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The Legend of Troy

Mighty warriors, the world’s most beautiful woman, divine intervention and a giant wooden horse – the Trojan War is one of ancient history’s greatest stories but, asks Michael Scott, how much of the legend is actually true?
For warriors like Achilles, Hector, Ajax and Odysseus, the Trojan War was their way of achieving immortal glory
ALAMY X3, SHUTTERSTOCK X1

MICHAEL SCOTT is professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Warwick, president of the largest regional branch of the Classical Association, and director and trustee of Classics for All. As well as being an author, he has presented a number of programmes for BBC television and radio, including Ancient Invisible Cities for BBC Two. Follow him on Twitter: @profmcscott

A chilles bound together the heels of the man he had just slain in single combat – Hector, hero of the Trojans – and tied the lifeless body to his chariot. He climbed aboard and encouraged his horses to move, dragging his fallen foe around and around the walls of Troy so that all inside could see the fate that had befallen their bravest and noblest of protectors. Following that humiliation, Achilles rode back to the Greek camp, where, for the next 12 days, he further desecrated Hector’s body by refusing the proper burial rituals. It required the intervention of the gods before Achilles returned Hector to his father for a funeral.

The Trojan prince Paris’s abduction of Helen sparked a ten-year war, according to the Homeric tales

The account is one of the most chilling – not only for the death of a warrior in combat, but the disrespect shown to his body – in the text of Homer’s Iliad, an epic poem about the Greeks’ fateful attempts to besiege the city of Troy The scene has everything that, for Ancient Greeks and Trojans, was both best and worst about war. It offered Achilles the opportunity for eternal glory by defeating Troy’s greatest warrior, while showing how war could lead to humanity putting aside its most basic principles and risk becoming something less than human. The gods themselves are needed to remind Achilles of this.

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

Few legends from ancient history have continued to hold us in such thrall as that of the fall of Troy, the epic tale of love and loss; gods and mortals; treachery and truth. But how much of the story is actually true? Michael Scott weighs up the reality and fiction of probably the most famous of Ancient Greek myths. Plus: Ten quirkiest royal traditions, the secrets of the relics in Ancient Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb, the Queen who took on the British in the 1857 Indian Rebellion, escapes over (and under) the Berlin Wall, and more.