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The Trojan War: Fact or Figment of Homer's Imagination?

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The Trojan War is one of the most legendary stories of warfare of all time. The epic tale has fascinated and inspired Western Literature writers for centuries. Much of the information we have regarding Troy and the Trojan War comes from Homer's Iliad. There has been much debate regarding the historical accuracy and reliability of Homer's Iliad. Many historians disagree about how much of Homer's tale is true and if the legendary war actually occurred or not. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence to suggest that The Iliad has some basis of truth and that Trojan War actually occurred, it may not have occurred in the exact manner in which Homer portrays. Thus, the truth behind the epic story of the Trojan War and authenticity of the author of The Iliad, Homer, remains a mystery.

Who is Homer?

Homer is the author of the two oldest epic poems of ancient Greece: The Iliad and The Odyssey. Homer's Iliad and The Odyssey are masterpieces of ancient Greek literature. As a result of these writings, Homer has a profound influence on Greek culture. According to Everett Fergusion, "Homer lies at the foundation of the Greek tradition, and his prominence in the educational curriculum until the end of antiquity means he is fundamental for Greek religious thought in the Hellenistic and Roman periods." [1] One would think that with such an important writer as Homer biographical information about him would be abundant, however, little is known about the ancient Greek author. Many historians argue if Homer ever existed. Robert Morkot states that "throughout the centuries there has been heated debate over whether The Iliad and The Odyssey were written by a man at all, perhaps the author was a woman, or a group of people." [2] Yet, if one assumes Homer existed, legend states that he was blind, "but his blindness must have come upon him late in life, after he had become familiar with the mountains and forests and rivers and sky of which he sings; and the sea, which he never mentions without some description of its color, its motion, its vastness, its beauty, or its usefulness." [3] Most historians generally agree that he lived 400 years after the Trojan War. Alexander Pope calculates that "he lived in the ninth century before Christ." [4] Given the unknowns of Homer's biographical information, scholars accept the theory that the story of the Trojan War was an oral tale that was traditionally passed down through the generations. Then, once this oral story reached Homer, he composed it into an epic, poetic tale within The Iliad and The Odyssey. Everett Ferguson states, "The Iliad is the story of the Trojan War: between The Greeks (under Agamemnon, King of Mycenae) and the city of Troy: the Odyssey relates the adventures of one of the heroes on his return from the war." [5]

Overview of Trojan War

The story of the Trojan War is full of battles, heroes, widows, death, and victory. The main story line of the Trojan War revolves around the unfaithful Greek Queen, Helen. The cause of the war was said to be when the Trojan Price, Paris, went to Greece and kidnapped the beautiful Greek Queen, Helen. Yet, it is said that Helen went quite willingly. Whether or not this was the actual cause of the war is highly debatable. Even the great historical thinker Herodotus had his doubt about the Trojan War. P.J. Rhodes states that Herodotus believed that "Helen could not really have been in Troy, because the Trojans would not have endured a ten-year war to keep her- but the Greeks did not believe their denials, because it was fated that they would destroy the city and make an example of the Trojans." [6] Nevertheless, following the alleged kidnapping of Helen, the legend goes on to proclaim that the Greeks sailed to Troy in order to rescue Queen Helen and exact revenge. Under their leadership Agamemnon, the Greeks attacked Troy for nine years. Due to the massive wall surrounding the city, which completely prevented the Greeks from invading the city, all the fighting took place outside of Troy. This turned out to be a great disadvantage for the Greeks, and the rest is history. Or is it?

Summary of the Iliad

"The content of the The Iliad accounts for only fifty-one days in the tenth year of the war." [7] Homer does not inform the reader of what occurred during the first nine years of the war or how the war started. Homer assumes the reader is already well accustomed to the tale of Trojan War. The major theme of The Iliad is mainly concerned with describing the wrath of Achilles and the consequences that follow as a result. Therefore, Homer simply uses Troy and the Trojan War as a poetic setting for a conflict between men and gods. In the tale, the gods play major roles in saving characters and influencing the outcome of the battles. At the end of The Iliad, "The fall of Troy is predicted, and the death of Achilles; while the fate of other actors in the narrative is darkly foreshadowed." [8] Throughout the epic, the battles feature some of the greatest heroes of the time from both sides. The Greek heroes were Achilles, Patroclus, Odysseus, and Nestor, while the Trojan heroes include Hector, Aeneas, Memnon, and Pethesilea. Considering the mythological nature of the theme of The Iliad and its mythological characters, it is easy to question the historical accuracy of the Trojan War. However, the detail in which Homer writes makes it hard to disprove that the Trojan War did not occur. According to Marianne Nichols, "the saga of the Trojan War is so historical-sounding in its details of ships, their deportment, men, weapons, fighting styles, customs, and procedures, codes of behavior to enemies and allies, geographical specifications, and the like that it is difficult to conceive of its only as a saga built on a famous older siege poem." [9]

Schliemann and the Discovery of Troy

In spite of the abundance of detail, the location of Troy remained lost for centuries, thus, only fueling the fire on the age old debate as to whether or not the war actually occurred. The city of Troy was lost for centuries until 1871 when a young German businessman and adventurer Heinrich Schliemann began excavating the Hisarlik hill in Turkey. Schliemann's evidence would be the first archeology discovery to prove the location of Troy, as well as the possibility of the Trojan War. Schliemann, using Homer's book The Iliad as a guide book, claimed the discovery of Troy. Dr. Schliemann's Trojan excavations sparked major interest around the world. His work "promised to prove at last whether the groundwork of Homeric poems was real or purely imaginary." [10] On the hill of Hisarlik,



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