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The Trojan War: A Very Short Introduction


Despite the name of this publication, it is anything but a short introduction as it provides a great wealth of information pertaining to the story we have come to know as the Trojan War, all packed into less than 120 pages. The Trojan War: A Very Short Introduction is one installment from a vast library in the A Very Short Introduction series published by the Oxford University Press. Its author, Dr. Eric H. Cline is a historian, archaeologist, and professor of history and archaeology at The George Washington University in Washington D.C. He also holds many other prestigious and related titles which qualifies him to write such an ambitious and yet well compiled summary of the Trojan War as it is perceived in both mythology and archaeology.

What may catch most readers by surprise is that Homer’s Iliad covers no more than fifty days of the tenth year of the Trojan War. It is the later written and fragmentary Epic Cycle that fills the gaps leading up to the Iliad (and the Odyssey) and its aftermath. Cline begins this volume by introducing the reader to the entire Epic Cycle; that is, their titles, assumed authors, estimated timeframes for compilation, and a high level summary of each, some of which are a second and possibly third hand retelling of the tale as the complete manuscript has since been lost to time. By the end of the initial chapter, a much clearer picture is painted of this epic battle and the heroes that fought in it.

The following five chapters (six in total) dive straight into the archaeology and known history of ancient Aegean during the Late Bronze Age Period, focusing predominantly between the 15th to 12th centuries BCE. He tells of the discovery of Troy at modern day Hisarlik in Turkey, to the discovery and identification of the Mycenaean Greeks and their capital centered at Mycenae, in the Argolid in Greece, by Heinrich Schliemann, a simple man driven by his passion for Homer. Following its discovery, archaeologists and historians alike would attempt to locate Homer’s Troy buried within the location’s multiple settlement layers, and its fatal battle that pitted two almost legendary forces; each layer providing clues to its end whether it be through mother nature or the ravages of war. It would not be until the translation of various Hittite tablets that scholars would start to piece the details together.

Dr. Cline then shifts the focus to the Hittites, a kingdom that ruled to the East of Troy and over most of Anatolia, centered at Hattusa, near modern day Boğazkale (formerly, Boğazköy), Turkey. Following the decipherment of the Hittite language (an early Indo-European subset), historians identified a kingdom by the name of Wilusa (Greek: Ilios), another name for Troy and an ethnic group referred to as Ahhiyawa (Greek: Achaeans), Homer’s name for the Greeks. It immediately became clear that there existed a conflict between the Mycenaean Greeks and various locations on the Western coast of Asia Minor. It is these clues that Eric Cline uses to showcase the events that would later inspire poets to compile and retell the narrative later identified as the Trojan War.

It is difficult to believe that such a large amount of detail could be summarized into such a small volume, but Cline is successful in his efforts and provides the reader with a single and concise publication around Homer’s timeless epic.

By Petros Koutoupis