Many have probably heard about the Trojan horse, one of the first tricks ever used in war. The Greeks who attack Troy pretend to leave with their thousand ships, but hide instead behind an island. They leave a giant wooden horse on the beach – the Trojan horse. The inhabitants of Troy believe it’s a sacrifice to the goddess Athena and pull the horse into the city. However, the horse is full of Achaean warriors who jump out of the horse in the night and open the city gates for the rest of the army.
But now wait. Isn’t it a bit strange that an army builds a giant wooden horse? Isn’t it more likely that they just leave one of their thousand ships as a sacrifice to Athena? Or at least builds an owl, which is the sign of Athena? Or a statue of Athena herself? Why a horse?
The story about the Battle of Troy was preserved orally for a very long time. Myths wander and spread and what if the poets over time didn’t understand the original story? Especially if the story had traveled far from its place of origin? That it wasn’t a Trojan horse but a Trojan ship?
But everyone knows it wasn’t a horse, don’t they?
In another ancient Greek story, the Odyssey, about the hero Odyssey’s wanderings after the Battle of Troy, his wife Penelope says that “ships are like horses on the sea”. As the centuries passed by, the poets may not have understood that the original story referred to a ship and really believed it was a horse.
The same metaphor was used in the Nordic Viking society. Here the word “horse” was used as a metaphor for ”ship”. Ships had an enormous significance in the ancient culture of the North. We see that even today from the stone ships and ship burials that are found throughout the Nordic region. There is also a similar Viking story, but with a coffin, about Hastein, one of Ragnar Lodbrok’s sons.
Ragnar Lodbok uses a similar ruse
Ragnar Lodbrok’s son Hastein pretended he wanted to convert to Christianity and then feigned death. As a newly saved Christian, he was laid in a coffin by the Romans. His “despaired” shipmates were invited to the funeral, but during the ceremony, Hastein jumps out of the coffin and cuts the throat of the high priest. His fifty men draw their weapons and plunder and burn the city. However, the city wasn’t Rome but the smaller town of Luna.
The story about the Trojan horse must have been created somewhere where ships were important and where horses were used as a metaphor for ships. And everybody at that time knew that it wasn’t a horse that the poets told about but a ship. But when the story was written down far later, it was in Greece, in a culture where people didn’t understand the metaphor.
It isn’t just the Trojan horse that’s strange. Much else in the ancient Greek works the Iliad, about the Battle of Troy, and the Odyssey, about the hero Odysseus, doesn’t match the Greek environment very well at all. Most of the heroes are blond, the summer nights are cool, and the men warm themselves in front of fires and wear woolen mantles. In the middle of summer.
The Battle of Troy in its original environment
My goal has been to retell the Battle of Troy in its original environment, such as it’s described in the Iliad (Ilion is another name for Troy). As long as we read the story with a Greek filter in front of our eyes, we don’t see what the Iliad actually tells us. The Iliad describes a primitive and cold environment. The fighting continues throughout the nights, because the summer nights in the North are so bright. The battlefield is foggy and it’s cloudy and cold. The warriors throw stones at each other in something that mostly resembles a large Viking raid. Unlike all the movies, books, and theater plays about the Battle of Troy, I have kept word for word to the Iliad, about a fatal battle between mighty chieftains far up in the North.
ILION is available on Amazon.