Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Champions: Achilles vs Hector

The main event of the Iliad, and indeed, of the entire course of open hostilities during the Trojan War is the battle between Achilles and Hector, the two champions of the vast assemblage of forces doing battle in western Asia Minor.

The contrast between them, and their personal battle, was a microcosm, a personification, of the factions engaging in the war in Troy.

The Trojan, Hector, was a civilized, rational man that had to, and did, balance his priorities in life. The heir to Priam's throne, he was the commander of the Trojans and their allies, and it was his responsibility to ensure the safety of his city and its people. Privately, Hector is a model man about the house: a loving and devoted husband and father, a man who rightfully is concerned in the deepest possible way about his wife Andromache, and their infant son Scamandrius, nicknamed Astyanax (lord of the city) by the people. Like any man who has been through the thick of battle, his first concerns lie with them, but ever dutiful, Hector refuses to give in to his wife's pleas to command the action from atop the sturdy walls of Troy, explaining that he would be ashamed if he were to do such a thing- to hang back while his devoted troops die around him.

Hector's last visit with his wife and son
Hector was in essence, a man who put the well-being of his community above his own. He is the ideal character of the soldier that we all wish to see emulated to this day. He did have his dark side (as we all do), but even that was far more muted than the darkness within his contemporaries. Hector's personality lies in stark contrast to the Greeks and even to the notable captains on his own side (contrast Hector's behavior with that of his brother Paris- a womanizer whose greed and desire gave the Greeks their pretext to launch the expedition). He is the light of civilization, and the defender of that light.

His opponent, Achilles, was just the opposite, a man that was very much the personification of the wild savagery of the uncivilized. Achilles did have his courteous and gentlemanly side, and this was quite important in establishing the final notes that ended the Iliad, but it is merely incidental, not the focus of his character throughout most of the poem, just the same as Hector's own darkness is incidental to the overall character that we see as told by Homer.

In contrast to Hector, Achilles is a man that, when it comes down to it, cared nothing of others. He is consumed wholeheartedly throughout the Iliad in his self-absorbed rage- directed first at Agamemnon, and then at Hector. Feeling slighted at Agamemnon's confiscation of his prize, Briseis (the fact that she was a living human being was not considered important either by the standards of the heroes in the war or Homer who wrote about them), Achilles withdraws from the fighting, essentially telling the Greeks to not come crying to him when Hector and the Trojans start killing them in droves, and that their blood is on Agamemnon's hands. He even has his immortal mother Thetis get Zeus to intervene on his behalf to do just that very thing.

Achilles puts his honor and reputation above any human life. He isn't fighting for any noble cause, rather his goal for the contest is to secure everlasting fame, to have men speak of him through all the ages yet to be. To him it mattered not how many of his comrades died at the hands of the enemy, the only thing that mattered was the elevation of himself and his glory.

Achilles' refusal to fight, even after a half-hearted, though (mostly) good-intentioned overture from Agamemnon and the Greek high command (the embassy deserves its own entry) led to more deaths, including that of his best friend, Patroclus. Instead of being self-reflective and recognizing his own faults towards that happening however, Achilles blindly blamed Hector for the deed, and sought to utterly destroy him.

Again making it evident that he doesn't care for anyone, once properly equipped, Achilles seeks to rush headlong into battle, despite the fatigue of his comrades from yet another grueling day of fighting which included the battle for Patroclus' corpse. The council of Odysseus carries the day and the soldiers rest and eat, preparing for the next fight.

In that next fight, Achilles would confront Hector, and the climax of the Iliad, slowly built up by Homer through pools of blood and pools of tears, was at last at hand, and the two motifs: civilization and savagery would clash also.

The defense of the city and the community, the nobility and idealism of civilization is represented by and through Hector. In Achilles, we see the image of what the Greeks are actually there for: revenge, personal honor and glory, and greed. And yet, the reader is left in no doubt as to the outcome of the match. This biggest, main event of the Trojan War is a bit akin to an Undertaker match at WrestleMania, if you'll pardon the wrestling pun. Undertaker is undefeated on the biggest stage of that industry, just as Achilles is undefeated in direct combat, the master of war. We as the audience know going in that Undertaker won't lose, no matter what he has to do or how far he's taken, and we know that Achilles won't either.

Achilles, with the assistance of Athena, strikes Hector down, and responds to his pleading for civilized treatment with taunts that he'd drag Hector's corpse around his friend's funeral bier and feed it to his dogs. Darkness and light collided, and this time, darkness won.

Achilles dragging Hector's body
 Achilles does, of course, relent in this (his meeting with Priam again deserves its own chapter), and in so relenting would become more human again, but his goals and motivations remain unchanged. He has chosen to give up a long life with a loving family for fame and everlasting glory, even though it will kill him. He has chosen death.

Hector on the other hand, would have liked to have chosen life, but could not. His city was fated to die, and was now nearly defenseless with his death. He was motivated by the well-being of his community and loved ones.

The contrast between the two champions and the motifs they represent seems to echo even beyond the cessation of hostilities, as the Greeks, though victorious, would face many hard homecomings in the Nostoi and Odyssey, and though victorious, their arrogance or carelessness ruined or set back many of them. In the end many of them, including Agamemnon, were not fated to enjoy the full fruits of their victory, giving the laws of civilization something of an (incomplete) posthumous triumph.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Gods

The Olympians, from left to right: Hestia, Hermes, Aphrodite, Ares, Demeter, Hephaestus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Zeus, Artemis, Apollo (Wikipedia, Twelve Olympians)
The gods serve as a useful foil to compare to the drama facing the mortal heroes taking part in the struggle for Troy (and its aftermath). While the mortals are quite literally fighting for their lives and having to reckon with the new world their actions have created, the gods go on as they always have: aloof, relatively uncaring, and always self-centered. They are the same in the beginning of the conflict as they are at the end, and why should they change? The only thing they have to risk is a bruised ego. The only thing they have to lose is a temporary reduction in pride.

The war began over one such confrontation: a petty spat between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite over the golden apple thrown by Eris, goddess of discord at the wedding of Thetis and Peleus, which she was not invited to (which in itself was, a way for a god- Eris to soothe her bruised ego).

When the goddesses asked Zeus to judge who was fairest between them, Zeus was curiously not too enthusiastic with the prospect, so he did what any intelligent man would do in such a position: find some fool to do it for him, that fool being Paris. After each goddess gave a well-placed bribe in which they demonstrated that they cared nothing for the mortals their promise would affect (Hera offers mastery of Asia to Paris- wealth and power beyond imagination, Athena's offer was great glory so that his name would never die, Aphrodite's was the most beautiful woman in the world, who happened to be married), Paris chose Aphrodite, ran off with Helen (along with other priceless treasures for good measure), and the events of the Trojan War were set in motion.

That the gods are unaffected in any significant way, that they have nothing important to lose in the conflict is illustrated by the scenes in which they appear. They are in essence, especially in the Iliad but also somewhat in the Odyssey, nothing more than comic relief.

The scenes in which they fight are more or less comical compared to the brutal killing and dying that the mortals fighting the war have to go through. When Athena impels Diomedes to wound Ares at the end of Book 5, Ares shouts out and returns to Olympus, his ego wounded more than anything else. He complains about how Zeus lets Athena do whatever she wants, and Zeus responds by berating Ares. Contrast that with the ending in Book 4, where Homer describes soldiers killing, being killed, lying face down in the dust.

Towards the end of the Iliad, when Achilles returns to the battlefield and rampages against the Trojan forces, we are given brief shots of the gods on either side in combat with one another, but this too is both unrealistic and totally out of place compared to the combat of the mortals, as if it were children that were fighting in a tantrum-induced spat.

Then of course, there is the infamous scene in Book 14 where Hera, in an attempt to assist Poseidon in interfering in the contest after Zeus had forbidden any such interference by the gods, comes down to Mount Ida to seduce Zeus, with assistance beforehand from Aphrodite, who apparently couldn't care less about Hera's support for the Greeks against her opposing support for the Trojans anymore (though Hera wisely did not mention to the Goddess of Love what her true intentions were).

Zeus, smitten with Hera's Aphrodite-assisted getup, mentions his longing for her in comparison to all the other women, both mortal and immortal, he's bedded over the years, apparently not caring that this was his wedded wife who had a particular penchant for jealousy.

The scene can only be described as an immortal comedy, and it is the best illustration of the gods' stake in the conflict: namely, that there isn't really any. It is just mere entertainment for them, a way to satisfy their egos and one-up each other.

When Zeus tells Hera that he might just crush cities that she loves in exchange for Troy, which he laments must be fated to die, Hera eagerly agrees and offers him, among others, Mycenae. It is truly as if she has nothing to lose, and she doesn't. Being ageless and deathless all her days, why should she care about mortals so?

Ask yourself the same question. Would you care if an ant colony in your backyard got into an all-or-nothing fight with another nearby ant colony, even if you somewhat enjoyed watching the little critters from time to time? The answer is probably not. It isn't in your nature. Hera's nature in relation to humanity is much the same.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Curious Case of Out-Of-Place Technology

Mycenean artifacts (Ruth van Mierlo, photographer).

The Trojan War is supposed to have taken place in the late Bronze Age, but there are many curious cases that pop up in the myths, both cultural and in this case, technological, in which things seem out of place.


The use of iron was as yet, not widespread (hence why the age is termed the Bronze and not the later Iron Age). People in the late Bronze Age would likely have known about iron, but not how to use it for any useful purpose. Indeed, Iron is described in certain parts of the Homeric epics as lumps that are treated as prized commodities (as evidenced by one such lump being a prize for one of the games during Patroclus' funeral).

However there are other more or less isolated cases in which iron implements and weapons are described as being used: in the Iliad an arrowhead in Book 4, an axe also in Book 4, an iron knife used to slaughter animals in Book 23. In the famous contest with the bow at the climax of the Odyssey, the task was to shoot an arrow through iron axes. Similes alluding to the use of iron are also found periodically, such as iron gates, implying a high degree of familiarity with the metal, as one might expect.

Of course, the reason why iron would have only come into use later was because of its higher melting temperature. Bronze Age furnaces were not yet powerful enough to use the metal. Nowhere is steel described as being used (thus putting a definite end date prior to which the myths must have been created and transmitted).

While the overwhelming descriptions of tools in the myths are with bronze, how do you explain this seeming discrepancy? For over a century, scholars struggled with this question, and it seemed to lend credence to the so-called Analysts arguments that the myths were not written by a single person (more on them later to come).


Even rarer than the descriptions of iron are descriptions of horseback riding. These appears only in similes to Patroclus and in Book 10 of the Iliad. They appear nowhere in the Odyssey. It is an interesting historical anecdote that during the Bronze Age and up to around 1000 B.C., there are no texts or artwork concerning horseback riding. The use of the horse was always associated with chariots.

It seems that the reason for this is that the horse was not yet capable of bearing people on its back. It took thousands of years of selective breeding to create a horse that was capable of doing so.

It is also interesting to note that once horseback riding did appear on the scene, chariot use seems to have diminished dramatically, becoming utterly obsolete by the time of Alexander the Great, as he so amply demonstrated by his total destruction of Darius III's much-vaunted scythed chariots at the Battle of Gaugamela.

Obviously there were still far more chariots buzzing around the battlefields of the Trojan War than cavalry, but we seem to catch yet another glimpse at the future of warfare in these seemingly out-of-place descriptions.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Bronze Age Warfare: A Personal Affair


The events of the Trojan War take place in the late Bronze Age (around 1200 B.C.), a time where, as the name suggests, the use of bronze tools was widespread, and had fundamentally transformed every human society that came into contact with them. An alloy of copper and tin, bronze was a relatively durable metal that was vastly superior to any stone implements. It revolutionized how humans lived, making work easier.

As typical with humans, there is also a darker side to this story. The advent of bronze weapons also revolutionized warfare. It at once made killing more efficient and made armor more protective.

Bronze thus had the power to do well or ill for humanity.

Another crucial piece of military technology as the Bronze Age continued was the advent of the horse-drawn chariot. It allowed humans to travel faster, farther, and acted as a great mobile platform for troops in the field, particularly archers. A charioteer was a position of prestige, and chariot drivers are often said to be the "fighter pilots of their time."

Both bronze weapons and the chariot are on prominent display in the Epic Cycle of the Trojan War. The troops fight with bronze weapons and armor. Homer makes us see and hear the gruesome displays of bronze meeting flesh. Death could be slow and painful, as Homer makes clear numerous times in the Iliad. Recall that bronze is a metal which bends very often, meaning that it would bend inside a person's body when it penetrated.

Aside from the dying part, there is also the killing. I wonder if Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder would have been far worse for soldiers that were afflicted with it after the Trojan War was over?

The battlefield for a soldier in the Trojan War was far more personal than it is today. No one shot anyone. There were no smart bombs and cruise missiles. There were certainly no drones. Killing was done up close and personal. Even the archers are described by Homer as knowing exactly who their targets were, and you could certainly see him up close, sweating in the thick of battle just as you were. Images of a soldier slitting open an enemy groin to navel, as Homer so descriptively writes on numerous occasions, had to have been very painful for anyone suffering from the condition. A story of such a soldier, with modern knowledge of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder would certainly be very interesting to read.

The war in Troy was even more personal than this, however, as enemies often knew each other's names- at least as far as the captains of the two sides are concerned and which the stories are also. There are thus some instances of civility. Diomedes famously exchanges armor with the Lycian second-in-command Galucus, after the two learned (in the heat of battle) that their grandfathers were host and guest, respectively, which was a very important relationship in the Homeric era (as evidenced by the entirety of the Odyssey). Ajax and Hector agree to a one-on-one duel, and then exchange gifts when both of the armies call for a cease to it.

There is an inverse to this relationship though- bringing the reader back to reality after reading perhaps some pleasant fantasies that Homer penned, fantasies that would have no place on a real battlefield.

Taunts and insults are traded far more than gifts. Greeks shout to Trojans that they will kill them and then drag their women into slavery. Trojans defy the Greeks and dare them to try before their lives are ripped out beneath Trojan spears.

When a soldier can hear and see his enemy, and look into his eyes up close, the entire affair becomes far more personal. The courage it must have taken as a warrior in those days seems unimaginable to us today. War is fully humanized in the Trojan War, and seems to make it more tragic in many ways compared to more contemporary war stories.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Composition of the Forces

The Trojan War was the greatest armed enterprise ever conducted in Greek Mythology, and to the ancient Greeks- history itself. As they were fighting real wars against the Persians, and later, the terrible Peloponnesian War against one another, they could look back to the epics and say that they were not alone in these vast armed enterprises that went far beyond the squabbles of one city-state, or polis with another.

The armed parties taking part in this Aegean world war are described in detail in Book II of the Iliad. There are a total of 1,196 ships. Each ship had a crew of 120, except for Philoctetes/Medons' contingent, which had 50 to a ship. With other information given to us by Homer, an order of battle for both sides can more or less be constructed.

Greek Order of Battle:

Left Flank

Salaminians - Giant/Talemonian Ajax (12 ships, 1,440 men)

Cretans - Idomeneus (80 ships, 9,600 men)

Phylaceans, etc. - Podarces (40 ships, 4,800 men)

Locrians - (Little/Oilean Ajax 40 ships, 4,800 men)

Phocians - Schedius & Epistrophus (40 ships, 4,800 men)

Boeotians - Leitus & Penelos (50 ships, 6,000 men)

Aspledonians - Ascalaphus & Ialmenus (30 ships, 3,600 men)

Euboeans - Elephenor (40 ships, 4,800 men)

Athenians - Menestheus (50 ships, 6,000 men)

Mycenaeans - Agamemnon (100 ships, 12,000 men)


Cephallenians (including Ithacans) - Odysseus (12 ships, 1,440 men)

Argives/Tirynians - Diomedes (80 ships, 9,600 men)

Lacedaemonians (including Spartans) - Menelaus (60 ships 7,200 men)

Pylians - Nestor (90 ships 10,800 men)

Arcadians - Agapenor (60 ships, 7,200 men)

Buprasions - Thalpius, Amphimachus, Diores, & Polyxinus (40 ships, 4,800 men, each leading 10 ships personally).

Dulichions, etc. - Meges (40 ships, 4,800 men)

Aetolians - Thoas (40 ships, 4,800 men)

Rhodians - Tlepolemus (9 ships, 1,080 men)

Symeans - Nireus (3 ships, 360 men)

Nisyruseans, etc. - Antiphus & Phidippus (30 ships, 3,600 men)

(The original leader of this contingent was Protesilaus, who was the first Greek casualty of the war, the first off the ships being prophesied to die.)

Pheraens - Eumelus (11 ships, 1,320 men)

Methonians, etc. - Philoctetes/Medon (7 ships, 350 men)

(Philoctetes was wounded before he got to Troy at first. He would later be retrieved after the events of the Iliad.)

Triccans, etc. - Asclepius (40 ships, 4,800 men)

Ormenions, etc. - Eurypylus (40 ships, 4,800 men)

Argissans, etc. - Polypoetes (40 ships, 4,800 men)

Cyphusians - Guneus (22 ships, 2,640 men)

Magnesians - Prothous (40 ships, 4,800 men)

Right Flank

Myrmidons - Achilles (50 ships, 6,000 men)

That gives us a total number of approximately 143,030 men fighting for the Greeks. The relative positions of each unit are taken from Homer's descriptions as well as logical deduction:

- Homer constantly mentions the two Ajaxes fighting side by side, so it seems likely that they would have occupied adjacent positions on the Greek line, with the Little Ajax to Giant Ajax's immediate right.

- We do not know the exact positions of these two units, but Homer mentions that the Phocians occupied positions to the left of the Boeotians. From this point forward I'll simply go with Homer's order, since there's no reliable information as to exactly where each unit was.

- Homer seems to imply in Book 14 that Agamemnon's fleet is just upward of Odysseus' in the very center, meaning Agamemnon would occupy the center-left.

- Homer states Diomedes' fleet is next to Odysseus' in Book 14.

About the Trojans Agamemnon says the Greeks outnumber them by over ten-to-one, not including their allies. This implies that the Trojans would then have less than 14,303 men. The allies are said to be far lower in number than the Trojans.

We can complete a rough picture by the description given at the end of Book 8, where the Trojans are described as having 1000 campfires, around which 50 men stood. Obviously that equals 50,000 men for the Trojans and their allies. If we subtract that from the roughly 14,303 men that are Trojans, that equals 35,697 men that the Trojan allies have brought to the war between them.

The relative positions of the Trojan units are described in Book 10:

Trojan/Allied Order of Battle:

Left Flank:

Mysians - Chromis & Ennomus

Lycians - Sarpedon

Phyrgians - Ascanius


(Presumably, the remaining units, most prominently the Trojans themselves, would be here.)

Trojans - Hector (>14,303 men)

Dardanians - Aeneas

Zeleans - Pandarus

Apaesians, etc. - Adrestus & Amphius

Percotians, etc. - Asius

Cicones - Euphemes

Pahplagonians - Pylaemenes

Halizonians - Odius & Epistrophus

Ascanians - Ascanius & Morys (they join the battle the day during the events of Book 13. Homer describes them coming the day before, so they first arrived around the events of Book 8).

Right Flank:

Carians - Nastes

Paeonians - Pyraechmes

Maeonians - Mesthles & Antiphus

Leleges and Cauconians (a new unit that seems to be first mentioned in Book 10)

Pelasgians - Hippothous

Thracians - Acamas & Pirous (At least over 12 ships and 1,440 men as revealed in Book 11. Also note that this unit is described as occupying the furthest point on one of the flanks in Book 10, but nothing is mentioned as to which one. Strangely, the leader, King Rhesus, seems to be different from the two that are mentioned in Book 2.)

The Amazons under Penthesilea would later join the Trojans after the events in the Iliad, and Memnon would also later bring his contingent of Ethiopians.

Regardless of the exact details, the amount of soldiers in this war was truly gargantuan and obviously stretches the line of credibility. There's no way that in approximately 1,200 B.C. such a large force could be supplied for any length of time, much less ten years. In fact, armies of over 100,000 were rare in the West until the beginning of the 19th century.

Obviously any military action at what we believe to have been Troy would have been far smaller. Thucydides' assertion that Homer exaggerated the Trojan Wars' importance appears here to be verified. But truly from the standpoint of the Ancient Greek consciousness, the Trojan war dwarfed any they fought against the Persians or each other. To them the expedition against Troy was history and an example they would do well to remember. Book II first allows you to peer into that viewpoint.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Stakes

Cassandra Imploring Athena's Revenge Against Ajax by Jerome, Martin Langlois

Massive world wars are not fought over mere trifles. The stakes of the Trojan War went beyond mere honor or wealth. The war would also determine whether the Trojans as a distinct people would survive. What may be seen as a war for love was also simultaneously a savage war of annihilation, and genocidal tendencies are on display, as Agamemnon perhaps makes clear in Book 6 of the Iliad:

"So soft, dear brother, why? Why such concern for enemies? I suppose you got such tender loving care from the Trojans. Ah, would to god not one of them could escape his sudden plunging death beneath our hands! No baby boy still in his mother's belly, not even he escape- all Ilium blotted out, no tears for their lives, no markers for their graves." (Fagles, Penguin Classics translation, page 197)

There would be no mercy. We are told of the events of the sack of Troy: the men were killed, the women were raped and sold into slavery, babies (including Hector's infant son Astyanax) were flung from the city walls, and all of the wealth Troy had acquired was looted. The city was destroyed, and serves as an example for all time of the erasure of one community of humanity by another. In our times, the Greek heroes would probably be wanted by the international community so they could be tried for genocide and the long list of human rights violations that go along with it.

It is in the recognition of those facts that perhaps allows us to breathe a sigh of relief and pat ourselves on the back, congratulating ourselves for how far we've come in recent centuries and our improvements in how we treat one another.

And yet, when we look at recent events in places like Burma, Agamemnon's words come to life in our news stories. It seems that we as a species haven't changed very much at all. It begs the question- in times of chaos, when pretenses of civility are lost, will our humanitarian collective agreements still hold, or will we give way to the savagery in our hearts? Time and again, our nobler sentiments have been disappointed. Even Hector, the model soldier in the Iliad, had his darker characteristics, and was prone to giving into them more than once. Civilization is fragile, as is civilized behavior. We are probably less removed from the ghastly stories than we think.

It is this conflict between our humanitarian ideals and our instinctual bloodlust that is on display throughout the saga of the Trojan War, and is, from a modern standpoint, the most glaring flaw in all of the Homeric heroes.

The Trojan War was a fact of history to the ancient Greeks, and stood as a stark reminder of not only the consequences of failure on the battlefield against an enemy bent on your annihilation, but that everything we hold dear in this life is ultimately protected only by the successful use of force in defense of those things. A fanatical, homicidal attacker can't be bought off by wealth, as this exchange between Achilles and Lycaon in Book 21 of the Iliad attests:

"Achilles! I hug your knees-mercy!-spare my life! I am your suppliant, Prince, you must respect me! Yours was the first bread I broke, Demeter's gift, that day you seized me in Priam's well-fenced orchard, hauled me away from father, loved ones, sold me off in holy Lemnos and I, I fetched you a hundred bulls- and once released I brought three times that price."

Achilles responds:

"Fool, don't talk to me of ransom. No more speeches. Before Patroclus met his day of destiny, true, it warmed my heart a bit to spare some Trojans: droves I took alive and auctioned off as slaves. But now not a single Trojan flees his death." (Fagles, Penguin Classics translation, page 523)

The lesson? The failure or inability of a people to defend themselves from aggression means that they are at the complete and utter mercy of the aggressors- subject to whatever whim the latter desires.

Modern alien invasion stories are perhaps the most easily recognizable reminder in modern fiction of this fact, but they also let us see into our deepest fears. The alien invasion genre is probably more reminiscent of what we have done to each other than anything pertinent to ET- and the Trojan War is its greatest antecedent and illustration.

An Aegean World War

The Trojan War was not some ordinary war between the Greeks, as was typical in both myth (as evidence by Nestor's constant stories and Odysseus' comments that the Greeks as a people are destined to fight their wars to the better end) and history. The Trojan War was a grand expedition, a coalition of Greeks uniting against a common foe. The grandness of the armada is aptly shown to the audience by Homer in Book II of the Iliad.

Troy was not alone in its effort to defend itself either. It had allies of its own around the Aegean, also described in Book II of the Iliad.

And so this contest was not a petty affair. It was about far more than Helen. Instead, the war for Troy resembles an Aegean world war- a monumental struggle that would touch every part of the region and determine its future. No one living there would be unaffected by the conflict.

 A map of Homeric Greece.

The Epic Cycle

The Judgment of Paris by Enrique Simonet
The story of the Trojan War is told in a series of epic poems known as the Epic Cycle. Of this collection, only the Iliad and the Odyssey, both attributed to Homer, have survived. Fortunately, we're able to pick up the pieces via fragments and second-hand accounts so that the narrative of Troy (at least as far as the big picture goes) is more or less preserved. Imagine what brilliance, what great feats of action and character (which are of course what make the two Homeric epics immortal) was contained in those poems that have been lost to us forever.

The Epic Cycle is comprised of the following poems:




Little Iliad

Iliou Persis




You can read more about those here.

When we consider the brilliance of the two surviving epics, and compare them with the many other works that have been lost, perhaps we can begin to feel the weight of what shining lights of art were blotted out by the chaos of time. This should tell us the importance of preserving our own culture's great works of art and science, and we should never take their permanence as a given.

The War in Troy

The Burning of Troy by Francisco Collantes

The Trojan War. The name conjures up images of humanity simultaneously at its most sublime and its most terrible. The comradely, friendship, heroism, bravery, and valor in the defense of friends and loved ones is cast against wanton and destructive selfishness, cruelty, and rage. The events of the Trojan War, and the central characters in its narrative- Achilles, Hector, Agamemnon, Paris, Helen, Odysseus- never die. They are all alive, even before us, even today. All of the major military and humanitarian questions in the conduct of war are on display in the myth, things that make the Bronze Age seem as merely a mirror image of our own times.

On this blog, we'll be going on a journey- to explore the myths and the reality behind this timeless story of conflict, triumph, and despair.