By David E.J.A. Bennett
It all began one summer – I don’t know what year… probably 2008. My fascination with literature had not yet reached its terminal state, at which it currently and continuously resides.
Something drew to me to a story which I and most people are familiar with: The story of the Trojan Horse!
Something clicked in me that day which sparked a fascination with literature so encompassing of my brain that I have not been able to escape it since.
I wanted to know where that story came from! Who wrote it? Where did it originate? Was there more than one version? Where am I? What?
So, the obvious thing to do was read every book I could find which vaguely alluded to the story.
My quest began, as any classicist might expect, with Homer. The Iliad and the follow-up, the Odyssey, both place themselves in and around the Trojan War, before and after respectively. One might have thought, then, that at least one of the two might have offered some description of that famous horsey.
But not really. For probably the two most famous texts about the siege of the city of Troy, there is only cursory mention of the wooden horse at the end of the Iliad. Clearly this did not satisfy my need to know!
Determined in my quest, I moved on to Hesiod’s Work and Days, from around roughly the same period as Homer (700 BC or so). But again, no bloody horse!
I then worked my way through the plays of the three great tragedians of Ancient Greece – Euripides, Sophocles, Aeschylus – but nothing concrete there either.
Had this goddamn myth sprung from the ground like those skeleton warriors from the classic fantasy film from 1963, ‘Jason and the Argonauts’? (The origin of which film being Argonautica by Apollonius of Rhodes, is included in the texts I read which do not feature the story of that godforsaken bastard wooden horse).
For roughly a year, I sailed through the choppy waters of the Greek texts of antiquity. Always with my quest in mind: to find that wooden horse which gave victory to the Geeks in the sacking of Troy – a quest which was now becoming as arduous as Odyssey’s journey back from Troy after the war.
Obviously, I did not read every Greek text from the classical period, but I read enough to finally realise that I was probably reading in the wrong centuries.
Refusing to be thwarted, my focus shifted. I travelled through time to the next great period in history: The Roman period.
Bedraggled, fattened, and eyes now incapable of looking at anything that did not resemble little printed words, I had arrived in Ancient Rome.
The entirety of the Roman canon is even more vast than that of the Greeks, so I had to choose my battles wisely.
Thankfully (for this particular quest at least), Epic poetry had died down slightly by this period, with favour now being given prose – rhetoric, history, politics, etc. – and information was much more widely available.
I began by reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses from cover to cover – a text which became the most influential text I have ever read (and continues to be).
Ovid’s accounts of the Trojan War, however, do not contain accounts of that fucking wooden horse! In Book XII of Metamorphoses, Ovid instead chooses to almost mock Homer’s Iliad, comparing the massive battles of the war to a farcical wedding brawl. Thanks for nothing, Ovidius.
A few little peeps into other texts of the period that I cannot recall, I crawled, half dead, up to the front page of the one.
The Aeneid by Virgil, written just before the turn of the first millennium; an unashamed follow-up to Homer’s great texts.
Finally, I found what I was looking for! In Book II of The Aeneid, the story is explained in great detail and my quest was over. Finally, I got to read how those sneaky Greeks, led by Odysseus, were brought inside the walls of Troy, undetected, crept out after nightfall, and massacred the all Trojans! Lovely stuff!
I didn’t even read passed Book II. I put the thing down and lay back remembering the epic journey I had just been on. Glad to be home, safe and sound, I went to sleep.