In this first class of three on the Trojan War narrative, we focus on establishing historical and mythical backgrounds for Trojan War myths with special attention on the sources that provide ‘the whole story’. While our best evidence for the Trojan War comes from the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey, these epics actually only cover short periods of the war. This is, in part, an aspect of the ‘genius’ of the Homeric narratives: they evoke the themes and concerns of the whole narrative cycle through the telling of only a small portion of the tale.
In class, we will discuss the cultural backgrounds of Mycenaean and Minoan Greece and the problem of asking whether or not there was a ‘real Trojan War’. The narratives we have of the War are fantasies of a past whose interests appeal to their contemporary audiences. So, while Greek audiences may have considered the war and its participants ‘historical’ they did not have the same expectations for such beliefs that we might today. For them, there was a narrative continuum from the mythical past to their present which was defined by a discontinuity between the end of the race of heroes and the lives of ‘normal’ mortals.
In addition to historical considerations, we will survey Greek visual art and other storytelling forms for the types of evidence they provide for the pervasiveness of stories set during the time of the Trojan War. We will discuss challenges of interpreting certain types of stories: for instance, those appearing in tragedy have different goals and audiences than those embedded in lyric; lost epics and ‘cycles’ reconstructed by later audiences are shaped by aesthetic and cultural expectations different from those of their original contexts. Then we will turn to an overview of the story, starting with the marriage of Peleus and Thetis and moving to the beginning of the Iliad.
Ancient Authors Discussed
Homer, Archaic Age
Hesiod, Archaic Age
Ovid, Roman Imperial Period
Apollodorus, Roman Imperial Period?
Some Suggested Course Texts
Hesiod’s, Works and Days
Apollodorus on the Trojan War (E.2.16-7.40)
Ovid On Peleus and Thetis and the Birth of Achilles
Iliad, book 1
Iliad, book 2
A Lyric Version of the Trojan War
A Few Terms
Links to Blogposts
Fake Helens and Paris’ Disguise
Judgment of Paris as a Rhetorical Exercise
Modern Authors Mentioned
Other Articles for Additional Reading
E. T. E. Barker. “Odysseus Nostos and the Odyssey‘s Nostoi.“
J. Burgess. 2001. The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle
L. Koenen. 1994. “Greece, the Near East, and Egypt: Cyclic Destruction in Hesiod and the Catalogue of Women.” TAPA 124:1–34.
J. Marks. 2002. “The Junction between the Cypria and the Iliad.” Phoenix 56:1-24.
K. Mayer. 1996. “Helen and the ΔΙΟΣ ΒΟΥΛΗ.” AJP 117:1-15.
Laura Slatkin, The Power of Thetis