- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2008

BASEL, Switzerland (AP) - No, it does not symbolize the dreaded computer virus. Mounted outside the Basel Museum of Antiquities, the 30-foot-high wooden structure suggests how the mythical Trojan Horse may have looked.

It draws attention to a unique show on Homer, the Greek poet whose monumental epics have had an impact on Western culture for more than 2,500 years.

The proverbial “horse” makes only a short appearance in Homer’s powerful narrative, which has influenced art from Greek vases painted in 600 B.C. to American abstract expressionism. Literature, too, has been stimulated by Homer’s works for more than two millenniums.

Proof is provided by 230 exhibits on view at the show, titled “Homer, the Myth of Troy in Poetry and Art.” Lenders include more than 50 European and American museums. Its artistic director, professor Joachim Latacz, a leading international authority on ancient Greece, hopes that the show will reawaken general interest in the roots of Western civilization.

Mr. Latacz deplores what he calls the “growing estrangement” between antiquity and the general public in recent decades. He cites in the show’s catalog a poll in a German town in which 15 percent of high school students, when asked what they knew about Homer, identified him as the character in the popular TV series “The Simpsons.”

On view are magnificent Greek and Roman amphorae and vases depicting dramatic scenes from Homer’s two epics. In his “Iliad,” containing about 16,000 verses, he describes a short phase of a 10-year Trojan war said to have ended with a Greek victory in the 13th century B.C.

In a 12,000-word sequel, the “Odyssey,” Homer tells of a dangerous 10-year journey home by the Greek leader Odysseus to his kingdom on the island of Ithaca. Odysseus is credited with having cunningly smuggled his soldiers inside the huge hollow wooden horse into the besieged citadel of Troy to destroy it.

Coins, statuettes, fragments of text excerpts on Egyptian papyrus and other artifacts on view also stress the dominant effect of Homer’s epics on Western culture since antiquity.

The paintings on display make up only a small fraction of the vast imagery influenced by the ancient poetry. They range from copies of Roman frescoes to canvases by German pop artist Sigmar Polke and by Cy Twombly, a key figure in American abstract expressionism. The catalog lists many others from Rembrandt to Picasso.

In a special room, visitors can see a 2006 video installation by American filmmaker Peter Rose, titled “Odysseus on Ithaca.” The 2004 movie “Troy,” starring Brad Pitt and Peter O’Toole, is loosely based on Homer’s epics.

Writers in ancient Greece as well as Dante, Shakespeare and James Joyce are among countless authors who drew inspiration from the poetry, as did classical and modern composers.

In a brief amusing passage, the catalog portrays a fictitious American family to demonstrate Homer’s influence on commerce in daily life. The father has problems with his computer because of a Trojan virus. The mother wonders whether she should buy Helen of Troy personal hygiene products at the supermarket. And the family looks ahead to the summer holiday, in which they will use their Honda sport utility vehicle named Odyssey.

Excavations going on since the 19th century have not definitely located ruins of the Trojan citadel, which according to Homer was destroyed by the victorious Greeks.

However, Mr. Latacz says scholars agree that Troy was situated on the southern entry of the Dardanelles in what is now Turkey. For Mr. Latacz, there is definite evidence that Homer was born in Smyrna, now the important Turkish port of Izmir, and worked on the Greek island of Chios, just off the western coast of Turkey.

Mr. Latacz joins other experts in flatly rejecting a thesis just established by an Austrian author, Raoul Schrott, in a book termed “sensational” on its cover. Schrott claims he has found proof that Troy was actually a fortress in the ancient kingdom of Assyria, now in Turkish Anatolia. For Mr. Schrott, Homer was a scribe at the court whose ambition to write stemmed from the loss of his manhood, as all men working for the Assyrian king had to be castrated.

For Mr. Latacz, the book presents “sheer fantasy.” He is unlikely to regret its publication last month, nevertheless, because it increased media attention for the Basel show, running through Aug. 17.

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