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.
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.
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.