The events of the Trojan War are connected with various myths, and historians have tried to distinguish the truth from fiction for many centuries. Homer’s variant of war history is used as the source of historically accurate facts, a biased position. Barry Strauss’ position on the Trojan War is based on the most recent archaeological research and analysis of primary sources that allow the author to reconstruct the events that happened more than three thousand years ago. Strauss claims in the book The Trojan War: A New History that the course of events, in reality, was not different from the one described by Homer in The Iliad and Odyssey. Therefore, Homer’s work can be regarded as a credible source of knowledge about Bronze Age warfare.
Strauss doubts whether Homer Homer had truthful information about the events of the Trojan War. The classical poet lived almost 500 years after the Trojan War, which makes the historical accuracy of Homer’s descriptions in The Iliad and Odyssey questionable (Strauss, 2006, p. 34). The knowledge of scholars about the Bronze Age Mycenaeans is limited, but still, there are several primary sources and archaeological proofs that allow the researchers to make a hypothesis about this period. Strauss focuses on re-examining Homer’s epic poems in the context of the knowledge about the Bronze Age when the Trojan War happened. The author’s approach to the problem of whether Homer knows anything about the Bronze Age Mycenaeans is based on comparing the existing primary sources and the text of The Iliad.
Chapter one focuses on the story of the abduction of Helen, who was the Queen of Sparta, by the Prince of Troy, Paris. Homer uses this story as the reason for the war’s beginning, emphasizing the narration’s romantic component. Even though Helen loves Paris, her husband Menelaus has to take her back to Sparta to finish Paris, who dishonored him. The peculiar detail is that despite the romanticized description in Homer’s works, the primary sources found by archaeologists prove that queens existed in the Bronze Age and were powerful actors in political affairs (Strauss, 2006, p. 48). Therefore, Helen’s image corresponds to the historical reality, and she might not be only in love with Paris but also regard Troy as the country where she could gain power and freedom.
Chapter two describes Agamemnon as one of the most influential people in the story of the Trojan War. The archaeologists found the skeleton in the Mycenean royal tombs that possibly belonged to Agamemnon, and it showed that the king was significantly higher than most men of his time ((Strauss, 2006, p. 70). In addition, Homer describes the black sails of Greek ships, and in reality, Greece had a developed fleet, while Troy did not have a navy and used only cavalry in the war (Strauss, 2006, pp. 79-80). These examples show that the significant elements of Homer’s story had a historical basis.
Chapter three describes the beginning of the armed conflict between the Trojans and the Greeks. As Homer wrote, the first Greek soldier was assassinated by the Trojan, who waited for the back ships to arrive (Strauss, 2006, p. 93). Strauss claims that the details of the appearance of the warriors, including Hector, were supposedly truthful because they correspond to the descriptions of the way Hittite men dressed up (Strauss, 2006, p. 95). Chapter four continues the description of the war and focuses on the assault on the city’s walls. The war strategy of the Greeks that Homer narrated also corresponded to the real one described in various written sources of that period (Strauss, 2006, p. 129). In chapter five, the author describes the personality of Achilles, who was responsible for the trick that allowed the Greeks to conquer Troy. The peculiar point is that there is archaeological evidence that this individual existed, which makes the description of his adventures more truthful (Strauss, 2006, pp. 142-143). These details show that Homer did not invent the protagonists and the events of the Trojan War.
Chapters six and seven describe the critical moment in the war and narrate the traditions the Hittites had related to the warfare. Homer likely used the written descriptions of these details because they were vital to the contemporaries of the Trojan War (Strauss, 2006, p. 182). The author shows in chapter eight that night was the perfect time for military actions because it was difficult to detect the spies. Moreover, Strauss describes the side effects of the war, including hunger, which allows the researchers to call Homer’s description credible (Strauss, 2006, p. 216). Chapter Nine and chapter ten describe the behavior of Hector and Achilles during the war, which allows the researcher to call these two men the main heroes of this invasion (Strauss, 2006, p. 237). In the last chapter, the author describes the renowned trick with the horse that allowed the Greek troops to enter the city. Strauss states that the siege theories that the Greeks had during the Bronze Age emphasized the importance of deceit (Strauss, 2006, p. 255). All these aspects show that Homer described the Trojan War truthfully, even in minor details.
I think the book has many strengths because it is written in precise language and uses current historical knowledge to discuss the topic of the Trojan War. Strauss aims to prove the credibility of Homer’s story about the Trojan War using examples of the most recent discoveries in archaeology. It allows the author of the discussed book to state that Homer’s perspective narrated in his works corresponds to the way modern scholars imagine Bronze Age warfare, its reasons, course of events, and outcomes. I do not think the book has weaknesses because it is written at a high professional level.
Strauss states that the motives that led to the war are described in the texts belonging to the Hittite culture, and Homer’s works represent a similar storyline. The recently discovered fragments of papyrus the author found in the British Museum also support how Homer described the course of events during the Trojan War. In addition, there was evidence of the relationships between two princes from Mesopotamia and two renowned Trojan brothers (Strauss, 2006, pp. 36-37). Therefore, the Homerian story uses facts and symbols that were part of the Hittite culture during the Bronze Age, and Strauss illustrates these connections. I agree with Strauss’s approach to the subject, and I think that it is the “new history” because the author connected literary works with historical evidence to illustrate his claims.
It is essential to read Strauss’ book because it gives the readers a detailed description of the historical basis of Homer’s works about the Trojan War. There are many myths surrounding the events of this period, but the author finds pieces of evidence that support the realistic element in The Iliad and Odyssey. It allows the researchers to appeal to Homer as a credible source of information about the Trojan War.
Strauss, B. D. (2006). The Trojan War: A new history. Simon & Schuster.