In Greek mythology, the Trojan War was waged against the city of Troy by the Achaeans after Paris of Troy took Helen from her husband Menelaus, the king of Sparta. The war is among the most important events in Greek mythology and was narrated in many works of Greek literature, including the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer. The Iliad relates a part of the last year of the siege of Troy, while the Odyssey describes the journey home of Odysseus, one of the Achaean leaders. Other parts of the war were told in a cycle of epic poems, which has only survived in fragments. Episodes from the war provided material for Greek tragedy and other works of Greek literature, and for Roman poets like Virgil and Ovid. The war originated from a quarrel between the goddesses Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite, after Eris, the goddess of strife and discord, gave them a golden apple, sometimes known as the Apple of Discord, marked "for the fairest". Zeus sent the goddesses to Paris, who judged that Aphrodite, as the "fairest", should receive the apple. In exchange, Aphrodite made Helen, the most beautiful of all women and wife of Menelaus, fall in love with Paris, who took her to Troy. Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and the brother of Helen's husband Menelaus, led an expedition of Achaean troops to Troy and besieged the city for ten years because of Paris' insult. After the deaths of many heroes, including the Achaeans Achilles and Ajax, and the Trojans Hector and Paris, the city fell to the ruse of the Trojan Horse. The Achaeans slaughtered the Trojans, except for some of the women and children whom they kept or sold as slaves, and desecrated the temples, thus earning the wrath of the gods. Few of the Achaeans returned safely to their homes and many founded colonies in distant shores. The Romans later traced their origin to Aeneas, one of the Trojans, who was said to have led the surviving Trojans to modern day Italy.
The ancient Greeks thought the Trojan War was a historical event that had taken place in the 13th or 12th century BC, and believed that Troy was located in modern day Turkey near the Dardanelles. By modern times both the war and the city were widely believed to be non-historical. In 1870, however, the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann excavated a site in this area which he identified as Troy; this claim is now accepted by most scholars. Whether there is any historical reality behind the Trojan War is an open question. Many scholars believe that there is a historical core to the tale, though this may simply mean that the Homeric stories are a fusion of various tales of sieges and expeditions by Mycenaean Greeks during the Bronze Age. Those who believe that the stories of the Trojan War derive from a specific historical conflict usually date it to the 12th or 11th centuries BC, often preferring the dates given by Eratosthenes of 1194–1184 BC, which roughly corresponds with archaeological evidence of a catastrophic burning of Troy VIIa. The events of the Trojan War are found in many works of Greek literature and depicted in numerous works of Greek art. There is no single, authoritative text which tells the entire events of the war. Instead, the story is assembled from a variety of sources, some of which report contradictory versions of the events. The most important literary sources are the two epic poems traditionally credited to Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, composed sometime between the 9th and 6th centuries BC. Each poem narrates only a part of the war. The Iliad covers a short period in the last year of the siege of Troy, while the Odyssey concerns Odysseus's return to his home island of Ithaca, following the sack of Troy.
Other parts of the Trojan War were told in the poems of the Epic Cycle, also known as the Cyclic Epics: the Cypria, Aethiopis, Little Iliad, Iliou Persis, Nostoi, and Telegony. Though these poems survive only in fragments, their content is known from a summary included in Proclus' Chrestomathy. The authorship of the Cyclic Epics is uncertain. It is generally thought that the poems were written down in the 7th and 6th century BC, after the composition of the Homeric poems, though it is widely believed that they were based on earlier traditions. Both the Homeric epics and the Epic Cycle take origin from oral tradition. Even after the composition of the Iliad, Odyssey, and the Cyclic Epics, the myths of the Trojan War were passed on orally, in many genres of poetry and through non-poetic storytelling. The Trojan War tales were familiar stories, beginning at least a few generations before Homer started to write in around 750 BCE. To create his epic poems, Homer chose parts of the oral tradition and wove the material into unified works. He probably embellished the stories himself, as any good storyteller would. where did the oral tradition come from? Certainly, one source would be from past events. Probably, a war or several wars took place between people from the land of Greece and Troy or a place like it. Memories of such a conflict could only be preserved by storytellers, before there was writing. When stories are passed from one person to another they can easily change and grow. The facts probably were mixed up with invented material over many years of re-telling the war history. The Trojan War story was also part of the ancient belief system, or myth: stories of the behavior of the gods and how things came to be. To the ancient Greeks, these myths were a form of truth and a basis for religion.
While the Epic Cycle and Homer provide the oldest written versions of the Troy stories, there is another kind of evidence for the popularity of Troy legends: artwork. Pictures from the stories have survived on long-lasting stone, pottery and metal items. One of the oldest of these, the Mykonos Vase, dates from about 675 BCE. Elsewhere, scholars have recognized the Trojan Horse on a bronze pin, from the wheels under his hooves. We find scenes of Ajax falling on his sword and Achilles defeating the Amazon princess. In fact, events like these which we know about from the Epic Cycle were more common at first than scenes described by Homer. Later artists and writers used material from the Epic Cycle and from Homer, and continued to use oral tradition stories until the tradition finally died down by the 300s BCE. In a sense, though, the Trojan War oral tradition still lives, as long as people tell each other their own versions of what went on at Troy.With the rise of modern critical history, Troy and the Trojan War were consigned to the realms of legend. However, the true location of ancient Troy had from classical times remained the subject of interest and speculation, so when in 1822 the Scottish journalist Charles Maclaren reviewed the available material, he was able to identify with confidence the position of the acropolis of Augustus's New Ilium in north-western Anatolia. In 1866, Frank Calvert, the brother of the American consular agent in the region, made extensive surveys and published in scholarly journals his identification of the hill of New Ilium, which was on farmland owned by his family, as the site of ancient Troy. The hill, near the city of Çanakkale, was known to the Turks as Hisarlık.
Events and details of the story that are only found in later authors may have been passed on through oral tradition and could be as old as the Homeric poems. Visual art, such as vase-painting, was another medium in which myths of the Trojan War circulated. In later ages playwrights, historians, and other intellectuals would create works inspired by the Trojan War. The three great tragedians of Athens, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, wrote many dramas that portray episodes from the Trojan War. Among Roman writers the most important is the 1st century BC poet Virgil. In Book 2 of the Aeneid, Aeneas narrates the sack of Troy; this section of the poem is thought to rely on material from the Cyclic Epic Iliou Persis. In the 1920s, the Swiss scholar Emil Forrer claimed that the names Wilusa and Taruisa found in Hittite texts should be identified with Ilium and Troia, respectively. He further noted that the name of Alaksandu, a king of Wilusa mentioned in a Hittite treaty, is quite similar to Homer's Paris, whose birthname was Alexandros. Subsequent to this, the Tawagalawa letter was found to document an unnamed Hittite king's correspondence to the king of the Ahhiyawa, referring to an earlier "Wilusa Episode" involving hostility on the part of the Ahhiyawa. The Hittite king was long held to be Mursili II (1321—1296), but, since the 1980s, his son Hattusili III (1265—1240) is more commonly preferred, although his other son Muwatalli (1296—1272) still remains a possibility.
People naturally assumed that important events like those at Troy were caused or influenced by the gods. Rituals and religious festivals helped keep alive stories of Troy that involved the gods' relations with both Greek and Trojan mortals.
Though we have so little of the Epic Cycle left, we know it told many different stories of the Trojan War. The following are the names and topics of the Cycle poems other than those of Homer.
Cypria - The Judgement of Paris and other events leading up to the Trojan War, and events during the war up to the point where Zeus plans to pull Achilles out of the fighting.
Aethiopis - Achilles defeats the Amazon warrior Penthesileia and others, but is himself killed by Paris, backed by Apollo.
Little Iliad - Odysseus wins Achilles' armor, but Great Ajax goes mad and kills himself. Final events of the war end in the building of the wooden horse.
Ilioupersis (Sack of Troy) - The Greeks destroy Troy.
Nostoi (Songs of Homecoming) - Stories of the returns home to Greece of Menelaus, Agamemnon, and others.
Telegony Odysseus voyages to Thesprotia and returns only to be murdered by an illegitimate son, Telegonus.