Review: Troy, Stephen Fry

Rating: 4 out of 5

Mr Fry’s take on the Iliad, and the ending of the siege of Troy, was most enjoyable. The author’s gentle humour carries the reader through these chapters while the admonition that not everything—and, in particular, the complex Greek genealogies—need be remembered is a kind reminder that the story is more important than (some of) the characters.

It was enjoyable to see how the author looked back into the original mythology. I recently read Miller’s ‘Song of Achilles’ which is a different take on (nearly) the same subject. In this case, I’d recommend both of these works because even though one can get an idea of what sort of a man Achilles was, Ms Miller is far better at getting into his mind. Mr Fry’s is the big picture, the war itself; Ms Miller’s the man.

The historical commentary that the author occasionally provides is incredibly useful. Notes on the language of the peoples as well as the historical setting of the events that serve as the epilogue are a great help in trying to picture this. At the same time, historical interests such as the Catalogue of Ships are mentioned but not drawn out. The balance between them is remarkable.

And, yet, I went with four stars… This book was a reminder after Ms Miller’s look into the same characters that these heroes were a right group of bastards. Agamemnon is the most obvious one, but Achilles and Neoptolemus aren’t far behind. Paris is the chief bastard from the Trojan side. Hubris is the common property of most of the characters—which indicates that humans have changed very little—while this cast tries to find their aristeia, and, so often with that, their death.

One of the things which had escaped me before was the link between Aeneas and Troy which was spelt out very clearly in this book. I think that this could be a very good connection to Roman (and Etruscan) mythology if Mr Fry chooses to follow it, while of course Odysseus’ homeward journey is the other story that remains to be told.

Bastards or not, these characters are everyday names—and this book is a very good re-imagining of why we know those Greeks and Trojans who fought for the face that launched a thousand ships.

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