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The Trojan War is one of the most famous armed conflicts in all of history. It's Older Than Feudalism, and so is the subject of more stories and songs than you can shake a stick at and is the Trope Namer for a whole lot of stuff. It was fought between the Greeks (roughly) and the Trojans, who lost. But that's not all there is to the story. (And not all the legends are consistent.)
Homer and the Epic Cycle
The Trojan War, taletellers and storyspinners would have us believe, actually began at a wedding. The mortal man Peleus was marrying the sea nymph Thetis, and Zeus was throwing the wedding feast. On the guest list: everyone. Yes, everyone—every single living thing, mortal or immortal. (Just how much the wedding invitations cost, one can only imagine.) Just one person—well, goddess, actually—wasn't invited: Eris, the Goddess of
Chaotic Stupid Discord. Frankly, it's understandable why you wouldn't want her at a wedding. But the gods of Classical Mythology are nothing if not prideful, and she kind of took it personally.
So here we have Peleus and Thetis, happily chilling out at wedding feast, maybe smooching a bit, when Eris crashes the party. Onto the table she throws a golden apple, inscribed with the word "kallisti"—"to the fairest." And, Eris's domain being what it is, immediately every woman at the party began squabbling over who ought to be the owner of that apple, who was fairest of them all.
Eventually the argument got narrowed down to three final contestants: Hera, the queen goddess of the Achaeans; Athena, goddess of wisdom, cunning and craft; and Aphrodite, goddess of mad hot sexx0rs. Since none of them could come to a decision (and Zeus, for once, wasn't stupid enough to get involved), they decided to pick an impartial judge, a young man who had recently shown fairness in a contest against Ares. His name was Paris and he was, at the time, herding sheep on the outskirts of Troy. There was this prophecy, you see, that he would cause Troy's destruction, which was why he stayed away from there as much as possible; plus he was shacking up with a nymph at the time. Anyhow, the three goddesses appeared to him on Mount Ida and asked him to decide who ought to own that stupid MacGuffin apple.
Of course, Greek gods aren't into playing fair, so all three of them offered bribes. "Pick me," Hera told him, "and you will be king of all of Europe and Asia." "Pick me," Athena offered, "and I'll give you A Level in Badass." "Pick me, bitches," Aphrodite retorted, "and I'll get you laid. And not just with any girl, either: with Helen, the World's Most Beautiful Woman. She's supermodel hot and a freakin' great lay. Pick me, and that's what you get."
Of course, things weren't quite that simple. For one, by the time Paris got his hands on her, Helen was already married to a man named Menelaus. He was likely one rough-and-tumble son of a bitch, seeing as how he was king of Sparta at the time. When Helen came of weddable age, he was one of many suitors (anywhere from 25 to 36, depending on whom you're reading) who begged her father Tyndareus for her hand, which was a risky process at the time because Helen was the most desirable woman in the world. Everyone—Ajax, Agamemnon, Menelaus, Odysseus, just to name a few—wanted her to his wife, but at the same time no one wanted Tyndareus to choose him, because the others might immediately gang up on him for a bit of the classic "Murder the Hypotenuse." Eventually it was Odysseus who came up with the solution: "Since we're all men who put Honor Before Reason, let's swear a vow that, whoever Tyndareus chooses for Helen, we will support him and protect their marriage." Thus immunized from fatal cases of sword-through-face, the suitors carried on with their courting, and eventually Helen was given to Menelaus.
But marriage bonds aren't much to Aphrodite, the goddess of mad hot sexx0rs. Paris visited Sparta under the guise of a diplomatic mission, and seduced Helen while he was there. The exact nature of the relationship between them is ambiguous even in Homer, much less his translations; nobody knows if Helen was forced into it by Aphrodite, or if she consented to it of her own will. Whatever the case, Paris got his mad hot sexing, and went home happy.
Only he took Helen with him.
Again, the level of consent has been left ambiguous. Did Helen take some "convincing" (from Paris or Aphrodite), or did she love him enough to go voluntarily? Whatever the case, Menelaus was understandably pissed. When diplomacy failed, he invoked the oath he and all the others had sworn. "You said you'd protect my marriage. So come, protect it. We sail for Troy, to get my wife back." The fabled thousand ships saddled up and sailed for Troy, where (despite aforementioned prophecy) the Trojans had offered Paris and Helen sanctuary.
The first thing the Achaeans did was get lost, which you'd expect of a military expedition consisting solely of men. The ships then managed to get caught up in a storm and were scattered. Eight years later, they finally reconverged at Aulis, where Artemis refused to let them set sail until Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia, whose life was apparently decent payment for the sacred deer the king slew at some point or another. Agamemnon isn't happy about this, but in most versions he complies, and somehow the thousand ships make it to Troy, albeit some eight years late.
The war lasted some 10 years, with Homer's The Iliad taking place late during its last year. The Iliad focuses mostly on Achilles, that legendary almost-immortal figure. Scuttlebutt is that Thetis dipped him in the River Styx when he was an infant, thus coating him with unkillable somehow. The only bit of him left vulnerable was his heel, which is where she held onto him. Anyhow, the story starts with Achilles in His Tent, irritated by politics. Agamemnon had taken a girl, Chryseis, captive, and her father, a major priest of Apollo, begged for her return -- offering to pay the proper ransom and all that. Agamemnon was not inclined to do so, but Apollo threw a plague at the Achaeans in retribution, after which Agamemnon changed his mind. However, to compensate himself for the loss, he took Briseis, Achilles's war prize, for himself. Achilles, who seriously believed "It's All About Me," was rather Emo about this and decided to not fight anymore. Since Achilles was the original God Mode Sue, the Trojans start winning in his absence.
Paris offers to decide the battle by dueling Menelaus. Since Paris is the original Non-Action Guy, he loses pretty badly, and has to rely on Aphrodite to whisk him away. (She dumps him in Helen's bed—like, literally. Sex fixes everything for Aphrodite.) But here politics enters again: Hera, who hates the Trojans on principle, manages to get a Trojan archer to break the agreement by hitting Menelaus with an arrow. War happens again, and this time the gods join in. Both Aphrodite and Ares, particularly, join in on the side of the Trojans, which leads to a total Crowning Moment of Awesome for a mortal named Diomedes, who (with the help of Athena) trounces them both. They go whining back to Olympus, and in Ares's case Zeus yells at him to stop acting like a Spoiled Brat.
Achilles is still in his tent, so Agamemnon swallows his pride and offers him a ton of gifts (including Briseis), but Achilles refuses. So, to help put some heart into his allies, Achilles' best friend and protégé Patroclus puts on Achilles' armor and leads the Myrmidons into battle. This all ends up Gone Horribly Wrong: Hector, crown prince of Troy and Paris's older brother, manages to kill Patroclus in battle.
With Patroclus now Stuffed in The Fridge, Achilles is... a little upset. Given an armor upgrade by the Gods, he dons his gear and returns to the fight, singlehandedly routing the Trojans (not to mention the patron demigod of a river who was complaining about being stuffed with corpses). The only one brave enough to face him is the Family Man in this war story, Hector. This turns out about as well as you might expect. But then Achilles goes all douchebag: instead of allowing the Trojans to recover the body of their prince and give him a proper funeral—which Hector absolutely did for Patroclus after, ahem, stealing Achilles' armor—he ties Hector's body to his chariot and drags him around, going "Ha ha I'm such a fucking badass, look what I did to your best guy! Tomorrow I'mma be in ur base killin ur doodz!" Even the Achaeans think he's a Jerkass. Eventually, King Priam visits Achilles in his tent and begs for the body. This is enough of a Heel Realization for Achilles, and he concedes with good grace. And that's where The Iliad ends.
The war kept going after that, of course. (For that matter, a lot of stuff happened before all this, but the we only have fragments and summaries of the other six epics of the Trojan Cycle so, umm, we'll leave that off for now.) Achilles eventually died when the gods decided he had too high of a kill score, but it's interesting that every interpretation of the event portrays his killer (generally Paris) as a Dirty Coward who displayed nary a trace of martial valor; Achilles died undefeated. And, of course, by most accounts, he died of a poisoned arrow, having been struck in his Achilles Heel For Massive Damage, thus providing a later explanation for the whole invulnerable thing. Paris himself was later felled by a well-placed arrow, allegedly from the bow of Hercules.
The Trojan Horse, meanwhile, was Odysseus's great stroke of genius; the horse was sacred to the Trojans, which is why they saw it as a meaningful tribute to Poseidon (the god of the sea, earthquakes, and horses). As a result, it's been claimed that the "actual event" which got Shrouded in Myth was an earthquake toppling the gates, which the Trojans had to dismantle to get the horse inside. Only a couple of people suggested it might be a trap; one of them was Cassandra (The Cassandra), telling the original Cassandra Truth. But it was all for naught. Every man of Troy was killed, the babies thrown off the wall. Every woman (who wasn't accidentally offed in the slaughter) was Made a Slave. Troy itself was burned to the ground. There may have been some free survivors, depending on who you read; two of the other epics, the Little Iliad and the Sack of Ilion, claim a fellow named Aeneas got away --a tradition which Virgil ran with in The Aeneid-- but if you don't believe them, then it was a Total Party Kill as far as its citizens were concerned. Victorious, the Achaeans began their journey home.
And that journey was its own piece of insanity. Because the Achaeans had gone a little overboard in the rape of Troy and desecrated a lot of Olympian temples, the gods decided that a lot of them wouldn't make it home, and those that did would suffer on the journey. It took Menelaus and Helen eight years to get back. (It's on record that Helen and Menelaus had a daughter, Hermione, who was nine years old when Paris came to visit. When re-united, Hermione was 37. If not for the fact that she wasn't married yet, having been promised to somebody who was fighting the war, she would've had children and maybe grandchildren to show her mother by this time.) Odysseus took ten, as chronicled in his Spin-Off adventure The Odyssey. A lot of other major heroes either died during the return or were eventually forced out of the city-states they ruled; one, Agamemnon, was flat-out murdered by his cheating wife (as was his new sex toy, Cassandra—talk about Woobiedom), with order only restored when his son Orestes offed his mom and her lover and assumed his father's throne (after sorting out The Furies, who do not take kindly to matricide, in a process which involves quite a bit more than paperwork and community service; as Aeschylus would have it, it ended up with a significant reform of the Athenian judicial system). Suffice to say that the Trojan War was a huge mess for everyone involved.
This is the Useful Notes section of the article, where we'll take the trouble to explain some contextual features of the story which Homer would have glossed over or not thought to include.
According to the Achaeans themselves, the Trojan War took place during the 12th or 13th century BC, with Troy itself located somewhere in modern-day Turkey. Modern historians, however, believed Troy to be just north of Albany. Really. They dismissed the entire thing as a fun but baseless story... at least until archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann unearthed the ruins of a city he identified as Troy in 1870. His claims have not been challenged. The problem is, however, that there have been nine cities on the site, built in layers one atop the other. The oldest (Troy I) was founded somewhere around 3000 BC; the last (Troy IX) was founded by The Roman Empire somewhere around 100 BC. It is generally accepted that Troy VII is the city which the Achaeans burned to the ground. Part of the problem is that Schliemann is perhaps the world's luckiest decidedly amateur archaeologist; the deep gash he cut in the site makes it easy to date layers but hard to identify artifacts. As to the dates, the Achaeans weren't far off; scholars estimate the war took place around the 12th or 11th century BC, and (at least partially out of affection) often let stand the dates provided by the beloved Greek historian Eratosthenes, 1194-1184 BC.
Troy was so very rich because they were on main trade route for bronze, and was destroyed so very often because everyone wanted a piece of the action, just like they're fighting wars over oil nowadays. To make things worse, they were also on the border when the cold war between the Achaeans and their Anatolian neighbours, the Hittites, turned hot. There are actual letters from the Hittite royal archive thought to discuss this actual war, which take away a lot of the romance, turning it into a trade conflict.
However, a lot of this is still more speculative than you would think; for instance, the German archaeologist Dieter Hertel makes a not unconvincing case that the archaeological evidence is consistent with the city being destroyed by an earthquake, not war, and considers it more likely that migrating Aeolians eventually moved into the destroyed place and that the myths about Troy reflect either this or a previous unsuccessful Greek attack on Troy. He also casts doubt on the wealth and wider importance of Troy, pointing out that it was by no means the only town on the coast of that part of the Hellespontos. Finally, the identity of the town called "Wilusa" in Hittite sources with Ilium or Troy is still unproven. And in 2008 the Austrian writer and philologist Raoul Schrott after translating the Iliad from scratch and comparing it to Assyrian literature advanced the highly contentious hypothesis that Homer's work is set not in north-eastern Asia Minor, but in Cilicia, in the south.
Because Helen had a nine-year-old daughter by Menelaus, it can be assumed that the two of them had been married for at least that long when Paris arrived. This raises the question of how old Helen was, not to mention how old Paris was, and what sort of relationship they had. Keep in mind that, here in ancient Greece, girl-children were considered The Load: you had to pour wealth and food into them, and send them off with a dowry, and what would you get in return? The gratitude of her husband and his family, sure, but that might not be worth much. So the smartest thing you can do is get rid of this parasite as fast as possible. Greek girls were married off the instant they hit menstruation. Men, on the other hand, needed some time to build up industry and wealth before they took a wife. The end result was that, on her wedding night, Helen would have been something like 14, and Menelaus more like 30 or 35. It's quite unlikely that the two of them would have bonded in the husband-wife love-between-equals relationship we enlightened 21st-century residents think is natural and/or necessary for marriage. Hell, we can't even call it a "May-December Romance" because there was almost certainly no "romance" involved. Arranged Marriage, played straight.
Now enter Paris, who was probably much closer to Helen's age, with whom she could have bonded with as an emotional equal, and who was almost certainly more attractive to her than Menelaus for these reasons. This is one of the reasons it's so easy to provide an Alternate Character Interpretation for Helen: either way is perfectly in-character for an Achaean wife. Helen would have been dutiful, of course, and gotten on with her life as Menelaus' woman; but she was a normal human being too, who longed for love and probably didn't get to spend much time with anyone of equal status, male female or otherwise. Both forces were undoubtedly present in her heart. The fun part is deciding which one won. (Aphrodite's meddling notwithstanding, of course.)
So off Helen goes, and Menelaus rallied his forces. This would have been a lot more difficult than it sounds, because the Hellenes were not particularly united at that point in time. This was the age of "Heroic Warfare", which is rather like the bronze-age version of feudalism: any central authority was pretty weak, so while a king like Agamemnon might theoretically command the loyalty of his vassals, it would be a real pain in the neck trying to get them all pointed in one direction and going off to fight the Trojans rather than feuding among themselves. Getting multiple kings to do this would have made cat-herding look easy. (Frankly, what's surprising is not that it took them eight years to land at Troy, but that it didn't take them longer.) The military setup was rather medieval as well. In The Middle Ages, you had knights: professional soldiers, who spent all their time either fighting one war or training for the next one. In Mycenaean Greece, you had equeta, chariot warriors who filled much the same role. So, if these boys spent all their time sword-slinging, how did they eat and have a home to sleep in and clothes to put on their backs? They had a bunch of civilians who worked for them to provide all these things, which in Medieval Europe were called "peasants" or "serfs" and in Ancient Hellas were called... Umm, something. We don't know. Sorry. But in any case: when you read Homer, you see this Redshirt Army of names that are mentioned once—when they die—and it seems kind of pointless. But now you know that each one represents years of training and the collective effort of many people; the effect on Hellenic audiences would have been similar to your reaction to all those Jedi dropping like flies in Attack of the Clones. This gives you a sense of just how wasteful the war was. Finally, this also creates a rather amusing Real Life Continuity Snarl: since a semi-feudal society is presented in this war, feudalism is now officially Older Than Feudalism. Oops.  But yes, older than the post- Roman European' feudalism that everybody knows better, anyway.
Also, we should talk about Sacred Hospitality. American culture doesn't embrace this value as much (except maybe in the Deep South), but the Greeks were absolutely mad for it; in fact, the god who took domain over Sacred Hospitality was none other than Zeus himself. 'Xenia, sometimes translated as "guest-friendship" or "ritualized friendship," is the act of being really, really nice to passing strangers—they get the best food, the best wine, the seat of honor, gifts aplenty. Maybe he's a stranger, but you treat him like your favorite uncle. This had three major impacts on Hellenic life.
- It embodied the concept of "paying it forward." Life in ancient Hellas was pretty chaotic, and you never knew when you were going to find yourself at the mercy of strangers. (Seriously, the heroes of Greek myths are constantly washing up on distant, unmapped shores and having to beg help from the natives.) So do unto others as you would have them do unto you, right?
- It kept open the lines of diplomacy. Let's say you're at war with someone—the Spartans, to grab a name out of thin air. During the war, Menelaus comes to visit. Xenia requires that you treat him with honor and respect, even though he's your Arch Enemy: the best food, the best wine, the place of honor, blablahetc, as opposed to (say) murdering him in his bed. And a good thing too, because what if he was coming to sue for peace? (Besides, a fellow Hellene was much more likely to be a Friendly Enemy than anything else. Warfare was more genteel in these days.)
- You never knew when a passing stranger might be a god in disguise. A carpenter from Nazareth put it best: "As you did for the least of these, you did it for me." And if you slighted a god by ignoring him, he was not going to take it well.
The reason this applies to the Trojan War is that when Paris made off with Helen, he was in gross violation of Sacred Hospitality. Even worse, the god of xenia is ZEUS—big badass father Zeus with his lightning bolts and his beard. Paris didn't just offend Menelaus, he offended the gods, and the Greeks were obligated to avenge this insult with blood.
It's also worth noting that Helen was the actual Queen of Sparta, and that Menelaus only became King by marrying her. When Paris kidnapped/made of with her, he not only jeopardised Menelaus' position as King, but gave the Trojans a claim on a kingdom in mainland Greece. Given that after Paris' death the Trojans marry Helen off to his brother Deiphobus it seems likely that they were planning to make something of this claim, which the Greek-city states--and in particular the Myceneans under Agamemnon--would never have allowed.
Finally, there's often talk about what kind of relationship, precisely, existed between Achilles and Patroclus. The easiest jump to make is to the Hellenic custom of pederastic patronage; in the Erastes Eromenos relationship, the older man (the erastes) traded advice, networking and business connections to a younger man (the eromenos), who would in return make himself available for various sexual favors. The historical objection to Achilles and Patroclus having this kind of relationship is that it might not have existed at the time; this was a feature of Classical Athens, not Heroic Athens, and first developed in the 7th century BC, long after this war was fought. (Exact Words time: this is merely to state that Achilles and Patroclus did not have an Erastes Eromenos relationship. Whether they were actually lovers is not known to history or fiction; there's nothing in the tale that talks about it one way or the other. Note that Patroclus was probably older than Achilles, and that Achilles had a canonical son, who fought alongside him in the war. In fact, that's who married Hermione at the end of things, which would have created another May-December Romance with him being maybe 17 and her at least twice that. But that's another story.)
The Trojan War is the Trope Namer for the following tropes:
- Achilles Heel: Does not show up in The Iliad.
- Achilles in His Tent
- Apple of Discord
- The Cassandra
- Launcher of a Thousand Ships: Very indirectly -- the phrase was first used to describe Helen by Christopher Marlowe ca. 1592 in his play Doctor Faustus. We use it to describe, not the World's Most Beautiful Woman, but a character who is excessively active in the Shipping aspects of a Fandom; that is, everyone is partnered with this person.
- Trojan Horse: Another famous Dead Unicorn Trope.
- Watching Troy Burn: At one remove; this is a cinematography trope, something Homer wasn't playing with.
- ...And anything that shows up in spin-offs, sequels, etc. (Those are covered in their own work pages.)
This conflict provides examples of the following tropes:
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: The conflict was long believed to have been pure fiction until the ruins of Troy were actually discovered by archaeologists.
- Ancient Greece: Trope Codifier.
- The Archer: In many versions, Paris kills Achilles with an arrow. Apollo also counts. Also, the hero Philoctetes.
- Babies Ever After: Menelaus.
- Because Destiny Says So: So much. Hector is very aware of his destiny to die in combat, but also knows that his death means Achilles' death as well. Paris is destined to start the Trojan war, and even sending him away won't change that. Odysseus is destined to wander for ten years before returning home, but he is also destined to return home. Achilles is destined to either live a long and happy life if he does not go to Troy, but his fame dies with him, or go to Troy, die in battle and his fame will be eternal and he knows it. Patroclus is destined to fall in battle. And everyone is aware that Troy is destined to fall.
- Classical Mythology
- Combat by Champion: Hector vs Achilles, Paris vs Menelaus, Ajax vs Hector.
- The Dead Have Names
- Deconstruction: Of the heroic code in particular.
- Dressing as the Enemy: Occurs a few times.
- Due to the Dead: Patroclus and Hector's bodies both must be taken care of.
- Duel to the Death:
- Paris and Menelaus get into one, but before Menelaus can kill Paris, Aphrodite spirits him away.
- Hector and Achilles get into a brilliant one, with a fatal outcome for the former.
- During the War
- The Emperor: Agamemnon of Mycenae.
- Fountain of Memes
- Ho Yay: How some critics, both ancient Athenian and modern, view the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles: namely as a mentor/student one, with sexual favours being the form of payment. This was common in ancient Athens, though not Mycenaean Greece. Homer, it should be noted, doesn't seem to care about it one way or another. The Ho Yay persits.
- Happily Married: Hector and Andromache and Odysseus and Penelope.
- Human Mom, Nonhuman Dad: Many Trojan and Achean heroes had gods for fathers.
- Human Sacrifice: Iphigenia is sacrficed to Artemis so the ships can sail to Troy. Polyxena is sacrificed to the spirit of Achilles as a payback for Iphegenia.
- Hypocrite: What was this whole war about? Paris having taken away Menelaus's woman. So why does Agamemnon think he can take away Achilles's woman?
- Interspecies Romance: Achilles parents, Peleus the human actually marries Thetis, the sea nymph.
- Lineage Comes From the Father: And you are going to hear about EVERYONE'S father sooner or later.
- Living MacGuffin: Chryseis and Briseis, and even Helen.
- Long List: Homer's Catalogue of Ships. Some ancient manuscripts even slightly set it off from the rest of Book II almost as if it's its own book.
- Lost in Imitation
- Made a Slave: All the surviving women of Troy are enslaved to the surviving Achaean kings.
- Nigh Invulnerability: Although Achilles has acquired this reputation, in the Iliad, he's no more invulnerable than any other soldier; just a little stronger.
- No Name Given:
- "Chryseis" and "Briseis" mean "daughter of Chryses / Brises" and might have been patronymics rather than actual first names...or they might not have.
- Painfully inverted by almost every Red Shirt killed in battle-we learn their names, father's names, where their land is, any interesting ancestors they might have had, any cool things they might have did, it stops just short of how they like their eggs.
- One Steve Limit: Averted since there are two guys named Ajax.
- The Quest: The Odyssey is almost the Trope Namer.
- Print Long Runners: Since the invention of print.
- Rated "M" for Manly: A Trope Codifier.
- Rags to Royalty: Paris is raised as a shepherd on Mount Ida, and only after winning a contest is he told he is royal and is readopted into the royal family.
- Revenge SVP: Eris.
- Sacred Hospitality: Oh. My. God. So much. The whole war starts because Paris violates Menelaus' hospitality by running off with his wife. It's not so much the wife-stealing part, but the violation of hospitality that makes the Acheans invade Troy.
- Secret Legacy: Paris raised as a shepherd has no idea he is a prince of Troy, or that he is destined to start the Trojan War.
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: To an extent. Thetis is irresistably beautiful, which predictably catches Zeus's attention; unfortunately it is prophecied that her son will be far greater than his father. Understandably enough, Zeus (and the other Olympians) deem it unwise to bed her in light of this, and in consequence she is forced to marry a mortal king, Peleus, thus giving birth to Achilles. It is not made clear whether she really had the potential to birth a son greater than Zeus himself, but his fear of this causes the prophecy to come true.
- Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality: Level 3, maybe even 2.5. Note that the Greek word for 'wife' was gyne, which is also the word for 'woman'.
- The Alliance: The Achaeans.
- The Siege: Of Troy.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Menelaus and Helen fit the letter in some portrayals, though not necessarily the spirit.
- Unstoppable Rage: Once Patroclus is killed Achilles is pretty much unstoppable.
- War for Fun and Profit
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Aeneas does show up in The Iliad as something of a Mauve Shirt, but is never mentioned again. This is how Virgil, writing centuries later, was able to Retcon him into being the Hero of Another Story.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Achilles. In Some stories he dresses as a woman and hides in a harem to avoid being sent to war.
- World's Most Beautiful Woman: Helen.
- You Can't Fight Fate: When Paris is born his parents are told he is destined to start a war that will kill them all. His father orders him killed, but, as is always the way in these tales, the servant charged to do it can't get up the courage and raises him as his own son. Of course, Paris returns to Troy, is hailed as the lost prince, and--starts the war.
Works based around this conflict include:
- Naturally, Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey.
- Also, the six other lost epics of the Trojan Cycle.
- The great tragedian Aeschylus wrote a trilogy called The Oresteia. The first part of the trilogy, Agamemnon, tells the story of Agamemnon's murder by his wife, Clytemnestra. In The Libation Bearers, Agamemnon's children, Orestes and Electra kill Clytemnestra. The trilogy ends with The Eumenides where Orestes stands trial for Clytemnestra's murder.
- Several surviving plays by Euripides, including:
- Andromache, a tragedy following the wife of Hector who was given to Achilles' son Neoptolemus as a war prize.
- Electra, which retells the story of Electra and her murder of Clytemnestra from The Oresteia.
- Hecuba, set immediately after the Trojan war and following Priam's now-enslaved wife.
- Helen, a play following the alternate story that Helen never went to Troy, but rather was whisked away to Egypt by the gods (while a fake went with Paris).
- Iphigenia at Aulis, opening as the Greeks prepare to set sail for Troy. Artemis demands they sacrifice Agamemnon's daughter, Iphigenia, before they be allowed to depart.
- Iphigenia among the Taurians
- Rhesus (though the authorship is debated), set in the midst of the war when the king of Thrace, Rhesus, arrives to support the Trojans.
- The Trojan Women, following the women of Troy who were captured after the Greeks destroyed the city.
- A few surviving plays by Sophocles, including:
- Ajax, a tragedy set after the death of Achilles, where the eponymous warrior is infuriated that the armour of Achilles was granted to Odysseus rather than him.
- Philoctetes, set just before the end of the war, where Odysseus and Neoptolemus must convince the crippled and much wronged Philoctetes to go to Troy to secure Greek victory.
- Electra, another version of the myth (see Euripides' Electra, above).
- Vergil's Aeneid, set after the war but with several flashbacks to the fall of Troy.
- Several books in Ovid's Metamorphoses.
- During The Middle Ages, most readers were introduced to the Trojan War not by The Iliad (mainly because people in Western Europe were bad at Greek), but instead by two Late Roman prose narratives. Specifically:
- Dictys of Crete's Chronicle of the Trojan War (Dictys Cretensis Ephemeridis belli Trojani) -- supposedly the journal of Dictys, the companion of King Idomeneus of Crete in The Iliad, which was buried together with its author and later recovered from his tomb; but more realistically a slightly tongue-in-cheek 4th century work using a Literary Agent Hypothesis.
- The History of the Fall of Troy, by Dares Phrygius (Daretis Phrygii de excidio Trojae historia, also known as Acta diurna belli Troiani). Dares Phrygius ('Dares of Phrygia') is mentioned in The Iliad as a Trojan priest at the time of the war; the Acta diurna are supposed to be his eyewitness account. However, as the Latin work uses 5th century CE language and there is no mention of the work prior to that time (let alone of the purported Greek original), it must be inferred that the true author was an anonymous Late Roman writer. This work is notable for telling the story of the war from a Trojan viewpoint, and it may be directly inspired by the Chronicle of Dictys of Crete. The History of Dares Phrygius was, together with the Aeneid, the most influential work on the Trojan War for the Middle Ages, as medieval Western Europe tended to side with the Trojans, on account of the Aeneid which glorifies Aeneas and the survivors of Troy as the forefathers of the Romans, and thus, indirectly, Western European civilization.
Middle Ages & Renaissance
- After the Franks had taken over much of the former Western Roman Empire, Frankish historians came up with a pseudohistory that traced the origin of the Franks back to survivors of Troy. This, of course, was in imitation of the Aeneid and served to elevate the Franks to an "equal level" with the Romans.
- The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, another "chronicle" that traced the ancestry of the pre-Saxon Celtic Britons to (you guessed it) Trojan refugees that were led to Britain by Brutus, a survivor of Trojan nobility.
- The Snorra Edda by Snorri Sturluson claims that the Aesir -- the Norse gods -- were actually (sense a pattern?) refugees from Troy that had migrated to Northern Europe and, because of their superior culture, became regarded as gods.
- Troilus and Criseyde by Chaucer, which then was the source for ...
- Troilus and Cressida, by Shakespeare, a play set during the events of the Iliad.
- Dan Simmons' novel, Ilium, which recreates the events on an alternate Earth and Mars.
- Troy, the Hollywood version of the war.
- The second and third books of Island in The Sea of Time are partly concerned with a roughly historical version of the Trojan War, being interfered with by stranded time-travelers. About the only event that survives intact is Achilles' sulking and subsequent rampage; he manages to survive the war.
- The Firebrand by Marion Zimmer Bradley -- the Trojan War is told from Cassandra's viewpoint.
- Ransom by David Malouf focuses entirely on Priam taking a cartload of treasure to Achilles in order to get back Hector's body, guided by a lowly driver named Somax and a Greek soldier who turns out to be Hermes in disguise. Meditations on grief, age, regret and class differences ensue.
- In Tad Williams Otherland series the characters meet in a simulation of the sacking of Troy at some point.
- The Hittite by Ben Bova takes the supernatural elements out of the story but adds a Hittite soldier, Lukka, as the narrator. The "Horse" was a siege tower Lukka built and covered with horsehide to make it harder to set on fire. Notably, Achilles committed suicide because the wound to his leg cut a tendon and crippled him, and he felt life without being able to be the most badass fighter around wasn't worth living.
- ↑ which is what Homer called the Greeks; since we are primarily concerned with his telling of the story, we will do the same
- ↑ Achilles is generally left out because he was too young at the time; his parents are Peleus and Thetis, they of the ill-fated wedding which started this whole mess
- ↑ having ditched aforementioned nymph without a glance back
- ↑ If you think a daughter's life is steep payment for a weather report, don't sweat; Artemis snatches her off the altar and she shows up way later in her brother Orestes' story.
- ↑ As a double precaution, she then dressed Achilles as one of King Lycomedes' daughters. With probably a little bit of magical aid, the cross-dressing masquerade held until Odysseus (who got a memo from the seer Calchas that the War can only succeed if the Aegeans have Achilles) managed to trick him out--he was the only girl at the palace who wanted a sword for a gift.
- ↑ After some convincing by Athena dressed as Hector's brother, since Homer claims Achilles was prepared to chase him through the streets of Troy.
- ↑ or possibly simple infection,
- ↑ This is what the Greeks called themselves; even today the word for "Greece" in Greek is "Hellas"
- ↑ slaves. Euphemistic language aside, Archaic Greece was heavily dependent on slaves, treated anywhere from 'as one of the family' to absolutely terribly
- ↑ The "freedom-loving" Spartans of the Classical era called them Helots, but that's just Sparta; every city had its own terminology.
- ↑ Achaeans! There is feudalism under your feet! Why don't you fight?
- ↑ Snorri apparently scrapped this idea himself, as his later work Heimskringla does not mention Troy and places the Aesir migration in Roman times.