Is the Heroic Age of Greece myth or history?

by John Holbrook Jr.
A Biblical View, posted November 21, 2016

Most versions of ancient chronology put the Mycenaean Age c.1600-1100 BC, the Greek Dark Ages c.1100-900 BC, and the Greek Archaic Period c.900-500 BC.  My chronology, however, which takes the Bible as its point of departure, but which also owes much to Immanuel Velikovsky, amends this sequence. First, the Mycenaean Age existed c.1008-754 BC and constituted what the Ancients called the Greek Heroic Age. Second, the Greek Dark Ages never existed. Third, the Greek Archaic Period existed c.754-487 BC. 

According to the testimony of the Greek and Roman historians, the Greek Heroic Age saw the following heroic exploits:

The Labors of Herakles probably occurred about five years before the slaying of the Minotaur because Herakles and Theseus were contemporaries and probably sailed together on the Argo.

The Slaying of the Minotaur by Theseus probably occurred just a few years before the Voyage of the Argo;

The Voyage of the Argo probably occurred just a few years prior to the 1st Theban War.

The 1st Theban War is memorialized in Greek and Roman literature as the “Seven Against Thebes.” It probably occurred sometime after the Voyage of the Argo.

The 2nd Theban War is memorialized in Greek and Roman literature as the War of the Epigoni, who were the sons of the Greek heroes of the 1st Theban War. It probably occurred about a decade after the 1st Theban War.

The Trojan War commenced when the Greeks invaded Asia Minor and besieged Troy. According to one Greek historian,[1] it started exactly 20 years after the 1st Theban War and lasted ten years.

The Voyage of Odysseus from Troy to his home in Ithaca started soon after the fall of Troy and lasted ten years.

The 1st Olympic Games probably occurred in 777 BC. Historians identify 776 BC as year 1 of the 1st Olympiad, which would have started in 777 BC. No one knows what prompted the event.

Unfortunately, most historians dismiss most of these exploits as myth – either gross exaggerations of actual events or outright fabrications. I don’t.

First these exploits provide a framework for organizing the participants into generations. In the Iliad and the Odyssey, Homer, who, according to my chronology, lived about 100 years after the Trojan War, provided a great deal of information about the Greek and Trojan heroes of the war, as well as information about their progenitors and current relatives. This genealogical information was supplemented by later Greek historians such as Herodotus and Thucydides and Greek playwrights such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripedes. Taken together, this body of literature contains extensive genealogical information concerning the Greek and other (e.g. Trojan) royal families. Harold Newman and Jon O. Newman present this genealogical information in their exhaustive  A Genealogical Chart of Greek Mythology. What is missing from their study, however, is the separation of this information into generations so that a comprehensive picture of the Mycenaean Age can emerge. See my attempt to provide this comprehensive picture in my table, A Synchronization of Greek Generations.

Second, the testimony of the archaeologists divides the Mycenaean or Late Helladic III era into three periods that are connected to Egyptian history as follows:

Its early period (Late Helladic IIIa) coincided with the reigns of Amenhotep I, Thutmose I, Thutmose II, and his sister Hatshepsut.

Its middle period (Late Helladic IIIb) coincided with the reigns of Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, Amerhotep III, Tiy, and Amenhotep IV (=Akhnaton).

Its late period (Late Helladic IIIc) coincided with the reigns of Smenkhare, Tutankhamen, and Ay.

According to my chronology, the Mycenaean or Late Helladic III era lasted roughly 254 years (c. 1008-754 BC). Concerning its three periods,

Late Helladic IIIa lasted roughly 51 years (c.1008-957 BC). It coincided, not only with the reigns of Amenhotep I, Thutmose I, Thutmose II, and his sister Hatshepsut of the 18th Dynasty in Egypt, but also with the reigns of David and Solomon of the United Kingdom of Israel in Palestine.

Late Helladic IIIb lasted roughly 102 years (c.957-855 BC). It coincided, not only with the reigns of Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, Amerhotep III, Tiy, and Amenhotep IV (=Akhnaton) of the 18th Dynasty in Egypt, but also with the reigns of Rehoboam, Abijam, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, Ahaziah, and Athalia of the Kingdom of Judah in Palestine.

Late Helladic IIIc lasted roughly 101 years (c.855-754 BC). It coincided, not only with the reigns of Smenkhare, Tutankhamen, and Ay of the 18th Dynasty, but also with the reigns of Sheshonk I, Osorkon I, Takelot I, Osorkon II, and Sheshonk II of the Libyan Dynasties (22-24) in Egypt and the reigns of Jehoash, Amaziah, and Azariah (=Uzziah) of the Kingdom of Judah in Palestine. As will become clear, most of the heroic exploits about which the Greek and Roman historians wrote fell in last period.

Given the above genealogies and time periods, I treat the heroic exploits as historical events and order them as follows:

C. 855 BC – The Labors of Herakles. Although the tales of these labors certainly contain many fanciful elements, I have no doubt that these tales are based on some actual occurrences in which Herakles demonstrated great valor. As a result, Herakles became a legend in his own time. He set a standard of physical stature and prowess to which the men of the Heroic Age could aspire. Moreover he whet their appetites for adventurous exploits that might earn them a place in Greece’s pantheon of heroes.

C. 850 BC – The Slaying of the Minotaur. C.865 BC, Androgeus, son of King Minos of Crete, competed in the quadrennial Pan-Athenian games. He did so well that some jealous Athenians killed him. Upon receiving the news, Minos sailed to Athens and demanded that King Aegeus of Athens relinquish the assassins to him. The identity of the assassins was not known, however, and so Androgeus turned over the entire city to Minos. Minos then demanded a septennial tribute of seven youths and seven maidens, who would be given to the Minotaur, a deformed and undoubtedly demented son of Minos, to devour. When the third tribute was due (c.850 BC), King Aegeus’s son Theseus volunteered to be one of the seven youths. He traveled to Crete, slew the Minotaur with the help of Ariadne, a princess of Crete, thereby putting an end to the tribute, and then returned to Athens with Ariadne and her sister Phaedra.

C. 845 BC – The Voyage of the Argo. Jason[2] and his crew on the Argo undertook a voyage from Iolcus on the eastern shore of Thessaly to Colchus on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, in order to obtain the Golden Fleece, which had been hung in a sacred grove dedicated to Ares by Phrixos. This voyage resulted in one of the greatest exploratory expeditions in human history. In my opinion, the expedition took the band of mostly young adventurers (a) southeastward across the Aegean Sea to the Hellespont (=Dardenelles), (b) northeastward across the Propontis (=Sea of Marmara), and through the Bosporus to the Euxine (Black Sea), (c) eastward across the north coast of Asia Minor to Colchus, then (d) westward back across the Euxine to the mouth of the Danube, (e) northwestward up the Danube and one of its tributaries to their common headwaters (just north of modern Zagreb), (f) overland to the headwaters of the Arsia River, (g) southwestward downriver to the Adriatic Sea, (h) southward along the Dalmatian coast almost to Sicily, (i) northward along the eastern coast of Italy to the mouth of the Po River, (j) westward upriver to its headwaters south of Pavia, (k) overland to the headwaters of the Scrivia River, (l) southward downriver to Genoa on the Ligurnian Sea, (m) southeastward along the Italian coast and through the Strait of Messina, (n) southward across the Mediterranean Sea into the sandbanks of the Gulf of Syrtis (off the west coast of Libya),  (o) eastward overland to Lake Triton (no longer extant), (p) northeastward across the lake, (q) northward down a river (no longer extant) to the south shore of the eastern Mediterranean Sea, (r) northeastward to Crete, (s) northward from Crete to the Peloponnesus and finally back to Iolcus. This adventure provided the young Greeks with both maritime expertise and a wealth of demographic, geographic, and navigational information – to say nothing of a fund of stories to tell.

832 BC – The 1st Theban War. A Greek army invaded Egypt and besieged Thebes with the intent of restoring the Egyptian throne to Smenkhare, whom the Greeks knew as Polyneices. The army was under the command of King Adrastus of Sicyon and his six captains: (a) his brother-in-law Amphiaraus (an Argonaut) of Argos, (b) his nephew Capaneus of Corinth, (c) his brother Hippomedon of Mycenae, (d) his friend Parthenopaeus of Tegea, (e) his son-in-law Polyneices (=Smenkhare) of Egyptian Thebes, and (f) his son-in-law Tydeus of Calydon. Together they were known in Greek literature as the “Seven Against Thebes.” They were accompanied by Adrastus’s friend Eteoclus of Argos and his brother Mecisteus of Sicyon. The siege of Thebes was unsuccessful, and Amphiarus, Capaneus, Hippomedon, Parthenopaeus, Polyneices, Tydeus, Eteoclus, and Mecisteus were killed. Only Adrastus returned to Greece with the remnant of the Greek army.

820 BC – The 2nd Theban War. After the debacle of the 1st Theban War, in which so many prominent Greek heroes were killed, the sons of the dead, who were known as “the Epigoni,” decided to seek revenge. They were (a) Aegialus, son of Adrastus, (b) Alcmaeon, son of Amphiarus, (c) Amphilocus, also son of Amphiarus, (d) Euryalus, son of Mecisteus, (e) Medon, son of Eteoclus, (f) Polydorus, son of Hippomedon, (g) Promachus, son of Parthenopaeus, (h) Sthenelus, son of Capaneus, and (i) Thersander, son of Polyneices. Under the leadership of possibly Adrastus (questionable: Adrastus may have died prior to the 2nd Theban War since his son Aegialus is numbered among the “sons of the dead”) and certainly his nephew Alcmaeon, the Epigoni raised a second army from among the cities of the Argolid that were ruled by the relatives.of Adrastus and launched a second invasion of Egypt and a second siege of Thebes. This time the Greeks enjoyed a measure of success. Some historians claim that they invested the city, razed it to the ground, and installed Thersander on the Theban throne. According to Egyptian records, however, Ay was the last pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty. Also, according to my chronology, Egypt was invaded and conquered by the Libyans c.820 BC, presumably because the 2nd Theban War had left Egypt in a severely weakened condition. Thus Thersander’s occupancy of the Theban throne – if it occurred at all – was brief.

812-802 BC – The Trojan War. Eight years after the 2nd Theban War, the Greeks began flexing their muscles again. For years they had been irked by the control which the Trojans exercised over the Dardanelles and the maritime trade between (a) the Aegaen Sea and the Mediterranean Sea to the west and south and (b) the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea to the north and east. On the pretext of being outraged over the supposed abduction of Helen, the beautiful wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, by the Trojan prince Paris, King Agamemnon of Mycenae, the brother of Menelaus, led an armada of over a thousand ships filled with Greek warriors to besiege Troy and liberate Helen. The siege lasted ten years and ended with a Greek victory. It was undoubtedly the most dramatic event of Greece’s Heroic Age.

800-790 BC – The Voyage of Odysseus. In the Odyssey, Homer relates that, after the fall of Troy, the Greek hero Odysseus commenced a voyage from Troy to his home in Ithaca that lasted ten years.

777 BC – The 1st Olympic Games. 777 BC would have been the 25th anniversary of the Greek victory at Troy. Celebrating that anniversary may have been the reason for the games.

 As the above people and events are put in their proper times and places, they lose the vagueness of myth and take on the definition of history, which answers my original question, “Is the Heroic Age of Greece myth or history?” It looks like history to me.

© 2016 John Holbrook Jr.

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[1] I cannot remember where I saw this, which is unfortunate because it plays an important role in my chronology of this period.

[2] The Argonauts regarded Herakles as the natural commander in chief among them, but he declined the position and suggested that Jason be their leader.

 

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