of Vinci’s theories. The journal will be both visual (photographs and sketches), and written, and both of these elements will be posted on a blog. At the end of the voyage the blogged visual and written materials will be used as the basis for an interactive CD-ROM. The CD-ROM will explore how the crew’s experiences converged and diverged from that of the Achaeans’ as posited by Vinci, and, more generally, how this modern voyage engaged us with the geographic, historic, and cultural landscape of the Baltic region, past and present.
As a prelude to this voyage that will reconstruct routes of the Iliad, Prof. Mullen will lead us through the islands south of Copenhagen which are Vinci’s candidates for Ithaka and its three nearby islands: Samos, Zakynthos, and Doulichion. We will take a ferry to the island of Lyo, Vinci’s candidate for Ithaka, and follow his footsteps in comparing the topography of today with that of Homeric description.
Through Prof. Mullen, who has worked with Felice Vinci in the past, we are currently in regular contact with the author of these theories. Vinci has expressed interest in meeting our expedition at one or more sites to discuss his theory, and is also in the course of arranging for meetings for us with scholars in Norway, Finland and Latvia during our trip. Recently, an archeological team from the University of Pavia in Italy (contact person Prof. Giuilana Bendelli: firstname.lastname@example.org) has been working to verify elements of Vinci’s theory, and Prof. Mullen will be working with Prof. Bendelli on an English-language version of the website(s) the Pavia team will set up to report on their ongoing archaeological testing. Our voyage will serve as a supplementary perspective to this ongoing collaborative effort.