Huge thanks to Kris Karcher for his guest blogging on warplay. Take it away, Kris!
Hello guys, gals, and non-binary pals! My name is Kris Karcher and I am the dramaturg on warplay. What is a dramaturg you ask? Well, a dramaturg’s job changes with every production, but to put it simply, I see myself as a research assistant to the director, and more importantly, an advocate for the playwright in the rehearsal room. For warplay, being the dramaturg meant doing a lot of digging into the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, the myths surrounding the Trojan War, and exploring other themes of the play such as Free Will and Toxic Masculinity both now and in Ancient Greece. In this series of blogs, I will be touching on a few different areas of research in order to help contextualize the play you will be seeing in the next coming weeks. Or maybe you’ve already seen the play, and you’d like to know more. That’s great too!
In our first few posts, I would love to talk a bit about the Trojan War, which is the back drop of Achilles’ and Patroclus’ story. Scholars believe the Trojan War occurred around 1250 BCE in a city-state about 5km off the coast of the Aegean Sea. The story of this great war was passed down from generation to generation until Homer immortalized the story in his epic poem entitled The Iliad in 800 B.C. While Homer’s poem focuses on the last year of the ten-year siege of Troy, other stories about the origin and history of the conflict were recorded in centuries after The Iliad was published.
The Origin of the Trojan War
According to mythology, the city of Troy was a mighty ancient metropolis that overlooked the Aegean Sea to the east coast of Greece. The city was known for its high towers and strong walls built by Apollo and Poseidon. The city was ruled by the benevolent King Priam, who was loved by all of his people. His position of power brought the city riches, gold, fine status, and the bravest warrior in all of Troy, his son Hector. King Priam, and his wife, Queen Hecuba, also had another son. However, at the time of her pregnancy, an oracle predicted that Hecuba would “give birth to a burning torch that would one day set fire to the city and burn Troy to the ground.” In fear, they ordered a servant to take the child into the woods on Mount Ida and leave him there to die. The child survived the woods, however, and was brought up by a shepherd at the base of the Mountain. The shepherd named him Paris. When Paris grew older, he was said to be the most handsome mortal man in the world. He was also the best runner and hunter among all of the people that lived at the base of Mount Ida. Paris stayed at his home with the shepherd until one fateful day when he was summoned by the Gods.
On this day, on a high mountain of Greece, King Pelus of Thessaly was marrying the beautiful sea nymph named Thetis (Who would also soon be the mother of the great Achilles). All of the Gods were in attendance except for Eris, the goddess of discord, for she was not invited. In an act of revenge, Eris decided to secretly enter the wedding and drop an apple made from the brightest gold, with an inscription stating simply: “For the fairest of all.” It wasn’t long until the apple had been found, and three goddesses, Hera (the wife of Zeus), Athena (the goddess of wisdom), and Aphrodite (the goddess of love) all laid claim to the apple. Zeus, who would normally settle these disputes, did not want to offend any of the goddesses, so he sent them to the most beautiful man in the mortal world, Paris, to make the decision as to who should get the apple.
The goddesses appeared to Paris, told him the story of the apple, and explained that he was meant to choose which would get to keep the golden fruit. Each goddess offered Paris a gift in exchange if he decided in their favor. Paris ultimately went with Aphrodite, who promised him the most beautiful wife the world had to offer. With Aphrodite’s guidance, Paris traveled to the city of Troy, where he was quickly recognized by his parents and was welcomed back into the royal family.
Around the time Paris returned home, news came to Troy of a princess from Greece so beautiful that all who saw her wanted to marry her. Paris knew immediately this was the woman he was meant to marry and sailed off to meet her at once. Unfortunately for Paris, Helen’s father, King Tyndareus, had been fielding suitors for Helen for months, and was close to making a decision as to who would wed his daughter. Before Tyndareus announced his decision, he demanded that all the eligible princes take an oath that no matter who he decided would wed Helen, all others would come to his aid if she were ever taken from him. The princes, which included the wise Ulysses from Ithaca; Diomedes, King of Argos; Ajax, the tallest and strongest of the Greeks; and Agamemnon, king of the rich city of Mycenae, all agreed. Tyndareus then announced that the brave and kind Menelaus would win the love of Helen.
Helen and Menelaus were married for less than a year when Paris and his companions came to their palace. After meeting Helen, Paris decided he must have her and prayed to the Goddess of Aphrodite to put a trance on Helen, so she could be carried away to Troy in the night.
When morning came, Menelaus discovered his wife was gone and called on all of her past suiters to honor their oath and fight to bring Helen back. Not only did all of Helen’s past suitors keep their pledge, but chiefs of each kingdom sent soldiers to Menelaus’s aid to defend the honor of Greece. All of the chiefs had been assembled but one, the great Achilles, who had been whisked away by his mother and disguised on the island of Skyros to keep him from fighting. The wise Ulysses discovered his hiding place however, and convinced him and his companion Patroclus to join in their mission, and thus the Trojan War began!
Most of the Trojan War was one elongated siege. The city was able to resist the Greek invaders for so long mostly due to its magnificent fortifications. In addition, because Troy was built on a hill, the Trojans could see incoming attacks from miles away. War waged back and forth across the plains of Troy and neighboring cities over the years, but the really exciting battles were reserved for the final year of the siege, where The Iliad begins.
Thanks so much for reading! Stay tuned later in the week for the story of The Iliad and the fate of our heroes in warplay!