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Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory

ARTICLES | 2010

19 May 2012

The Trojan War: history or bricolage?

Susan Sherratt Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 53:2 (December 2010): 1-18.

From the introduction

The Trojan War motif, which forms the essential background to the Iliad and the Odyssey and also to many other Greek epics (such as those which form part of the so-called Epic Cycle, numerous literary epics, as well as Attic tragedy and much historical literature), has loomed largely and more or less continuously for something like two and a half thousand years. For the Greeks of antiquity it formed one of the focal landmarks’ of their remote history, as it did later for the Romans and various other groups living in ancient Italy, who traced their origins from one or other hero or one or other group of people who were involved in the Trojan War. It was equally important throughout the Middle Ages as a focus of the foundation myths of numerous European royal lines or kingdoms. In the 12th century Geoffrey of Monmouth traced the origin of the Plantagenet kings back through King Arthur and the ancient Britons to Brutus, the grandson of Vergil’s Aeneas, the most illustrious Trojan hero of Mediaeval western Europe. The Goths and Franks also claimed descent from Trojan War heroes, as did the Hapsburg emperors. Later still, and in a rather different way, Schliemann’s widely acclaimed success in proving the historicity of the Trojan War by means of the new science of archaeology, along with his highly romanticized autobiography, created in him a kind of foundation myth as well as a folk-hero for the new unified Germany of the 1870s – a myth which still has a considerable amount of potency in the re-unified Germany of the present day.

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