My book A Baltic Odyssey – Exploring the Baltic Sea Region was first published about a decade ago. It’s out of print but available now through Amazon for Kindle readers – and you can “borrow” it for free as part of a special promotion.
One of the things I write about in the book is the strange idea that Homer’s Greek epics were actually set in northern Europe.
Suspend your disbelief for a moment and consider the theories of Italian Felice Vinci as described in his extended essay ‘Homer in the Baltic’.
“What about Troy?” asks Vinci. “Halfway between Helsinki and Turku (in south-western Finland), we discover that King Priam’s city has survived the Achaean sack and ire. Its characteristics correspond exactly to those Homer handed down to us: the hilly area that dominates the valley with its two rivers, the plain that slopes down towards the coast, and the highlands in the background. It has even maintained its own name almost unchanged throughout all this time. Today, ‘Toija’ is a peaceful Finnish village, unaware of its glorious and tragic past.”
Dismissed by many academics (Vinci himself is a nuclear engineer by training), this apparently fanciful notion is argued in complete seriousness in Homer in the Baltic. The “Essay on Homeric Geography” runs to more than 200 pages and includes detailed comparisons between the Baltic and the Peloponnese region of Greece, the conventionally accepted backdrop for Homer’s tales.
The site of the ‘real’ Troy is usually identified as an archaeological ruin in north-west Turkey – I remember strolling through it myself and nearly tripping over the tortoises that crawled around there in the undergrowth – but residents of Toija, a small and unexceptional rural community, have happily gone along with Vinci’s idea with varying degrees of credulity. Ulysses in the North art exhibitions have been staged in an old village storehouse, for example, and an annual Helen of Troy (Toijan Helena) competition has been held, the winner of which was tasked with community PR.
There was a Trojan horse sculpture competition in 2006 and Toija is the setting for International Conferences on the Iliad and Odyssey in Northern Europe. In 2007, the Finnish village was even the venue for an international seminar grandly titled ‘Toija and the roots of European civilization’ chaired by Giuliana Bendelli of the University of Milan. That Vinci’s theories have gained a growing degree of academic attention is a testament to his persistence and the thoroughness of his arguments. He was invited to expand on the theme in a series of lectures at the University of Rome’s Faculty of Arts, and his thesis has been published in both Russian and English versions.
Love it or laugh at it, Vinci’s work leaves no stone unturned at making the case for placing Homer’s stories in a northern European setting. “Ever since ancient times, Homeric geography has given rise to problems and uncertainty,” he begins the essay. “The conformity of towns , countries and islands, which the poet often describes with a wealth of detail, with traditional Mediterranean places is usually only partial or even non-existent.”
The Baltic region, however, fits Vinci’s bill, and he makes his point with more than mere place name similarities (and the Toija-Troy parallel is just one of dozens). Climatic factors are also central – the question of frequent fog and wind in Homer’s stories is solved, convincingly it must be said, by a Baltic location. And how did Homer get his creative hands on the adventures? Vinci concludes that participants of an “Achaean migration to the Mediterranean… took their epos and geography along with them and attributed the same names they had left behind in their lost homeland to the various places where they eventually settled.”
The theory has attracted a fair amount of derision, but mainly from those who have not taken the time to study Vinci’s very detailed essay. Even the most sceptical academics greet the idea with good humour. One can only wonder at how the Finns would react if someone tried to place the origins of their thoroughly Nordic Kalevala – in the Mediterranean.