Lit Major Abroad

The (Ruined) Towers of Ilium


Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.

-Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus.

I’ve studied both literature and classics for many years. I’ve always loved pottering around ancient ruins, unsuccessfully trying to imagine what they would have looked like in their heyday. So when we decided to go to Turkey, my sister and I agreed we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit a site that had captured our imaginations years before, while we were still wide-eyed first-years at university.

The ancient city of Troy (or Ilium) features in one of the oldest surviving texts in the world; Homer’s Iliad. It’s one of the best-known legends of all time, although Homer doesn’t actually mention the most famous part; the Greek soldiers, after ten years of unsuccessfully besieging the city of Troy, leave a giant wooden horse on the beach where their camp was and sail away. The Trojans, quick to believe that after ten years of a mentally and physically gruelling siege the Greeks simply gave up (my psychology professors would chuckle at this bit), wheel the giant horse into the city. Celebrations ensue. The Trojans get ridiculously drunk. Night falls on the city and everyone lies fast asleep. The Greek soldiers hidden in the horse creep out and open the city gates to let in the rest of the army. Massacres ensue. Troy falls.