Trojan War: The Podcast is a serialized telling, in contemporary language, of the myriad stories from Greek mythology that together comprise the greatest epic of Western culture: the story of the Trojan War. All the great characters from Homer’s Iliad are here – Achilles, Helen of Troy, Odysseus, the Olympian Gods – and all the famous moments from the story – the Trojan Horse, The Judgement of Paris and Achilles Heel. Episode after episode, Jeff Wright, the storyteller, delivers a conversational, fast-paced, literate, and addictive, performance.
EPISODE 1 “THE APPLE OF DISCORD”
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.
EPISODE 2 “THE TORCH”
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!
EPISODE 3 “THE BIRTH OF ACHILLES”
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..
Episode 4 “THE JUDGEMENT OF PARIS”
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.
EPISODE 5 “SPARTA”
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.
EPISODE 6 “HELEN OF SPARTA”
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
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
Excellent History Podcast
First podcast I listened to every single episode. It is a combination of the full story of the Trojan War with historical and literary perspectives. Engaging and educational!
So much fun
If you like history, if you like myths, if you like the stories that we’re all innately familiar with, then listen to this. Jeff offers a great retelling of one of the most epic stories from antiquity.
Good as it gets
A few years after listening to this for the first time, I’m diving in again. Fascinating and brilliantly portrayed. Amongst many things within this extensive podcast, I love the balance between the thrilling saga of the Iliad and the historical approximations presented by the writer. It fills in all the gaps I had in my knowledge of this foundational myth and is just so entertaining. I hope there is more to come, just great stuff.