Troy between myth and reality

Unique exhibition in the British Museum retells a story that has caught people's imagination for more than 3000 years

Photo: EPA An Athenian jar, 530 BC.

Battles, heroes, love triangles, kings and princes. And a horse. This is the story of Troy, retold hundreds of times during the last three millennia from Homer through Shakespeare to nowadays. And the British Museum also entered the game with a major exhibition, which was opened on Thursday under the name Troy: Myth and Reality, and will run until 8 March 2020.

The exhibition features around 300 artefacts and presents them in a special gallery. Pots, silver containers, bronze weaponry, statues, and sarcophagi are among the items that were put on display., Most of them are on loan from the Berlin Museum, Britain's Ashmolean Museum and the Danish National Museum, but items from the British Museum collection are present as well.

Most of the artefacts dated back to the times of Troy were excavated by German archaeologist and businessman Heinrich Schliemann in the 19th century, taken out of the then-Ottoman Empire and donated to the Berlin Museum. Most of them are still there, with few gold pieces such as Helen's jewelery and the Treasure of Priam plundered by Soviet forces at the end of the World War II and brought to the then-USSR. Some of them disappeared, others were put on display at Moscow's Pushkin Museum.

The story of a great city, plunged into a 10-year devastating war over the abduction of the most beautiful woman in the world, is irresistibly dramatic and tragic as told first by Homer, and later on used by poets, writers, dramatists and artists as a source of inspiration. Adventurers and archaeologists have been in quest of the city until it was finally located in the late 19th century.

In fact Troy is both fugitive and real, a fiction and a truth, a place of the deep past and an endless parade of possible cities, all magnificent and teeming, all broken and burned. None of the objects in the exhibition can be ascribed to a real Trojan war, because Homer's Iliad is not a historical document, though it may be, on some level, a dreamlike poetic memory of raids or sieges, of conflicts between Greeks and Trojans that took place in the millennium BC.

But why the Trojan war heroes have inspired so many re-tellings of the great story. The exhibition is going to show exactly this. The visitor will be able to get closer to these captivating characters while exploring the breathtaking art that brings them to life, from dramatic ancient sculptures and exquisite vase paintings to powerful contemporary works.

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