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Chapter 36. Gods Among Us

Izmir to Güzelyali. June 10-13.

As far as research goes, I typically do almost none of it. I quite enjoy entering a country, city or site with an empty glass ready to be filled with impressions, information and experiences. A waste, some say, to come unprepared. Irresponsible, I hear, to not be informed of dangers. But as it most often turns out, an empty mind is more useful than one filled with preconceptions, as the empty mind absorbs the live information like a sponge, while the informed mind is often reluctant to change and adapt. Yet, for all my raving about empty cups, even I do exceptions from this approach. I wanted the ancient city of Troy to be one of them. 

Of the countless ancient sites along my path in Turkey, Troy was one I had early on selected to prioritise. It lay convenient for my route but inconvenient for most others, meaning that there likely wouldn't be too many tourists and that I was unlikely to easily revisit. It was also one of the few ancient cities I actually had some idea about from popular culture and school projects way back when. I knew the remains themselves not to be that significant. To enjoy them I would benefit from having a richer idea than mental images of a 2004 Hollywood film. And so, accompanying me on my bike leading up to my arrival in northwestern Turkey, was the voice of Stephen Fry, reading his own version of the epic story simply titled “Troy”.

I would recommend the book, especially the audio version, to anyone remotely interested in Greek history and mythology, epic storytelling, classic literature, or simply listening to one of the most charming and calming voices around. His passion for the tale really does shine through, and his patience with us mortals who quickly forget and mix up all the names of locations, gods and demigods is much appreciated. But I didn't include the work here to give book recommendations or earn affiliate money. 

Listening to "Troy" set the tone for a whole week of my journey as a build-up, an anticipation. It gave the lonely cycling a short-term goal and made me feel better when skipping sites such as Pergamon, as I knew I had my focus elsewhere. Speaking of loneliness, just like the radio has kept elders, drivers, and singles company for 200 years, just hearing a familiar voice talking to me made a big difference. 

From Izmir, the journey went via Bergama and Akçay to Güzelyali. Bergama was a very charming town that I felt was worth more time than I could give it. Akçay provided local musicians jamming in the sunset by the beach, but the town itself tried and failed badly to compete with the top resort areas in western Turkey.

Güzelyali was the closest town to Troy, and I had managed to score a host there through the cyclist-oriented platform Warmsö Showers (I wrote more about it in chapter 27). By this point, I was starving for social connections and looking forward to make some new acquaintances. Firat and his friends Delal and Veysel were all Kurds who had found their ways to this part of Turkey. They spoke Kurdish among themselves, not a given among Turkish Kurds, but their ways were more shaped by the current environment than their ethnicity, at least to my eyes.

Recalling the customs back in Cizre, my first stop in Turkey that I wrote about in chapter 20, there was a sharp difference in terms of clothing and cultural expressions. “We are all the same” is a common phrase among Kurds when explaining their identity to me. I fully trust that is what they think, what they feel, what they believe. As someone who now knows Kurds from Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, as well as a few immigrants to Sweden, to me they are as different as their respective environments, then add to that their individual characteristics. That doesn't stop me from loving and appreciating each and every one, which in the case of Firat, Delal and Veysel was hard not to. It was truly a blast to be around such delighting souls.

As for Troy, I ended up visiting twice, once on my own and then again when Firat's sister had an art exhibition in the museum. Actually understanding a large chunk of what the art referred to, thanks to my recent deep dive in the story of Troy, was a fresh experience for me as far as art exhibitions go. The legend itself is still gripping, at least with a strong storyteller. I have never read either the Iliad or the Odyssey, but I found the seamless blend between earthly matters and divine intervention fascinating and, weirdly enough, fresh. But it is not only how the legend has been portrayed that intrigues me, but also clues it gives us of our spiritual nature.

In these blog chapters, I have had a habit of opening doors to big thoughts or questions and leaving them wide open. I will now continue in that fashion. The Trojan War waged in what Hesiod called the Heroic Era, when great heroes such as Heracles, Theseus, and Achilles were all powered by divinity to some extent, and full-on engagement of the gods were commonplace. Hesiod himself, a poet, lived 500 years later in the same era that Homer, the created author of the Iliad, noted down his masterpieces. During that half-millennium, and continuing for a few more centuries, the presence of the gods is said to have gradually diminished to the point when they were nowhere to be seen.

Similar developments are described in other faiths. In Abrahamic religions, Moses is believed to have lived within that Heroic Era, but over the following millennia, God's direct intervention and communication with humans became more infrequent. The last prophet and messenger, Muhammad, lived almost 1500 years ago, and was preceded by three messengers and thousands of prophets in a similar time span. In Hinduism, we are currently living in Kali Yuga, a world age where the morality and faith among humans is in decay, making them lose the ability to see the gods. Like in Greek mythology, Hindu gods were once seen walking among humans on a daily basis, but not anymore. 

Perhaps magic was once a mighty force in the world, but no longer. What little remains is no more than a wisp of smoke that lingers in the air after a great fire has burned out, and even that is fading.

Maester Luwin, A Clash of Kings

Now, the modern individual of a scientific mind might view the legends of divine powers as folklore at best, superstition at worst. Perhaps you yourself raise an eyebrow at the suggestion that gods are real, let alone that they were earthly present. But if we are to take that scientific viewpoint, is it not peculiar that similar developments are described from several places in the world, around the same time, seemingly independent from each other? And if we open up the possibility that things we now deem impossible once were not, are we really then fit to assume that our current boundaries will remain relevant? What is to prevent the divine powers from returning? 

We might not have reason to delve deep in what we do not know. At the end of the day, we only have the present moment, just like Moses and Achilles (in the event that they ever existed) had theirs, and like them we have to abide by what is. But I believe that we do have reason to acknowledge and embrace all that we really do not know, and use that to respect what people believe, and open our minds to what might be. 

If nothing else, in a time that seems grim to many, it could grant a shred of hope. Perhaps times of heroes and of miracles are again on the horizon, when we deserve them the least, but need them the most.


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