The Causes of the Trojan Wars — Peter Miles — 17th September 2018

Peter’s talk and slide present­a­tion was more a look at Greek myth­o­logy than the Trojan Wars them­selves. In fact, he con­ceded, it is almost cer­tainly a myth that the Trojan Wars ever happened.

The jury is still out on whether there is any his­tor­ical real­ity behind the wars, and if so how much. The ancient Greeks believed that Troy was loc­ated near the Dardanelles, and that the Trojan War was a his­tor­ical event of the 13th or 12th cen­tury BC, but by the mid-19th cen­tury both the war and the city were widely seen as non-historical.

Paris, with the Apple of Discord

However, towards the end of the 19th cen­tury, archae­olo­gists found the remains of a great cit­adel that exis­ted on the west­ern shores of Asia Minor, at what is now Hissarlik in Turkey (the tra­di­tional loc­a­tion of Troy), and which appeared to have been over­run by a great war in around the year 1250 BC. On the basis of excav­a­tions con­duc­ted by the German archae­olo­gist Heinrich Schliemann, this claim is now accep­ted by many schol­ars.

So there may be some truth in the story, but Peter’s point was that — whether the wars are fact or fic­tion — the stor­ies try to explain way of the world, the rela­tion­ship between gods and humans, and the ori­gins and sig­ni­fic­ance of the ancient Greeks’ own cult and ritual prac­tices. Modern schol­ars study the myths in an attempt to shed light on the reli­gious and polit­ical insti­tu­tions of ancient Greece and its civil­isa­tion.

The main source for our know­ledge of the Trojan Wars is Homer’s Iliad, writ­ten in the eighth cen­tury BC, where he recounts 52 days during the final year of the decade-long con­flict. The war star­ted with a quar­rel between the god­desses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite after Eris, the god­dess of strife and dis­cord, gave them a golden apple, some­times known as the Apple of Discord, marked for “the fairest.” Zeus, the sky and thun­der god, sent the god­desses to Paris, son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, who judged that Aphrodite was the fairest and should receive the apple.

Paris study­ing Aphrodite, who stands before him naked, while Hera and Athena look on

In exchange Aphrodite made Helen — the most beau­ti­ful of all women and the wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta — fall in love with Paris, who took her to Troy. Agamemnon, king of Mycanae and the brother of Helen’s hus­band Menelaus, led an exped­i­tion of Achaean troops to Troy and besieged the city for ten years because of Paris’s insult. After the deaths of many heroes, includ­ing the Achaeans Achilles and Ajax and the Trojans Hector and Paris, the city fell to the well doc­u­mented ruse of the Trojan Horse.

Peter, from Great Hucklow in Derbyshire, has many strings to his bow includ­ing teach­ing, acting, book pub­lish­ing and glid­ing. Another of his interests is the Willow Foundation, foun­ded by his brother-in-law Bob Wilson, the former Arsenal foot­baller and TV pundit and his wife Megs fol­low­ing the death from cancer of their daugh­ter Anna at the age of 31 in 1998.

Peter’s fee for speak­ing to us has been passed on to the Willow Foundation, which raises £2.5 mil­lion a year to provide up to 1,400 ‘spe­cial days’ for young people between the ages of 16 and 40 who are suf­fer­ing from life-threatening ill­nesses.