Troy: The British Museum

Troy: myth and reality is not just the title of The British Museums’ current blockbuster, but also a perfect summary of the exhibition. The show focusses on the epic tale of Helen (the most beautiful woman in the world) who was abducted by Prince Paris of Troy after the goddess Aphrodite promised her to him which sparked a ten year war – and has fascinated archaeologists, writers, artists, film-makers and the public for centuries. It is visually impressive; blue silk screens with white text replace traditional vinyl on walls or panel information, key English and Greek phrases suspend from the ceiling, and archaeological finds, sculpture, paintings, original manuscripts, photography and a poster of the 2004 film starring Brad Pitt all vye for attention. The show explores the archaeological evidence from a hill site excavated in the 19th century and from the 1870’s excavations by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, which geographically pinpoint Troy in what is now north-west Turkey and believed to be a real rather than mythical place. Depictions on classical pottery dating back to 400 BC, descriptions in Homer and Ovid’s poetry, a stunning marble sculpture of the wounded Achilles by Filippo Albacini in 1825, and re-tellings of the story in medieval paintings all show the heroes in battle, sorrow and downtime, making them multidimensional and real. There is a focus on the Greek hero Odysseus and his adventures trying to get home at the end of the war, made famous in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. It also examines the frequently overlooked women, from Helen (who sparked the war), to Hecuba (Queen of Troy), Aphrodite (goddess of love whose meddling led to the war), Penelope (wife of Odysseus), the Sirens (nymphs who tried to lure sailors to shipwreck through their singing) and many others, who like their male counterparts have captivated audiences. The show closes with modern takes on Troy, with a photograph by Eleanor Antin inspired by Rubens’ Judgement of Paris, and a light installation based on Achilles’ shield by Spencer Finch.

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