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The story of the Trojan Horse is very well known in the West, but did it actually exist, and if so what was it?

Although the Odyssey is mostly mythical and fantastic, we know that a few elements were based on reality: we know Troy exists, and some Trojan War did exist in some form, although we know very few details. Therefore I suspect the Trojan Horse may have some basis in reality, although it may have been something totally different:

  • Was it some sort of siege weapon, or tactic?
  • Or an infiltration of some sort?
  • Or something else entirely?

Given that the Trojan War coincides with (and is somewhat symbolic of) the late bronze age collapse, we have scant evidence and may never know for sure. Nevertheless, what evidence do we have of what the Trojan Horse was? Or what are the leading theories?

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    Well actually, it is neither in the Iliad nor the Odyssey, but in the Aenead. – fdb Oct 9 '14 at 12:33
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    The horse is in both the Odyssey and the Aeneid, but the reference in the Odyssey is rather terse (the relevant verses are described on the Wikipedia page). Notably, the Odyssey does not specify that the horse was believed to be a votive offering by the Trojans, only that Odysseus managed, through guile, to have it enter the citadel. – Thomas Pornin Oct 9 '14 at 15:14
  • Yes, the verses in the Odyssey assume that the myth is known to the audience and thus they do not spell out the details of the story. The details are in the Aenead. – fdb Oct 9 '14 at 19:01
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It is entirely possible that the whole story is fabricated. Genesis of Greek myths has been analysed by Paul Veyne; the corner point is that during Antiquity, there was no real difference between history and mythology, as practised by authors. The narrative was what mattered, so a "true" story was a story that "made sense" in a literary way. In the case of the Trojan Horse, the story had to explain how the Greeks had prevailed, even though the walls of Troy were famed and both parties had their own heroes and the support of some gods.

Note that the Trojan Horse is described (succinctly) in the Odyssey (Virgil expands upon it in the Aeneid, but Homer -- or whoever wrote the Odyssey -- still has precedence), a poem dedicated to Odysseus, whose main "philosophical" theme is the search for a restored order. Odysseus is far from home, lost, thus not in harmony with the Cosmos (the Cosmos is both the essence of divinity and the whole World). In his search for getting back to where he belongs, Odysseus even defies the gods, e.g. by refusing the gift of immortality and eternal youth offered by Circe. It is thus fitting that the same Odysseus would find the trick to resolve the Trojan war, that had kept locked all the kings and gods in a dead-end. One can therefore analyse the Trojan Horse as a metaphor for mankind being able not to reach divinity, but at least to find through intellectual craftiness a way to restore order (Chaos is the real Bad Guy of Greek mythology and philosophy, and a ten years long war is an incarnation of chaos).

Of course, a lot of other mundane explanations have been suggested, by people who really want the story to be based on an actual event. Treachery was one of the tools of war (it has always been), and in such times it was not considered dishonourable (the importance of "fighting fairly" is a late medieval idea). Yet another interesting suggestion is that the Trojan Horse symbolizes an earthquake: Poseidon, god of the Sea, was also god of earthquakes. Thus, an earthquake damaging the Troy walls could have been turned, later on, into a story about an offering to Poseidon hiding a god-supported act of war. (Note that neither the Odyssey nor the Aeneid claims that the horse was considered as an offering to Poseidon, but making offerings to the god of the Sea before setting sail makes a lot of sense.) Traces of earthquake damage have been found on Troy's ruins, albeit not in the level commonly associated with the mythic war.

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    A note about the earthquake theory: Poseidon was also the god of horses. If there was indeed an earthquake, a horse would be a very appropriate metaphor for it. – yannis Oct 9 '14 at 18:39
  • the importance of "fighting fairly" is a late medieval idea -> What about the duel between Menelaus and Paris in the Iliad ? Aren't the Achean condemning the dishonourable attitude of Paris ? – Evargalo Mar 9 '18 at 9:38
  • @Evargalo Roughly speaking, fleeing is dishonourable, cheating is not. Paris is despised for his lack of courage. On the other hand, he would have got away with moves that are nowadays considered "unfair" such as a low-placed kick, or throwing sands in the eyes of Menelaus. – Thomas Pornin Mar 9 '18 at 13:59
  • "...there was no real difference between history and mythology..." What's this bit here about, hmm... Giant. Ants. – Schwern Mar 9 '18 at 19:51
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I don't think it is possible to find the Trojan horse remains. Finding wood after 3200 years? The Trojan horse was a votive gift for Poseidon, and it always contained the bronze or iron swords, spears, and other metallic things. Before giving the gift, the Achaeans made a peace settlement with Trojans.

I found in Croatian literature a story about a 'wooden horse' which came from the island of Krk from Croatia, in the oral tradition named "Vejske povede" ( Veys stories-it means Pheak stories,Phoenicians). In this story, the citizens of a destroyed hillfort state that pirates came with a wooden trunk like a gift for armistice. They brought it into the city and opened the trunk, taking the swords from the wooden trunk, they then conquered the hillfort.

This story is almost identical to the story of Trojan horse, and I think it is a simple version of Homer's Trojan horse, without the fantastic elements. Version of refugees from Troy which remember events. Comparison of both stories could be useful for us. Also, we know that some of the late Bronze Age cultures (Minoan-Mycenean type) came from the northern part of Adriatic sea.

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