Secrets of the Dead - The Real Trojan Horse: A Review

Did the Greeks Really Build a Wooden Horse to End the Trojan War?

Trojan Horse Replica at Hisarlik, Secrets of the Dead Video The Real Trojan Horse
Trojan Horse Replica at Hisarlik, Secrets of the Dead Video The Real Trojan Horse. Courtesy of Tom Fowlie © 2014 Blink Entertainment

SECRETS OF THE DEAD "The Real Trojan Horse". Premieres Tuesday, October 13, 2015, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET (check local listings). 55 minutes. 

Produced/Directed by Tom Fowlie, Executive Producers for Blink Films Dan Oliver and Dan Chambers; Executive in Charge Stephen Segaller; Executive Producer Steve Burns. Narrated by Jay O. Sanders. A Blink Films production in association with Thirteen Productions LLC for WNET.

Featuring classicists Edith Hall and Eric H. Cline; military historians Barry Strauss and Mark Schwartz; geophysicist Nurican Meral Ozel; military engineer Stephen Ressler, and archaeologist C. Brian Rose; with an acknowledgement to archaeologist Peter Jablonka.

"Beware of Greeks bearing gifts."

Admittedly, that's a quote from the Roman poet Virgil, not the Greek poet Homer, but it refers to an ancient legend reported in Homer's masterpiece epic poem, The Iliad. That legend was that the ancient Mycenaean Greeks ended the nine-year-long stalemate of the Trojan War by constructing a wooden horse, stuffing it with warriors and leaving it outside the gates of Troy for unwary Trojans to mistake as a parting gift.

The Real Trojan Horse

"The Real Trojan Horse" is a 2015 video from the PBS series Secrets of the Dead, and it addresses only the most recent of the impossible theories trying to pin down the reality of Homer's Trojan War.

Was the Trojan War reported by Homer merely a legend, or was it based on real events that occurred 500 years earlier? Think about this project: finding sufficient scientific evidence to "prove" the "facts" derived from what is essentially an oral history passed down for 25 generations. It's tantalizing, it's insanity.

You gotta love it.

Scholars, never minding that this is a crazy idea, have used the detailed information in Homer's poetry to find Troy at Hisarlik, the ruins of sufficiently large ancient city in the right place, that showed evidence of an earthquake followed by a violent conflagration at the right time. If that identification of Troy is correct, how much else can we find in Homer that might have some reality?

Pushing the Homeric Envelope

In "The Real Trojan Horse", a collection of historians, archaeologists, and engineers take the search for reality in Homer further, exploring the idea of the Trojan Horse to see if it would work. Let's face it: after 3,000 years, there won't ever be archaeological evidence supporting such a thing: but, the program asks, physically, experimentally, could it have been a real event?

The first half of the Real Trojan Horse takes us to Hisarlik to look at the trenches left by excavator Heinrich Schliemann, and to discuss the archaeological evidence that this is indeed Troy, and how it came to be assigned that way. Maps, three-dimensional reconstructions and reenactments are used to flesh out the ancient story. Examination of cracks in the defensive structures and a visit to Istanbul's Structural and Earthquake Engineering Lab at Istanbul Technical University helps provide evidence of the frightful earthquake reported in The Iliad.

The second half takes us into the working out of the physical construction of a thought-experiment: what if the Trojan Horse really was a wooden structure? What would that look like, how feasible is it as a tactical ruse? If it wasn't a horse, what else might the stories have referred to?

Bottom Line

Featured in the episode are classicists and archaeologists (including C. Brian Rose, who excavated at Hisarlik in the 1990s), engineers and military historians. All serious people, all intrigued by the thought experiment, and willing to explore it a bit further.

Ancient history and archaeology have a strange relationship: what are sometimes seen as fantastical legends and mythic heroes in ancient texts are sometimes found to be grounded in reality. And then there are miracles--well, let's not go there.

The search for "The Real Trojan Horse" is a quixotic search, crazy from the outset and totally unprovable: but such fun!

And in a world so torn by sectarian strife in the region near and now in Turkey, we could all stand a bit of fun right now. Don't miss it.

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