WootBot


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Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy! fame, was a trivia-obsessed ten-year-old, and now he’s raising a few quiz kids of his own. This month he launches a new series of amazing-facts books for kids, The Junior Genius Guides. Since the first two books in the series introduce young readers to Maps and Geography and Greek Mythology, respectively, we’ve asked him to set us straight this month and debunk some popular misconceptions about classical mythology, which has always been all Greek to us. Myths about myths?! May Zeus have mercy on our souls.

The Debunker: Does The Iliad Tell the Story of the Trojan Horse?

To this day, we still use the proverb “Beware Greeks bearing gifts,” remembering the end of the Trojan War. Unable to scale the impregnable walls of Troy, the Greeks rely on stratagem: Odysseus designs a giant wooden horse, and the Greeks pretend to leave Troy by ship. The gullible Trojans think, “Nice! Free horse!” and wheel it into the city. By night, the Greek army sneaks out of the hollow horse and takes over Troy.

Illadinsane

But, surprisingly, you won’t find any of that in the Iliad, Homer’s great epic poem about the war for Troy! For reasons that scholars still debate today, the Iliad ends with the funeral of the Trojan prince Hector, and never gets to the end of the war. (Like Starship Troopers; unlike M*A*S*H.) The “Trojan horse” is mentioned a couple times in Homer’s follow-up, the Odyssey, but most of what we know about it today comes from Virgil’s shameless Iliad rip-off, the Aeneid.

In any case, the ancient Greeks probably didn’t think of the “Trojan horse” as the twist-ending game-changer we envision today. Homer, obviously, saw Hector’s death, not the horse, as the turning point of the war. In other myths, all is lost when Odysseus and Diomedes sneak into Troy and steal a magical, Troy-protecting McGuffin: a statue of Athena called the palladium. After the palladium is stolen, the whole horse thing is a big anticlimax.

One final debunking: the tradition that Homer was blind is an ancient one, but there’s no evidence for it. In fact, we know nothing biographical about Homer at all, including whether or not he really existed. Maybe he’s one of those fictional blind people, like Daredevil. Or, um, LeVar Burton.

Quick Quiz: Who starts the Trojan War in the first place by stealing Helen away from her husband Menelaus?

Ken Jennings is the author of Because I Said So!, Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.

kfang122


quality posts: 2 Private Messages kfang122

Paris of Troy.

osu68


quality posts: 0 Private Messages osu68
kfang122 wrote:Paris of Troy.



No. Paris is no where near Troy. Troy fell into a deplorable state of disrepair after the unpleasantness with the Greeks. Moving was the Trojans' only option. They packed up their stuff, including the horse, and moved to a suburb of Helsinki. Now you know the truth.

Sir Charles Chilkoot

bsherm87


quality posts: 0 Private Messages bsherm87

Helen does leave with Paris, but the blame could also be laid with either Aphrodite or Zeus, since Aphrodite promises Paris the most beautiful woman in the world as a reward for naming her the fairest goddess, a promise made because Zeus did not want to pick which goddess was the fairest. So really, as with most things, it's all Zeus' fault.

MikeJones23


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If Homer never existed, what does that say about the religious books and such?

jawlz


quality posts: 12 Private Messages jawlz
bsherm87 wrote:Helen does leave with Paris, but the blame could also be laid with either Aphrodite or Zeus, since Aphrodite promises Paris the most beautiful woman in the world as a reward for naming her the fairest goddess, a promise made because Zeus did not want to pick which goddess was the fairest. So really, as with most things, it's all Zeus' fault.



Paris is still the one that chose Helen over both wisdom (Athena) and power (Hera). Sure, Zeus didn't want to get involved in the squabbles, but I would stop considerably short of pointing to him as the cause of the Trojan War.

jawlz


quality posts: 12 Private Messages jawlz
MikeJones23 wrote:If Homer never existed, what does that say about the religious books and such?



Not that much, given that most Western religious texts were written many centuries after the time of Homer by people who are largely documented to have existed.

johnnyicemaker


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Best Trojan Horse spoof of all time: Monty Python and the Holy Grail's Trojan Rabbit!

Best Homer of all time: Homer Simpson!

salanth


quality posts: 1 Private Messages salanth
jawlz wrote:Paris is still the one that chose Helen over both wisdom (Athena) and power (Hera). Sure, Zeus didn't want to get involved in the squabbles, but I would stop considerably short of pointing to him as the cause of the Trojan War.



Exactly. If you're going to go all the way back, how about Eris, for throwing the golden apple, or whoever arranged the marriage of Peleus and Thetis for not inviting her?

vladistov


quality posts: 51 Private Messages vladistov
jawlz wrote:Not that much, given that most Western religious texts were written many centuries after the time of Homer by people who are largely documented to have existed.



And besides, the premise that Homer does not exist has not been established. I do not see a question but an irrelevant provocation.

FezMonkey


quality posts: 2 Private Messages FezMonkey

As a purely tangential comment, I recent re-read the Iliad and was quite surprised at the amount of carnage and gore!

Somehow I must have just forgotten about all those pikes through livers and all those helms cleft in twain.

Good times ...


redadept


quality posts: 0 Private Messages redadept
salanth wrote:Exactly. If you're going to go all the way back, how about Eris, for throwing the golden apple, or whoever arranged the marriage of Peleus and Thetis for not inviting her?



All Hail Discordia. That'll show 'em for freezing her out. I believe it was Hera that threw the bash. Not that I'm bitter.

bacalum


quality posts: 4 Private Messages bacalum
redadept wrote:All Hail Discordia. That'll show 'em for freezing her out. I believe it was Hera that threw the bash. Not that I'm bitter.



Good comments by Salanth and you.

Jennings and some others, I'm not sure about.

Was Homer a real person? The best way to determine that is by contemporaneous records; the more records DURING A PERSON'S LIFE mentioning that person, the more likely he lived. The first problem is to be sure you're talking about the same person. Let's say you find a tax record for "Minos of Crete." Could've been a lot of guys named Minos in Crete. In fact, there were. There is evidence that "Minos" meant king. So, exactly which Minos was supposed to be one of the three judges of the dead in Greek mythology? Besides a name getting confused with a title, or an occupation, fathers & sons, twins, or other family relations are often given similar names.

In the case of Homer, there may have been multiple people calling themselves "Homer." In those pre-newspaper, pre-radio, pre-TV, pre-social media days, itinerant musicians could be like rock stars, bringing not just entertainment, but education, of sorts, whereever they went. If a few thousand years ago you heard Homer had arrived to perform, wouldn't you go? Just as there are tribute bands today covering the Beatles, Doors, Rolling Stones, etc., there may have been tribute "Homers."

Next: Do you tell a story the same way every time? No. Singing the story helps, b/c if it doesn't rhyme, or scan, or whatever, it's more noticeable, but mistakes happen. Stories based on truth are changed - cut the boring parts, add some story elements where needed to spice up the tale. Hollywood does it all the time. Only fools rely on entertainers for accurate history lessons. Storytellers and cultural tastes change over time. Look at Hollywood remakes - they each tell a given story differently, and sometimes they are radically different.

Bottom line: there were probably multiple Homers, and certainly multiple versions of the Iliad - as there were multiple versions of almost every other Greek myth.

When rich or powerful people propose a change, it is designed to make them richer or more powerful.