We are searching data for your request:
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.
Everyone knows how the Trojan War ended: with a bunch of guys piling out of a giant horse. But the events of the war itself have been debated extensively, and the actual truth is still largely unknown. All we have to go on is myth.
The Real Story of the Trojan War: Truth of Troy
There are two things which all the ancient Greeks have accepted – the first Homer is the author of both these epics, and secondly, the war of Trojans actually took place.
But in the light of the facts revealed in the archaeological, historical and linguistic investigations of recent times, there is a need to re-analyze these assumptions.
The Real Story of the Trojan War: What is history
The stories told in the Iliad, and the Odyssey is incomparable, and that is why these stories are told even today.
The Greeks believe that these are traditional stories that have been passed on from generation to generation, first in oral and then in writing.
The talents of the writer are in the selection of characters of the hundreds of traditional stories of the ‘golden age of greats’ that have been heard from generation to generation for many centuries.
Homer focused on just two characters. These are acolysis and olysis (also called Odysseus).
Iliad has the anger of Ekkelis who is depicted in a duel with Troy’s defending champion, Hector.
But what exactly were Akilis and Olysses doing in Troy? Was there really a Trojan War as depicted in these epics.
The original assumptions of Troy’s history were questioned long before by critics.
According to the sixth-century BC Sicilian-Greek poet Stasicorus, Queen Helena of Sparta, who according to the epics took the besieged abducted prince Paris to Troy, was actually in Egypt during the Trojan War and took only one image of her soul.
Troy was gone According to the version of Stasicorus the Greeks had fought for the picture of their queen or where to fight for the mirage or ghost image.
The Real Story of the Trojan War: What does Herodotus say
The fifth century BC historian Herodotus presents a different version of this story, in which he agrees with Stasicorus that Helena was not kidnapped.
However, he believes that Helena had left her husband Menelaus of Sparta and that she had volunteered with her Troy’s lover.
This theory was embarrassing, but it did not question the historicity of war in the least. But was this how it happened?
Heinrich Schliemann, a 19th-century Prussian nobleman and modernist businessman, has no doubt of this.
He excavated Mycena, the capital of the Agamenon Empire, and apparently Troy.
For his discovery, Schliemann followed only the signs left by the ancient Greeks.
It was unfortunate that he made many serious mistakes in Hisarlik, in today’s southwestern Turkey, and became the reason for the archaeological mistake.
German and American scientists had to clean the place several times. Many experts believe that the then Troy may have been around today’s Hisarlik.
Much of this area has now been excavated, and there is no doubt that this high place was fortified strongly and was a large city growing downstream and in its time (13th to 12th century BC).
It must have been an important place. But experts have not been able to decide which layer of excavated space belongs to Homer’s era.
The reason for this is that there is no or little or no archaeological evidence of the presence of the Greeks here, as Homer pointed out in his epic.
The war of the Greeks lasted ten years. There is no evidence or traces of even such a big war. For all the sceptical people who doubt only the basic truth of the Trojan War is a myth, all of this is very disturbing.
Role of disasters
Did the Greeks after the Trojan Wars have any valid reason for fabricating such a story? Comparative social and historical research of these epics as a genre of community literature points to two relevant things.
The first is that fiction is pre-conceived in narratives such as the Iliad and the second is that defeat in the sacred realm of the epics can be transformed into victory and coined victory.
It is an established fact that around the 12th century BC, a number of disasters occurred during this period in eastern Greece near the Mediterranean Sea.
Cities and forts collapsed in these disasters, and the population dwindled, people moved around on a large scale, and cultures ended.
We certainly do not know how these disasters came or who was behind them.
However, we can identify their economic, social, political and psychological negative effects.
These disasters were followed by a dark period that lasted for four centuries in many areas and ended only in the Renaissance period of the eighth century BCE.
This was the period when the Greeks learned to rewrite, developed a new script and started trading with their eastern neighbours.
This was the time when the population increased, and the primary perceptions of citizenship were strengthened.
The Greeks began migrating from the central coasts of the Aegean Sea to remote eastern and western areas.
Here we understand the reason for the inspiration to create or produce the myth of the Trojan War.
What was needed was to create an ancient golden age in which the Greeks, under the leadership of their great king, could land a fleet of thousands of ships in the ocean and who had destroyed a foreign city abducting their most important and prestigious woman.
Meanwhile, a great scientific achievement of recent times is that we have read the hieroglyphs and epigraphic scripts of the Hittite empire.
Until the so-called Trojan War, Asia Minor or much of West Asia, including present-day Turkey, was part of the Hittite Empire.
The names of both places and the names of Greek-like individuals have been found in Hittite records.
These include the name of the city of Vilusa which is pronounced like ‘Ilian’ (this is the Greek word for Troy and Iliad is derived from it).
However, despite all the linguistic similarities the Hittite records discovered and published so far have not found anything that indicates Homer’s stated Trojan War.
Similarly, there is evidence in these records that diplomatically women were exchanged between great powers in the Middle East of that period. However, no woman named Helena has been found in these records yet.
Trojan War Myth or Reality?
We have reasons to doubt the claims of these epics of the Homer period to be historical documents and to doubt the idea that these epics depict reliable historical preceding periods.
Slavery problem as an example. Although these epics of Homer mention slavery, their authors (or authors) had no idea of the slavery that existed in the 12th-century BCE Mycenaean palaces or great economies.
He believed that a great king had about 50 slaves and was a decent number, but in fact, the Bronze Age Aegean had thousands of bonded slaves.
This error in numbers raises questions on the historicity of these epics. In short, it can be said that the world of Homer is immortal, certainly because it was never outside the epics, nor in the oral tradition nor in the editions that followed.
Thank God that if the ancient Greeks had no faith in the Trojan War, we would not have got the genre of tragic drama.
It is the most inspiring and incomparable discovery of the Greeks, which continues to delight, warn and guide us even today. (The great Ethan playwright Aeschylus is said to have called his plays the remaining flowers of Homer’s vase).
Homer is a whole world in which we get to see all the images of human emotions (good and bad).
Without it, we would all be poorer today, artistically, culturally and spiritually.
Homer is alive and alive forever, but the Trojan War? Probably he is lost somewhere.
Troy was a Greek city-state on the coast of Turkey, near modern-day Hisarlik. Years before the war, it was brought to its knees by King Agamemnon of Athens, who brought it under his control. One day, Queen Hecuba of Troy had a nightmare where the city would be destroyed, and the oracle Cassandra, whom nobody believed, preached that the return of the alienated Prince Paris of Troy would bring the ruin of the city. King Priam ignored her and welcomed his estranged son back to Troy with his sons Hector and Deiphobos. Prince Paris later visited Sparta, home of King Menelaus, whose wife Helen had beauty that put the prettiest flower to shame. Helen was either abducted by Paris or was seduced, and returned to Troy with him, abandoning Menelaus. Menelaus called upon his brother Agamemnon to form a coalition against Troy to get back Helen, and Agamemnon offered Troy's riches to those who followed him. Agamemnon, Menelaus of Sparta, Diomedes of Argos, Idomeneus of Crete, mighty Ajax, Prince Palamedes, the young Prince Achilles, his companion Patroklos, and the old king Odysseus of Ithaca responded to the call, leading 100,000 troops aboard 1,000 ships to attack the Trojan Wall, an impregnable fortress.
The defenders of Troy at their walls
The Trojans immediately contested the landings with hails of arrows and magnificent stone-throwers. As Agamemnon observed aboard his ship, his forces made land at the beach, led by Achilles. The Greeks pushed their way through Trojan militia, and shielded themselves from seemingly endless showers of arrows. They made it to the cliffs, and with the aid of Patroklos, Achilles pushed the mighty stone throwers off of the Trojan cliffs. With the landing secure, the Greeks set up a perimeter. However, there were Trojan villagers caught in the middle, so Prince Hector bravely rode out to rescue them, donning battle armor and saving the lives of over 30 villagers. When he returned victorious, he closed the gates, and the Trojans withstood several Greek attacks.
The Grecians hungered for the riches promised to them as years went by. Achilles refused to let his men remain idle and in three years conquered twelve cities which he claimed and plundered. Everything changed when he came to the outskirts of Lyrnessos. The Dardanian prince Aeneas, son of Aphrodite, held the grain-rich settlement. He refused to give up, and was bested in a duel with Achilles, but fled the tip of his sword. Achilles led his Greeks forwards into the city, capturing the granaries and town hall. He also slew Mynes, an elderly warrior who guarded the people of the city. The fall of Lyrnessos was a blow to Trojan morale, as yet another of their allies fell to the Greek army.
At the same time, King Theseus of Athens held Queen Hippolyte of the Amazons in Athens after capturing her. Her sister Penthesilea led a troop of Amazons to rescue her from imprisonment. However, in the attack, a javelin meant to kill Theseus was dodged and Hippolyte was pierced, killing her, and the Amazons left Athens to the Greeks after retreating.
Nine years after the siege of Troy began, every surrounding city of Troas was conquered by the Greeks, except for Troy and Thebe. Thebe, ruled by King Eetion, was the last ally of Troy, so Agamemnon and Prince Ajax sailed to the shores and besieged it. They gradually fought their way uphill through several Cilician troops and eventually killed Eetion in a duel, but Agamemnon unwisely angered the gods by refusing ransom from the high priest of Apollo's temple for his daughter, and they took all of the money and enslaved everyone except for the priest.
Soon after, a plague broke out in the Greek encampment outisde of Troy. Achilles and Patroklos headed to the Temple of Apollo to inquire why the curse was brought upon them, and Achilles' mother Thetis warned him not to kill Prince Troilos, as he was favored by Apollo. An arrogant Achilles ignored her and set out to accomplish his goal, to exterminate the house of Priam. He headed to the temple, where it is said that he fought a reanimated Statue of Apollo, and destroyed it. However, Agamemnon took Briseis as a captive and Achilles was forced to give her up to him, but warned him that he would never fight for him again.
Soon, Hektor and Deiphobos led their men out of Troy's walls, having believed that the gods were now in their favor. They pushed on the Greek wooden ramparts that the invaders cowered behind, and routed their foes. Agamemnon called upon Achilles to lead his men, giving him back Briseis, but when Achilles refused, Patroklos took Achilles' armor and led his troops across the river and attacked the Trojans. Hektor killed Patroklos in a duel, and an enraged Achilles swore vengeance.
Meanwhile, Aeneas was sent to find allies for Troy. He found Penthesilea, who wanted to die a warrior's death, and chose to join the Trojans with the Amazons. She was cleansed at a temple and led her women in support of Troy. Achilles charged onto the battlefield and slew Penthesilea in a duel, although he respected her reasons for battle. Then, he headed out to kill Hektor. After a duel, Achilles refused Hektor's arrangements that the dead's body would be taken back to his own lines, and dug a sword into his chest, before mutilating his dead body.
Paris mourned, and grew angry when the new hero, Memnon of Aithiopia (the Nile River), was also slain by Achilles. In a duel with Achilles, his brother Deiphobos was killed, but he shot Achilles with his arrows seven times. One such arrow hit his heel, his weak spot, enabling him to hole him several other times. Achilles died, and he redeemed himself for the gods, having judged Aphrodite fairest of the other goddesses. Ajax went mad when Achilles died and he carved his way through Trojan hordes and retrieved Achilles' body from the Trojans. He stole the Palladion from the Temple of Athena along with Odysseus, so allegedly Athena caused him to feel madness. He was mad that Odysseus got Achilles' armor and the palladion, and what was not given to Odysseus was given to Agamemnon. He was driven into a vision where he accidentally killed Menelaus by slamming him into a rock and then saw Achilles' body there. Odysseus had men attack Ajax, because he had killed the man he swore to protect, and he slew the attacking soldiers. However, when he awoke, he recognized that he had killed cattle, and jumped upon a sword that he had fixed into the ground.
Having lost Ajax, Agamemnon decided on a ploy. He built a towering wooden horse that was supposed to be an offering for Athena in return for the stealing of the Palladion, and he sent troops inside of it as it entered Troy's walls. The Greeks left on their ships but returned quietly in the night and stormed the sleeping city of Troy, with the citizens sleeping as thick as the dead. Odysseus and Agamemnon hurried to the gate as the people of Troy celebrated. The slaughter was great, and Odysseus defeated Paris in a duel. Paris pleaded to Odysseus that Helen and his father be spared, but Menelaus dug into his chest with a sword. Helen was spared, but Agamemnon had Priam be killed, ignoring his pleas to let some Trojans remain in the land, but agreed to let him have a quick death. The spoils of Troy went to the Greeks, and with the oath fulfilled, the Greeks returned home, leaving the once-magnificent city of Troy in ruins.
As the Greeks scourged and burnt the city of Troy, Aeneas secured his friends and family in hopes of fleeing burning Troy. He carried his ailing father away, and escaped to some ships, after which they fled to a new Mediterranean peninsula: Italy.
The Greeks found in the legacy of the Trojan War an explanation for the bloody and inferior world in which they lived
Homer’s genius was to elevate universal conflict into something more profound so as to highlight the realities of warfare. There would have been no gods influencing the course of action on a Bronze Age battlefield, but men who found themselves overwhelmed in a bloody fray could well have imagined there were, as the tide turned against them. Homer captured timeless truths in even the most fantastical moments of the poem.
On his long journey home from the Trojan War, Odysseus escapes the sirens, as portrayed on this ceramic Athenian jar, 480-470BC (Credit: Trustees of the British Museum)
The Greeks found in the legacy of the Trojan War an explanation for the bloody and inferior world in which they lived. Achilles and Odysseus had inhabited an age of heroes. Their age had now died, leaving behind it all the bloodthirstiness, but none of the heroism or martial excellence, of the Trojan War. Even the immediate aftermath of the war was full of violence. In a play inspired by Homer, and translated by Louis MacNeice, the Greek tragedian Aeschylus described, after the war, Clytemnestra murdering her husband, Agamemnon, “Who carelessly, as if it were a head of a sheep/Out of the abundance of his fleecy flocks,/Sacrificed his own daughter”, Iphigenia, to appease a goddess so he might have a fair wind for his voyage to Troy. Regardless of how connected it is to fact, The Trojan War myth had a lasting impact on the Greeks and on us. Whether it was inspired by a war waged long ago, or was simply an ingenious invention, it left its mark on the world, and remains as such of monumental historic importance.
Of Gods and Men: 100 Stories from Ancient Greece and Rome by Daisy Dunn is published now.
If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.
One of the most famous wars in the history of wars was supposedly started by a single small object – a golden apple. The Trojan war was one of the most bloody wars of its time – though there are those who speculate that the war may have not even happened. What was this war that caused so many epic works of art – though also caused so much doubt. The Trojan War was long, bloody, and full of stories that maintain relevance even in modern day.
The Greeks leave the wooden horse outside the gates of Troy: the Trojans believe they have won the war.
The events of the Trojan War are written about in a number of works of Ancient Greek literature, including Homer’s epic poem The Iliad , which is at least 2,500 years old.
The cause of war is Helen’s elopement from the Spartan court with Paris, a Trojan prince. Helen is the wife of Menelaus - King of Sparta - and he musters an army led by his brother Agamemnon to sail to Troy to take Helen back. The war lasts for 10 long years, during which time the main events are concerned with the clashes between the leading characters, climaxing with the death of Hector at the hands of Achilles (as written about by Homer in The Iliad ) and continuing with the creation of the Trojan horse by Odysseus, the means by which Troy is vanquished and Helen returned to Menelaus.
Our version of the story is told from the point of view of the Old Soldier - looking back 40 years to the time when he was a bodyguard assigned to King Menelaus in the Spartan court. As the Old Soldier tells us: 'I was there at the beginning. And at the end.' He witnesses all the key events, which he relates in a manner that is both gritty and amusing.
Goddesses Set the Trojan War in Motion
According to ancient, non-eye-witness reports, a conflict among the goddesses started the Trojan War. This conflict led to the famous story of Paris (known as "The Judgment of Paris") awarding a golden apple to the goddess, Aphrodite.
In return for Paris' judgment, Aphrodite promised Paris the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen. This world-class Greek beauty is known as "Helen of Troy" and called "the face that launched a thousand ships." Perhaps it didn't matter to the gods--especially the goddess of love--whether Helen was already taken, but for mere mortals it did. Unfortunately, Helen was already married. She was the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta.
Why was the Trojan War important to Greek history?
Ancient Troy: The City & the Legend. In legend, Troy is a city that was besieged for 10 years and eventually conquered by a Greek army led by King Agamemnon. The reason for this "Trojan War" was, according to Homer's "Iliad," the abduction of Helen, a queen from Sparta.
One may also ask, what was the real cause of the Trojan War? According to classical sources, the war began after the abduction (or elopement) of Queen Helen of Sparta by the Trojan prince Paris. Helen's jilted husband Menelaus convinced his brother Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, to lead an expedition to retrieve her.
Herein, was the Trojan War a real historical event?
The ancient Greeks believed that Troy was located near the Dardanelles and that the Trojan War was a historical event of the 13th or 12th century BC, but by the mid-19th century AD, both the war and the city were widely seen as non-historical.
Why was the Trojan Horse important?
The Trojan Horse is one of history's most famous tricks. The Greeks were laying siege to the city of Troy, and the war had dragged on for ten years. They built a wooden horse, which they left outside the city. The Trojans believed the horse was a peace offering and dragged it inside their city.
The Story’s Origins
The Trojan War is instrumental to Greek mythology. And its importance helps to show why Greeks were so willing to believe it was more than historical fiction. Still, plenty of classical Greeks believed that Homer’s epic poems had likely exaggerated what really happened to make the war seem more dramatic.
For example, Homer writes that the Greeks sent over 1,100 ships to Troy. This seems like much too high of a number, and Greek historians assumed that to be the case.
But if we were to start our search for the truth with Homer’s Iliad, we would see that the war between the Trojans and the Greeks lasted for ten years and took place during the Late Bronze Age. After Paris and Helen eloped, the Greeks wanted to punish the Trojans to get Helen back.
The Greeks eventually won the war during what is known as the Sack of Troy.
The story was so compelling that even the most respected ancient Greek historians believed that the war had actually happened. Herodotus, affectionately known as the “Father of History”, was alive during the latter half of the 5th century BCE. He believed that not only did the war actually happen, but he dated it 800 years before the time he was living in.
The ancient Greek mathematician, Eratosthenes, was much more specific and claimed that the Trojan War took place around 1184 BCE.
The ancient Romans also bought into the story of the Trojan War. They went so far as to claim that they were the descendants of the Trojans who survived. The ancient Roman poet, Virgil, wrote that one heroic Trojan escaped with followers out of Troy and started a new community in Italy.
Modern historians and scholars have been a lot more skeptical.
A Different Horse: Alternate Interpretations of the Trojan War
The story of the Trojan War, as recounted in Homer's Iliad, Odyssey and in The Aeneid of Virgil, have for centuries been viewed as either literal truth (which is ridiculous to historians) or as a retelling of an ancient conflict that was indeed fought, but no one knows quite how (more realistic but not quite as colorful). But with growing evidence supporting the outlines of events in the Trojan War as described by Homer and Virgil, it may be time for a fresh look at the conflict, especially the climactic Trojan Horse story, to see if the legend may have something to say.
The historical siege of Troy is sometimes considered the beginning of Greek history.(1) As the stories go, the war between the Greeks and Troy started with the kidnapping (or elopement) of Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, by Paris, a nominal shepherd but the son of King Priam of Troy. As leaders of the budding Greek culture, Achilles(2) and Agamemnon led an invasion force to Asia Minor and besieged Troy. These are the bare bones of the historical part of the story. The legendary elements involve wagers by gods over who was the most beautiful woman (Helen, a daughter of Zeus who was worshiped as a goddess and was the patroness of sailors,(3) won) and subsequent grudges held by the losers of the wager.(4)
There are apparently real events in the Iliad, but an historical Helen seems unlikely. However, women as the cause of all trouble (and the inspiration for all men) is a common theme for drama. Homer makes Helen the cause of the conflict, and only because she was so beautiful did the war take place.(5)
Why a goddess? That she fell in love with Paris may be a reason, but any beautiful woman could serve a dramatic purpose here. But gods in Greek mythology never die, whereas death is always near at hand for mortals. The risk of destruction is what makes for heroes, and becomes for men of legend and of fact the ultimate test of courage. Beings who can become whatever they wish, take any form, blast men and mountains into dust and still squabble like willful children over trifles and vanity are, in human terms, incapable of fear and, thus, need no courage. By using Helen, Homer made an immortal being mortal so that she could share in the human struggle with the most fearsome of monsters on Earth: Man's savagery to his own species as expressed in war. Here Helen is not only the cause of the conflict she became at risk because of it. Her beauty, whether or not of her own making, had unleashed one of the longest sieges in popular history.(6)
Historical and legendary Troy held out long enough for other Asia Minor powers to enter the conflict, even if they were not effective in raising the siege.(7) Heroes fell on both sides: the Greeks lost Patroclus (Pátroklos ), and their combat leader Achilles (Akhilleus ), while Troy lost Paris (Alexandros) and Hector (Hektor), their champion. But, even worse, there seemed to have been no end to it. The Trojans penetrated the Greek palisade fortress briefly once, nearly destroying the Greek ships. The Greeks resorted to the Arrows of Herakles, legendary weapons that killed Paris, but still could not win the war.(8)
Here Homer speaks of seemingly random acts of the gods, and to the seemingly unstoppable will of men to wage war. The gods use men like toys, throw up smokescreens, change form, appear as different mortals, give false and cryptic information, and generally act like willful, bizarre humans. The difference is that these willful, bizarre actors can't be killed, and they can turn almost anything into anything else. They act unpredictably, almost at whim, so that the slaughter goes on unabated, with neither one side or the other favored. This is the literary device used by Homer, a blind poet of whom we know practically nothing, to explain the causes of the random death and senseless violence of human warfare.
And it is at this impasse where the Trojan Horse tale starts, with an apparent deadlock and both sides seeming to wear out. The Greek plan is that a large wooden horse be constructed, where Odysseus and a few picked men would be secreted. As the Greeks sailed away and hid behind the island of Tenedos, the Trojans would haul the structure inside, the Greek commandos would be released, open the city gates, signal the waiting fleet, and the Greeks would sail back to take the city.(9)
The idea for a horse filled with men comes from Odysseus, who up to this time in Homer had been a skilled negotiator and bold raider. In Virgil's version, the horse was "tall as a hill,(10)" and contained nine "captains(11)" and at least two other men "fully armed.(12)(13)". The horse structure was so large that the walls that had stood for so long had to be partly dismantled to get it inside.(14) Various accounts have about a dozen men inside, but given what is known of Greek military requirements nine "captains" could imply as many as fifty. The risk of the total loss of these men in such an enterprise would have been great even for the increasingly desperate Greeks.
It's not made clear in the poems why the structure used was a horse, but Troy was famous for horse breeding before the war, and Hector had been a breaker (trainer) of horses, not a warrior by trade. The god Poseidon, who figures prominently in the Homeric version, was often worshiped in the shape of a horse.(15)
Unfortunately, there are some logistical problems with this part of the tale. A horse structure large enough to hold even a dozen, let alone fifty, fully-armed Greeks (at about ten square feet per man with spear and shield(16)) would have been impossible to hide behind a palisade, so it could have come as no real surprise to the Trojans when they discovered it after the Greeks sailed away.
The plan otherwise has too many "ifs" for any historical accuracy, or for skilled military planners as the Greeks almost had to have been. What reason would Troy have to haul the object inside the walls? Would not the wheels on this huge structure be somewhat suspicious, or the thoughtfulness of a defeated foe? Land-built structures of that size (at least thirty feet tall and forty long) just didn't move that much in Bronze Age technology. And if it could move, how would the Greeks be assured that Troy would move it inside their beloved city walls, rather than just leave it in place for all the world to see? And how long would the Greeks have to wait inside? Days? Weeks?
There are other problems as well, such as the very great risk of structural failure before, during or after movement, or the more realistic chance that the Trojans would just dismantle the large structure (which would require less manpower than dragging) to move it. But the poets don't seem to be thinking in those terms when the mist clears and a wooden horse full of Greek commandos is discovered in their former camps.
Virgil describes the Trojans coming out, throwing wide the gates to gape at the abandoned camps, to look in wonderment at the great tribute left behind. Would Troy really think it a tribute? Apparently not immediately, since some wanted to destroy it, which would have been a more appropriate response in the circumstances. The name of Odysseus was even invoked by Laocoon (Laokoon) and his people. But then Sinon was found, an alleged deserter from the Greek forces, with a story about how Odysseus wanted to maintain the siege long after it appeared to be hopeless, and how the Greeks had tried to leave but were blocked by bad weather. And how the oracle of Apollo told them to leave an offering, which was to be none other than Sinon.(17)
Troy buys Sinon's story, but then, just before Laocoon sacrifices a bull come the serpents to destroy him. This affirms to Troy that, since the snakes coiled up at the feet of Athena when they were done, the horse was sacred (Laocoon having profaned it by throwing a spear at it) and needed to be hauled inside to the Palladium of Pallas Athena. Thus resolved, Troy proceeds to do exactly what the Greeks had planned for them to do, even to the point of tearing down part of the city walls to haul the great horse inside.
Even while this was happening, Cassandra foretells the future fall of Troy, and noises are heard inside the great structure. Here again, the fickle gods wreak their havoc, cursing Troy against believing the truth when they heard it. But still, Troy was joyous that this tribute, a symbol of the end of the conflict, was now being brought in to an honored place as a proof of Troy's great victory. Troy, after a decade of siege, appears desperate to believe that it is a tribute from a vanquished foe. Laocoon seems to be a dramatic device, and Sinon adds only a little credibility to the meaning of the horse. Given this, Laocoon's doubt was almost certainly added to provide narrative suspense and, perhaps, a clue to the mystery of the Trojan Horse.
Sieges are hard work for both sides, and ancient sieges were particularly arduous.(18) Disease and starvation are endemic to both sides even during modern sieges. This raises possible explanations for the horse story that the ancient poets probably could have known nothing about, the first being disease and the weakening effects of long-term short rations.
Sanitation and nutrition were only dimly understood in the 11th Century BCE and the Greeks had been in roughly the same place for ten years. If Helen's face really did launch a thousand ships, with roughly fifty men to the ship that would mean that at least 50,000 Greeks (and probably more) had been encamped beneath Troy's walls.(19) This is a huge army to supply remotely, even today, and it needs an enormous number of latrines and gallons of fresh water, both of which would have been in short supply after ten years.
Troy would have suffered greatly in a ten-year siege. Fresh food acquisition and waste disposal has always been a problem in sieges, and in ancient sieges was often decisive.(20) Desperation and disease were more than likely in Priam's city.
Disease may have been encoded in the horse saga, but another clue may have been left us in the death of Laocoon by apparent suffocation.(21) It is unlikely that healthy, awake adults would stand still long enough to be crushed by non-mythical constricting snakes, but there are none indigenous to Asia Minor. The snakes Virgil describes may have been neurotoxic venomous asps or cobras (except perhaps for their apparent size).(22) However, given the horse story and that horses certainly would have been left by the Greeks, at least two other explanations may exist: Pulmonary anthrax and pneumonic plague, both of which suffocate their victims in fluid or hemorrhagic blood, and are two that cross the species barrier between horses and men. These diseases can strike a weakened individual so swiftly that medical help, even if available and competent, is often helpless.
Another theory reasons that the god Poseidon is the originator of earthquakes,(23) and Homer has Athena call him "earthshaker" in the Odyssey.(24) If a disease is partly responsible for the weakening of Troy's defenses, a tremor could have caused the partial destruction of the city's walls and perhaps part of the city itself. This explanation is a little too convenient for historians, but it comfortably fits into the pieces of the legend.
Though Homer's and Virgil's stories are romantic, they provide a lot of clues that add up to a plausible interpretation for the "events" of the seemingly fantastic story of the Trojan War and the Trojan Horse.
First, a long siege weakens both Greek and Trojan to a point where neither could see a reasonable or honorable end to the conflict. An outbreak of a highly contagious disease, possibly one that infects both men and animals, causes the Greeks to take to ship to get away from the "bad humors" that the medicine of their time would attribute such sicknesses to. The Trojans, out foraging for food or on an expeditionary raid find that the Greeks have abandoned their contaminated camps. They then bring in abandoned livestock, including horses.
Starving Troy slaughters what the Greeks leave behind and quickly consumes it, infecting themselves with the same diseases that the Greeks fled from. Weakened by years of siege, the Trojans begin to sicken and die in large numbers. While mass cremations raise the stench of death and burning flesh to the offshore breezes, a small earthquake destroys part of the city wall. Troy, weakened by starvation, disease, a few collapsed buildings and fires compounded by simple exhaustion, cannot repair the walls immediately.
A Greek ship, captained by Odysseus, looks in on Troy, smells the death from the funeral pyres and sees the damaged wall, observing that no one appears to be trying to repair it. They signal the fleet and the Greeks return, opportunistically taking the city.
History, and in particular military history, has not been kind to the Trojan War. Beyond the inclusion of the fantastic and supernatural, the tale of events is also marred by dramatic effect, hearsay and misinformation.
However, the salient facts are that there was a city about where Homer described it and at about the same time, and it was destroyed roughly 1180 BCE with a lot of concurrent fire, and well-respected military historians mention the fall of Troy, one putting the year at 1184 BCE.(25) These are facts of archaeology and history, not the reading of a poem, which leads one to believe that there must be at least some historic basis for Homer's and Virgil's epics.
Just as Helen is an immortal being sharing the risks of war while being the apparent cause of it, Virgil's and Homer's tales of the Trojan War may have been what Joseph Heller's Catch-22 was to World War Two --tales of a randomly-generated, endless tragedy of seemingly mindless death regulated by creatures immune to the killing itself. To Homer, it's a cultural tale in which the gods were responsible. For Virgil, the story is a politically driven tale focused on the inevitable destiny of the Roman Republic (the Roman rulers of the time were fond of the legend in which Rome was founded by the survivors of Troy). For Heller, bureaucrats a thousand miles away from the battlefront dictated the fate of the hapless victims with bizarre rules about sanity, dooming men to flying endless missions to no apparent purpose in a backwater of a global war.
In describing the events of a conflict that took place millennia before their time, both Homer and Virgil may have been preserving an oral tradition that at least made history entertaining enough to retain the main story in the first place. This should not be seen as unusual, for the two writers often used common dramatic devices for different purposes (for example, Homer's underworld is for heroes to watch the world go by or to get Odysseus to go home: Virgil's points to Rome's destiny).
But here the historian is faced with something of a dilemma: If the Trojan War is completely mythological, then what about all the fragmentary evidence we have supporting its occurrence? If the Trojan War did happen, then some parts of the mythical description must be true, and some part, or some other interpretation, of the Trojan Horse story has to be thought to be accurate.
1 . R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor Nevitt Dupuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History from 3500 B.C. to the Present (New York: Harper & Row, 1986), 15.
2 . Roman and Greek spellings will be used in this paper.
4 . Olivia E. Coolidge, The Trojan War (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1952), 3-14.
5 . Michael Grant, The Rise of the Greeks (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1987), 144.
6 . Geoffrey Parker, "Sieges," in The Reader's Companion to Military History (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996), 425.
7 . Thomas Bulfinch, Bulfinch's Mythology the Age of Fable (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968), 234-35.
9 . Coolidge, op. cit., 175 Ibid. Sarah N. Lawall and Maynard Mack, The Norton Anthology of World Literature, edited by Maynard Mack (New York: Norton, 2001), (Henceforth Aeneid II, 18-29).
10 . Lawall and Mack, op. cit., Aeneid II,22.
15 . Michael Wood, In Search of the Trojan War (New York, N.Y.: Facts on File, 1985), 251.
16 . Victor Davis. Hanson, The Western Way of War Infantry Battle in Classical Greece (New York: Knopf Distributed by Random House, 1989), 59-60.
17 . Lawall and Mack, op. cit., Aeneid II, 154-57.
19 . Richard Woodman, The History of the Ship the Comprehensive Story of Seafaring from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (New York: Lyons Press, 1997), 16.
22 . Lawall and Mack, op. cit., Aeneid II, 272-300.
23 . Michael Wood, In Search of the Trojan War (New York: Facts-On-File, 1985), 251.
24 . Lawall and Mack, op. cit., Odyssey III, 58.
25 . J.F.C. Fuller, The Decisive Battles of the Western World Volume I: From Ancient Times to Lepanto (New York: Military Book Club, 2001), 11.
Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch's Mythology the Age of Fable. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968.
Coolidge, Olivia E. The Trojan War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1952.
Dupuy, R. Ernest, and Trevor Nevitt Dupuy. The Encyclopedia of Military History from 3500 B.C. to the Present. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
Fuller, J.F.C. The Decisive Battles of the Western World Volume I: From Ancient Times to Lepanto. New York: Military Book Club, 2001.
Grant, Michael. The Rise of the Greeks. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1987.
Hanson, Victor Davis. The Western Way of War Infantry Battle in Classical Greece. New York: Knopf Distributed by Random House, 1989.
Lawall, Sarah N., and Maynard Mack. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Edited by Maynard Mack. New York: Norton, 2001.
Parker, Geoffrey. "Sieges." In The Reader's Companion to Military History. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996.
Wood, Michael. In Search of the Trojan War. New York, N.Y.: Facts on File, 1985.
Woodman, Richard. The History of the Ship the Comprehensive Story of Seafaring from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. New York: Lyons Press, 1997.