The foundation of Western literature can be traced back to the Ancient Greek epic. The Homeric works are known as The Iliad and The Odyssey is among the most well-known literary works in the western canon. They tell the Trojan War story, a ten-year siege of a city called Troy by the Greeks. The Iliad tells how a beautiful wife of King Menelaus, Helen, was kidnapped by the Trojan prince Paris. To bring Helen back and punish the Trojans for Paris’s crime, Menelaus led a massive Troy invasion by Achean troops. For ten years the Greeks laid siege to the city of Troy until finally it fell and was ransacked and destroyed.
Three thousand years later, the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann uncovered a site known as Hisarlik, which many experts believe is Troy’s fabled city. The city was clearly destroyed sometime in the Late Bronze Age. However, whether or not that destruction was the work of a Greek army is unanswered. Archaeologists have long studied the site and still disagree on the likelihood that such an event took place. Sources are limited and experts are still divided over whether the story in the Iliad represents an actual war.
The primary source of information we have about Troy and the Trojan War comes from Homer’s Iliad. Unfortunately, the Iliad is primarily a work of oral fiction that was passed down for generations before it was finally recorded in writing. This long history as an oral document casts doubt on the story’s accuracy, and the descriptions of events in the book are dubious. Moreover, the Trojan War happened sometime in the 13th century BCE, a staggering five centuries before the date of the earliest known written copy of The Iliad. Thus, The Iliad tells us more about society, war, and culture in the 9th century BCE than it does about the Bronze Age.