We’ve all grown up with the stories of Troy – the beauty of Helen, her relationships, and the successful attack by the Greeks using the device of the famous Trojan horse, while Homer’s stories tell us of the battles between the gods and the long journeys of the Greek heroes. Were these romantic myths or did they record something of a history that has been lost?
The exhibition at the British Museum starts and ends with art from the modern world, with Anthony Caro’s ‘The Trojan War’ and Cy Twombly’s ‘Revenge of Achilles’ at the start and Spencer Finch’s ‘Sword of Achilles’ at the end, along with John Flaxman’s early 19th recreation of the original (which is also on show in the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace in the current exhibition on the collecting and patronage of King George VI).
In between, the history of Troy weaves from the Greek myths, through Homer’s stories to the excavations of the different levels of Troy’s history by Heinrich Schliemann and the enduring readaptation of the story in art, film and writing. The stories of Helen of Troy, Achilles, Agamemnon, Paris and the apple and the capture of Troy by the Greeks using a wooden horse, plus all the other characters remain as fascinating today as they ever did. The historic story continued into the 20th century with worries that the ‘Jewels of Helen’ had been lost in bombing during the Second World War, whereas in reality they had been captured by the Soviets as reparations and taken back to Russia, where they remain today, another piece of the ever-enduring history of Troy.