Trojan War in Greek Art

The Trojan War was a pivot and popular legend for ancient Greek art and literature. The story of the Trojan War has been accounted multiple times over the past millennia as well as made famous by Homer’s epics poems such as the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Sack of Troy as well as several other scenes such as the Judgement of Paris and Ajax carrying the body of Achilles has been prevalent in the works of Greek art in a multitude of mediums in the form of vase-painting, sculptures and mosaics and were very popular scenes to recount for Athenian vase-painters as well as throughout Ancient Greek history. As well-known as the tale of The Trojan War was, it was more than just epic battles, violence and glory; especially to the Ancient Greeks. The Ancient Greeks really resonated with the history of their cities and with the famed battle that destroyed ancient Troy. The city of Troy had allegedly been sacked and burned well over a millennia before modern archeologists and historians sought to find evidence of these so called legends through Homer’s epic poems. The Trojan War was so versatile in its influence that even the Romans have incorporated the mythology in their art. However, it is quite interesting to note that no single ancient text provides the complete story of the Trojan War; instead, it has been pieced together from several sources.

Greeks viewed their own culture through the perspective of the Trojan War mythology and this is evident through their art. With the constant retelling and modifying to align with a different perspective as people sought to utilize the epics of the Trojan War. Because of the reshaping of the retellings being shared throughout the years in tales it has been used as propaganda especially in Greek art, how the Greeks used the mythology of the Trojan war in artistic contexts. In my paper for Dr. Higgin’s Greek Art and Archaeology course, I will seek to answer this question. To do this, I shall first examine the known art pieces such as vase-paintings, friezes on temples, sculptures etc. of interpreted scenes from the Trojan War as well as the mythology of the deities associated with the Trojan War. Next, I will can examine the mythological scenes in contrast with the battle scenes and its use as propaganda.   Annotated Bibliography: Woodford, S. (1993). The Trojan War in Ancient Art. Cornell University Press. In Susan Woodford’s book, The Trojan War in Ancient Art, from an art historical context compares the legend by Homer and many other scholars and authors with the illustrations on different mediums of art. Using this analysis for my paper, it will become clearer as to which versions of the legends are more chronologically accurate to the series of the events that allegedly caused the Trojan war compared to the mythology. This book will be very useful for my topic as it has so much relevant information to the mythology as well as the multitude of illustrations of art pieces they are depicted on. Rorimer, J. (1939). A Fifteenth-Century Tapestry with Scenes of the Trojan War. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 34(10), 224-227 

In this article, Rorimer describes a tapestry that illustrates eleven scenes from the Trojan war that have been made in the fifteenth century AD for Charles V of Rome as well as Henry VII of England and Louis XII of France. In the tapestries, there are also French inscriptions as well as Latin. Despite the fact that this article does not talk about art in Ancient Greece depicting the Trojan war, Rorimer does shed light into how far the Trojan war has influenced art well into the fifteenth century AD. Pollitt, J. (1994). Greek art: Classical to Hellenistic. In D. Lewis, J. Boardman, S. Hornblower, & M. Ostwald (Eds.), The Cambridge Ancient History (The Cambridge Ancient History, pp. 647-660). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521233484.025 Although it is only a short reference, Pollitt describes a scene from the Trojan war in the pedimental sculptures from the temple of Asclepius. The sack of Troy with the death of Priam representing the east group represented at its centre which I will include as a subheading for this scene on for the topic of my paper. It includes a very detailed description of features and movements of the sculptures as well as provides a background of the scene illustrated in the sculptures. Despite the paragraph being quite short, it does give some insight to the level of emotion emphasized on the statues which the sculptor and viewer can empathize with. Hart, M., & Anderson, M. (1998). 

In Hart & Anderson’s article, they state that in Archaic and Early Classical Athens, the Ilioupersis was the most popular Trojan story. The article also mentioned that the Athenian people reference their own efforts in the Trojan war by sculpting the Sack of Troy on some of the Parthenon metopes. The article also maintains that reason for the Trojan war being depicted as a “contemporary conflict” by Greek vase-painters or sculptors as well as modern historians is because the mythology behind it remain so compelling as story which makes it a prime topic for propaganda. This is a crucial point for my argument that the Trojan war, aside from being a historical event has been molded into propaganda. Burgess, J. (2001). The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the epic cycle Jonathan S. Burgess.Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press. In Burgess’s article, he quotes Finley in suggesting that we should move the narrative of the Trojan War from the realm of history into the realm of myth and poetry until we have more archeological evidence instead of depictions in art which could be used as propaganda during those times of war. The lines between reality and fantasy might be blurred, particularly when Zeus, Hera, and other gods become involved in the war. However, Burgess does agree that Troy and the Trojan War are accurate to the location in northwestern Anatolia as well as  dating to the Late Bronze Age, although some of the details are debatable. Sparkes, B. (1971). 

Sparkes references several instances where the Trojan Horse is depicted in vase-paintings, sculptures as well as freizes. Some examples of these are Athena making the Trojan Horse Attic red figure cup and Sack of Troy (Death of Priam) Attic red figure in red-figure painted vase. Among those Sparkes’ has referenced, he also goes in depth to give his opinion on whether what is depicted is more myth or historically accurate if Troy really did exist. Harrison, J., & Spielmann, Marion. (1883). GREEK MYTHS IN GREEK ART.-II. 

In Harrison’s article, he mentions that out of all the dramatic scenes and heroes of the Trojan War, the most beloved theme was the Sack of Troy and the death of King Priam in art in the form of vase paintings and on friezes on Greek temples. From the earliest known monumental sculpture at the temple of Artemis on Corfu that depicted the death of King Priam within its pediment and metope, to the myriad of illustrations on different art pieces that portrayed the destruction of Troy with scenes such as the rape of Cassandra, and the death of Priam, it was this part of the Trojan War and its corresponding artwork that was most popular, which had an influence even on the Romans after they conquered the Greeks. Dow, S. (1960). From Mycenae to Homer. A Study in Early Greek Literature and Art (Book Review).

Although this article does not solely focus on the art and legend of the Trojan War, it does include a short subheading of Greek vase painting and sculptures with reference to some scenes related to the Trojan War. In Dow’s review of Webster’s journal article, Dow deals solely with vase painting and architectural sculpture, and more specifically with the depiction of space and “landscape” in these two categories of images. Shapiro, H. A. (2002). Myth into art: poet and painter in classical Greece. Routledge. In Shapiro’s paper, he questions whether the Late Geometric vase-painters, set out to represent specific heroic myths. For an example of this, he describes the scene on a Late Geometric bowl , of a man and woman embarking on a big oared ship, looks unquestionably like a heroic subject and not one drawn from everyday life. However, whether it represents Paris taking Helen on board to set sail for Troy, or Theseus leading Ariadne away from Crete, or yet another mythological couple, is, still up for debate. He suggests that there can be no question that many of their compositions have a ‘narrative,’but that the vase painter did not have the tools to be as detailed as modern historians would have liked. Woodford, S., & Loudon, M. (1980). Two Trojan Themes: The Iconography of Ajax Carrying the Body of Achilles and of Aeneas Carrying Anchises in Black Figure Vase Painting.

In Woodford & Loudon’s paper, they discuss the iconography of two themes in the Trojan war: Ajax carrying the body of Achilles in contrast with Aeneas carrying Anchises which were both popular with black figure workshops of the last third of the sixth century B.C. Both Achilles and Aeneas were hailed heroes by the Ancient Greeks but were considered different but also similar in the mythology of the Trojan war. Achilles in the mythology as well as in some art was depicted as heroic but selfish in contract to Aeneas who was depicted as heroic and selfless but both were at opposite sides of the war. This could contribute to the Greeks vs the other or barbarian mentality which relates to the topic of propaganda of the times using the Trojan War. Williams, R. (1949). Ships in Greek Vase-Painting. 

This article is quite noteworthy because in it, William compares Homer’s description of ship that were used in The Iliad and The Odyssey during the Trojan war with the types of ships used in Greece around Homer’s time period. In the article, William argues that although Homer described the ships used in the Trojan war in his poems, they may not be accurate to the type of ships that were built in the time period of the alleged time period the the Trojan war may have actually occurred. Wickramasinghe, Chandima S. M. (2011). Visual Representation of the Trojan War in Attic Clay Vases.

In this article, Wickranmasinghe observes how certain scenes of the Trojan War illustrated in Attic black and red figure vases illustrate different scenes then the ones described by  Homer’s the Iliad. Wickramaainghe seeks to show the reader that it is not accurate to use representations from art work, in this case Attic black and red figure vases specifically, to validate literary or poetic portrayal. Another reason suggested in the article is that the painter or sculpture has artistic license or may not want to conform their art to someone else’s story. This is interesting in that it explains how some scenes that are about the Trojan war do not necessarily adhere to the Homeric story. Doherty, J. (2012). The Judgment of Paris in Roman Painting.

Although not solely about Greek art, Doherty’s paper demonstrates the impact of the history and mythology of the Trojan war on other nations. The marked popularity of the judgment in Roman painting is matched if not exceeded in Greek art, where it appears hundreds of times on extant red- and black-figure pottery made from the seventh through the fourth centuries BCE. It is also very interesting to see how Doherty explains how differently a Greek viewer of the Trojan vase paintings would interpret the mythology in comparison with how a Roman viewer would interpret it.   Powell, B. (2009). As Witnessed by Images. The Trojan War Tradition in Greek and Etruscan Art. 

In this article, Powell argues that The Iliad and the Odyssey are not myths or legends, but works of literature, in that they are stories that are not just told incoherently but are told from the speaker point of view, which could include a bias. Furthermore, Powell also argues that just because an artist or sculptor did not incorporate some details of Homer’s poems in their art piece, does not mean that his depiction is not a faithful depiction to the literature or the historical event. This article is essential to my because it gives a lot of arguments on both sides of the debate: if the Trojan war was more of mythology or a real historic event.