Trojan War: The Podcast is a serialized telling of the stories that together comprise the epic story of the Trojan War. From The Judgement of Paris through The Face that Launched a Thousand Ships to Achilles’ Heel and Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts, this epic story has it all!
Each podcast episode features one self-contained episode in the overall story arc, followed by about fifteen minutes of conversation and commentary on the compelling and provocative contemporary ideas that emerge from the stories. The tone of Jeff Wright, the storyteller, is modern, engaging, and informed. He is comic, occasionally irreverent, and always entertaining.
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A Short Message From Jeff
And so, my faithful travelling companions through all 23 hours of Trojan War: The Podcast, our journey together continues. Odyssey: The Podcast picks up the story arc exactly where Trojan War: The Podcast left off. We are down on the beaches of the burning ruins of Troy, where Odysseus, his 12 ships, and 600 surviving Ithacan countrymen, are about to set sail for home. On an uneventful, "five to ten days sail at most", across Poseidon's wine-dark sea. In a quest for their homecomings, after ten bitter and bloody years on the battlefields of Troy. And with such a simple task in front of them, what, possibly, could go wrong ...... You can listen in to the first 39 minutes of Odyssey: The Podcast right here from this website. Or, you can leap over to odysseythepodcast.com and listen to all 90 minutes of Episode 1 from there.
And just so you know. Odyssey: The Podcast clocks in at 14 episodes and 23 hours of EPIC storytelling entertainment! So have FUN and enjoy Odyssey: The Podcast. It was a pleasure and an honor to make it for you.
Jeff. . .
ODYSSEY: THE PODCAST - my 14 episode, 24 hour sequel to Trojan War: The Podcast - is now recorded and waiting for you. Subscribe through your usual podcast provider, or go to odysseythepodcast.com!
THE STORY: (40 minutes) Zeus, King of the Gods, hosts a wedding. An uninvited guest crashes, bringing an unwelcome gift. In mere moments, all Hades breaks loose. And the wheels of Western culture’s most awesome epic - the Trojan War - are set in motion. THE COMMENTARY: DID THE TROJAN WAR REALLY "HAPPEN"? (9 minutes; begins at 40:00) In this episode of post-story commentary I spend some time talking about how the Trojan War epic, though over three thousand years old, remains deeply embedded in contemporary culture. I note how we are all familiar with the names (Achilles, Helen of Troy, Hector), the images (The Trojan Horse), and the concepts (“the face that launched a thousand ships”; “beware of Greeks bearing gifts”; “his Achilles’ Heel”) that originate in this epic. Then I review the “history” of the story: from a war that may or may not have happened circa 1250 BCE, through five hundred years of post-war “oral tradition”, up to Homer’s written account – The Iliad - in 700 BCE, and on to the contributions of further storytellers, including the Roman poet Virgil in 19 BCE. I confess to how wonderfully liberating it is for a storyteller like me to be free to sort through the myriad sources, stories and texts (many of which contradict each other), and then “glue them together” into one big, cohesive, entertaining plot. I conclude the post-story commentary by definitively answering the burning question of whether the Trojan War ever really happened. Hope you have fun. Jeff
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THE STORY: (54 minutes) A queen is visited by a terrifying nightmare. Priests discern what the nightmare means. And a king is faced with a soul-wrenching dilemma: “do I kill my child, or allow my city to burn?” And the king’s decision …? Well, you’ll have to listen in to see how that turns out. THE COMMENTARY: FATE VS. FREE WILL (16 minutes; begins at 54:00) In this episode of post-story commentary I explore the role of “Fate” in the Trojan War epic. I observe that most of us listening to this podcast (in the 21st century) like to believe that we have some sort of control or agency over our lives. We like to believe that we each have, to a large degree, freedom to choose how our lives will transpire – sort of like being the authors of our own “choose your own adventure” lives. I contrast this belief with the understanding of Bronze Age Greek culture (where our epic story takes place). These people did not believe in agency or free will (except in minor day to day questions, like “will I have fish or lamb for dinner this evening?”). But on the big questions of how one’s life – one’s “adventure” if you will – was going to unfold, well, the Bronze Age Greeks did not believe in free will. Rather, each person (and possibly even the Olympian gods too) was subject to an unavoidable fate or destiny. I cite the famous story of Oedipus to illustrate how this inexorable fate would have been understood by the characters in our story. And I conclude by exploring how the people that we are going to meet in this awesome epic still managed to find meaning, dignity and purpose in a universe governed by Fate. I think you will find the conversation educational, but mostly just a lot of FUN! Jeff RELATED IMAGES. . .
THE STORY: (38 minutes) A miraculous child survives not only the homicidal raging of an angry demi-god, but also an icy immersion in a magic river and the venomous bite of a deadly snake. Then the child turns two, and his real adventures begin. THE COMMENTARY: THE ACHILLES STORIES THAT I DID NOT TELL YOU (16 minutes; begins at 38:00) I begin this episode of post-story commentary by discussing the reasons for the popularity of “Achilles stories” in the Bronze Age and Classical Greek world. I then briefly review some of the "birth of Achilles" stories that I chose to leave out of my account of Achilles’ early life. Following that, I review one particular major point of difference between Achilles as I present him in my story, versus Achilles as Homer chooses to portray him in The Iliad. This leads to a discussion of what “Achilles stories” were actually available and known to Homer when he wrote his epic, circa 700 BCE.. Have fun! Jeff RELATED IMAGES. . .
THE STORY: (30 minutes) Hermes, the messenger god, locates a “highly qualified” judge for a beauty contest between three powerful, vain and vindictive goddesses. One of the goddesses is cruising to what appears to be certain victory, until her competitors propose a “twist” on the contest rules. And our judge – a boy you already know – is suddenly confronted with a choice: political power, military glory, or some smokin' hot … But you'll have to tune in, if you want to find out exactly what happens. THE COMMENTARY: (14 minutes; begins at 30:00) I begin the post-story commentary by acknowledging some of the “time line inconsistencies” inherent in this episode. Has it really taken Zeus eighteen years to find a judge for a beauty contest? I explore some of possible solutions to the time line problem, including: “look the other way and pretend it isn’t there”, and “employ Einstein’s theory of relativity to reason the problem away". Eventually I give up and simply acknowledge that timeline problems are endemic to stories grounded in the oral tradition, or to stories penned by multiple authors working without central editorial oversight. I note that timeline inconsistencies are not unique to Greek epic, and cite by way of example the creation stories (both of them) in the book of Genesis. I then turn to a discussion of The Judgment of Paris as a favourite subject of visual artists, from the time of Classical Greece to the present. I muse about why this work has been so consistently popular with artists, and decide it must be because: a) everybody already knows the story, and b) the artist gets to paint three really hot women in the nude (the women in the nude that is, though I suppose nudity might have been the artist's aspirational outcome too?). I then spend some time “deconstructing” Rubens’ famous The Judgment of Paris painting (check out the RELATED IMAGES below). I note that the three Olympian goddesses are traditionally depicted in art accompanied by certain “props”, that offer viewers the necessary clues to figuring out who is who. Athena: a helmet, a shield with a monster’s head, and an owl to represent her wisdom. Hera: a peacock. And Aphrodite: accompanied by her son Eros – the “Valentine’s Day boy” if you will, complete with bow and quiver of “erotic arrows”. In any Judgement of Paris painting, I note, Aphrodite will always be the goddess in the most flagrantly sexual pose, as befits her status as goddess of lust and sexual passion. Finally I conclude the post story commentary by relating the story of my teenage son’s response - “on first looking into Rubens’ Judgement”. My son found the goddesses in the painting shockingly “Rubenesque”, which led the two of us –father and son – into a long winded discussion (more of a lecture by father actually) on the culturally implicated and temporally transient nature of female beauty. And that’s where I wrapped things up. To test your skills in “goddess identification” check out Raphael’s “Judgement of Paris” painting, posted below. Have Fun. Jeff RELATED IMAGES. . .
THE STORY: (30 minutes) The transition from shepherd to Crown Prince of Troy isn’t easy, but with some help from Aphrodite (and from the royal harem), Paris manages to settle in to Troy quite nicely. A road trip to the the Greek kingdom of Sparta follows, during which Paris discovers that Aphrodite keeps all of her promises. THE COMMENTARY: DID SPARTA REALLY THROW BABIES OFF OF CLIFFS? (14 minutes; begins at 30:00) I spend the entire post-story commentary of this episode talking about Sparta. Most of us, when we hear the word “Sparta”, immediately conjure up the image of bad-ass Spartan warriors, and the recent Hollywood blockbuster “The 300”. I note that this particular Sparta – the Sparta of popular consciousness – existed circa 480 B.C.E.; whereas the Sparta of the Trojan War existed circa 1250 B.C.E. After a quick review of the social and military practices of the 480 B.C.E. Sparta – killing unfit babies; raising boys in military barracks; murderous initiation rites into manhood; selective breeding and eugenics programs – I explore the historical veracity of this picture of Sparta. I note that our most reliable and authoritative source was Plutarch, writing circa 100 A.C.E., a full 500 years after 480 B.C.E. I note that Plutarch relied for his account of Sparta almost exclusively on oral history, supplemented by the incomplete accounts of Herodotus and Thucydides. I remind listeners that “tales grow with the telling”, especially over 500 years. And I note that Plutarch, like all historians, had his own agenda for presenting the picture of Sparta that he did. I conclude by reviewing some recent archeological “finds” concerning all those babies thrown off of cliffs, and by noting some recent historical views on the million-strong Persian army that Sparta defeated at the Battle of Thermopylae. Have fun, Jeff RELATED IMAGES. . .
THE STORY: (37 minutes) This episode has it all! A kinky story about an amorous swan, a disturbing story about a butchered horse, a cautionary story about a foolish husband, and a too-familiar story about a corrupt politician. And in the midst of all the stories, well, Helen of Sparta moves to Troy. THE COMMENTARY: HELEN OF TROY - DAMSEL IN DISTRESS or FEMME FATALE? (26 minutes; begins at 37:00) Helen of Troy is one of the most complex and enigmatic characters in all of fiction (or in all of fact - which just adds to the complexity!). As you know, Helen left her life in Sparta to travel to the city of Troy with Paris. But what caused Helen to leave? Well, that continues to be the subject of considerable debate. In this episode of post-story commentary I review five conflicting “takes” on Helen’s motivations. I note that each culture down through the ages has ascribed to Helen motivations which are deeply reflective of that particular culture’s attitudes towards women, the family, and sexuality. And I caution that each culture tends to create an explanation for Helen's actions that the culture "needs to hear". The five “takes” on Helen that I discuss include: Helen the Homewrecker; Helen the Damsel in Distress; Helen the Femme Fatale; Helen the Survivor; and Helen: Pawn of the Gods. I make a case for each, then share with you the version of Helen I personally find most compelling. And I invite you to disagree with me! Have fun! Jeff RELATED IMAGES RELATED POEMS LEDA AND THE SWAN, WB Yeats (best 14 sentence sonnet summary of the Trojan War Epic EVER!!!)PDF HELEN OF TROY DOES COUNTERTOP DANCING, Margaret Atwood (one of my favourite poetic "takes" on Helen) PDF RELATED SONGS. . .
THE STORY: (43 minutes) Operation Trojan Storm needs the craft and cunning of Odysseus, Greece’s most clever man. But Odysseus has mysteriously vanished. Agamemnon puts his best man, Palamedes, on the case. “Find Odysseus; bring him to me, one way or another”, Agamemnon commands. But what Palamedes discovers when he finally locates Odysseus ….! Tune in to the podcast to learn the whole, horrifying truth! THE COMMENTARY: GREEK PIRATES vs. TROJAN MERCHANTS (17 minutes; begins at 43:00) I shamelessly spend this entire post-story commentary geeking-out on Greek naval technology and tactics. First I paint a quick picture of sort of ships that Agamemnon was building in order to launch his amphibious invasion of Troy. Then I review Greek naval tactics, explaining how Agamemnon’s fast, nimble and highly mobile ships managed to terrorize the towns and cities of the Mediterranean world. Then I explain how the Greeks of 1250 B.C.E. “looked outward” for economic opportunity: how they proudly sacked, pillaged and raped their way through the Mediterranean with the help of their boats. Then I turn to Troy – a Mediterranean power with no navy at all. I explore the reason for this: namely that the Trojans were merchants who had no need to venture outward for economic opportunity. They simply sat safely behind their high walls and waited for the world’s wealth to come to them. Finally I review doubts expressed by contemporary historians concerning the actual size of Agamemnon’s invasion fleet: were there really 1186 ships, as Homer claims? Lots of fun! Jeff RELATED IMAGES. . .
THE STORY: (49 minutes) Agamemnon doesn’t dare launch his invasion of Troy until Achilles - Greece’s very own “weapon of mass destruction” – is part of the operation. So Odysseus, the cleverest of the warlords, is dispatched to find the elusive Achilles. Act One of today’s episode is a cleverly constructed mystery. And Act Two? Well, let’s just say that Act Two is more than a bit of a drag. THE COMMENTARY: ACHILLES, THE OPERA! (15 minutes; begins at 49:00) Stories, myths and legends are like any other element of fashion; they wax and wane in popularity over the decades and centuries. In this episode of post-story commentary I explore the “Achilles on Skyros” story. The story, ancient enough that Homer makes passing mention of it in The Iliad (c. 700 B.C.E.) is a wonderfully light and inconsequential moment of candyfloss inside the massive story arc that is the Trojan War Epic. And the story, as a consequence, has been largely ignored by artists. Except for a hundred year span in the 18th century, when a total of twenty-seven complete operas were staged, all based on the candyfloss diversion that is “Achilles on Skyros”. Then, just as suddenly as the story came into fashion, it fell out of fashion. And almost no artists have shown interest in the story ever since. In this episode I playfully explore what made “Achilles on Skyros” such a sensation for those hundred years, by creating and badly performing the libretto to “Jeff’s own version” of the opera. Then I turn serious and explore how artists throughout history have always managed to mine, from the stories of the Trojan War Epic, the particular artistic gold that their culture requires. Jeff RELATED IMAGES. . .
THE STORY: (45 minutes) In this horrifying episode Agamemnon, Commander in Chief of the Greek’s Operation Trojan Storm, is confronted with an existential question. How badly does he want to invade Troy, and who or what is he willing to sacrifice in order to realize his plans? THE COMMENTARY: MURDER, INCEST, INFIDELITY & CANNIBALISM – AGAMEMNON’S INTERESTING FAMILY! (16 minutes; begins at 45:00) This deeply troubling episode is based on the story of the sacrifice of Iphigenia – Agamemnon’s teenage daughter. In the post-story commentary I explore how two different Athenian dramatists used the broad outlines of the well-known “Iphigenia story” to craft their own unique plays. I first look at Aeschylus’ Agamemnon (458 B.C.E.), and explain why I chose to follow his general plot outline in narrating my own account of the story. Then I turn to Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis (405 B.C.E.), seeking (and finding) a much happier and less horrifying account of the story I have just told. I leave you the listener to decide which of the two versions you find more compelling and believable – because of course, none of us will never know what really happened on that beach at Aulis. Finally I turn to a quick account of Agamemnon’s absolutely horrifying family: the House of Atreus. Starting with Agamemnon’s great grandfather, then down through the generations to Agamemnon himself, I recount a family predilection for murder, incest, infidelity and cannibalism. I discuss the Bronze Age belief that “the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons” to account for the horrifying intergenerational curse of the House of Atreus. Because of my “no plot spoilers” promise, I conclude my review of the curse with Agamemnon himself, but promise listeners that in later episodes of Trojan War: The Podcast, Agamemnon’s descendants will carry on the proud family history of horrifying deeds. Jeff
IPHIGENIA by Tennyson (PDF)
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THE STORY: (53 minutes) Agamemnon’s 100,000-strong army finally makes it to the beaches of Troy, and readies itself for one day of glorious, decisive, "winner-take-all" battle against Hector’s Trojan army. But the Trojans appear to have other plans. And it soon becomes clear that the Greek troops will not be making it home for Christmas – at least not for any Christmas in this decade. THE COMMENTARY: WEAPONS, ARMOUR & BATTLEFIELD REALITIES c. 1250 B.C.E. (30 minutes; begins at 53:00) Some episodes ago I spent the post-story commentary shamelessly geeking out on Greek vs. Trojan warships and naval tactics. In this episode I turn my equally geeky attention to Bronze Age weapons, armour and military tactics. But rather than contrasting Greeks vs. Trojans, I instead contrast “warlord heroes” vs “cannon-fodder grunts”. First I discuss the “warlord heroes” as presented by Homer and his contemporaries: heroes like Achilles, Ajax, Hector, Odysseus and Agamemnon. I review the sort of armour that they wore, and the weapons that they would have most preferred. Then I note the protein-rich diet, and the lifetime of professional training, that these warlord heroes would have benefitted from, and that made them seem so “larger than life” to the common foot soldiers on the battlefield. Next I turn my attention to those common foot soldiers --the men who would have comprised the overwhelming majority of fighting forces on the plains of Troy. I note that if there actually were 100,000 Greeks on the Trojan beach, then well over 99,500 of them are not beneficiaries of the “Homeric epic treatment” in Bronze Age accounts of this war. I explain that these common foot soldiers would have been poorly fed, poorly trained, poorly armoured and poorly provisioned. They would have gone into battle with what bits of armoured protection they could cobble together (often nothing but hardened leather), and for weapons would have utilized whatever was readily at hand. Finally I turn to the horrifying realities of injury, mutilation and dying on a Bronze Age battlefield: a battlefield with no anaesthetics, antibiotics or accurate understandings of surgical procedure. Not a pretty picture. Jeff RELATED IMAGES. . .
THE STORY: (46 minutes) Ten years into the siege of Troy a priest of Apollo arrives at the command tent of Agamemnon, Commander in Chief of the Greeks. The priest makes a simple request of Agamemnon. Agamemnon refuses, and Greek soldiers die in the thousands. And then things turn truly ugly… THE COMMENTARY: DID A GUY NAMED HOMER EXIST, & DID HE WRITE THE ILIAD? (16 minutes; begins at 46:00) This particular episode of Trojan War: The Podcast brings our story arc into Homer’s Iliad itself. I use the post-story commentary to discuss “all things Iliad” including: who was/was there a Homer; how was the Iliad composed; and why do we have copies of the Iliad today? I begin by reminding listeners that the first ten episodes of Trojan War: The Podcast are not found in Homer’s Iliad. Rather, they are part of what scholars refer to as the Trojan War Epic Cycle: a jambalaya of stories, bits of stories, accounts of bits of stories, and references to accounts of bits of stories, that have managed to survive, some from as early as the Bronze Age, up to now. Those stories collectively “set the stage” for the events accounted in Homer’s Iliad: events which only last a matter of months in this multi-decade war. I then remind readers that - some episodes from now - our story will leave the Iliad, and continue on with more episodes drawn from the Trojan War Epic Cycle. I then turn our conversation to the current academic consensus that there was no Homer, in the sense of a solitary author who created an original artistic work drawn completely from his own imagination. The current consensus is that events recounted in the Iliad are drawn from centuries of oral storytelling tradition that predates Homer. So “Homer”, it turns out, was either a brilliant compiler, editor and re-teller of existing stories from the oral tradition, which he then assembled into an artistic masterwork titled the Iliad (a group of Homeric scholars called “unitarians” subscribe to this view), or alternately, “Homers” was a collection of less-than-brilliant compiler(s) who assembled existing stories from the oral tradition into a great (but flawed) work titled the Iliad (the view held by Homeric scholars called “separatists” or “analysts”). I confess to finding the arguments of unitarians and separatists/analysts equally compelling, depending on what section of the Iliad I am reading when I think about the question. Then I get on with detailing how the Iliad managed to survive intact from creation (c. 700 B.C.E.) to the present day. Finally, I confess to some trepidation in beginning to tell episodes drawn directly from the Iliad: one of the masterworks of Western literature. I conclude by encouraging you to go read the Iliad for yourself – it’s a pretty good story! Jeff RELATED CONTENT UNDERSTANDING BRONZE AGE HONOR: KLEOS, GERAS & TIME (PDF) RELATED LINKS GREEK MYTH COMIX (the Trojan War as a brilliant comic strip!) RELATED IMAGES. . .
THE STORY: (58 minutes) Hector proposes an audacious “exit strategy” to Agamemnon: a deal to end the war with just one man dead. Intense diplomatic negotiations follow. And just when it appears that Greek and Trojan have agreed to terms, a third, more powerful party, enters the conversation. THE COMMENTARY: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT OLYMPIAN GODS, IN UNDER 13 MINUTES! (12 minutes; begins at 58:00) I dedicate all of this post-story commentary to the Olympian Gods: Zeus, Hera, Athena, Aphrodite, Apollo and the lot. The gods require our consideration because, though they have clearly been players since Episode One: The Apple of Discord, they now begin to aggressively assert themselves into the plot. I start with a reminder that the Olympian gods are a fundamentally different sort of deity than are the god(s) worshipped in the 21st century. The Olympian deities are not the authors of creation, but are instead - like humans, animals, and plants - just another sort of life inside of creation. The Olympian deities did not create humanity, and as a consequence, they have no particular love, concern or sense of responsibility for us. In fact, the Olympian deities mostly view humans as poor, mortal wretches: “For there is nothing as miserable as humans among all the creatures that live and breathe on the earth” (Iliad Book 17, 443) is how Zeus sums us up. Which is possibly why the Olympian deities spend most of their eternal time treating human life with cavalier disregard: our lives, our families, our cities and our great conflicts are, from the perspective of a god’s timeless/ageless immortality, simply inconsequential. But on occasion we humans do provide splendid “entertainment” for the Olympians: “But now I (Zeus) will sit here at ease on a ridge of Olympus where I can watch, to my heart’s delight…” the human carnage on the battlefield below. (Book 20, 22). Not simply content to watch of course, the gods sometimes go “down to the fighting, on different sides” (Book 20, 31), and do their very best to manipulate the outcome of our inconsequential human wars. After my (and I think, Homer’s) indictment of the gods, I briefly explore three differing contemporary “storyteller” approaches to dealing with these gods inside of the Trojan War Epic story. Some modern tellers choose to redact the gods from the storyline entirely, and present listeners with a Trojan War Epic grounded exclusively in human agency. In these versions, the Trojan War becomes simply another story of human geopolitics. Other tellers choose to include the gods in the story, but only as stand-in manifestations of human psychological conditions. So, for example, when the angry Achilles is ordered by Athena to not kill Agamemnon, tellers from this school explain that Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, isn’t “really there” speaking to Achilles. Rather, Achilles’ own “wisdom” causes him to reconsider his plan to kill Agamemnon. And Helen isn’t “actually hit” by an erotic arrow shot by Aphrodite: she’s just a teenage girl overwhelmed by horniness for a really hot guy! Finally, some storytellers opt for an approach called over-determinism. These tellers attempt to explain every event in the story through two different sorts of causation: human agency, and, deific agency. So the plague in the Greek camp is caused by 100,000 men living in close quarters without adequate sanitation facilities, but is also caused because Apollo is shooting plague arrows into the camp. I confess that this is my preferred approach. I find that it allows me to keep the story contemporary and engaging for a modern listener (by grounding it in human geopolitics), but also allows me to include the agency of the gods, at places in the plot where the story makes no sense without them. Let me know what you think. Do the gods add to, or detract from, the power of the story? Jeff RELATED IMAGES. . .
THE STORY: (56 minutes) As Greek and Trojan forces openly clash on the plains of Troy the goddess Athena imbues a Greek warlord – Diomedes – with fearsome, godlike powers of combat. So with the Trojan forces in disarray and on the verge of wholescale panic, Hector decides on an audacious plan to save his army. But can Hector survive his own plan? THE COMMENTARY: CAN WAR BE BOTH TERRIBLE and GLORIOUS? (17 minutes; begins at 56:00) This post-story commentary examines both the “glorious” and the “terrible” faces of the Trojan War. I first review the arestia of Diomedes, which dominates much of the story in this podcast episode. I point out that Diomedes’ arestia (or moment of supreme excellence in battle) follows the usual arestia pattern found in Homer's Iliad. The hero is first imbued with god-like powers; the hero’s armour and weapons are then imbued with god-like radiance (the helmet “burns like a fire”; the bronze spear tip “is like a gleaming star”); the hero racks up an impressive kill count against worthy opponents; the hero receives a setback or injury, but recovers quickly; and the hero goes on to even greater glories before the arestia ends, and the hero becomes “normal” again. I note that in Homer only heroes are granted an arestia – rank and file foot soldiers are never so lucky. I then observe that the arestia can be understood as a “compensatory gift” from the gods to a worthy human – the compensation being necessary because the human, no matter how worthy, is ultimately doomed to die. Finally I observe that sometimes an arestia ends with the death of the hero: when a hero forgets, at the critical moment, that he is not really a god. I then launch into an exploration of arestia in contemporary movies, noting that I could find plenty of examples of arestia in superhero or fantasy genre films, but very few arestia in movies based on real human warfare. This leads me to some hypothesizing about whether, in the 20th and 21st century, we are culturally uncomfortable celebrating “glorious war” – possibly the machine guns and poison gas of World War One dampened our enthusiasm a little? I then turn to Homer’s treatment of war in the Iliad, and observe that it is remarkably neutral and even-handed. Homer spares us none of the graphic, gory realities of the battlefield (save for a total absence in Homer of any long term, lingering, or psychological injuries), and Homer is brutally clear-eyed on the civilian price of war (rape, slavery, butchery and death). But Homer equally paints a picture of fighting men exulting in the sheer, giddy pleasure of knowing “how to step in deadly dance of hand to hand combat”. I turn the final words of my post-story commentary over to Bernard Knox, a Homer translator; because I think he says it best: "Three thousand years have not changed the human condition in this respect. We are still lovers and victims of the will to violence, and so long as we are, Homer will be read as its truest interpreter." Homer, tr. Robert Fagles, intro. Bernard Knox, The Iliad (Penguin Classics, 1991) Jeff RELATED CONTENT ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH, 1917 poem by Wilfred Owen PDF RELATED IMAGES. . .
THE STORY: (57 minutes) This episode, pivotal to the entire Trojan War Epic, features philosophy, bedroom farce, and genuine tragedy -- all in equal measure. Temptation plays the lead: Agamemnon tempts Achilles; Hera tempts Zeus; and Patroclus tempts Deadly Destiny. THE COMMENTARY: WERE ACHILLES & PATROCLUS LOVERS? (20 minutes; begins at 57:00) I dedicate this entire post-story commentary to the Achilles/Patroclus relationship: a relationship which has confounded scholars, storytellers, and listeners for the past 3500 years. The central question up for debate is whether the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus had a sexual component. I begin my conversation by stating the fact that all scholars, tellers and listeners agree on: Achilles and Patroclus were exceedingly close - best friends, dearest of companions, soul mates, brothers in arms – use what terms you will. Of that there is no doubt. And when Patroclus is killed by Hector, everybody agrees that Achilles’ response to that death is the pivotal turning point in the epic. Then I turn to a question on which scholars, tellers and listeners quite disagree. Following are the three contending theories on the Achilles/Patroclus relationship. Most Homeric and Bronze Age scholars argue that the Achilles/Patroclus relationship was asexual. They point to the text of the Iliad, which offers not a single reference or even allusion to a sexual relationship between the two men. They further point to the Iliad to show that Achilles and Patroclus clearly have heterosexual relations with women. The scholars in this camp suggest that what causes some readers to “infer” a sexual element to Achilles/Patroclus is the written language of Homer’s Iliad. By our contemporary standards (and clearly by the standards of other time periods too), the verbal communication when Achilles and Patroclus speak to, or about each other, is romantic, florid, passionate and intimate – in a way that most societies reserve exclusively for communications between lovers. But, scholars argue, many Bronze Age works are characterized by similar language and depths of passion between males, especially between male comrades in arms. In the Hebrew story of David and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:26), David claims that the love he had for Jonathan surpassed even the love of women. It is our contemporary sensibilities, scholars argue, that erroneously grafts a sexual meaning onto David’s claim, but there is nothing in the text to support such an interpretation. But Classical Greek scholars and readers disagree. They argue that the Achilles/Patroclus relationship was pederastic. This way of seeing the Achilles/Patroclus relationship originated (or at least was popularized) during the Classical and Hellenistic Greek period (c. 480-146 BCE) when pederasty was socially accepted and possibly even commonplace amongst upper class Greeks. Pederasty involved an older man entering into a relationship with a young man in his teens. The older man served as a “mentor” to the younger man, introducing him into adult male society. The relationship lasted for a few years, until the younger man came of age, at which point the relationship would end. Both men either had, or would go on to have, wives and children. The pederastic relationship sometimes included a sexual element, in which the older man achieved sexual pleasure by rubbing his erect penis between the thighs of the younger man. Anal penetration does not appear to have been common in these relationships. Scholars who argue that Achilles and Patroclus were pederasts include: the philosopher Plato (in the Symposium); the playwrite Aeschylus (in The Myrmidons) and many other prominent Greek and later Roman historians. Replying to the objection that Achilles and Patroclus are never actually depicted in the Iliad engaged in sexual activity, these proponents argue that a pederastic relationship is clearly implied and obvious to anyone who examines t.... . .
THE STORY (65 minutes) Homer’s Iliad opens with the storyteller’s invocation to the Muse: “The wrath of Achilles – sing it now, goddess, sing through me ….” When Achilles learns that his beloved Patroclus is dead – at the hands of Hector –Achilles “snaps”. What follows is a powerful, disturbing and truly horrifying podcast episode. THE COMMENTARY: WHAT HAPPENS TO US AFTER WE DIE? (25 minutes; begins at 1:05) This post story commentary is dedicated to Bronze Age beliefs about death and the afterlife. I explore what warlords like Hector, Achilles, Agamemnon and Odysseus would have believed about death, about funeral rites and burial, and about what was waiting for them “on the other side”. To do so I follow the psyche (soul, spirit) of a man from the moment of imminent death (when the living man gains the gift of prophesy), through the dying man’s final breath (when the psyche is exhaled through the mouth), and then on to the psyche’s journey to the entrance to Hades – the land of the dead. I provide a bit of mythological back story on Hades the deity, who rules over Hades the place. I offer a caution to my listeners raised in the Judeo- Christian tradition -- Hades the deity is not Satan, Mephistopheles, or any other form of malevolent horned demon – we need to take care to not graft onto one mythology the beliefs of another. Once at the gates of Hades, we follow the dead man’s psyche across the river (Styx or Acheron: sources vary, and we are regrettably short on empirical evidence) via the assistance of the able ferryman Charon. Our dead man’s psyche then enters the Fields of Asphodel, where it spends eternity in the company of every other human being who has ever lived. I note that the Bronze Age Greeks did not believe in any sort of post-life judgement by a god, followed by some sort of eternal reward or punishment. All psyches spend eternity on the Fields of Asphodel, a grey place of eternal blandness. I do note that some psyches (usually humans whose parent was a god) get to travel instead to a place called Elysium, which, apparently, offers a significant upgrade in post-death accommodations from those offered in Asphodel. But very, very few individuals every make it there: even the greatest of Homer’s warlords were ultimately destined to the Fields of Asphodel. I then discuss the other afterlife option: a place of eternal torment and suffering called Tartarus. But I again warn my Judeo-Christian listeners that this is not Hell (a place for people who are particularly bad or unrepentant on Earth). Rather, Tartarus is reserved as a series of personal, customized “hells”, designed by Zeus for particular individuals who personally annoyed Him. I provide examples of such individuals - Tantalus, Sisyphus and Prometheus – and describe their various customized “hells”. Finally, I discuss the Bronze Age Greek belief that a dead man’s psyche could not depart from the land of the living and travel to the land of the dead, unless the dead man’s body had been provided with the appropriate funeral rites (cremation first, followed by internment of the bones). A man mutilated and killed in battle, or killed and then mutilated, was doomed to spend eternity “trapped” in the land of the living in ghost form, wounds and all, until the appropriate funeral rites were performed. Which, I conclude, explains why the threat, or the actual deed, of desecrating corpses and refusing to allow appropriate funeral rites for those corpses, was of such deep concern to men like Hector and Patroclus. Jeff RELATED IMAGES. . .
THE STORY (50 minutes) This episode traces the personal griefs of two bitter enemies: Achilles, who has lost his best friend and soul mate, Patroclus; and King Priam, who has lost his son and his heir, Hector. Both Achilles and Priam are inconsolable, until Zeus and Deadly Destiny unite them, under the roof of one tent. What transpires in that tent is truly remarkable. THE COMMENTARY: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT & WHY DOES HOMER END THE ILIAD HERE? (19 minutes; begins at 50:00) With this podcast episode I conclude telling those episodes of the Trojan War Epic which are found in Homer’s Iliad. Trojan War: The Podcast will continue, of course, but without benefit of Homer’s remarkable text. In this post story commentary I pause to address a question commonly asked by first-time readers through Homer’s Iliad: why does Homer end his story with the funeral of Hector, when there are clearly so many “what happens next?” questions left to answer? To wit: what happens to Paris; to Helen; to Achilles; to the Greek army; to the city of Troy itself? The beginning of an answer to this question starts by reminding my podcast listeners that Homer’s original audience (c. 700 B.C.E.) already knew the answer to every “what happens next” question. The story of the Trojan War was the foundational cultural document of the Greeks, from the days of the war itself (c. 1250 B.C.E.) right up through Homer’s own time, and then for another seven centuries or so afterwards. So when Homer constructed the Iliad, he did not have to worry about addressing questions of “what has already happened”, or questions of “what will happen afterwards”. His audience already knew. Instead, Homer could leap into his story in medias res (the middle of things) and then, 24 books later, leave his story still in medias res. And since Homer could confidently assume his listeners knew the plot, he could instead focus his artistry on other concerns, namely character. And so the Iliad has no intention of being the complete story of the Trojan War, but instead is the story of one man’s experience of a few short weeks during that war. The Iliad is primarily the story of Achilles; of his transformative journey from the day he loses Briseis, through to that day on which he returns Hector’s body: a story that unfolds over a matter of mere weeks, in an epic that unfolds over decades. Right from the Iliad’s opening lines, Homer makes his subject clear. Homer opens not with the invocation: “Sing goddess, of the terrible Trojan War ….”, but instead with “Sing goddess, of the rage of Achilles …” (That Homer manages, through his story of Achilles, to accomplish so much more - to show us terrible/glorious war; to make us believe in the gods and Deadly Destiny; and to breathe compelling characters into life – well those accomplishments are simply additional testament to Homer’s storytelling art). I conclude the post story commentary by noting that Trojan War: The Podcast is not in the “great art” business, but rather in the more pedestrian “what happens next?” business. And my own guiding rule, since way back in Episode One: The Apple of Discord, is to respect that many of my listeners do not know “what happens next”. So I have done my best to navigate, dance, bob and weave around all possible plot spoilers. So, listen to Trojan War: The Podcast for the fun of the story; but then go back to Homer’s Iliad for the pleasure of the art! Happy Listening, Jeff RELATED LINKS The History of Ancient Greece podcast Ancient Greece Declassified podcast Literature and History podcast RELATED IMAGES. . .
THE STORY (59 minutes) With Hector dead, the desperate Trojans grasp on to increasingly ridiculous deus ex machina solutions to save their city from the Greeks. And then old King Priam hatches the most hair-brained (or brilliant) scheme of them all….. THE COMMENTARY HOW DID ACHILLES DIE and WHO KILLED HIM? (15 minutes; begins at 59:00) With this podcast episode we leave behind Homer`s account of the Trojan War, and once again delve into that jambalaya of accounts, fragments, partial references and contradictory content that served as our source materials in Episodes One through Ten. I remind listeners that the death of Achilles does not appear in Homer – though Homer clearly predicts it and even tells us who will kill Achilles (Paris), and even where Achilles will die (on the Trojan Plain). I then raise the perennial and frustrating debate on whether or not Achilles was immune from physical injury. I note that Homer’s Achilles is vulnerable to injury (a Trojan arrow draws blood in Book 21 of Iliad; and Achilles needs armour when entering battle). But on the other hand, the Achilles of the River Styx story (you will recall that Thetis immersed her infant son in that river) is clearly immune from physical injury. I note that a storyteller cannot have it both ways. Either Achilles is immune, due to his Styx-dunking, or he is not immune. I defend my personal storyteller choice of “immune Achilles” on the grounds that the Styx-dunking is an established and popular part of the Trojan War Epic canon, and in my view makes for a more satisfying story. Homer, I note, did not include the Styx story, because it had not yet been written down (or even created?) until 100 A.C.E., by a writer named Statius (in The Achilleid). Next I explore whether a poison arrow, if lodged into Achilles’ left heel, could have actually caused his death. Here I cite The Trojan War: A New History, by Barry Strauss, 2006, who argues “yes”. Finally, I confess that my “version” of the death of Achilles (via Priam’s plot to marry Achilles to his daughter Polyxena, and Paris’ assassination of Achilles in a temple of the god Apollo) holds together on the most gossamer of primary source threads. But I invite (dare) storytellers to come up with a more plausible and satisfying account of Achilles’ death, given the paucity and contradictory nature of the surviving accounts. I conclude by reviewing a series of “death of Achilles” accounts which I rejected in my version of the telling. I conclude by inviting listeners to explore the source materials, and come up with their own best understanding of how Achilles died. Happy Listening, Jeff RELATED LINKS ACHILLES: MYTH VS REALITY by greekmythcomix WHY WAS PARIS SUCH AN UTTER PLONKER by greekmythcomix DEATHS IN THE ILIAD INFOGRAPH by greekmythcomix ACHILLES' LAST STAND by Led Zeppelin, live 1979 YOUTUBE RELATED IMAGES. . .
THE STORY (50:00 minutes) A dispute over honour leads to a leadership shift (and a profound tragedy) in the Greek army. Meanwhile, Paris Prince of Troy discovers that “nemesis” is a word of particularly Greek origin. THE COMMENTARY THE OENONE STORY: A PATRIARCHAL MARRIAGE PRIMER (20 minutes; begins at 50:00) I devote this post-story commentary to an exploration of the “Paris and Oenone” story. I begin by reviewing the basic details of the story that seems to be agreed upon by all tellers down through the ages. In short: Paris is hit by Philoctetes’ poison arrow. The Trojan priests discover that only the healing arts of a particular forest nymph can save Paris from painful and certain death. Paris realizes that the nymph in question is Oenone, his former wife, who he abandoned some twelve or so years ago, having been promised (by Aphrodite) a much hotter and sexually obliging woman (Menelaus of Sparta’s wife Helen). At the time, Oenone had uttered some appropriately “fore shadowy” words: “Someday you will need me Paris…”. Paris, now dying of aforementioned arrow wound, asks Oenone (either via an embassy acting on his behalf, or, in some accounts, in person) to save him and Oenone says something to the effect of: “No. Let your current wife save you.” And Paris dies. I briefly review the minor variations in this basic plot line, including: embassy begs for Paris’ life; Paris goes to Mt. Ida and begs for his own life; Helen – can you believe it! – begs for Paris’ life; Oenone travels to Troy, where the full royal family begs for Paris’ life. But I note that in all cases, Oeneon says “No”. Then I outline the scene that follows, and that appears in ALL versions of the story. A scene, I note, that I find both implausible and deeply troubling. In all accounts of the Oenone story, following her initial rejection of Paris’ plea for help, Oenone relents, and goes searching for Paris, in order to save his life. And when she arrives too late, and finds Paris dead, Oenone, in all accounts, then takes her own life. Oenone commits suicide: sometimes by throwing herself off of Troy’s walls, sometimes by hanging herself, but in most accounts by throwing herself into Paris’ arms as his dead body burns on the funeral pyre. I spend the balance of the post story commentary exploring why storytellers through the ages – from Classical Greek times up through Victorian England – seem to adore the image of Oenone throwing her live body into her faithless ex-husband’s dead arms. And though I acknowledge that I cannot help but see the Oenone story through my own culture’s values lens, I then go on to make my case. I argue that the Oenone suicide appears to be a patriarchal society’s “polemic” or “primer” on the appropriate behaviour of wives, even the wives of faithless (and profoundly inadequate) husbands. Instead of a more plausible plot line – that Oenone, an immortal, ageless forest nymph, would have “gotten over” the loss of her faithless/clueless husband twelve years after he had walked out on her – we are expected to believe that Oenone, on seeing her ex-husband dead, would have responded, to quote Tennyson as follows: “ and all at once The morning light of happy marriage broke Thro’ all the clouded years of widowhood, And muffling up her comely head, and crying ‘Husband!’ she leapt upon the funeral pile, And mixt herself with him and past in fire.” THE DEATH OF OENONE, 1829 I conclude the post-story commentary by reviewing the cultural values of Bronze Age and Classical Greek society concerning the appropriate roles and accepted behaviours of both married men and married women. And I highlight the profoundly double standard. Finally I argue that Oenone, fulfilling her role in a “patriarchal primer story”, is required to suicide after she allows her husband Paris to die, because that is the only way she can atone for the marital sin that she has committed,. . .
ODYSSEY: THE PODCAST - my 14 episode, 24 hour sequel to Trojan War: The Podcast - is now recorded and waiting for you. Subscribe through your usual podcast provider, or go to odysseythepodcast.com!
THE STORY (60 minutes) Odysseus finally decodes the cryptic prophecy that “Troy’s walls will never be destroyed by an enemy force”, then sets to work on implementing the most audacious - and famous - “con” in the history of war. THE COMMENTARY WAS THERE EVER REALLY A TROJAN HORSE? (20 minutes; begins at 1:00:06) I begin this post-story commentary with a definitive: “Yes, there really was a Trojan Horse”. Homer’s Odyssey (c. 750 BCE) and Virgil’s Aeneid (c. 20 BCE) both tell us that there really was a giant wooden horse, and that is good enough for me. Both Homer and Virgil employ “eye-witness” accounts of the famous horse; Homer’s witnesses were men hidden in the horse’s hollow belly, while Virgil’s witnesses were Trojans on the ground. I note that the “canonical” version of the Trojan Horse story comes to us not via Homer, (who only mentions the horse briefly in the Odyssey) but via Virgil (who offers a detailed and compelling complete version of the entire horse caper in Book Two of the Aeneid). Then I turn to the objections of the “wooden horse non-believers”. They fall into two broad camps. Camp #1 argues that a wooden horse (as described by Homer and Virgil) could not have existed for logistical and mechanical reasons. Folks in this camp first point out that it would have taken months to construct a horse of the size and “hollow belly capacity” required, and during those months the Trojans from their high walls would have had a clear view of the construction project taking place across the Trojan plain, and no doubt would have seen that the horse was hollow. And, hence, would not have allowed it into their city. The second argument in this camp is based on weight and mobility issues. The gist of the argument goes something like this: Bronze Age technology was incapable of constructing a structure large enough to house 30 soldiers, tall enough to be higher than Troy’s walls, but still mobile enough to be transported across the Trojan Plain, from construction site to those walls. And therefore there could not have been a wooden horse as described in the canonical account. This leads us to Camp #2 of the “wooden horse non-believers”. These folks generally base their arguments against the wooden horse on the belief that “Even the Trojans could not have been THAT stupid!” And therefore, whatever is was that destroyed Troy, and whatever you wish to call it, it was certainly NOT a large hollow wooden horse on wheels. So what was the “real” Trojan Horse? The most popular argument is that the horse was simply a huge battering ram that somehow managed to affect a breach in Troy’s walls (or gates). Apparently a contemporary Bronze Age culture (the Assyrians) routinely used battering rams in siege warfare – and this is intriguing – protected the soldiers doing the “ramming” by covering the battering rams in wet animal hides (horse hides anyone?). Sometimes they even painted animal faces or images on to the rams (a horse face anyone?). So the Trojan “horse”, this argument concludes, was simply a gigantic, animal skin covered, possible painted, battering ram. The preceding theory, however, of necessity has to abandon the prophecy that “the walls of Troy will never be destroyed by an enemy force”. So I prefer the following, much more elaborate, hypothesis. Archaeologists tell us that “Priam’s Troy” was most likely either Troy 6, or Troy 7a. Troy 6 was a large wealthy city destroyed c 1250 BCE; Troy 7a, a much smaller and less wealthy city, was destroyed by warfare and fire c 1184 BCE. Now in this particular hypothesis, Troy 6 was Priam’s Troy. And we know that Troy 6 was destroyed by an earthquake, at about the same date as some historians argue that Priam’s Troy fell.. . .
ODYSSEY: THE PODCAST - my 14 episode, 24 hour sequel to Trojan War: The Podcast - is now recorded and waiting for you. Subscribe through your usual podcast provider, or go to odysseythepodcast.com!
THE STORY and A MESSAGE FROM JEFF WRIGHT (1:39:53) Odysseus confronts Priam, Menelaus confronts Helen, and Agamemnon confronts Fate and Deadly Destiny …. all on the night when the mighty city of Troy finally falls. And so, with the city of Troy in flames and the Greek fleet set sail across the wine dark seas for home, history’s most awesome epic - the Trojan War Epic - comes to a close. We have travelled a long way together in twenty episodes, from Episode One: The Apple of Discord to Episode Twenty: The Sack of Troy. It has been my pleasure and privilege to be your storyteller and guide on that journey. I have enjoyed sharing every wonderful moment with you. And I have taken constant delight in (and energy from) your generous enthusiasm and support. Of course a story this awesome generates its own “what happens next?” questions, plus an wealth of new subplots and sequels. Fortunately for us, all of that "awesomeness" is now available for your podcast listening pleasure, at ODYSSEY: THE PODCAST. My sequel podcast picks up the story right where Trojan War pod leaves off, down on the burning beaches of Troy. Odyssey: The Podcast tells all the tales found in Homer's Odyssey, of course, but also answers a host of "what happened next?" questions about Agamemnon, Menealus, Helen, and even the late, great Achilles! You can listen to all 24 hours (14 episodes) of Odyssey: The Podcast on whatever platform you listened to Trojan War pod, or via odysseythepodcast.com. In the meantime, let us stay in touch. Should you wish to talk with me (to share ideas; to make suggestions; to offer insights; to invite me to speak/perform in your town), then the best way to reach me is via my professional email: firstname.lastname@example.org. And should you wish to make a donation ( to say "thanks" for the past 25 hours of fun!), then visit my Donate page on this website. My website jeffwrightstoryteller.com provides video footage from my live shows and details of my other projects. If you take the time to write, I will do my level best to reply. And should you wish to keep posted on my plans, then you might want to follow my Facebook page: Trojan War: The Podcast. That is where I will post updates on my podcast and public performance plans going forward. And if you subscribe to my Twitter feed, @trojanwarpod, I promise to deliver some fun tweets on all things Trojan War and Odyssey.. So once again, thank you for listening. A great story requires a great audience, and you have been wonderful. Jeff RELATED LINKS RELATED IMAGES. . .
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