The Greeks turn up in unexpected places.  Recently I found them in Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing.  I suppose most writers are guilty of seeking out and devouring books about writing.  We read every one that comes to our attention, even though, after about five of them, each may only provide one new idea or trick for keeping at the writing craft.  It was a quotation on a LinkedIn group which brought Bradbury to my attention.  It had been several months since I’d read a good craft book so I tracked down a used copy.

The book is a collection of essays about Bradbury’s own work, his methods, his efforts at teaching.  It is well worth reading although you may, as I did, feel a bit jealous when he speaks of being able to type out a full story in one short sitting.

The Greeks show up not among the Martians and other aliens with whom Bradbury has spent most of his time, but in one of the poems that form a sort of coda to the book, in the form of Troy.  Troy is a symbol of archaeological work, the digging and finding of treasure, as it was when Schliemann excavated there in the late nineteenth century.  For Bradbury it becomes a metaphor for his finding his own unique path in life.  Others tried to dissuade him, but “I knew my Troy.” he says. He had to keep it secret. however.   “I dug when all their backs were turned.” he says, in order to avoid the scorn of those who did not believe.  He concludes the poem speaking about what he found:

One Troy? No, ten!
Ten Troys? No, two times ten!  Three dozen!
And each a richer, finer, brighter cousin!
All in my flesh and blood,
And each one true.
So what’s this mean?
Go dig the Troy in you!

How satisfying that he can stay with and expand that one image, that Troy that has been magical since Homer.  It rings and resonates.

For me, one Greek leads to another, one archaeological site leads to another.  Schliemann, who found Troy, also unearthed gold masks and other riches at Mycenae where Agamemnon ruled.  He went looking for Pylos, the home of Nestor, the wise older advisor of the Iliad.  Like Schliemann, I cannot settle on one site.  But Bradbury does promise many Troys.

There are nine layers at Hissarlik, the site of Troy.  Schliemann was wrong about which was the Homeric Troy.  He thought Priam’s Troy was the second layer; it appears now to have been the sixth.  Layers are also metaphor: the layer of history is overlaid by the layer of excavation in the tales of the place; between what we learn and what happened there is always a big gap, but the set of tales about what was found adds its own layer to the story.

Each of us, Bradbury suggests, has our Troy or series of Troys to find, though we would be wise not to talk too much about them.  Mine is the next poem project; it always takes some searching to find what I’m after.  May you be fortunate in finding your Troy.

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