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  • Writer's pictureEmma Ford

Troy Exhibit: The British Museum

"The Trojan War is one of the world's great stories, told for over 3,000 years."

"Troy: myth and reality tells a story about war. It includes depictions and discussion of violence and other aspects of conflict."

I don't even know where to start with this! Troy was an amazing exhibition, the best I have been to for a very long time. It was beautifully presented and aesthetically very pleasing to look at and explore.

The entire back wall of the exhibition was illustrated in this black and white drawing that showed the launch of the Greek ships and the battle for Troy

Battle between Achilles and Hector before the Walls of Troy

Since going to the exhibition, I have read a few reviews in newspapers etc, a few complain about the lack of a wooden horse, and the fact that even with times tickets, the exhibition was extremely busy, but overall the reviews are good. I was more disappointed by the nit-picking in the reviews than I was with the Troy Exhibit. Anyway that is beside the point.

The title of the exhibition is Troy: Myth and Reality, so I was really curious to see what they consider to be myth and the reality of the legend of Troy.

My understanding of the story is that when Paris and his older brother Hector sailed to Sparta, to treat with Menelaus, he fell in love with Menelaus' wife Helen. Paris smuggled Helen onto his ship when they returned to Troy, and refused to take her back to Sparta when Hector discovered her. This is what caused the Spartans to go to war with the Trojans. Desperate to to get his wife back, Menelaus went to his brother Agamemnon - the king of Mycenae to accompany him in attacking Troy. Agamemnon commanded the entire united Greek Army in the siege on Troy. So the Greeks sailed to Troy in 1000 ships, and Helen became known as the face that launched a thousand ships.

There were many Greek heroes in the armada including Achilles and his Myrmidon (50 ships carrying 50 Myrmidon warriors). Achilles fell out with Agamemnon over a woman they had captured, and refused to fight, because of this the Trojans were able to advance on the Greek encampment and in desperation Patroclus, one of Achilles' Myrmidon stole Achilles' armour and wore it himself. Mistaken for Achilles he was killed in battle by Hector. In a fit of rage Achilles re-entered the battle and killed Hector in revenge. He then desecrated Hector's corpse and dragged it back to the Greek encampment behind his chariot. He anger subsided when Priam finds his way into the Greek camp to beg Achilles to return Hector's body.

The siege of Troy lasted 10 years, until Odysseus came up with the idea that the Greeks should feign retreat. He had the army build a giant wooden horse - the symbol of Troy and leave it on the beach where they had been fighting the Trojans. The Trojans discovered the wooden horse and thought the Greeks had left it as an offering of peace, so they triumphantly dragged it into the city. They celebrated into the night and got really drunk, then while they were sleeping, the Greeks hiding within the horse sneaked out and opened the gates of Troy to let the rest of the army in. The Greeks massacred everyone in the city, but during the battle Achilles was killed by Paris, with an arrow to the heel, his only week spot.

I did learn a bit more about the story but it was mostly only extra flavour as it were, which is probably irrelevant, and it didn't really change my knowledge in any way. I expected the exhibition to say here is the myth that you all know, but actually the reality was very different. The exhibition didn't do this however, and it was a little disappointing that there is no real knowledge. It seems that the story of Troy hasn't really changed, and perhaps that this is because it is so well "recorded" in Homer's Iliad. It might also be because the existence of Troy is still contested. It is believed that the city was in modern day Turkey, and also known as Ilium - hence Iliad.

The location of Troy - the far north west coast of Turkey to the south of the Dardanelles strait near the Aegean Sea.

There are so many Greek artefacts on display that are decorated with imagery of the Trojan war. But I do wonder if they came from Homer's tale about the war or if they are based in some reality. It feels like they might be the ancient Greek version of merchandising for the Iliad.

What interested me most about the exhibition was the way that the story has been retold over 3,000 years. That longevity is, in itself, incredible. And I really loved the way it has been retold and presented in different time periods.

Ceramic Amphora showing Achilles killing the Amazon Queen Penthesilea c.530 BC

Achilles' New Armour - a Roman Sarcophagi dated around AD 150-200

The Wounded Achilles - Filippo Albicini 1825

Histoire ancienne Jusqu'a Cesar 1400-25. My favourite thing about this is that the artist who illustrated this depicted Troy in the style of the time, the tents, buildings ships and armour all giver the impression that Troy is a medieval story.

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