By Homer, Stanley Lombardo
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For the Greeks of the eighth century and afterward, these were works of history, authoritative records of their own past. A modern historian might be more inclined to label them historical fiction, thinking that whatever conflict lies behind the story of the Trojan War is more likely to have been fought over trade routes to the Black Sea than—as Homer tells it—over the Trojans' theft from the Greeks of the world's most beautiful woman, Helen of Troy. In any case, like most works of historical fiction—or indeed of history—the Iliad and the Odyssey reflect the time (or, in this case, the times) of their telling at least as much as the time in which they are set.
624-25). But he does keep retreating from his announced plan of leaving Troy, first telling Phoenix that he will decide in the morning whether or not to go and then telling Ajax that he will stay out of the war until he is personally threatened, until Hector is about to burn his own huts and ships. The episode concludes with a disparity between what Achilles is INTRODUCTION able to think and say and what he is actually able to do that the rest of the poem must resolve. The debate between Achilles and Agamemnon's ambassadors ends there and is never explicitly taken up again, but the rest of the Iliad tells how Achilles ends up doing what he has so adamantly insisted he will not do, fighting again for the Greeks.
We do not really know what happened, but all of the main archaeological sites show some evidence of destruction, burning, or hasty abandonment at about that time, and a sharp decline thereafter in the ambition and complexity of their material culture. Among these is the site of Troy itself, which was discovered in the late nineteenth century by Heinrich Schliemann, who followed the topographical details given in the Iliad; through this discovery, Schliemann both vindicated the historical validity of Homer and helped to found the field of archaeology.