Troy and the Trojan War

~~ Paul V. Hartman ~~

      In the ancient legends of early Greece, a city-state called Ilium, representing a colony of earlier migrating Greeks, existed in the north west corner of modern Turkey. The story of Ilium (Troy) and its siege by the Greeks was told in two epics by the Greek poet Homer (Iliad, Odyssey), and a third (Aeneid) by the Roman poet Virgil.

Limited historical material, in a rich admixture with the myths common to the Greek gods of Olympus, covers the tale as follows: Troy was ruled by King Priam. His son, Paris, on a trip to Sparta, fell in love with Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, and carried her away to Troy. The Greeks, who Homer calls the Achaeans, were determined to get her back. A naval force was assembled, led by Agamemnon (brother of Menelaus), and included many Greek heroes such as Odysseus (Ulysses) and Achiles.

The siege of Troy occupied 10 years, due to the impregnable stone walls of Troy. Then the Greeks hit upon a trick. Odysseus had a wooden horse built, in which he and several others hid. The Greeks then pushed the horse to the gates of Troy, seemingly offering it as a gift to the victors, and then sailed away. Despite the warning from Priam's daughter Cassandra, the curious Trojans pulled the wooden horse within the city walls and celebrated. That night, Odysseus and the others crawled out, opened the gates for the Greeks who had silently returned, and the city was sacked. (Possible date range: 1250 - 1180 BC) Aeneas and a few other Trojans escaped (as recorded in the Aeneid) while Paris was killed and Helen was returned to Greece.

Archaeology reveals a probable site for Troy near the southern end of the Hellespont, with apparent roots extending to 3000 BC. Elements of nine cities in succession are to be found there. The fabled Troy may have been the seventh; the sixth appears to have had the highest walls, destroyed by earthquake about 1300 BC.

      What is obviously true is that Troy existed. Could a war have lasted 10 years? Well WW2 lasted 5, and the "Hundred Years War" was actually a series of individual encounters with many peaceful intervals. 10 years is possible, but improbable. No archeological evidence for a long war exists at the Troy site. On the other hand, the walls of Troy were thick and tall, indicating they had enemies.

Could Helen have run away with Paris? If so, it is the only event in history in which a Queen eloped with anyone, let alone a foreign Prince. Maybe she was abducted. Certainly, if the myth about Helen is true, then anything is possible from a female who was "hatched from a swan's egg as the daughter of Zeus." As for the Horse, if it existed, it was wood, and we would not likely find any remains. No pottery or other objects from the Troy site (containing images) suggests a large wooden horse, though the Trojan potters would have had only one day to create such clay objects.

As for Homer himself, there is little evidence. If he lived, it was in the 8th or 9th century, some 400 years after the events he writes about, which would have been conveyed to him as an oral tradition. We may never know. But it is a good story, and it has flavored many another in the three millennia since.

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