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Historical Depiction in the “Helen of Troy” Movie

This review is based on the film “Helen of Troy,” which revolves around the Greek mythology of the Trojan War. Helen is described as the prettiest woman in Greece, making her the dream girl of every man in the country and the indirect cause of conflict between the cities of Sparta and Troy (Harrison, 2003). The movie begins with the birth of Paris, son of King Priam, amidst a prophecy by seer Cassandra that he is going to be the cause of Troy’s downfall. As a result, King Priam orders that Paris be killed by being thrown from the top of Mount Ida. However, the prince is rescued by shepherd Agelaus, who raises him until his early adulthood before returning him to King Priam. One day, goddesses Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera appear before Paris and promise to give him Helen, victory and glory, and wealth, respectively (Harrison, 2003). The prince selects Aphrodite’s offer, a decision that would later trigger a 10-year war between the Spartans and Trojans (Harrison, 2003). The film provides a vivid description of ancient Greek history and civilization as depicted in historical texts.

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“Helen of Troy” offers an accurate account of the history of classical Greece as explained by historians. According to Pomeroy et al. (2014), flocks of goats and sheep grazed on hilly, infertile land. In addition, cattle and horses occupied an important place in the society and economy. Cattle were seen as the most revered animals for feasts and sacrifices as well as a symbol of status for the wealthy (Pomeroy et al., 2014). The horses were the most expensive animals in ancient Greece, making them the fundamental indicators of high rank (Pomeroy et al., 2014). Olive oil, wine, and bread represented the Greeks’ staple foods. Additionally, nuts and fruits varied the primary components of porridge and bread, which is evident in various celebrations held in the movie (Harrison, 2003). Furthermore, Paris and his childhood friends herd their goats on hilly land that cannot be tilled. Moreover, horses are portrayed as a preserve for the royal families in Troy and Sparta (Harrison, 2003). Thus, the Greek history of livestock and food is presented with incredible precision in the film.

The aspects of murder, household, and the upbringing of boys are also accurately presented in the movie. Pomeroy et al. (2014) state that the male next of kin had a social obligation to revenge on the death of a relative by killing the culprit. Likewise, in “Helen of Troy,” Prince Hector offers to avenge his dying brother, Prince Parris after he is stabbed with a poisoned sword by King Menelaus in a challenge (Harrison, 2003). Furthermore, the Greek society was patriarchal and patrilineal as the father was customarily supreme (Pomeroy et al., 2014). Similarly, the movie shows that ancient Greece was a male-dominated community. For example, King Tyndareus controls every decision that Helen takes, including her rightful suitor (Harrison, 2003). In addition, boys were made to believe that an ideal man was supposed to be courageous in battle (Pomeroy et al., 2014). In the film, Paris gives up his life for Troy by accepting to enter a fight to death challenge (Harrison, 2003). The Greek ancient history of households, boys’ upbringing, and murder, as shown in the movie, correctly relate to historical accounts.

The movie’s director mainly emphasized the religious aspect of classical Greek society. Throughout the film, it becomes clear to the audience that the Greek kings cannot make a decision without consulting the gods to ensure that they do not upset them (Harrison, 2003). King Agamemnon relies on his official seer to interpret for him the opinion of gods every time he wants to embark on a specific mission. For instance, while planning to attack Troy, Agamemnon has to sacrifice his youngest daughter in exchange for a fair wind (Harrison, 2003). Pomeroy et al. (2014) argue that to soothe the deities, the Greeks had to make “communal displays of respect, including sacrifices of food and animals and even humans at times” (p. 30). In addition, with the help of goddess Aphrodite, Paris visits Sparta and elopes with Helen, King Menelaus’s wife (MacKendrick & Howe, 1980). Prophets, such as princess Cassandra, also played a critical role in Greek religion as they would predict tragic incidents in the future and provide solutions to such occurrences. In the film, religion is central to the daily lives of the people of early Greece.

The current role of women in society represents a development in the modern era that the director has brought into the movie’s story. In ancient Greece, women had no place in public settings (Pomeroy et al., 2014). Typically, the female gender was confined to household chores and other indoor activities (MacKendrick & Howe, 1980). For instance, the husband would bring home such agricultural products as grain, raw wool, vegetables, and domestic slaves and the wife would transform such goods into edible foods and textiles (Pomeroy et al., 2014). Conversely, women in the modern world are actively involved in public issues such as politics and the corporate world (Pomeroy et al., 2014). In “Helen of Troy,” the director shows Homeric women as strong people who actively participate in outdoor activities just like men (Harrison, 2003). For instance, Clytemnestra openly confronts her husband, King Agamemnon, and eventually kills him after learning that he had raped Helen (Harrison, 2003). The director brings modernity into the story to explain that some women defied the cultural norms of classical Greece to claim their place in society.

On personal reflection, I liked the movie more than the story as explained in the original ancient history. Essentially, the movie brought the characters behind the tales of the Trojan War to life. For instance, it was quite interesting to watch an enactment of how the Spartan soldiers entered and destroyed the impenetrable Troy city by concealing themselves in the wooden Trojan horse (Harrison, 2003). Moreover, the film provided a meticulous and accurate visual description of the ancient Greek civilization, which is more educative than just reading from historical texts. In addition, it takes a shorter time to get a glimpse of classical Greece by watching the film, as opposed to reading a whole book.

In summary, the film gave a precise depiction of classical Greek history and civilization. The exactness of the movie is manifested through the portrayal of various aspects of ancient Greek society such as livestock and food, the upbringing of male children, murder, and household. Essentially, the film provided a vivid and accurate description of the issues that led to the downfall of Troy. The director focused on religion as the major emphasis in “Helen of Troy” as the Greeks revered and respected their gods by involving them in their everyday undertakings. Furthermore, the director portrayed Homeric ladies as powerful women that are able to perform various tasks like their male counterparts, thus bringing an aspect of the modern era into a society that was strictly patriarchal. Although historical texts are informative and more detailed, I liked the movie’s representation of ancient Greece more than what I have read in books because it enlivened the storyline behind the Trojan War.

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References

Harrison, J. K. (Director). (2003). Helen of Troy. IMDb.

MacKendrick, P. L., & Howe, H. M. (Eds.). (1980). Classics in translation, volume I: Greek literature. University of Wisconsin Press.

Pomeroy, S. B., Burstein, S. M., Donlan, W., Roberts, J. T., & Tandy, D. W. (2014). A brief history of Ancient Greece: Politics, society, and culture (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press.

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