The Narrative of the Trojan War
The war started after the abduction (or elopement) of Queen Helen of Sparta by Paris, the Trojan prince, according to classical sources. Helen’s rejected husband Menelaus persuaded his brother Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, to lead a group to retrieve her. Agamemnon was joined by the Greek heroes Odysseus, Achilles, Ajax and Nestor, and accompanied by a fleet of over one thousand ships from all over the Hellenic world. They crossed the Aegean Sean to Asia Minor to surround Troy and demand the return of Helen by the Trojan king, Priam.
This siege, punctuated by clashes and battles such as the storied deaths of Hector the Trojan Prince and the almost invincible Achilles, lasted for over a decade until the morning the Greek armies withdrew from their camp, leaving a huge wooden horse outside the gates of Troy. After many arguments (and unheeded cautions by Priam’s daughter Cassandra), the Trojans brought the mysterious gift into the city. At night time, the horse opened up and a group of Greek warriors, led by Odysseus, got out and defeated Troy from within.
Following the Trojan defeat, the Greek heroes gradually made their way home. Odysseus took a decade to make the taxing and frequently interrupted journey home to Ithaca told in the “Odyssey.” Helen, whose two Trojan husbands were killed during the war, went back to Sparta to rule with Menelaus. Following his death, some sources state that she was exiled to an island called Rhodes, where she was hanged by a vengeful war widow.
The Trojan War Epics
Little is known about Homer the historical. The completion of the “Iliad” is dated to about 750 B.C, and the “Odyssey” to about 725 B.C, according to historians. Both started within the oral tradition, and were both transcribed centuries or even decades after their composition. A lot of the most familiar episodes of the Trojan War, from Helen’s abduction to the Trojan Horse to the defeat of Troy, come from the so-called “Epic Cycle” of narratives put together in the sixth century B.C from older oral traditions.
The Roman poet Virgil composed the “Aeneid” in the first century B.C, the third great classical epic inspired by the Trojan War. Virgil’s goal was partly to give the first imperial dynasty of Rome an origin story as spectacular as that of the Greeks.
Archaeology and the Trojan War
Serious excavations at the site of Troy in 1870 under the direction of Heinrich Schliemann, a German archaeologist, uncovered a small citadel mound and layers of debris 25 metres deep. Recent excavations have uncovered an inhabited area 10 times the size of the citadel, making troy a Bronze Age city of significance.