Homer’s Trojan War

Dawn of war

In this video produced by Invicta History, the focus is on the origins of the Trojan War, including a brief introduction on the poems of the Epic Cycle and the structure of “heroic” society.

Written by Josho Brouwers on

This video is the first of a three-part series that summarizes the events of the Trojan War. I am happy with how this video turned out, and I think it gives a good overview of the structure of epic society and of the events leading up to the arrival of the Greek fleet at Troy.

The artwork in the video is mostly based on Attic black-figure vase-painting of the sixth century BC. My argument for using this art style was that any recap of the story of the Trojan War should be couched within the visual language of the time when the first true depictions of scenes and events from the Iliad are attested. No attempt should be made to “historicize” the Trojan War by trying to place it in the Late Bronze Age, for reasons that I have expounded in this review, for example.

Some clarifications

At around 7:59, I mention that Zeus wants to start a war against Troy, and that he sent the goddess of strife, Eris, to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. One commenter on YouTube said that this was a mistake, but it isn’t. According to what we have left of the epic poem Kypria, Zeus and Themis plotted to start the Trojan War; as Timothy Gantz writes, in his book Early Greek Myth (1993), based on a scholia on the Iliad, that Zeus wanted simply to unleash a war in order “to relieve the earth of the weight of so many mortals” (p. 567). The wars against Thebes are also said to be part of this effort to unload the Earth of mortals.

At around 9:03, there is a brief summary of the story of Paris, and why he has two names. You need to make choices in videos, especially when discussing complex topics such as the story of the Trojan War, but it’s fair to note that whether Alexander or Paris was his birth name is not as clearcut as my script might suggest. In some sources, Paris is called Alexander by the shepherds, whereas in other sources, Alexander is his birth name.

At 9:12, the narrator says that Priam had a nightmare about his son (Alexander/Paris) causing the destruction of Troy. The ancient sources, however, make clear that it was his wife, Hecuba, who had the dream, and which caused both her and her husband the necessary anguish. However, there is a more obscure story, mentioned by Lycophron (third century BC). According to this story, Priam had fathered a child both with his wife, Hecuba, as well as his mistress, Cilla, who also happened to be Hecuba’s sister. Both of them had a child on the same day. An oracle visited Priam and foretold that he had to kill the child born that day as well as the child’s mother: Priam chose to kill Cilla instead of Hecuba. Hecuba’s child was, of course, Paris.

At around 10:50, the Judgement of Paris is set before Paris’ royal parentage is revealed. Again, the sources offer different versions of this story, and I simply picked one version to not bog down the video with too many details. In some sources, Paris never seems to have been sent away, and instead is always depicted as a prince of Troy. Timothy Gantz gives an overview of the different possibilities on pp. 569-570 of his book.