Ever since the days of Homer, Greeks have long idealized their Mycenaean “ancestors” in epic poems and classic tragedies that glorify the exploits of Odysseus, King Agamemnon, and other heroes who went in and out of favor with the Greek gods.
Although these Mycenaeans were fictitious, scholars have debated whether today’s Greeks descend from the actual Mycenaeans, who created a famous civilization that dominated mainland Greece and the Aegean Sea from about 1600 B.C.E. to 1200 B.C.E., or whether the ancient Mycenaeans simply vanished from the region.
Now, ancient DNA suggests that living Greeks are indeed the descendants of Mycenaeans, with only a small proportion of DNA from later migrations to Greece…
The title of this piece is a touch misleading, in that it may seem to imply that the ancient Greeks really were descended from the gods, or at least their heroes were. But although the truth is somewhat more prosaic, it is no less interesting!
In addition to the usefulness to historians, archaeologists, mythologists, and students of literature of confirming that there was and is a Mycenaean – and indeed, Minoan – connection with modern Greeks, and a very significant one, this also is further evidence that ancient myths and legends, originally carried down through the oral traditions of a people and only later put to writing, may nonetheless have striking validity.
This is not news to many of us, of course; but it may be to others, who have bought into the popular misrepresentation of “myth” as a synonym for “fallacy.” Leaving aside the 19th centuries discoveries of such men as the highly controversial Heinrich Schliemann (Troy) and the brilliant but political Arthur Evans (Minoan Crete), it is remarkable how many biblical accounts have been either confirmed or at least rendered markedly more probable by archaeological discoveries.
Nowadays, it seems that genetics is following in those hallowed footsteps!