Thursday, January 5, 2012

Troy's illustrious history

One of the reasons I chose to profile Turkey in my blog is because I'm a bit of a history junkie, and I knew I'd have a lot of topics to pick from (early neolithic paintings at Catal Hoyuk, Mt. Ararat - where many Biblical scholars believe Noah's ark rested, a stopover for Alexander the Great during his military exploits, endpoint of the Orient Express....the list goes on and on), however I felt there was no way I could not talk about factual and legendary city of Troy.  Best known as the setting of the Trojan War as described in Homer's Iliad,  Troy has become a small tourist city today, that unfortunately is often not highly recommended in tour books as it has not been as well preserved as some of its neighboring cities.

ruins of Troy

Troy has quite a history though - literally the stuff of legends. The city was destroyed and rebuilt nine times, and there are remnants from each of the nine layers still left today. The layer scholars most associate with the Troy of Homer's Iliad is likely the seventh layer, of which a portion of the legendary walls are still intact.  Greek historians have difficulty placing the exact date of the Trojan War, which gave Troy such legendary status, debating whether it took place in the 12th, 13th or 14th centuries BCE.  It is interesting to note that for many years, up until the mid 1800s, it was generally agreed that the Trojan War had never happened, nor had Troy existed. Only in the 1860s and 1870s were archological remains of the area excavated and credence given to the war which had been merely legend according to many scholars up until then. Today, many scholars agree that the Trojan War is based on a Greek expedition against the city of Illium, although few if any would argue that Homer painted an accurate view of the battle in his poems.

Edward Burne-Jones' The Feast of Peleus

According to Homer, the Trojan War has its roots in the marriage of Peleus, son of the King of the island of Aegina, and Thetis, a sea-goddess. Eris, the goddess of discord, was angry that she was not invited, and crashed their wedding, throwing a golden apple onto the table. Eris then stated that the apple belonged to whoever was fairest, knowing this would start a heated debate amongst the gods and mortals present at the wedding, and taking the focus from the bride and groom. Hera (wife of Zeus), Athena (goddess of wisdom and war) and Aphrodite (goddess of love and beauty) all reached for the apple, thinking themselves the fairest. Zeus proclaimed that Paris, the beautiful prince of Troy, would act as judge.

William Blake's Judgement of Paris

The goddesses felt they could sway Paris by offering him gifts - Hera promised power, Athena promised wealth, and Aphrodite promised to give him the most beautiful woman in the offer Paris could not refuse.  Aphrodite promised him that Helen, the wife of the King of Sparta - Menelaus, would be his wife, and Paris set off to Sparta, where he abducted Helen, stole much of Menelaus' wealth, and then brought Helen back to Troy and married her.

Fra Angelico's Abduction of Helen
Obviously, this did not sit well with Menelaus, who gathered armies, assembled a fleet, and set off to attack Troy. The first attempt to reach Troy didn't go so well, but after returning to Greece and regrouping, Meneleus set sail again, along with Odysseus, and set off again to wage war. The war was long and arduous, with the Greeks first having to defeat neighboring kingdoms which were supplying Troy, however even after securing the neighboring areas, the Greeks faced the inpenetrable walls of Troy.

Tiepolo's The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy

Clever Odysseus (possibly with aid from Athena) ordered that a large, hollow wooden horse be built, with space inside to hide many soldiers. I'm sure you know the story from here - Greek soldiers loaded into the horse, the rest of the Greek fleet sailed away to give the impression of retreating, and the Trojans came out to admire the huge creation. The Trojans assumed the horse was a token of their victory, brought it into the city and began to celebrate. Once most of the city was asleep (or in a drunken stupor), the Greek warriors sprang from the horse and slaughtered the Trojans.

After, the story of a Trojan prince who survived (Aeneas) was written by Virgil in Aenid. Odysseus' return to Greece is chronicled in Homer's Odyssey.  The journey home was said to be difficult and arduous. And as for Helen? Meneleus forgave her, despite being determined to kill her for her unfaithfulness, because he was so overcome again by her beauty:)


  1. Hmmm... There is probably more fact to Homer's account than you are willing to accord, as the story sounds a lot like my early romance with Nancy...

  2. It sounds freaky morbid, but I think it is kind of romantic that her husband openly admitted to wanting to kill her but changed his mind. Now that's living in suspense!