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Revisiting Homer’s Trojan War

Featured image: 'The Procession of the Trojan Horse', a painting by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727 – 1804) depicting a giant wooden horse being wheeled inside the city of Troy. According to Virgil’s Aeneid (Book 2), Odysseus conceived of the plan to build the wooden horse with a chamber to hide Greek soldiers. Once inside the city, the soldiers climbed out of the horse under the cover of darkness and opened the gates to Troy's impregnable wall.

Featured image: 'The Procession of the Trojan Horse', a painting by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727 – 1804) depicting a giant wooden horse being wheeled inside the city of Troy. According to Virgil’s Aeneid (Book 2), Odysseus conceived of the plan to build the wooden horse with a chamber to hide Greek soldiers. Once inside the city, the soldiers climbed out of the horse under the cover of darkness and opened the gates to Troy's impregnable wall.

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Featured image: ‘The Procession of the Trojan Horse’, a painting by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727 – 1804) depicting a giant wooden horse being wheeled inside the city of Troy. According to Virgil’s Aeneid (Book 2), Odysseus conceived of the plan to build the wooden horse with a chamber to hide Greek soldiers. Once inside the city, the soldiers climbed out of the horse under the cover of darkness and opened the gates to Troy’s impregnable wall. Image under public domain. Courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

 

The blind Grecian poet Homer wrote about the Trojan War in his two epic poems, Iliad (Song of Ilion) and its sequel, Odyssey, around the 8th century BC. The tale began when the goddesses Aphrodite, Athena and Hera called upon the young Trojan prince Paris to determine who of the three was the fairest, an event referred to as the Judgement of Paris which appeared in several other ancient Greek works. Paris ultimately chose Aphrodite, who rewarded him with her blessing to marry Helen, the most beautiful mortal woman alive.

While her husband King Menelaus of Sparta was away, Paris successfully wooed Helen and subsequently ran off with her to the city of Troy. Helen’s husband was apoplectic, and sought the help of his brother, King Agamemnon of Mycenae, and the rest of the Achaean nobilities to reclaim his wife.

The King of Ithaca, Odysseus (also known as Ulysses in Roman literature), was tasked with negotiating the return of Helen. However, the King of Troy, Priam, refused to compel his son Paris to return Helen back to her husband. And thus began The Trojan War. Agamemnon led an army of 1,200 ships and up to 130,000 soldiers to attack the impregnable walls of Troy, aided by the mightiest Hellenic heroes of the age, which include the virtually invincible Achilles and the Prince of Salamis, Ajax.

The war raged for ten years, and despite Achilles’ conquest of 23 Trojan territories and Ajax’s rampage across the Thracian peninsula, the walls of Troy held firm. However, in the end, Odysseus’ ruse of a wooden horse saw to the downfall of the Trojans. The Trojan King and his sons, Hector and Paris, were killed, and Troy was pillaged and burned to the ground. The invaders even threw down Hector’s son Astyanax from the city walls to end the Trojan royal bloodline.

Helen was recaptured by Menelaus and brought back to Sparta. It is probably worth mentioning that Helen and Menelaus reconciled after the latter accepted her claim of being under the spell of Aphrodite. And thus ended the very murky retelling of the fall of Troy (which makes up just a fraction of Iliad and Odysseus).

Setting aside the veracity of the entire tale, archaeological works over the past 150 years have uncovered the modern-day locations of the cities and places mentioned in the tale. One could actually make a pilgrimage to all the hallowed grounds related to the legend of Troy.

5. Sparta

The city-state of Sparta, famed for its warlike culture, is located in the Peloponnesus peninsula in southeastern Greece. Still known today as Sparta, the city is now the capital of the Laconia region.

Ruins of ancient Sparta. Image courtesy of Ronny Siegel
Ruins of ancient Sparta. Image courtesy of Ronny Siegel

4. Mycenae

Little is left of the Mycenaean state today. Located in northeastern Greece, the ruins of Mycenae is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Remnants of the Lion Gate of the citadel of Mycenae in Argolid, southern Greece. The 3.10 m (10 ft) by 2.95 m (10 ft) gate was constructed in the 13th century. Image courtesy of Andy Hay
Remnants of the Lion Gate of the citadel of Mycenae in Argolid, southern Greece. The 3.10 m by 2.95 m gate was constructed in the 13th century. Image courtesy of Andy Hay

3. Ithaca

Ithaca, separated from Greece’s western coastline by the Straits of Ithaca, is one of the seven Ionian Islands located off Greece’s mainland. The 37 sq. mi island is home to about 3,200 people, who honor the legend of Odysseus by erecting his statue in the capital, Vathy.

The statue of Odysseus in Vathy. Image courtesy of Jean Housen
The statue of Odysseus in Vathy. Image courtesy of Jean Housen

2. Thracia

The four provinces of ancient Thracia overlaps modern-day Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Greece. The constant administrative reorganization of Thracia by the Romans ultimately led to it losing its cultural identity, and its name is all that remains of the once great nation.

One of the last remaining structures at the ancient Thracian city of Perperikon, located in the Kardzhali Province of Bulgaria. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Foundation
One of the last remaining structures at the ancient Thracian city of Perperikon, located in the Kardzhali Province of Bulgaria. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Foundation

1. Troy

Long-assumed lost, Troy was rediscovered by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in 1868 in the Çanakkale Province in northwestern Turkey. Do not be disheartened by the less than intimidating walls of Hisarlik (as the site is called now) as subsequent digs revealed that the city has been rebuilt at least ten times over the past two millennia.

A video clip from the 2004 blockbuster movie, Troy. The scene features an entirely fictional fight between Achilles (Brad Pitt) and Prince Hector (Eric Bana) just outside the mighty gates of Troy.

 

Song of the day: The KLF featuring Tammy Wynette – Justified & Ancient

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