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  • The Iliad, Book XXV. Restoration of the Trojan War Battlefield
  • Steven N. Handel

Editor's note: In our world of almost constant war, human loss and financial damages are immense. Landscapes and habitats also can be devastated by long-term battles, what W.H. Auden called "An artificial wilderness. … A plain without a feature, bare and brown." Eventually wars end and societies slowly rebuild. The militarized landscape takes longer to be addressed and to mend.

Post-war ecological restoration can be an enormous part of this discipline's work. In our literary tradition, the Iliad of Homer evokes the deepest human dramas of a long war. But the poet ends the saga at the end of the battles, with the burial of Hector, Troy's hero. What if Homer had ended not with this sad scene in Book XXIV, but with the rebirth of the land after regeneration or restoration? How might a revised Iliad end?

Book XXV

Sing, Goddess, of lands tired from years of war, where armies retreated from blood-soaked battles.

Lands where the sage and thyme blossomed and the deep scent of their flowers thickened the air under the steady sun.

Where birds, the bark-brown sparrows and the fork-tailed terns, soared through the air and searched for sustaining food.

All gone now, the ground without greens and blossoms of plants, without bird song.

The many-colored land now brown and crusted firm from Troy's ruined walls to the wine-dark water that still slowly laps the shore.

The once laughing children with flower garlands twined in their hair now sad-eyed, heads bowed, on their slow walks through the dust and rocks of the parched plain.

And sing, Goddess, also of the memories of those bright days before the Greek's many ships landed and the angry soldiers marched towards Troy, cutting the trees, crushing the flowers, eating the fleet animals trapped between invaded shores and city walls.

Sing of the dreams to bring back past beauty and to relive the soft sounds of the insects and birds that filled Troy's air.

The ships have sailed back now to the olive tree-filled shores of Greece, carrying their wailing slaves and high-piled booty, the thin-necked amphora and well-fashioned armor from fallen foes.

The fires of Troy's ruins still smoke among the broken stones and graves of Trojan fallen fighters.

From high Mount Olympus, sharp-eyed Athena watched the land colored with the blood spilled by heroes in the great war, the blood of Trojan and Greek fighters mixed together in a macabre potion.

Hands raised, she called for clouds to come in and wet the dusty soil, priming the well-buried seeds to emerge and start again a living face to the barren land.

Rain came, but few green-stemmed plants appeared under Athena's cool gaze.

Hephaestus, the gods' blacksmith, raised his soot-darkened face from his hearth and reminded the other immortals that Mediterranean plants often need smoke, not only rain, to start their life cycle anew.

The spreading smoke contains germination cues, seducing the seeds to restore habitats after hot fires that frequent the oft-burned Trojan plain.

He raised his blackened tongs from the hearth and threw embers down outside the Trojan broken walls, starting new fires of the wood of broken chariot wheels that covered the land.

Then the curling smoke released the seeds from their long dormancy.

The goddess's rains nurtured them and the land started greening anew. [End Page 149]

The slow wandering children, still longing for the dimly-remembered joys of the past, gathered in the heights above the battle scared field and collected new seed from the still green shrubs on the hillsides.

Seeds held in their goatskin packs, the now laughing children marched down to the bare battlefield, scattering the seeds to add new life and structure to the flatten land.

But few young shrubs and trees, the scented sage and much-loved pomegranate and figs, appeared in that soil, compacted by the many rough battles of the long war.

Most firm was the track of Achilles' chariot, dragging fallen Hector around Troy's weeping walls, soil...

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