Is there any truth in the tale of Troy?

Homer’s epic accounts of the Trojan War are among the most influential narratives in world history. But are they rooted in reality – or mere myth? By Paul Cartledge

Accounts of the Trojan War ascribed to Homer were the most revered chronicles in the Ancient Greek historical canon – but, Paul Cartledge suggests, they may be entirely fictional. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

In ancient times, the pre-Christian Greeks had no Bible equivalent. The nearest they had – and it was not very near – was ‘Homer’: a one-word catch-all representing both the supposed author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and his canon. These epic poems, composed in hexameter verse, have had an awesome impact on world culture.

It is no exaggeration to describe them as the two foundational works of Greek and European literature. But who exactly was Homer? The Greeks disagreed vehemently – typically on patriotic grounds. No fewer than seven cities claimed him as their own favourite son. When did he live, though, and for whom did he compose? Again, there was no agreement or certainty – mainly for lack of decisive evidence.

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