It is safe to say that the legend of Troy and the Spartan queen whose face launched a thousand ships has captured the imagination of readers for thousands of years. The story from Homer’s Iliad fired the dreams of young Heinrich Schliemann who set out to prove that Troy was more than just a legend and in the late 19th century excavated a number of ruins believed to by that very city. It was an exciting discovery that reached far beyond the scientific community.
Much has been written and filmed about the war between Troy and Sparta, some of it well-researched and documented, some of it conjecture and fantasy intended to extend the fascination of a time and place so sweeping in its rich palaces, beautifully woven cloths, sparkling jewels, efficient weaponry, lush gardens, and fabled horses that one almost believes the fabulous tales of heroic warriors such as Hector and Achilles.
The 2004 movie, Troy, starring Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, and Orlando Bloom, and directed by Wolfgang Petersen is in many instances not historically accurate, a goal that is not easily attained when you try to translate it to the silver screen. However, when you buy the DVD 2-disc widescreen edition, the bonus materials are gold. Petersen will tell you how they researched, the natural disasters that hit their sets, putting them way behind schedule, and how they decided on their sets designs. You will also learn about they trained the soldiers and then used computer programmes to multiply the soldiers in order to create the huge battle scenes. The way they created the sound effects for various epic scenes is another really interesting bonus feature. Despite some trivial inaccuracies, the movie is a great epic with wonderfully choreographed fight scenes and really neat battle tactics. The romance between Helen and Paris is there, but it is the battles and tactics that set the pace of this movie and make it fun to watch.
For those who are intrigued by the archaeological aspects of Troy, what has been discovered, what has been mysterious, and what treasure has disappeared, The Mask of Troy, a work of fiction by David Gibbins, is probably more up your alley. The main character, Jack Howard, is a marine archaeologist who discovers a shipwreck that artifacts on board suggest may have been a galley belonging to Agamemnon. The treasure hunt turns into a life and death adventure leading Jack and his team to the uncovering of a Nazi operation of unimaginable proportions and the threat of incredible horror.
If it’s the romance that intrigues you the most, Helen of Troy, a novel by Margaret George, gives a whole different view of life in Troy than the one shown in the movie Troy. Priam is painted as a lech who had 50 or more children by many women and cared little about them. He assigns a son who is overweight and afraid of horses to be in charge of the stables. He would as soon seduce a daughter-in-law as sit down to dinner with the family. But George gives a vivid portrayal of Helen’s early life and how she came to be queen of Sparta. She paints an incredibly beautiful picture of Troy, a plausible portrait of the king’s family, and detailed descriptions of fighting and warrior characteristics. The ending for Helen and Paris is probably not what you would expect from other accounts you’ve heard or read but is an interesting one, and the story is beautifully written.
For those interested in scholarly, researched information, there is a two-DVD set called Troy, Unearthing the Legend, a History Channel production (also available on YouTube). The first disc is all about Sparta, its formation, development and culture, and famous battles, its Rise and Fall. It gives great background as the narrator interviews scholars, professors, and author Steven Pressfield (Gates of Fire), and re-enactments of history. Disc 2 is narrated by Leonard Nimoy and is in 3 parts. In Ancient Mysteries: The Odyssey of Troy explores the ancient poetry of Homer, the legends, and the myths. Treasure: The Ancient Gold of Troy looks at the ruins uncovered by Schliemann by following the clues in The Iliad, and many of the artifacts found, only to be lost during the war and then rediscovered in a Russian museum, hidden away in a secret vault. The last part is called The Trojan City and looks at the discoveries in the 1990s that confirmed Schliemann’s find was indeed the city of Troy.
There are many other videos available online, and of course, more literature, but these make a good starting point. If you have other favourites, please mention them in your comments. Tells us what draws you to the mysteries of Troy.