BMCR 2010.07.10

Reconstruire Troie: permanence et renaissances d’une cité emblématique

, , , , Reconstruire Troie: permanence et renaissances d'une cité emblématique. Besançon: Presses universitaires de Franche-Comté, 2009. 520. ISBN 9782848672731. €45.00 (pb).

Table of Contents

This is a welcome volume although Troy studies are not traditionally a province of French scholarship — or perhaps because of that. These 23 articles – a mixed bag, as some are excellent, some merely play it safe — deal with Troy from genuinely varied perspectives, from Homer to Giraudoux and from archaeology to opera. The title announces a holistic perspective on Troy, but many papers are in fact much more in love with the details than with the big picture; to that extent, the reader sometimes feels like one who has commissioned a house and is being delivered the construction materials.

M. Woronoff’s opening paper proposes that around 750BC Homer visited Troy and got acquainted with local epics popular among the descendants of the Trojans’ notable families, who kept alive the story of the Trojan war (Woronoff apparently assumes there was only one major war behind the story) and the very names of their ancestors involved in it. Together with Benzi’s and Rougier-Blanc’s ( v. infra) this is the only paper where archaeological issues play an important part, and it is all the more regrettable that the author does not use any of the articles from the 18 issues of the Troy excavations’ journal Studia Troica or other publications by members of that team.1 He relies instead on general work on Troy and thus, for example, dates the end of Troy VIIa (=VIi) to around 1250-1225, even though Mycenaean pottery dates it to around 1210 or even (Korfmann’s interpretation) 1190/1180, P. Mountjoy, “Troia VII reconsidered”, StTr 9, 1999, 295-346).

Fr. Létoublon discusses in Milman Parry’s terms Homeric names and epithets for Troy without using C.M. Bowra’s classic, “Homeric epithets for Troy”, JHS 80, 1960, 16-23. N. LeMeur argues that the presence of children in the Iliad (particularly Astyanax, but she extends the analysis to episodes featured on the shield, p.66-70) is a device used by Homer to emphasize the cruelty of war.2

Much of P. Wathelet’s paper reuses material from his Dictionnaire des Troyens, Liège, 1988, which reveals the etymologies of the names of a relevant selection of Trojans from the Iliad. To better understand the oldest Greek epic, he takes the oldest French chansons de geste, the “Song of Roland” and the “Song of William”, and summarizes the distortions (transfigurations) of historical events that can be found therein (especially useful are especially pp. 114-118). He shows that the enemies (Saracens) mentioned there have French and other names, none of which none are Arabic. By the same token, in the Iliad, most of the Trojans (including some of the main heroes, like Hector) and their allies have Greek names. To Wathelet, the comparison shows that these names must have been simply taken over by Homer from the preexisting epic tradition and that no historical reality hides behind them. One will not learn from reading this paper, that, ever since W.P. Shepard’s “Chansons de Geste and the Homeric Problem”, AJP 42.3 1921, 193-233, the connections between medieval French Songs and the Iliad have been widely discussed e.g. C.M. Bowra, Heroic Poetry, London 1952, esp. 532-536, I. Morris, “The Use and Abuse of Homer”, ClAnt, 5. 1, 1986, pp. 81-138.

C. Bréchet contrasts Greek and Roman attitudes to Troy under the Empire. For the Romans, manufacturing a descent from the Trojans was a way of inserting themselves into the Hellenistic world, while maintaining a distinct identity. For the Greeks, the Trojans of the Iliad are retrospectively condemned to be barbarians because of the Persian wars while, criticizing the Trojans and emphasizing the deeds of the Achaeans, they find solace in a time when Greece was but a province of Rome. In two detailed case studies, S. Diop follows the implications of these attitudes in those “secondary gospels” of the Trojan war attributed to Dares Phrygius and Dictys Cretensis. M.-R. Guelfucci offers a number of comments on the well-known episode of Scipio watching Carthage burn, when (in Diodorus and Appian, although not in what we have left of Polybius’s text) the Roman cried and remembered the fall of Troy by quoting Il. IV, 164-165; 448-449. M.-M. Castellani, in turn, follows the medieval avatars of Trojan motifs in the Romance of Troy of Benoît de Sainte-Maure and its continuations in the 12th and 13th centuries.

For M. Fartzoff, the Iliad and later Aeschylus’ Oresteia convey two different images of the Trojan war as an encapsulation of both heroism and hybris. This is one of only three articles in this tome in which iconography plays a role. Fartzoff sees the presentation of the deaths of Astyanax and Priam in the same scene on vases, although they are not simultaneous in the literary tradition, as a moral judgment passed by posterity on the excesses of Achaeans.3 D. Bouvier shows, in the same vein, how the hybris of Achilles is denounced by the idiosyncratic skyphos by Brygos in Vienna, where the hero receives Priam in his tent while laying on a kline and eating meat. Bouvier emphasizes the downgrading: in Homer, Achilles sits on a thronos; besides, heroes eat seated, not reclining, and when shown reclining at a symposion, they only drink, not eat.

The series of papers dealing with the Greek tragedy continues with D. Pralon’s analysis of the seven or eight preserved fragments of Sophocles’ Polyxena. M.-A. Sabiani’s article on the other hand is a fine analysis of Sophocles’ Ajax. She deals with that sui generis form of heroism that Ajax acquires by leading two wars, against the Trojans and against the Achaeans, resulting in his own suicide being a mixture of defeat and victory.4

Although she unfortunately provides just a frugal discussion of previous scholarship, C. Plichon offers valuable suggestions about the Rhesos, which she situates in a tradition (Aeschylus’s Persians) where the main subject of the play is the enemy. She concludes that representing otherness is done there mostly in terms of the self — the Trojans are a double of the Achaeans, Rhesos is an Achilles, the play is an Iliad in reverse. A. Lebeau examines the image of defeated Troy in Euripides. If Troy is barbarian in Euripides’ Helen and especially in Iphigenia in Aulis, while this is not the case in Homer, it must be, for Lebeau, with the sole purpose of raising the question whether the true barbarians are not the ruthless Achaeans. S. David raises the discussion on a more general level confronting the images of Thebes and of Troy as topoi of besieged cities.

A group of three alert articles deal with Troy in French theater. After papers by A. Mantero and F. Marchal-Ninosque focusing on plays from the Renaissance to Racine, respectively on the figure of Polyxena on stage at the end of the 18th century, B. Curatolo reviews the manipulations of the ancient substance of the myth in Giraudoux’s brilliant The Trojan war will not take place, a play popular with Classicists. One wonders why no modern work on this particular play is quoted, despite monographs of E. Frois 1971, R. Lewis 1971, G. Graumann 1979, and V. Korzeniowska 2004. By far the longest article (39 pages) in this volume is dedicated by G. Gaudefroy-Demombynes to the opera Achilles and Polyxena by Lully and Collasse (1687). This, no matter how admirable it is to have a plurality of perspectives on a given topic, is perhaps a bit much, and one suspects that some readers would have preferred an index to the volume instead of this article.

The excellent article by M. Benzi is one of the clearest, without being simplifying, accounts to date of recent attempts to understand the elusive Trojan war – la guerre fantôme, as he calls it. The paper ends somewhat anticlimactically with the author’s subscription to S. Hood’s theory that the sack of Troy might be better placed after the fall of both Hittites and Mycenaean palaces, which he is too quick to prop up with the observation that there are many details in Homer that do not agree with Mycenaean times. This paper, which also comes with a lavish bibliography, is a must read for anyone who teaches the Iliad and wants to flip the Homer medal on its archaeological face.

A. Trachsel and S. Rougier-Blanc probe into the mechanisms of the literary construction and reception of the image of Troy as a city. While the former focuses on the reflection of Troy in Hellanicus, Demetrius of Skepsis and Dio Chrysostom, the latter deals with Trojan architecture and urbanism. After collecting Homer’s epithets for Troy and the passages that deal with architecture in the Iliad (e.g. Priam’s palace, VI, 242 sq.), Rougier-Blanc quickly places them alongside the archaeological data. She rightly points out that the city of Troy, and particularly its fortifications, are often seen by Homer through the lens of a tiers lieu (or, with U. Hölscher’s phrase, a Zwischenstation), namely the Achaean camp, and considers B. Mannsperger’s hypothesis that the (memory of) the fortifications of the lower city of Troy VI may have actually inspired the description of the wall and ditch protecting the Achaean camp. The author knows the discussions of Ehrenberg and Lévy on the possible terminological distinction between asty and polis as lower and upper city, but does not use J. Weilhartner, “Ober- und Unterstadt von Troia im archäologischen Befund und in den homerischen Epen”, StTr 10, 2000, 199-210.

G. Ducoeur compares the Trojan horse with the one and only mechanical elephant in Sanskrit literature. The story (pp. 383-387) is taken from Buddhaghosa’s comments on Dhammapada (5th century AD): a wooden elephant, filled with warriors was used by Pradyota to capture the otherwise invincible Udayana, king of Vatsa, who will eventually marry his daughter. The laborious analysis, with command of both Greek and Indian texts, and extending to Caucasian epics, attempts to show that the Indian sources have not copied the Homeric tale, but rather that the same Indo-European shamanic motif is behind both. The horse as well as the elephant would thus rationalize practices that respond to the need of the Indo-European epic hero to break, by a feat of intelligence, the magical circle of power of the enemy. Ducoeur also re-casts Helen as a sort of Ulysses who finally arrives home (to Menelaos), after a number of erotic adventures, fulfilling an Indo-European cycle of marriages. (For a Vedic reading of Helen, already A. Suter “Aphrodite/Paris/Helen”, TAPA 117, 1987, 51-58).5

The volume turns out to have a quite misleading title, as it actually consists of loosely connected pieces of (generally fine) Homeric scholarship plus five articles on the Iliad in French culture. Given this otherwise commendable diversity, one regrets the absence of papers investigating for example the Mycenaean background of the debate, or Troy’s Anatolian profile. Iconographic sources are rarely appealed to, while archaeology is strongly underrepresented.


1. E.g. M. Korfmann, “Ilios ca 1200BC – Ilion ca 700BC. Report on findings from Archaeology” in F. Montanari ed., Omero tremila anni dopo, Roma 2002, 209-226; S. Hiller, “Two Trojan Wars? On the Destructions of Troy VIh and VIIa”, StTr 1 1991, 145-155. Full excavation reports from 2004 on are online here.

2. Again, it would have been interesting if the same author had taken into account different strands of evidence. For buried children from Troy VI, R. Becks, “Bemerkungen zu den Bestattungsplätzen von Troia VI,” in S. Blum et al. (eds)., Mauerschau: Festschrift für M. Korfmann, I, Remshalden 2002, 295-306, cf. U. Wittwer-Backofen, H. Kiesewetter, “Menschliche Überreste aus den Ausgrabungen in Troia”, StTr 7, 1997, 509-539.

3. For Astyanax and Priam the work of Laurens and Touchefeu is used, but not M.I. Wiencke, “An epic theme in Greek art”, AJA 58.4, 1954, 285-306; for the fall of Troy in ancient art Fartzoff refers the reader to volumes by Anderson and Mangold, to which one can now add S. Lowenstam, As Witnessed by Images: The Trojan War Tradition in Greek and Etruscan Art, Baltimore, 2008 and J. Latacz, et al. eds., Der Mythos von Troia in Dichtung und Kunst, Munich, 2008 (esp. part V).

4. The topic of Ajax’s similarities to Achilles has been of much interest (literature recently gathered by E. Barker, “Hero and Audience in Sophocles Ajax”, GaR 51, 1, 2004, p. 6. n19); for parallels between Ajax and Aeneas in the iconography, S. Woodford, M. Loudon, “Two Trojan Themes…”, AJA, 84, 1980.

5. Ducoeur only investigates Indian representations of the motive (one elephant on wheels in fig. 4). Note that the first of the two Gandhara reliefs with a Trojan horse so far discovered was published by J. Allan, “A Tabula Iliaca from Gandhara”, JHS 66 1946 21-23. The relevant Classical material was gathered by B.A. Sparkes, “The Trojan Horse in Classical Art”, GaR, 18.1 1971, 54-70. On the other hand, the reliefs of Tiglath-Pileser and Sennacherib strongly suggested to J.K. Anderson that Homer’s horse was inspired by Assyrian siege engines (“The Trojan Horse again”, CJ 66.1, 1970, 22-25). For Egyptian parallels of the story, Brit. Mus. papyrus Harris 500, J.W. Jones, “The Trojan Horse”, CJ 65.6 1970, 241-247.