What was the Trojan Horse?

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Few now believe the myth that Troy’s defenders succumbed to a booby-trapped wooden horse, which assumes both incredible Trojan stupidity and unlikely Greek confidence in their opponent’s witlessness. Indeed, Homer—who treated both Greeks and Trojans with dignity—barely mentions such a horse; the story of Troy’s downfall by the ruse of a great wooden horse derives from Quintus of Smyrna’s epic in fourteen books, part of the “Posthomerica.” Yet hints of the Great Horse were secreted in the Illiad and a slighted passage indicates that Homer’s listeners understood exactly what he was talking about. Subsequent misunderstanding arose when Homer’s exquisitely concise literary allusion was overlooked. Modern scholars trust that a siege machine, specifically some sort of battering ram, rumbled up to the walls of Troy. We can identify Homer’s own allusion to the horse, its probable function, its builder, and the origins of associating the horse with Poseidon.

Vulcan

The Journal of the History of Military Technology

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References

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Figures

  • The eighteenth-century Venetian painter, Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727–1804), visualized the story of the Trojan Horse as most people envisioned it in two paintings: (1a) Building the Trojan Horse (1773–1774; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, ct); and (1b) The Procession of the Trojan Horse (c.1760), illustrating Virgil’s Aeneid, Book ii (National Gallery, London).

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  • The “Mykonos Vase”, a pithos (large storage jar) was discovered on the Greek island of Mykonos in 1961. Dated to c.670 bce, or possible earlier on, it displays the earliest known depiction of the Trojan Horse, confirming that the “Homeric” story was in circulation before Homer compiled the epic. (Mykonos Museum).

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