Who is to blame for war?

“The tale of the battle of Troy haunts us to this date, along with Odysseus’, who took ten long years to reach home,” writes Anantha.

February is the month to celebrate the importance of love. The intense feeling of deep affection has managed to capture the interests of poets and bards through ages galore. One such bard, Homer, sang about a tale of two lovers and the evil fate which befell them as an aftermath of their passion.

Once upon a time, there lived a wise king Priam who ruled over the kingdom of Troy, along with his dutiful queen Hecuba. Troy was located at a strategic point at the tip of the sea. The trading vessels and travelers had to pay their tolls to the kingdom to enter the European shore. Filled with riches and brimming with prosperity, Troy was an envy to everyone around it. With its high walls and strong army, it was almost impossible to penetrate.

Then one fatal day, it burned. It was looted and plundered. Men were killed; women and children were taken hostages.

For, Troy had to pay a price – for sheltering forbidden love. A forbidden apple, a forbidden beauty, and an unfortunate elopement leading to circumstances which resulted in the devastating debacle, ‘The Trojan War’

This fateful tragedy of Troy is beautifully sung by Homer in his timeless epic “Iliad”. Many books have been written, and numerous television and film adaptations have been made on this captivating epic.

The story starts with the frivolous son of Priam, Paris, journeying to Sparta. King Priam wishes Paris to marry Hermione, the daughter of Menelaus, the king of Sparta, to make a political alliance.

However, the love god Cupid had his own plans. His arrows spare none. Especially not the man who favored his mother Aphrodite over Hera and Athena, when he was asked to judge the most beautiful Goddess of the three. And definitely not after Aphrodite promised Paris the most beautiful woman in the world as a prize.

Paris’ heart skips a beat when he sees the most beautiful woman at Sparta. He falls in love with the beauteous queen of Sparta, Helen, wife of Menelaus and elopes with her to Troy.

Little did he know that the woman he has eloped with, is the face which can launch a thousand war ships. Menelaus’ brother Agamemnon, who had an eye on Troy and sees this as an opportunity to capture the city. He raises a mammoth army to set sail to Troy.

Gods meddle to stop the Greeks. They send bad weather and the Goddess Artemis, demands the first sacrifice of war, a dove of pure blood, Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia.

So, when the Greeks land at Troy and Priam asks them to name their terms of negotiation stating that he does not want any bloodshed, Agamemnon has only one answer “Blood has already been shed”. And Troy has to pay for this.. He demands that Troy has to relinquish its control over all the sea routes along with the surrender of Helen..

Unable to cater to such unacceptable demands, Troy resorts to war against the Greeks.

The grounds of Troy witness one of the longest wars ever fought. Thousands die, because of famine, bad weather, plague and in the battlefield. In vain, the mighty heroes fall, whose glorified names are etched in the epic tale. 

Recently I watched the Netflix series ‘Troy-Fall of a city’ which gives a very detailed account of this heroic classic. The series comprises of 8 episodes and begins with the elopement of Helen and Paris, and culminates with Greeks returning back home with their prize, victorious after destroying Troy. It is not an adaptation of Iliad, but loosely based on the same epic. It is supposed to be an original take on the Greek myths, but I believe the makers have used their insight and creativity to make it more nuanced for the current audience.

The characters and motives remain the same-there is the righteous Achilles, the strongest of the strong along with his invincible Myrmidons; Hector, a dutiful husband, son, father and a mighty warrior; Odysseus, the mastermind of the Greek army; Ajax, a Titan by himself; Nestor, the Greek army general; Menelaus, the vengeful husband ; Agamemnon a vile emperor; Priam a just king, but hasty in his decisions; Hecuba, the dutiful wife and finally Paris and Helen, the reasons behind the war. We encounter the grieving Andromache, Hector’s wife, who loses everything in the war, her husband, her father, her brothers and eventually, her son.

There are many interesting points which this series brings forth. The most important aspect is that no war could have been continuously fought for 10 years. So, ‘Trojan war’ was less of a continuous battle but more like a seize laid by the Greeks on the Trojans. Greeks initially attack Troy and figure out that their walls are impenetrable. They, then surround Troy and cut off all the food supplies from outside. The Trojans, left with little rations to fend themselves, are forced to dig underground tunnels through the sea to Cecilia. It takes nearly two years secretively to build a channel of communication to the outside world. Cecelia is ruled by Andromache’s father. But one night, Achilles, with the help of a Greek spy, enters Helen’s chambers in Troy and coaxes the truth out of her. The Greeks then burn Cecelia and take the plunder. As the Trojan supplies begin to dwindle, unrest and despair spreads among the citizens of Troy.

The Trojans, in retaliation, launch a guerrilla attack on the Greek camps and burn their food supplies. Many Greek soldiers die because of hunger, and plague and poor sanitation. Spies move back and forth, captured and tortured for information. This series indicates that it could have possibly been more of a cold war which culminated in a battle towards the end.

Whoever has read Iliad has had an impression that Paris was a coward. Their recklessness has always been the cause of this war. Once the war starts, Iliad does not focus on the plight of Paris and Helen, and the strain which their relationship goes through because of the changed circumstances. The series, however, gives a lot of importance to this aspect in detail. For the first time, you might find yourself sympathetic to the plight of Paris. He is portrayed as a character who stands firm on his decision and is sincerely in love with Helen. He understands that he is the one who caused the war and laments every death on the battlefield. Risking his life every time, he ventures out of the city along with Hector to find means to get supplies into the city and gather allies to fight the army. Other than his parents and Helen who stand by him, he is looked down upon by everyone around him including Hector, who is torn between the love for his brother and duty towards the country. The head priest and his own sister Cassandra prophesize that he will bring doom to the city and has to be driven away. His parents forsake him at birth but take him in later because of guilt. Despite all this, he stands firmly behind Hector and tries his best to save the city.

But the same might not be said for Helen. Though she grieves over the aftermath of the war, she is always vigilant about the Trojans and does not think twice while murdering Trojan spies who suspect that she was the one who let the secret loose to Achilles about the supplies from Cecelia. And when Hector dies, she pleads Paris to elope from Troy as she suspects that the Greeks will take over Troy and capture her. Paris stands ground for his city but we do not see that loyalty from Helen either towards Troy or Greece. It could be possible because she is shunned in Troy for obvious reasons, despite her best attempts to fit in. She gives a portion of her grain to the city for food and also helps Andromache through her pregnancy. She tries to befriend the king and his kind queen. But despite her continuous efforts, she is belittled, suspected and even banished to widow quarters when Paris flees the battlefield. One can argue that, over a period of time, her guilt vanishes and she starts scheming to save both herself and Paris from the Trojans and the Greeks. When Menelaus finally kills Paris before her and she sees Troy burning down, she turns into a living corpse, ready to be taken back to Sparta by her husband.

We meet Hector and Andromache. We grieve for them as we watch their sincere efforts to stop the calamity every single time. Hector and Andromache face the brutal brunt of the consequences of actions by Paris and Helen. Hector tries to stop the elopement, build the underground tunnel to Cecilia, advise his father against the war, plead his brother to return Helen back, leads his army to the battlefield and holds himself responsible for every single drop of blood shed by a Trojan. In the name of revenge, he is brutally killed by Achilles and his dead body is dragged on the ground with his hands and feet tied on the back of a chariot.

His dutiful wife Andromache stands tall before the beauteous Helen. Helen asks her once, “Why do you hate me so much?”. Perhaps Andromache had the premonition the moment she saw Helen that she would destroy her life. After Hector is killed and Troy captured, her infant baby is thrown from the city walls as the heir of Troy is too dangerous to be left alive. The regal princess is then captured as a slave to be a concubine to the son of her husband’s killer, Achilles.

Then there is Achilles himself, the incarnation of God of war. Headstrong yet righteous, brutal yet kind, the man is an embodiment of contradictions. The best moment in the whole series is his conversation with King Priam, who braves his life and enters the enemy camp to take back his son’s body from the clutches of his killer. Achilles kills Hector without mercy but when Priam weeps before him, he melts completely and sends off Hector’s body with full honor. His steady friendship with Odysseus and their deep conversations are a delight to watch. He questions the purpose of this war multiple times with Odysseus. What is the glory in fighting a battle for a woman who does not wish to return to her husband? He dies a treacherious death in the hands of Paris who shoots an arrow at his heel, from behind.

Odysseus is no less interesting a character. He plots, spies, throws baits and attacks. Despite his best attempts, he watches his army and friends dying around him helplessly. He tries to put sense in both Agamemnon’s and Priam’s head to give up the war. He pleads Hector to stop the war and negotiate. He later reasons with Achilles not to prolong the war and end it soon. He frees women slaves at nightfall and helps them escape. He plants his spies inside the walls of Troy and watches every move of the enemy. Finally, after Achilles dies, he devises the master plan of the gigantic wooden horse to break into the gates of Troy.

One fine day, the Greek camp disappears. There is a wooden horse left on the shore, an offering to Apollo from Greeks for safe passage back home. Priam foolishly takes the bait and orders the horse to be pulled into the city. That night, the Greek soldiers hiding in the horse open the city gates from inside for the entire Greek army to march in and seize the city. The drunken Trojans are no match to the Greeks as they plunder the city and corpses are piled, and the prophecy “Black blood runs through the city” comes true.

And by dawn, nothing is left of the city, except ashes. As Odysseus watches the Trojan slaves boarding the Greek ships one after another, Andromache curses him “May the ghosts of Troy haunt you forever”.

It rings true for us. The tale of the battle of Troy haunt us to this date, along with Odysseus’, who took another ten long years to reach back home. Another man cursed for doing what he was asked to do. Another man whose fate was a plaything for the gods! So, who was to blame for this war? Was its Paris or Helen? Achilles or Odysseus? Or was it everyone, because of the forbidden apple which triggered the course of action? Or, were they all pawns in the gods’ game of chess?

The actors have done a fine job in portraying such layered characters. The series has its own share of drawbacks- the visuals are mediocre, most of the scenes are shot at night. The settings are lackluster and costumes deserve little merit. However, the story of Troy and the characters who bind it with blood and sweat, need to be told and re-told in every way possible.

Source : Royal Television Society

Anantha is an IT Professional. Writing is her passion. She writes short stories, book reviews, movie reviews, small stories for children and play scripts for the theater. She regularly conducts storytelling workshops for children.

Read more reviews of TV series on Bengaluru Review :

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