Best Books on the Trojan War
The old, old story of Troy
Who doesn't know the story of Troy? It's been told over and over for at least three thousand years.
In our time we have a huge range of novels about the Trojan War, the events leading up to it, and the men and women whose lives were affected by it, so it's difficult to find a book that doesn't feel stale and predictable.
Would you want to tackle such a subject? No author can spring surprises when we already know the outcome. The book has to be good to hold our attention. This selection of accounts from different viewpoints are all entertaining, suspenseful and very very good. And all on my bookshelf.
The Trojan War
Helen of Sparta, later Helen of Troy, was said to have been the cause of the Trojan War but was this really so?
Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Mythology and legend tell us that the whole conflict began with squabbling over the Apple of Discord but, as our 20th century Great War of 1914-1918 revealed, it was a lot more to do with Trade than with anything else.
How the Trojan War began. Part 1
The tale of the Trojan War is gleaned from a variety of sources from Greek Literature, such as 'The Iliad' and 'Odyssey" by Homer, the Cyclic Epics, and 'The Aeneid' by Aeneas. And as tales from myths go, this one also has its share of stories within the stories.
Paris was on a diplomatic mission from Troy to Sparta, and he fell in love with Helen. At that time, her husband Menelaus, King of Sparta, had left for Crete to attend his uncle's funeral. Paris and Helen eloped and set sail to Troy.
The Ships Set Sail. Part 2
When Menelaus returned, he enlisted aid from his brother, Agamemnon, to get Helen back. Agamemnon then sent several emissaries to the Achaean kings and princes to help retrieve Helen.
Amongst them were past suitors of Helen who tried various tricks to get out of going to war.
Odysseus tried to portray that he was mad and Achilles disguised himself as a woman and hid in the women's quarters.
In the end, however, the men sailed away, and it would be ten years before Troy fell. Not many details of the first nine years are documented, the emphasis is on the last year of the Trojan War.
The Last Year. Part 3
Achilles was amongst the most aggressive of the Achaeans and he raided, looted and conquered several of the outer territories of Troy. As the war lingered on and on, plots within plots and politics ruled the scene.
More deaths. Part 4
At one stage Achilles refused to participate in the fighting after a tiff with Agamemnon.
There were many small battles between the men - a fight between Menalaus and Paris, Diomedes kilied Pandaros, and more stories of blood and gore..
Then Patroclus, dear friend of Achilles, went into battle wearing Achilles' clothes and armour - to be killed by Hector.
Enraged by the death of Patroclus, Achilles hurled himself back into the fray, and fighting a duel with Hector. When Achilles killed Hector he refused to give the body back to the Trojans for the funeral but instead dragged it behind his chariot around the walls of Troy.
After some more gore, Paris, his hand guided by Apollo, shot a poisoned arrow into the heel of Achilles. The heel was the only part of Achilles's body which was vulnerable, and the Greek warrior died on the spot
The Wooden Horse. Part 5
Finally, to totally destroy Troy, the wily Odysseus came up with a plan. A giant, hollow, wooden horse was built, inscribed with the words: 'The Greeks dedicate this offering as thanks to Athena for their return back home'.
The horse was filled with troops which were led by Odysseus. The rest of the army burned their camp and set sail for Tenedos.
The Trojans rejoiced, thinking that the armies had finally left. They dragged the horse back into the city and began to debate what to do with it.
Kassandra, who had been given the gift of prophecy but cursed so that no one would believe her, warned the Trojans not to keep the horse. Of course, her warning went unheeded.
At midnight, when the full moon rose, the Greeks came out of the horse and began to attack the Trojans most of whom were drunk or sleeping. Disorganised, leaderless and disoriented, the Trojans began to fight back. But to no avail.
Eventually no men were left behind in Troy. The city was burned to the ground.
A fabulous telling, a wonderful perspective from the walls of Troy.
The Firebrand - Marian Zimmer Bradley
The destruction of Troy is always told from the Greek side.
This is understandable for it's a Greek story after all, but what of the people who were the victims of the war?
In this classic novel Marian Zimmer Bradley gives us with a moving story of Troy through the eyes of Kassandra.
The Trojan Princess is a clairvoyant who sees the future but is destined never to be believed.
Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs
An extraordinary book about biochemical weapons from the Trojan War to the Roman Empire.
Most people believe that chemical weapons were created in World War I, with the advent of mustard and other gasses. This is very far from the truth and author Adrienne Mayor fills us in with these the ancient weapons of mass destruction.
I knew about Naptha (Greek Fire), a much-feared incendiary weapon, and I think poison arrows were fairly well known too, but there were several other frightful and disgusting ways of killing people, such as pouring molten pitch, distilling snake venom, cultivating diseases and, yes, bundling venomous snakes or scorpions up and lobbing the resultant "bomb" in the enemy's direction.
The book is a pretty good compilation of these various methods.
Achilles : A Novel - Elizabeth Cook
Achilles, scorned by the Greek leader Agamemnon, is sitting out the war. But only Achilles can ensure Greek victory, only he can vanquish the Trojan champion Hector.
IThrilling, beautiful, lovely, sensual and sometimes erotic. One of my favorites
Troy : A Trilogy - by David Gemmel
An absolutely superb historical fantasy! David Gemmell presents a trilogy on the Trojan War.
The story is beautifully crafted, rich in detail as it recreates the ancient world of the Iliad, and Gemmell's historical expertise brings this lost world to full and vital life. These are fascinating, extraordinary books.
Lord of the Silver Bow is the first in the series.
Horror and heroism, death and destruction, and the wrenching, tragic conclusion.
A grand translation.
The Iliad - Translation by Robert Fagle
Translating ancient Greek is tough work. Making it meaningful in modern times is tougher again. How can you render ancient poetry from an ancient culture? Fagle does it.
The arrows clanged at his back as the god quaked with rage
the god himself on the march and down he came like night
and the corpse-fires burned on, night and day, no end in sight.
Since their best
and boldest fighter's sitting out, the Greeks
are getting hacked to bits by Hector, who's
just fighting for his home, but then Zeus speaks,
and brings down Trojan doom: they're going to lose.
The Greeks march ahead with inexorable forces
and Troy buries Hector, the breaker of horses."
Fagle brings the epic poem to life! I can't help comparing this to Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf
Ulysses was a Rat
You've heard of Ulysses, one of the Greek leaders in the Trojan War and the man who advised the Greek army to build that wooden horse. But here's something ...
Apples in Mythology from Tales from the Ancient World
Eve is reported to have bitten into an apple, or perhaps it was a quince. Hera gave some apples to her husband for a wedding gift, or maybe they were lemons....
What else should be in this list? Maybe you have a comment on one of the books listed here?
© 2008 Susanna Duffy