The Trojan War is one of the most famous armed conflicts in all of history. It's Older Than Feudalism, and so is the subject of more stories and songs than you can shake a stick at and became Trope Namer for a whole lot of stuff. It was fought between the Achaeans (or Greeks from a modern perspective) and the Trojans, who eventually lost. But that's not all there is to the story. And the legends are by no means consistent. Not to be confused with the Trojan Gauntlet.
So here we have Peleus and Thetis, happily chilling out at the wedding feast, maybe smooching a bit, when Eris crashes the party. Onto the table she throws a golden apple, inscribed with the word "kallisti"—"to the fairest." And, Eris's domain being what it is, immediately every woman at the party began squabbling over who ought to be the owner of that apple, who was fairest of them all.
Eventually the argument got narrowed down to three final contestants: Hera, the queen goddess of the Achaeans;* Athena, goddess of wisdom, cunning and craft; and Aphrodite, goddess of love, sex and pleasure. Since none of them could come to a decision (and Zeus, for once, wasn't stupid enough to get involved), they decided to pick an impartial judge, a young man who had recently shown fairness and dignified defeat in a contest against Ares. His name was Paris and he was, at the time, herding sheep on the outskirts of Troy, the city where his father Priam ruled. There was this prophecy, you see, that he would cause Troy's destruction, which was why he stayed away from there as much as possible; plus he was shacking up with a nymph at the time. Anyhow, the three goddesses appeared to him on Mount Ida and asked him to decide who ought to own that stupid MacGuffin apple.
Of course, Greek gods aren't into playing fair, so all three of them offered bribes. "Pick me," Hera told him, "and you will be king of all of Europe and Asia." "Pick me," Athena offered, "and I'll give you A Level in Badass." "Pick me," Aphrodite retorted, "and I'll get you laid. And not just with any girl, either: with Helen, the World's Most Beautiful Woman. She's supermodel hot and freakin' great in the sack. Pick me, and that's what you get."
Of course, things weren't quite that simple. For one, by the time Paris got his hands on her, Helen was already married to a man named Menelaus. He was likely one rough-and-tumble son of a bitch, seeing as how he was king of Sparta at the time. When Helen came of weddable age, he was one of many suitors (anywhere from 25 to 36, depending on whom you're reading) who begged her father Tyndareus for her hand, which was a risky process at the time because Helen was the most desirable woman in the world. Everyone—Ajax, Diomedes, Menelaus, Odysseus, just to name a few* —wanted her to be his wife, but at the same time no one wanted Tyndareus to choose him, because the others might immediately gang up on him for a bit of the classic "Murder the Hypotenuse." Eventually it was Odysseus who came up with the solution: "Since we're all men who put Honor Before Reason, let's swear a vow that, whoever Tyndareus chooses for Helen, we will support him and protect their marriage." Thus immunized from fatal cases of sword-through-face, the suitors carried on with their courting, and eventually Helen was given to Menelaus.
But marriage bonds mean nothing to Aphrodite; that's Hera's domain. Paris, having ditched the nymph without a backward glance, visited Sparta under the guise of a diplomatic mission, and seduced Helen while he was there. The exact nature of the relationship between them is ambiguous even in Homer, much less his translations; nobody knows if Helen was forced into it by Aphrodite's love magic, or if she consented to it of her own will. Whatever the case, Paris got his mad hot sexing, and went home happy.
Only he took Helen with him.
Again, the level of consent has been left ambiguous. Did Helen take some "convincing" (from Paris or Aphrodite), or did she love him enough to go voluntarily? Whatever the case, Menelaus was understandably pissed. He initiated diplomacy, to his credit, but it failed, and so he invoked the oath he and all the others had sworn. "You said you'd protect my marriage. So come, protect it. Help me get my wife back." The fabled thousand ships saddled up and set course for Troy, where (despite aforementioned prophecy) the Trojans had offered Paris and Helen sanctuary.
The first thing the Achaeans did was get lost, which you'd expect of a military expedition consisting solely of men. The ships then managed to get caught up in a storm and were scattered. Eight years later, they finally reconverged at Aulis, where Artemis refused to let them set sail until Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia, whose life was apparently decent payment for the sacred deer the king slew at some point or another.* Agamemnon isn't happy about this (particularly as the choice isn't really up to him—if he didn't go through with it, his men would almost certainly have killed him and were likely to kill Iphigenia anyway), but in most versions he complies, and somehow the thousand ships make it to Troy, albeit some eight years late.
Homer's The Iliad taking place late during the last year of this ten-year conflict.* The Iliad focuses mostly on Achilles, that legendary almost-immortal figure. Scuttlebutt is that Thetis dipped him in the River Styx when he was an infant, thus coating him with unkillable somehow. The only bit of him left vulnerable was his Achilles' Heel, which is where she held onto him.note Anyhow, the story starts with Achilles in His Tent, irritated by politics. Agamemnon had taken a girl, Chryseis, captive, and her father, a major priest of Apollo, begged for her return — offering to pay the proper ransom and all that. Agamemnon was not inclined to do so, but Apollo threw a plague at the Achaeans in retribution, after which Agamemnon changed his mind. However, to compensate himself for the loss, he took Briseis, Achilles's war prize, for himself. Achilles, who seriously believed "It's All About Me," was rather emo about this and decided to not fight anymore. With Achilles out of the picture, the Trojans start winning in his absence.
Paris offers to decide the war by dueling Menelaus. Since Paris is the original Non-Action Guy, he loses pretty badly, and has to rely on Aphrodite to whisk him away. (She dumps him in Helen's bed—like, literally. Sex fixes everything for Aphrodite.) But here politics enters again: Hera, who hates the Trojans on principle, manages to get a Trojan archer to break the agreement by hitting Menelaus with an arrow. War happens again, and this time the gods join in. Both Aphrodite and Ares, particularly, join in on the side of the Trojans, which leads to an instance when a mortal named Diomedes, who (with the help of Athena) trounces them both. They go whining back to Olympus, and in Ares's case Zeus yells at him to stop acting like a Spoiled Brat.
Achilles is still in his tent, so Agamemnon swallows his pride and offers him a ton of gifts (including Briseis), but Achilles refuses. So, to help put some heart into his allies, Achilles' best friend and protégé Patroclus puts on Achilles' armor and leads the Myrmidons into battle. This all ends up Gone Horribly Wrong: Hector, crown prince of Troy and Paris's older brother, manages to kill Patroclus in battle.
With Patroclus now Stuffed in the Fridge, Achilles is... a little upset. Given an armor upgrade by the Gods, he dons his gear and returns to the fight, singlehandedly routing the Trojans (not to mention the patron demigod of a river who was complaining about being stuffed with corpses). The only one brave enough to face him is the family man in this war story, Hector.* This turns out about as well as you might expect when a normal human being faces an unkillable death machine. Achilles then ties Hector's body to the back of his chariot and, in revenge for Hector planning to feed Patroclus' body to the dogs, proceeds to ride around Patroclus' burial mound every day, showing off his victory. Eventually, King Priam visits Achilles in his tent and begs for the body. This is enough of a Heel Realization for Achilles, and he concedes with good grace. And that's where The Iliad ends.
The war kept going after that, of course. (For that matter, a lot of stuff happened before all this, but the we only have fragments and summaries of the other six epics of The Trojan Cycle so, umm, we'll leave that off for now.) Achilles eventually died when the gods decided he had too high of a kill score, but it's interesting that every interpretation of the event portrays his killer (generally Paris) as a Dirty Coward who needed underhanded tactics to take him down; Achilles died undefeated. And, of course, by most accounts, he died of a poisoned arrow,* having been struck in his Achilles' Heel, thus providing a later explanation for the whole invulnerability thing. Paris himself was later felled by a well-placed arrow, allegedly from the bow of Philoctetes.
The Trojan Horse, meanwhile, was Odysseus's great stroke of genius, with Athena's advice; the horse was sacred to the Trojans, which is why they saw it as a meaningful tribute to Poseidon (the god of the sea, earthquakes, and horses). As a result, it's been claimed that the "actual event" which got Shrouded in Myth was an earthquake toppling the gates, which the Trojans had to dismantle to get the horse inside. Only a couple of people suggested it might be a trap; one of them was Cassandra (The Cassandra), telling the original Cassandra Truth. But it was all for naught. Every man of Troy was killed, the babies thrown off the wall. Every woman (who wasn't accidentally offed in the slaughter) was Made a Slave. Troy itself was burned to the ground. There may have been some free survivors, depending on who you read; two of the other epics, the Little Iliad and the Sack of Ilion, claim a fellow named Aeneas (apparently Priam's cousin) got away —a tradition which Virgil ran with in The Aeneid— but if you don't believe them, then it was a Total Party Kill as far as its citizens were concerned. Victorious, the Achaeans began their journey home.
And that journey was its own piece of insanity. Because the Achaeans had gone a little overboard in the Rape, Pillage, and Burn of Troy and desecrated a lot of Olympian temples, the gods decided that a lot of them wouldn't make it home, and those that did would suffer on the journey. It took Menelaus and Helen eight years to get back. (It's on record that Helen and Menelaus had a daughter, Hermione, who was nine years old when Paris came to visit. When re-united, Hermione was 37. If not for the fact that she wasn't married yet, having been promised to somebody who was fighting the war, she would've had children and maybe grandchildren to show her mother by this time.) Odysseus took ten, as chronicled in his Spin-Off The Odyssey. A lot of other major heroes either died during the return or were eventually forced out of the city-states they ruled; one, Agamemnon, made it home relatively quickly but was flat-out murdered by his cheating wife (as was his new sex toy, Cassandra—talk about Woobiedom), with order only restored when his son Orestes offed his mom and her lover and assumed his father's throne (after sorting out The Furies, who do not take kindly to matricide, in a process which involves quite a bit more than paperwork and community service; as Aeschylus would have it, it ended up with a significant reform of the Athenian judicial system). Nestor, because he wasn't involved in these war crimes, was the only one allowed to return quickly and safely to his kingdom. Suffice to say that the Trojan War was a huge mess for everyone involved.
According to the Achaeans themselves, the Trojan War took place during the 12th or 13th century BC, with Troy itself located somewhere in northwestern Anatolia (today part of Turkey). During classical history, the Greeks accepted the war as fact, although many doubted that it transpired exactly as stated.note This continued through The Middle Ages. However from the time of The Enlightenment onwards, they began to doubt it. By the nineteenth century, historians believed Troy to be just north of Albany. Really.note The historian George Grote devoted only a few pages to it in his massive 11 volume History of Greece, stating (with the smug certainty and confidence that only Victorians could have) that it was a fun but baseless story... at least until archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann unearthed the ruins of a city he claimed to be Troy in 1870. His claims have not been challenged. Uh oh. Schliemann's died a year later, in 1871.
More archeology was done at the site, which confirmed the hypothesis. In the early 20th century, the writings of the Hittites and other contemporary civilizations were deciphered which seemed to affirm the theory.note But then a snag, further excavations seemed to show that the site was too small to have been a city of the type and nature stated in the story. But in the 1990s and the early 2000s, more and more discoveries once again led credence to the claims of historicity. The site is now thought to have been a major city,note and descriptions of the geography of the time is now confirmed to be in consonance with what we know. Looking deeper into the source you can see many clues in Greek records which seem to bear the story out.note Even within the story, there are clues that it's not an invention. The catalogue of ships in The Iliad — basically a list of all the troops from all the Greek cities involved — mentions cities that no longer existed at the time of its writing and whose existence could not have been known to Homer through any other means. So while there is no consensus, there is a great weight of evidence that something happened that was remembered, be it a series of wars or one rather memorable Trojan war (summary here). So why can't we put this to rest?
The problem is that there have been nine cities on the site, built in layers one atop the other. The oldest (Troy I) was founded somewhere around 3000 BC; the last (Troy IX) was founded by The Roman Empire somewhere around 100 BC. It is generally accepted that Troy VII is the city which the Achaeans burned to the ground. Part of the problem is that Schliemann is perhaps the world's luckiest decidedly amateur archaeologist; the deep gash he cut in the site makes it easy to date layers but hard to identify artifacts. As to the dates, the Achaeans weren't far off; scholars estimate the war took place around the 12th or 11th century BC, and (at least partially out of affection) often let stand the dates provided by the Greek historian Eratosthenes, 1194-1184 BC.
Troy was so very rich because it was a major trade route for bronze, and it was destroyed so very often because everyone wanted a piece of the action. To make things worse, they were also on the border when the cold war between the Achaeans and their Anatolian neighbours, the Hittites, turned hot. There are actual letters from the Hittite royal archive thought to discuss this war as what it was—a trade conflict—which takes away a lot of the romance.
However, a lot of this is still more speculative than you would think. For instance, the German archaeologist Dieter Hertel makes a not unconvincing case that the archaeological evidence is consistent with the city being destroyed by an earthquake, not war, and considers it more likely that migrating Aeolians eventually moved into the destroyed place and that the myths about Troy reflect either this or a previous unsuccessful Greek attack on Troy. He also casts doubt on the wealth and wider importance of Troy, pointing out that it was by no means the only town on the coast of that part of the Hellespontos. Finally, the identity of the town called "Wilusa" in Hittite sources with Ilium or Troy is still unproven. And in 2008 the Austrian writer and philologist Raoul Schrott after translating the Iliad from scratch and comparing it to Assyrian literature advanced the highly contentious hypothesis that Homer's work is set not in north-western Asia Minor, but in Cilicia, in the southeast.
The Love Triangle between Helen, Menelaus, and Paris does present issues consistent with an Arranged Marriage. Because Helen had a nine-year-old daughter by Menelaus, it can be assumed that the two of them had been married for at least that long when Paris arrived. This raises the question of how old Helen was, not to mention how old Paris was, and what sort of relationship they had. Keep in mind that, here in ancient Greece, girl-children were considered The Load: you had to pour wealth and food into them, and send them off with a dowry, and what would you get in return? The gratitude of her husband and his family, sure, but that might not be worth much. So the smartest thing you can do is get rid of this parasite as fast as possible. Greek girls were married off the instant they hit menstruation. Men, on the other hand, needed some time to build up industry and wealth before they took a wife. The end result was that, on her wedding night, Helen would have been something like 14, and Menelaus more like 30 or 35. It's quite unlikely that the two of them would have bonded in any meaningful way—not even in the "well, of course the most important thing in a marriage is the advantage, but spouses should at least like each other, if only to prevent scandal" kind of way that prevailed in the 19th and early 20th centuries. No, the Mycenaean Greek aristocracy was all in for arranged marriage, pure and simple.
Now enter Paris, who was probably much closer to Helen's age, with whom she could have bonded with as an emotional equal, and who was almost certainly more attractive to her than Menelaus for these reasons. This is one of the reasons it's so easy to provide an Alternate Character Interpretation for Helen: either way is perfectly in-character for an Achaean wife. Helen would have been dutiful, of course, and gotten on with her life as Menelaus' woman; but she was a normal human being too, who longed for love and probably didn't get to spend much time with anyone of equal status, male female or otherwise. Both forces were undoubtedly present in her heart. The fun part is deciding which one won. (Aphrodite's meddling notwithstanding, of course.)
So off Helen goes, and Menelaus rallied his forces. This would have been a lot more difficult than it sounds, because the Hellenes* were not particularly united at that point in time. This was the age of "Heroic Warfare", which is rather like the bronze-age version of feudalism: any central authority was pretty weak, so while a king like Agamemnon might theoretically command the loyalty of his vassals, it would be a real pain in the neck trying to get them all pointed in one direction and going off to fight the Trojans rather than feuding among themselves. Getting multiple kings to do this would have made cat-herding look easy. (Frankly, what's surprising is not that it took them eight years to land at Troy, but that it didn't take them longer.)
The military setup was rather medieval as well. In The Middle Ages, you had knights: professional soldiers, who spent all their time either fighting one war or training for the next one. In Mycenaean Greece, you had hippeis (or equeta, if you're reading in Latin), chariot warriors who filled much the same role. So, if these boys spent all their time sword-slinging, how did they eat and have a home to sleep in and clothes to put on their backs? They had a bunch of civilians* who worked for them to provide all these things, which in Medieval Europe were called "peasants" or "serfs," and in Ancient Hellas were called... umm, something.* But in any case: when you read Homer, you see this Red Shirt Army of names that are mentioned once—when they die—and it seems kind of pointless. But now you know that each one represents years of training and the collective effort of many people; the effect on Hellenic audiences would have been similar to your reaction to all those Jedi dropping like flies in Attack of the Clones. This gives you a sense of just how wasteful the war was. Finally, this also creates a rather amusing Real Life Continuity Snarl: since a semi-feudal society is presented in this war, feudalism is now officially Older Than Feudalism. Oops. snark But yes, older than the post-Roman, European feudalism that everybody knows better, anyway.
Also, we should talk about Sacred Hospitality. This value doesn't show up much in Western culture today (except in scattered places like the Deep South and certain areas around the Mediterranean, including the Balkans and modern Greece),note but the ancient Greeks were absolutely mad for it; in fact, the god who took domain over Sacred Hospitality was none other than Zeus himself. Xenia, sometimes translated as "guest-friendship" or "ritualized friendship," is the act of being really, really nice to passing strangers—they get the best food, the best wine, the seat of honor, gifts aplenty. Maybe he's a stranger, but you treat him like your favorite uncle. This had three major impacts on Hellenic life.
- It embodied the concept of "paying it forward." Life in ancient Hellas was pretty chaotic, and you never knew when you were going to find yourself at the mercy of strangers. (Seriously, the heroes of Greek myths are constantly washing up on distant, unmapped shores and having to beg help from the natives.) So do unto others as you would have them do unto you, right?
- It kept open the lines of diplomacy. Let's say you're at war with someone—the Spartans, to grab a name out of thin air. During the war, Menelaus comes to visit. Xenia requires that you treat him with honor and respect, even though he's your Arch-Enemy: the best food, the best wine, the place of honor, blablahetc, as opposed to (say) murdering him in his bed. And a good thing too, because what if he was coming to sue for peace? (Besides, a fellow Hellene was much more likely to be a Friendly Enemy than anything else. Warfare was more genteel in these days). Plus if you murder him under hospitality his Spartan buddies will be unhappy with you and will keep fighting in order to avenge their king, meaning wars escalate and never end. note
- You never knew when a passing stranger might be a god in disguise. A certain carpenter from Nazareth put it best: "As you did for the least of these, you did it for me." And rather unlike the carpenter, if you slighted a Greek god by ignoring him, he was not going to take it well—just ask Baucis and Philemon's neighbors. Oh right, you can't, Zeus turned them all into fish.
It's also worth noting that Helen was the actual Queen of Sparta, and that Menelaus only became king by marrying her. When Paris kidnapped/made off with her, he not only jeopardised Menelaus' position as king, but gave the Trojans a claim on a kingdom in mainland Greece. Given that after Paris's death, the Trojans marry Helen off to his brother Deiphobus, it seems likely that they were planning to make something of this claim, which the Greek-city states—and in particular the Myceneans under Agamemnon—would never have allowed.
Finally, there's often talk about what kind of relationship, precisely, existed between Achilles and Patroclus. The easiest jump to make is to the Hellenic custom of pederastic patronage; in the Erastes Eromenos relationship, the older man (the erastes) traded advice, networking and business connections to a younger man (the eromenos), who would in return make himself available for various sexual favors. The historical objection to Achilles and Patroclus having this kind of relationship is that it might not have existed at the time; this was a feature of Classical Athens, not Heroic Athens, and first developed in the 7th century BC, long after this war was fought. (Exact Words time: this does not preclude the two of them from having had some sort of other sexual or romantic relationship; there is no evidence about this one way or another.) Additionally, Patroclus was probably older than Achilles. Achilles also had a canonical son, who fought alongside him in the war. In fact, that son is who married Hermione at the end of things, with him being maybe 17 and her at least twice that. But that's another story. It also doesn't (or shouldn't) imply anything about the relationship Achilles had with Patroclus (whatever it was), since Achaeans were more sexually open type in those days.
The Trojan War is the Trope Namer for the following tropes:
- Achilles' Heel: Originates from The Achilleid, one of the many Roman fan fics about the Trojan War.
- Achilles in His Tent
- Apple of Discord
- The Cassandra
- Cassandra Truth
- Launcher of a Thousand Ships: Very indirectly — the phrase was first used to describe Helen by Christopher Marlowe ca. 1592 in his play Doctor Faustus. We use it to describe, not the World's Most Beautiful Woman, but a character who is excessively active in the Shipping aspects of a Fandom; that is, everyone is partnered with this person.
- Trojan Horse: Another famous Dead Unicorn Trope. It's not in the Iliad proper, but rather in supplemental texts, most of which are lost to history.
- Watching Troy Burn: One degree removed, as this is a cinematography trope, something Homer wasn't playing with. So adaptations of this are the true Trope Namers.
Tropes as portrayed in fiction:
- Adaptational Wimp: Modern adaptations tend to present Agamemnon as someone who commands from the (relative) rear without risking himself in battle, where in the Iliad he usually led the charge and even Hector would rather face Achilles.
- All for Nothing: The version where "Helen of Troy" never actually reached Troy, and the Greek army spent a decade besieging and then sacking the city when she was in Egypt all along.
- Because Destiny Says So: So much. Hector is very aware of his destiny to die in combat, but also knows that his death means Achilles' death as well. Paris is destined to start the Trojan war, and even sending him away won't change that. Odysseus is destined to wander for ten years before returning home, but he is also destined to return home. Achilles is destined to either live a long and happy life if he does not go to Troy, but his fame dies with him, or go to Troy, die in battle and his fame will be eternal and he knows it. Patroclus is destined to fall in battle. And everyone is aware that Troy is destined to fall.
- The Chosen One: Paris. He is the one destined to cause the Trojan War. It was prophesied by many seers, including his own mother Hecuba before Paris was born, that he (Paris) will be the one to cause the ultimate destruction of Troy.
- End of an Age: The Trojan War and its aftermath takes place at the end of the Greek mythological and heroic age.
- Hour of Power: An integral component of the Iliad is the concept of "aristeia" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristeia), meaning "excellence", and usually referring to a hero's finest moment in battle.
- In Book 5, Diomedes, mightiest hero of the Greeks in the absence of Achilles, gains the blessing of Athena and becomes unstoppable in combat, culminating in the only recorded instance of a mortal hero besting an Olympian in combat. Diomedes first defeats Aeneas, the noble Trojan warrior prince and second greatest warrior of Troy (and hero of a later epic cycle, the Aenied, in which he became the mythological ancestor of the founders of Rome), who also happened to be the demigod son of Aphrodite. When the Greek goddess of love came to her son's defense, Diomedes injured her as well and drove her from the war, as Athena had granted him the ability to see immortals on the battlefield. After this, Ares began to fight alongside Hector on the Trojan side, filling the Greek army with fear. Because of this direct divine aid by Ares, Athena herself appeared (unseen, having borrowed Hades's helm of invisibility) and drove Diomedes's chariot into battle against the god of war, which allowed Diomedes to drive his spear into Ares's belly - banishing the war god back to Olympus as he screamed in the voice of ten thousand warriors (at which Ares complains to Zeus about the injury, leading to Zeus telling Ares to stop whining about losing).
- In Book 8, Hector, the greatest Trojan hero, receives his own moment of excellence, dominating the battlefield with the aid of the thunderbolts of Zeus.
- In Book 11, Agamemnon, chief commander of the Greeks, joins the fight and shows that he too is one of the mightest warriors and provides one of the earliest examples of the Frontline General.
- Book 16 functions as an Ur-Example of a Hope Spot, when Patroclus dons the armor of Achilles and manages to inspire the Greeks and rout the Trojans until he meets Hector (and his death) on the field of battle.
- Books 20-22 detail the legendary invincible rage that Achilles is known for, and demonstrate why he was known as the "best of the Achaeans" ("aristos achaion"), when he goes on a Roaring Rampageof Revenge against the Trojans following the death of Patroclus, clogged the river Scamander with so many bodies that the spirit of the river got angry and appeared, fought the river Scamander itself, eventually killed Hector, and mutilated his enemy's corpse by dragging it behind his chariot every day until King Priam of Troy personally travelled to the Greek camp to beg Achilles for his son's body back, which is when Achilles realizes he went too far in his rage and the surviving fragments of the Iliad conclude.
- Interspecies Romance: Achilles parents, Peleus the human actually marries Thetis, the sea nymph.
- Lineage Comes from the Father: And you are going to hear about EVERYONE'S father sooner or later. As an awful lot of people were fathered by gods (most notably being Achilles), this is rather important.
- Nigh-Invulnerability: Although Achilles has acquired this reputation from the The Achilleid, it's just from The Achilleid - in the Iliad, he's no more invulnerable than any other soldier; though he's a lot more lethal.
- The Quest: The Odyssey is almost the Trope Namer.
- Questionable Consent: Zeus/Leda, Thetis/Peleus, Paris/Helen, Achilles/Briseis, Odysseus/Calypso, Odysseus/Circe
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: To an extent. Thetis is irresistably beautiful, which predictably catches Zeus's attention; unfortunately it is prophesied that her son will be far greater than his father. Understandably enough, Zeus (and the other Olympians) deem it unwise to bed her in light of this, and in consequence she is forced to marry a mortal king, Peleus, thus giving birth to Achilles. It is not made clear whether she really had the potential to birth a son greater than Zeus himself, but his fear of this causes the prophecy to come true.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Menelaus and Helen fit the letter in some portrayals, though not necessarily the spirit. Menelaus is at the very least less good-looking than Paris.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Aeneas does show up in The Iliad as something of a Mauve Shirt, but is never mentioned again. This is how Virgil, writing centuries later, was able to Retcon him into being the Hero of Another Story.
- You Can't Fight Fate: When Paris is born his parents are told he is destined to start a war that will kill them all. His father orders him killed, but, as is always the way in these tales, the servant charged to do it can't get up the courage and raises him as his own son. Of course, Paris returns to Troy, is hailed as the lost prince, and—starts the war. And it kills them all.
Works based around the Trojan War include:
- Age of Bronze by Eric Shanower tells the story in detail (including the lesser-known parts like how difficult it was for Agamemmnon to get his vassals together), removing the mythological elements: the children of gods are actually their priests, Helen is beautiful because she spends a lot of time on cosmetics, Cassandra being spurned by Apollo was her being raped by a pedophile in a temple, etc.
- The French comic book series Le Dernier Troyen ("The Last Trojan") is the whole story Recycled In Space and in the future (beginning with a poet named Virgil telling the story to a Space Roman emperor). Strangely enough, most of the supernatural elements are still present but dealt with through science (the Amazons are a One-Gender Race who used genetics to remove one of their breasts, the Medusa is defeated when it catches sight of itself in a surveillance room). Oh, and the Trojan Horse is a hollow asteroid that looks like a horse's head.
- The Italian comic L'Iliade a Fumetti ("The Iliad as a Comic Book") is aimed to tell the story of The Iliad to young children, softening it up with ruthless humor. The end of the war is shown in one of the two sequels, L'Eneide a Fumetti ("The Aeneid as a Comic Book").
- In Lilith the first place the time-travelling protagonist visits is Wilusa during the Ahhiyawa siege, later noted to be the basis of the myth of the Trojan War.
- Achilles, a 1995 Stop Motion short. It is an abridged version of The Iliad, and portrays Achilles and Patroclus as lovers.
- Featured as one of the time periods visited in Mr. Peabody & Sherman, with Agamemnon voiced by Patrick Warburton. Sherman joins the Greeks inside the Trojan Horse... which is itself infiltrated by Mr. Peabody in a smaller wooden horse.
Odysseus: I found this small wooden horse just like ours! Should I bring it in?
Agamemnon: ...It'd be rude not to.
- The Fall of Troy (La Caduta di Troia), a 1910 Italian film. Probably the earliest film ever made about the Trojan War.
- Helen of Troy: A German silent film, a Golden/Silver Age Hollywood epic film and a 2003 miniseries.
- Iphigenia, a 1977 film adaptation of Euripedes' play Iphigenia at Aulis
- Troy, the Modern Hollywood version of the war.
- The Aeneid by Virgil starts with the Trojans' debate over what to do with the Horse and follows Aeneas after he leaves.
- Dares Phrygius' History of the Fall of Troy. Supposedly the eyewitness account of Dares of Phrygia, a Trojan priest mentioned in The Iliad. However, as the Latin work uses 5th century CE language and there is no mention of the work prior to that time, it must be inferred that the true author was an anonymous Late Roman writer. Notable for telling the story of the war from a Trojan viewpoint, probably directly inspired by Dictys of Crete's Chronicle of the Trojan War. Dares Phrygius' History of the Fall of Troy was the most influential description of the Trojan War for the Middle Ages, as medieval Western Europe tended to side with the Trojans, on account of The Aeneid which glorifies the survivors of Troy as the forefathers of the Romans, and thus, indirectly, Western European civilization.
- Dictys of Crete's Chronicle of the Trojan War: Supposedly the journal of Dictys, a companion of King Idomeneus of Crete in The Iliad, which was buried together with its author and later recovered from his tomb; but more realistically a slightly tongue-in-cheek 4th century work using Direct Line to the Author.
- Parodied in the Discworld novel Eric: The Tsortians are bright enough to think that a giant wooden horse with trapdoors in it probably shouldn't be dragged into the city walls, the attackers go around the back into a servant's entrance while the Tsortians are looking at the horse, and war had been dragging on for years, so naturally queen Elenor had remarried and had children with the Tsortean king since then.
- The Firebrand by Marion Zimmer Bradley tells the story from Cassandra's viewpoint.
- The backstory of the Arthurian Legend as depicted in Historia Brittonum and Historia Regum Britanniae by Geoffrey of Monmouth traces the ancestry of the pre-Saxon Celtic Britons to Trojan refugees that were led to Britain by Brutus, a survivor of Trojan nobility and the direct descendant of Aeneas from The Aeneid.
- The Hittite by Ben Bova takes the supernatural elements out of the story but adds a Hittite soldier, Lukka, as the narrator. The "Horse" was a siege tower Lukka built and covered with horsehide to make it harder to set on fire. Notably, Achilles committed suicide because the wound to his leg cut a tendon and crippled him, and he felt life without being able to be the most badass fighter around wasn't worth living.
- Ilium by Dan Simmons recreates the events on an alternate Earth and Mars.
- The second and third books of Island in the Sea of Time are partly concerned with a roughly historical version of the Trojan War, being interfered with by stranded time-travelers. About the only event that survives intact is Achilles' sulking and subsequent rampage; he manages to survive the war.
- The Latin Iliad (1st century CE), a heavily abridged Latin version of The Iliad, condenses Homer's some 16,000 verses into a meager 1,070 lines. Widely used as a schoolbook in the Middle Ages.
- Metamorphoses by Ovid:
- Book XII includes the death of Achilles.
- Book XIII includes the debate over Achilles's arms and Ajax's subsequent death.
- The fall of Troy and the aftermath is detailed in part of Book XIII.
- In Tad Williams Otherland series the characters meet in a simulation of the sacking of Troy at some point.
- The first duology of the "Princesses of Myth" series by Esther Friesner, Nobody's Princess and Nobody's Prize, focuses on a young Helen.
- The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson claims that the Aesir — the Norse gods — were actually refugees from Troy that had migrated to Northern Europe and, because of their superior culture, became regarded as gods. Snorri apparently scrapped this idea himself, as his later work Heimskringla does not mention Troy and places the Aesir migration in Roman times.
- Ransom by David Malouf focuses entirely on Priam taking a cartload of treasure to Achilles in order to get back Hector's body, guided by a lowly driver named Somax and a Greek soldier who turns out to be Hermes in disguise. Meditations on grief, age, regret and class differences ensue.
- Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is an interpretation of Achilles and Patroclus' relationship told from the latter's perspective.
- The Song of Troy by Colleen McCullough (who is perhaps most famous for the Masters of Rome series)
- Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer
- The Trojan Cycle
- The Troy Quartet by Lindsay Clarke
- The Troy Saga by David Gemmell is trilogy Demythification retelling of the Trojan War.
- The Silence of the Girls and The Trojan Women by Pat Barker tells the Trojan War from the perspective of Briseis shortly after she is taken prisoner by the Achaeans and given to Achilles.
- The Doctor Who serial ''The Myth Makers''
- Troy: Fall of a City runs through most of the standard events, from Paris having to choose the fairest of them all to the wooden horse, with a gritty modern-fantasy-TV look, complete with fairly plausible Bronze Age costumes and props; it’s notable for its enigmatic Jerkass Gods wandering unseen among mortals; also known more for Black Achilles due to Colour Blind Casting.
- Led Zeppelin's Achilles Last Stand
- Alick Rowe has several BBC Radio 4 plays set during the Trojan War/afterwards: Operation Lightning Pegasus Odysseus on an Iceberg, and The Horse.
- The Award of the Arms, a lost play on the contest for the arms of Achilles after his death. Also possibly the first of a trilogy concerned with Ajax's madness.
- Iphigenia, a lost play on the sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis.
- Memnon, a lost play about Memnon's arrival to aid the Trojans, whom Achilles kills. This leads to Achilles's own death at the hands of Apollo and Paris.
- The Oresteia: The first part of the trilogy, Agamemnon, tells the story of Agamemnon's murder by his wife, Clytemnestra. In The Libation Bearers, Agamemnon's children, Orestes and Electra, kill Clytemnestra. The trilogy ends with The Eumenides, where Orestes stands trial for Clytemnestra's murder.
- Philoctetes, a lost play about the Achaeans' attempt to get Philoctetes to Troy.
- The Phrygian Women, a lost play seemingly part of a trilogy about Ajax's madness.
- Psychostasia, a lost play on the weighing of souls between Achilles and Memnon.
- The Salaminian Women, a lost play and possibly the third part of a trilogy about Ajax's madness and suicide.
- Telephos, a lost play likely about Telephos, who was wounded and then healed by Achilles when the Achaeans made their first attempt to sail to Troy.
- Alexandros, possibly. The play has been lost, but it seems to have followed Paris's life and return to Troy before he set sail for Sparta.
- Andromache, a tragedy following the wife of Hector who was given to Achilles' son Neoptolemus as a war prize.
- Electra, which retells the story of Electra and her murder of Clytemnestra from The Oresteia.
- Epeios, a lost play likely focused on Epeios, the architect of the Trojan horse.
- Hecuba, a tragedy set after the fall of Troy, when Hecuba discovers her son Polydorus's death and that Polyxena is to be sacrificed at Achilles's tomb.
- Helen, a play following the alternate story that Helen never went to Troy, but rather was whisked away to Egypt by the gods (while a fake went with Paris).
- Iphigenia at Aulis, opening as the Greeks prepare to set sail for Troy. Artemis demands they sacrifice Agamemnon's daughter, Iphigenia, before they be allowed to depart.
- Iphigenia among the Taurians, something of a Fix Fic, in which Iphigenia is retconned into having been saved from sacrifice by Artemis and made a priestess among the Taurians, who practice Human Sacrifice
- Protesilaus, a lost play about the aftermath of Protesilaus's death. His wife, Laodamea, was allowed to converse with him briefly after he died, but he was forced to return to the Underworld. She then made an image of him to love, but when her father burned it, she committed suicide on the pyre.
- Rhesus (though the authorship is debated), set in the midst of the war when the king of Thrace, Rhesus, arrives to support the Trojans.
- Scyrians, a lost play concerned with Thetis's hiding Achilles among the daughters of the king of Scyros (knowing that if he went to Troy, he would die), and Odysseus's discovery of him there.
- Telephos, a lost play and Euripides's version of the story of Telephos, also recounted by Aeschylus.
- The Trojan Women, following the women of Troy who were captured after the Greeks destroyed the city.
- Ajax, a tragedy set after the death of Achilles, where the eponymous warrior is infuriated that the armor of Achilles was granted to Odysseus rather than him.
- Ajax the Locrian, a lost play concerned with Ajax, who has dragged off Cassandra and harmed the image of Athena.
- Alexandros, a lost play focused on Paris's childhood and his recognition as a son of Priam.
- The Gathering of the Achaeans has also been lost and was probably a satyr play, concerned with the gathering of the Achaeans at Tenedos before setting sail for Troy.
- Judgement, a lost satyr play on the Judgement of Paris.
- Lacaenae, a lost play believed to have followed the theft of the Palladium by Diomedes and Odysseus.
- Laocoon, a lost play about the death of the priest of Apollo.
- Odysseus, a lost play about Odysseus's feigned madness and his discovery by Palamedes.
- Odysseus Acanthoplex, a lost play where Odysseus tries to avert fate by banishing Telemachus after learning he would be killed by his son. It doesn't work.
- Palamedes, a lost play apparently following the aftermath of Palamedes's death (who had tricked Odysseus into revealing his fake madness so that he would fight at Troy).
- Philoctetes, set just before the end of the war, where Odysseus and Neoptolemus must convince the crippled and much wronged Philoctetes to go to Troy to secure Greek victory.
- The Shepherds, also lost and thought to have been a satyr play. It followed the Achaeans' arrival at Troy and the death of Protesilaus and Kyknos.
- Troilos, a lost play on the death of Troilos by Achilles.
- Troilus and Cressida, by William Shakespeare, a play set during the events of the Iliad.
- The Trojan War Will Not Take Place by French Author Jean Giraudoux, written in 1935. The play takes place during the last few days of peace, before the war breaks out, and tells the story of Hector and his futile and increasingly desperate attempts to thwart fate by sending Helena home before war erupts.
- Empire Earth: A condensed version of the Trojan War is one of the scenarios in the Greek campaign, featuring only Agamemmnon, Menelaus, Achilles, Odysseus and Priam. There are several references to the original story, like hints telling you to use your Prophet's disease powers to avoid ten years of fighting or Odysseus asking that Troy's temples be spared so as not to provoke the wrath of the gods, as he doesn't want to spend a decade getting home.
- Fate/Grand Order features Penthesilea as a Berserker, with her Noble Phantasm having her call out Achilles in rage.
- A Total War Saga: TROY portrays the conflict on the Total War series' usual "Risk"-Style Map with prominent characters of it serving as the games factions. Demythification is out in force and aesthetics are firmly set in the archeological findings of the Bronze Age...though some explanations and implementations create questions as well as answers due to Story and Gameplay Segregation. Players are fairly free to go about the game as they choose, though the Achaean and Trojans factions are naturally predisposed against each other and also inclined to ally with their fellows. "Homeric Victory" conditions require the factions' leader complete "epic missions" based on their actions during the original tale and completing tasks relevant to their character (Paris, for example, must also have performed a lot of rites to gain much favor with Aphrodite).
- Warriors: Legends of Troy gives the Dynasty Warriors treatment to the conflict. It's surprisingly faithful to Homer's work (and The Aeneid in the final level), though it does take a few liberties for gameplay and/or Rule of Cool purposes.
- Parodied in an episode of Hercules: The Animated Series, where the "war" turns out to be an inter-school conflict that Homer vastly embellished.