The story of Troy speaks to all of us - the kidnapping of Helen, a queen celebrated for her beauty, sees the Greeks launch a thousand ships against the city of Troy, to which they will lay siege for ten whole years. It is a terrible war with casualties on all sides as well as strained relations between allies, whose consequences become tragedies.
In Troy you will find heroism and hatred, love and loss, revenge and regret, desire and despair. It is these human passions, written bloodily in the sands of a distant shore, that still speak to us today.
A comprehensive, readable and witty take on the classic story
In Troy, the third volume in his Greek Myths Reimagined series (following on from his bestsellers Mythos and Heroes), Stephen Fry re-tells the complex, timeless and thrilling story of the Trojan War.
Fry's narrative is based primarily on the story as related in Homer's The Iliad (c.800BCE), although he also draws on other relevant ancient texts including Aeschylus's The Orestia (c.458BCE), Euripides's Iphigenia at Aulis (c.420BCE), and Virgil's The Aeneid (c.19BCE) together with more modern works such as Chaucer's (c.1380-90) and Shakespeare's (1601) interpretations of the story of Troilus and Cressida. Whether, and to what extent the legend is based on historical events remains a matter for fascinating conjecture between historians, classicists, archaeologists and linguists. For context, the battles upon which the stories are based are believed to have occurred at some point between 1280BCE and 1160BCE, up to 3,300 years ago, during the Bronze age.
While I must admit to never having read a translation of The Iliad in its entirety, I came to Troy with a reasonable degree of familiarity with the subject matter, having been fortunate to visit the sites of Mycenae, Sparta and Troy myself some years ago and having subsequently studied The Orestia. While a basic understanding of the story and knowledge of the major players are useful, I believe that Fry's Troy would also provide an entertaining, comprehensive and readable opportunity for those readers not already familiar with the legends.
To summarise the plot, Paris, an impetuous prince of Troy (a prosperous city-state located on what is now Turkey's northern Aegean coast), visits the Mycenean city-state of Sparta (on modern Greece's Peloponnesian peninsula) and abducts (either willingly or not) the queen, Helen, who is renowned as the most beautiful woman in the world. Helen's aggrieved husband, King Menelaus of Sparta, assembles an expeditionary force, led by his brother, King Agamemnon of Mycenae and featuring legendary heroes including Odysseus of Ithaca, Achilles and Ajax, who together set out with a flotilla of 1,000 ships to invade Troy and bring Helen home to Sparta. Priam, King of Troy, supported by his heroic son Hector and various Ethiopian, Macedonian and Amazon allies, holds off the invasion for 9 years before a final decisive series of battles and the rather inventive use of a large wooden horse bring the conflict to a bloody conclusion. Meanwhile, the Olympian gods, who initiated the series of events in the first place, can't resist but take sides and interfere at various points during the hostilities.
As Fry rightly points out in his introduction, both the chronology and the enormous cast of interrelated characters can be bamboozling for readers. I much appreciated the explanatory map, timeline and list of characters in this regard. The book is illustrated with many photographic images of works of art inspired by the story. While I read Troy in the cumbersome protected PDF format for review, I would strongly recommend reading this book in physical form, for ease of reference back and forth.
Troy is an engrossing, well-written and (at times) wryly amusing re-telling of a classic tale of human passions, hubris, endeavour and heroism. I can recommend it highly to all readers, from middle grades and up, with an interest in history, myth, adventure, human nature or who seek simply a rollicking good read.