• Alexandra Alissandratou

I sailed the wine-colored sea

Updated: Aug 26, 2019

When sailing along the Aegean coast of Turkey one summer, I was transported to another time and place, back to Homer's Troy. In my thoughts, the sea upon which we glided was only partially the “blue” Aegean but more Homer’s “wine-colored sea” which, until that fateful war, protected the Trojans from their foes; and ironically, finally brought the Greeks to the shores that would lead them to Troy and the demise of a people. And as I gazed upon the arid, rugged hills looming meters above, I envisioned warriors of yore on their horses, spears in hand, shields encasing their bodies, horse-hair streaming from their helmets inspiring dread, fear. These champions watched askance, silently, vigilantly, this strange boat of 21st century merrymakers.


There are so many wonderful plays, poems dating from ancient times, about the Trojan War, the survivors, the victors. But, for me, non can surpass The Iliad in splendor, magnificence., heroism, and yes, humanity. The story of love, revenge, heroism - the human condition laid bare. The helplessness of man as his destiny is woven on the loom of the gods.


Among the many poignant scenes in The Iliad - and there are many - is King Priam's plea to Achilles to return the body of his son Hector, the mighty Trojan warrior and hero felled by Achilles' sword. Why? To enable the vanquished king to give his son a funeral befitting his rank and heroism, to return him to his people and kin. "The majestic king of Troy" goes to Achilles' tent,

and kneeling down beside Achilles, clasped his knees

and kissed his hands, those terrible, man-killing hands

that had slaughtered Priam's many sons in battle.

..........................................................................................

so Achilles marveled, beholding majestic Priam.

..........................................................................................

Revere the gods, Achilles! Pity me in my own right,

remember your own father! I deserve more pity...

I have endured what no one on earth has ever done before -

I put to my lips the hands of the man who killed my son.*


Achilles, "overpowered by memory" of those he lost, especially his Patroclus, struggling with conflicting emotions, lifts Priam to his feet, and eventually gives the king his son's body that it may receive the burial appropriate to his rank as both prince and valiant warrior.


We read again and again about motherly love and sacrifice but seldom abut a father's love and sacrifice for his children. Yet, in his epic, Homer does not hesitate to lay bare a father's sorrow, grief, humility and heroism. Priam did not know if Achilles, known for his rage and hatred of Hector, would allow the elderly man to live, let alone give safe passage to both Priam and the corpse of his son. But for love of that very son, Priam humbles himself before another and younger peer. A moving passage depicting indomitable spirit, love. An honorable father wishing to honor his son. And the conqueror humbled by the elder's grace, devotion and subservience.


Achilles, the warrior who despises Hector for having slain his best friend Patroclus in battle, raging within himself, seeking to defile his foe's corpse, finally overwhelmed with sorrow, takes pity on Priam, returns the son to the father, thereby finally honoring the elder and recognizing Hector's greatness.


Yes, the literature of yore. Honor. Respect. Dignity. Humility. Unfathomable love. The warriors I imagined as I sailed the wine-colored sea.


* From Homer's The Iliad, Book 24, Translated by Robert Fagles




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An educator, historian, author and poet with an insatiable appetite for romance, my biography features a love of adventure, travel and a need for legacy. Welcome to my blog!

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© 2019 by Alexandra Turkington Alissandratou