I hope everyone had a lovely week, and welcome to part 3 of How Accurate Is: Troy! The subject of today’s post is my personal favourite, Hollywood Romanticism. This subset of historical errors is the most widespread in Hollywood, and represents the love of screenwriters for a happy ending. In Troy, these errors find their expression in any departure from the story of the Iliad which steer Troy towards traditional Hollywood romance and a happy ending; this was almost certainly the largest category of errors in Troy. Many of these changes served to make Troy a happier story than the Iliad, but not necessarily a better one.
One of the first changes in this category is also the most ambiguous; the story of Helen itself. In the Iliad and later literature, as well as in discussions surrounding the story of the Trojan War, there has always hovered the question of whether Helen was taken by force or consented to travelling with Paris. Certainly, both sides of the argument have merit; the film, in the spirit of Hollywood Romanticism, settles on the latter. Helen being in love with Paris ensures the palatability of the story, as it is difficult to root for a kidnapper (not to mention difficult to believe it of Orlando Bloom). Therefore, while this does not represent an error per se, choosing this side of the story does represent a predisposition towards the romantic.
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If Helen represents an ambiguous change, other changes in Troy are much more evident. The example of Menelaus is perhaps the most grievous. Menelaus has never been a likeable figure, as his hypocritical position regarding infidelity in some myths suggest (though this was a trait hardly unique to Menelaus in Greek mythology). However, Menelaus did earn the distinction of being one of few characters to unambiguously survive the Trojan War; following the sack of Troy, he comes across Helen, and (despite his earlier promise to kill her), falls for her once again and takes her home with him, where they live a long, and possibly happy, life together. In Troy, however, the fate of Menelaus is rather different. As in the Iliad, he is challenged by Paris to single combat to determine the war. In the Iliad, Paris is defeated by Menelaus but saved by Aphrodite at the last second; in Troy, Paris is saved by Hector, who then proceeds to kill Menelaus. Once again, this decision on the part of the director and screenwriters represents their attachment to a romantic ending to the story; the story reads better if Menelaus dies, because Helen is then able to escape with Paris, and so he does. No regard is given to the events of the Iliad, nor to the accuracy of the film.
Menelaus is hardly the only example of such changes. Agamemnon, for example, is stabbed by Helen at the end of the film, rather than being killed by his wife upon returning home in, perhaps, one of the most famous scenes of Greek mythology. Andromache, the wife of Hector, escapes at the end of the film, as does Paris, who was intended to be killed by Philoctetes. Helen, as previously mentioned, also escapes. In summary, save for Priam and Hector, the majority of the Trojan characters who were intended to perish in the fall of Troy escape the city. The reasons for this are evident. The Trojan characters were the protagonists of the film, as the defenders of their homeland and as the defenders of the love between Helen and Paris. The Greeks, who were principally villains, with the exception of Achilles and (perhaps) Odysseus, perish. Of the Greek party whom we are introduced to, only Odysseus and Achilles’ Myrmidons are permitted to escape. Once again, the story of the Iliad has been thrown aside in favour of a romantic ending; who lives and who dies is determined solely by the caprices of the screenwriters and the director.
Hollywood Romanticism in Troy represents perhaps the most infuriating set of errors because few of them actively improve the story. The principal exception is the survival of Andromache (who was enslaved in the Iliad, a fate cleverly mentioned in one line in the film) and her baby, which was necessary because nobody wants to see a baby killed (and the baby was very cute). The film would overall have benefitted from a harsher tone, as a point of the Iliad is that the Trojans, who fought honourably and well, lose nonetheless and are slaughtered for their efforts. Much as I (and many others) are a fan of happy endings, they need not be the rule. I hope you enjoyed this post, and that you have a great week!
1 For a lively debate on the topic, see University of Illinois. “About Helen of Troy,” n.d.
2 University of Illinois. “About Helen of Troy,” n.d.
3 Dallas Area Network for Teaching and Education. “Menelaus,” n.d.
4 Duke University. “Homer’s Illiad: Summaries,” n.d.
5 University of Pennsylvania. “The Trojan War.” Last modified 2009.