X99Lynx at X99Lynx at
Sun Feb 7 08:12:59 UTC 1999

In a message dated 2/6/99 9:52:44 PM, you wrote:

<<Moderator's comment:
Homer also describes chariots leaping across ditches, and doing other things
that a chariot could not do, but a bridled horse could...Certainly, a chariot
would not behave as described by Homer.>>

I don't think Homer ever actually described a chariot leaping a ditch.
Just to give Homer his due:

"The trench" in the Illiad is the one protecting the Achaian ships.
The Greeks build it to keep back chariots and footmen (Illiad 7.340, Loeb)
The Greeks drive "through" the ditch when they need to get to the other side,
presumably up and down the banks, without leaping.  There is also a gate in
the fortifications behind the trench that they go through, which might have
led to an unmentioned bridge.

Hector DOES make a speech before the Trojan attack, where he tells his men
that "our horses shall lightly leap over the digged ditch."

HOWEVER when he gets to the ditch, Polydamas tells Hector that, "it is but
folly that we seek to drive across the trench our swift horses; hard in sooth
is it to cross, for sharp stakes are set in it, and close anigh them is the
wall of the Achaeans.  There is it no wise possible for charioteers to descend
and fight; for the space is narrow, and then methinks shall we suffer hurt.
... As for the horses, let the squires hold them back by the trench, but let
us on foot, arrayed in our armour, follow all in one throng after Hector; and
the Achaeans will not withstand us,..."  Illiad 12.50 et seq

Now various commentators have suggested that putting a makeshift bridge across
the trench or even carrying the chariots would not have been a problem.
However Homer's account solves the problem differently.  In a heavy rain,
Apollo becomes his Corps of Army Engineers:  "...and they all raised a shout,
and even with him drave the steeds that drew their chariots, with a wondrous
din; and before them Phoebus Apollo lightly dashed down with his feet the
banks of the deep trench, and cast them into the midst thereof, bridging for
the men a pathway long and broad, even as far as a spear-cast, ..."  (Iliad
15.344 et seq)

When the battle turns against them, the Trojans don't seem to find the bridge
back in their disorderly retreat: "nor was it in good order that they crossed
the trench again.... tbe hosts of Troy, whom the digged trench held back
against their will.  And in the trench many pairs of swift horses, drawers of
chariots, brake the pole at the end, and left the chariots of their lords...."
Iliad 16.369 (et seq)

To my knowledge, Homer never has anyone leaping the trench in a chariot, but
has them only saying they will.  But he does have chariots crashing in the

In defense of Homer:
It is worth remembering that before there was the slightest bit of evidence of
Mycenaeans, Bronze age Greeks, Troy,  chariots but not cavalry in battle, the
common line was that Homer made them all up.

I think it makes sense to think twice before dismissing anything in the Illiad
if there may be a favorable interpretation.  There is a fair body of
scholarship doubting Homer that went down the tubes once the archaeology
started, even with the admitted anachronisms and ambiguoties.

<<Chariots were used in Greece for display and sport in Homer's day,
particularly in aristocratic circles.  I'd think he was pretty familiar with

And of course if the "Homers" (as many as eight said someone) were merely the
transcribers and editors of an oral tradition that went back as few as two-
four centuries, the preserved information in the Illiad could well be a first
hand account of Bronze Age battle chariots.

Steve Long

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