Assembling a new book of ancient stories translated by great writers, Of Gods and Men, I was surprised to discover how prevalent the tale of the Trojan War has been down the ages. Authors as diverse as John Dryden, Alexander Pope and Louis MacNeice have been moved to translate various versions of the classical myth. One reason the Trojan War has struck such a chord is that, besides being an excellent story, it has long been suspected to have actually happened.
我收集到一本新书，是伟大作家翻译的关于神和人的古代故事，我惊讶地发现特洛伊战争（Trojan War）的故事流传了这么久。约翰·德莱顿（John Dryden）、亚历山大·蒲柏（Alexander Pope）、路易斯·麦克尼斯（Louis MacNeice）等作家都曾热情地去翻译这个古典神话。特洛伊战争之所以引起如此强烈的共鸣，原因在于，除了故事本身很精彩外，它是否真的发生过一直是个谜。
For most ancient Greeks, indeed, the Trojan War was much more than a myth. It was an epoch-defining moment in their distant past. As the historical sources – Herodotus and Eratosthenes – show, it was generally assumed to have been a real event.
According to Homer’s Iliad, the conflict between the Greeks – led by Agamemnon, King of Mycenae – and the Trojans – whose king was Priam – took place in the Late Bronze Age, and lasted 10 years. It began when Paris, Priam’s hapless son, judged Aphrodite to be the most beautiful goddess, for which she gifted him Agamemnon’s gorgeous sister-in-law, Helen in return. Determined to get Helen back and punish the Trojans, Agamemnon and his brother marched a mighty army against Troy, and eventually succeeded in bringing its people to their knees.
根据荷马（Homer）所著的《伊利亚特》（Iliad），由迈锡尼国王（King of Mycenae）阿伽门农（Agamemnon）领导的希腊人和由皮安姆国王（Priam）领导的特洛伊人之间的冲突发生在青铜时代晚期，持续了10年。故事开始时，皮安姆的儿子帕里斯（Paris）判定阿芙罗狄蒂（Aphrodite）是最美丽的女神；作为回报，阿芙罗狄蒂把阿伽门农美丽的弟媳海伦（Helen）送给了帕里斯。为了夺回海伦并惩罚特洛伊人，阿伽门农和他的弟弟率领一支强大的军队进攻特洛伊，并最终成功地使特洛伊人臣服。
In antiquity, even respected historians were willing to believe that this war actually happened. In the second half of the 5th Century BC, Herodotus, the so-called ‘Father of History’, placed the Trojan War almost 800 years before his own time. Eratosthenes, a mathematician, was more specific, dating the war at 1184/3 BC. Modern scholars, however, have tended to be more sceptical. Did the Trojan War happen at all?
The question is at the heart of Troy: Myth and Reality, a major exhibition at London’s British Museum. Greek vases, Roman frescoes, and more contemporary works of art depicting stories inspired by Troy are exhibited alongside archaeological artefacts dating from the Late Bronze Age. What emerges most palpably from the exhibition is how eager people have been through history to find some truth in the story of the Trojan War.
《特洛伊：神话与现实》（Troy: Myth and Reality）是伦敦大英博物馆（British Museum）的一个大型展览。希腊花瓶、罗马壁画以及更多描绘特洛伊城故事的当代艺术作品，与青铜时代晚期的文物一起展出。从展览中明显地体现出，人们是多么渴望通过研究历史来寻找特洛伊战争故事的真相。
The Romans went so far as to present themselves as the descendants of the surviving Trojans. In his poem, the Aeneid, Virgil described how the hero Aeneas escaped the burning citadel with a group of followers after the Greeks entered in their wooden horse. John Dryden, England’s first official poet laureate, translated superbly the part where the horse was made: “The Greeks grew weary of the tedious war,/ And, by Minerva’s aid, a fabric rear’d,/ Which like a steed of monstrous height appear’d”. Aeneas and his men left to found a new home in Italy.
It isn’t surprising that people have been convinced of the reality of the Trojan War. The grim realities of battle are described so unflinchingly in the Iliad that it is hard to believe they were not based on observation. A soldier dies by the water and “eels and fish make busy around him, feeding upon and devouring the fat around his kidneys”. Achilles spears Hector “at the gullet, where a man’s life is most quickly destroyed”, as Martin Hammond translated it. Troy, too, is portrayed in such vivid colour in the epic that a reader cannot help but to be transported to its magnificent walls.
It was in fact the prospect of rediscovering Homer’s Troy that led the rich Prussian businessman, Heinrich Schliemann, to travel to what is now Turkey in the late 19th Century. Told of a possible location for the city, at Hisarlik on the west coast of modern Turkey, Schliemann began to dig, and uncovered a large number of ancient treasures, many of which are now on display at the British Museum. Although he initially attributed many finds to the Late Bronze Age – the period in which Homer set the Trojan War – when they were in fact centuries older, he had excavated the correct location. Most historians now agree that ancient Troy was to be found at Hisarlik. Troy was real.
Evidence of fire, and the discovery of a small number of arrowheads in the archaeological layer of Hisarlik that corresponds in date to the period of Homer’s Trojan War, may even hint at warfare. There also survive inscriptions made by the Hittites, an ancient people based in central Turkey, describing a dispute over Troy, which they knew as ‘Wilusa’. None of this constitutes proof of a Trojan War. But for those who believe there was a conflict, these clues are welcome.
A historic Trojan War would have been quite different from the one that dominates Homer’s epic. It is hard to imagine a war taking place on quite the scale the poet described, and lasting as long as 10 years when the citadel was fairly compact, as archaeologists have discovered. The behaviour of the soldiers in Homer’s war, though, seems all too human and real.
Homer’s genius was to elevate universal conflict into something more profound so as to highlight the realities of warfare. There would have been no gods influencing the course of action on a Bronze Age battlefield, but men who found themselves overwhelmed in a bloody fray could well have imagined there were, as the tide turned against them. Homer captured timeless truths in even the most fantastical moments of the poem.
The Greeks found in the legacy of the Trojan War an explanation for the bloody and inferior world in which they lived. Achilles and Odysseus had inhabited an age of heroes. Their age had now died, leaving behind it all the bloodthirstiness, but none of the heroism or martial excellence, of the Trojan War. Even the immediate aftermath of the war was full of violence. In a play inspired by Homer, and translated by Louis MacNeice, the Greek tragedian Aeschylus described, after the war, Clytemnestra murdering her husband, Agamemnon, “Who carelessly, as if it were a head of a sheep/Out of the abundance of his fleecy flocks,/Sacrificed his own daughter”, Iphigenia, to appease a goddess so he might have a fair wind for his voyage to Troy. Regardless of how connected it is to fact, The Trojan War myth had a lasting impact on the Greeks and on us. Whether it was inspired by a war waged long ago, or was simply an ingenious invention, it left its mark on the world, and remains as such of monumental historic importance.