It's one of the things everyone who has every heard of Hellenic mythology knows of: the wooden horse used by the Hellenes to invade the city of Troy. The 'Trojan horse'--as it is best known--is still synonimous with sneaky tactics that lead to mayhem and destruction. Especially in the world of computers, a Trojan horse is a computer program that appears harmless but is, in fact, quite harmful. In the business world, the phenomenon is also known, and tends to mean a business offer that appears to be a good deal but is not. But was there actually a huge wooden horse constructed on the battlefield, and then gifted to the Trojans while the elite warriors of the Hellenic army waited inside?

The Trojan horse was called 'Doúreios Híppos' (Δούρειος Ἵππος) by Hómēros, who references the affair in his 'Odysseia'. The Iliad makes no mention of it--although that is the epic that actually takes place on the battlefield--because the horse supposedly came after the end of the Iliad. The Odysseia makes little mention of the horse, however. The only lines that refer to it at all are:

"Yellow-haired Menelaus continued: ‘Wife, indeed you have told it all as it was. I have known before now the thoughts and judgements of many heroes, as I wandered the wide earth, but I have never seen so great hearted a man as enduring Odysseus. That episode too, of the Wooden Horse, how the great man planned it, carried it through, that carved horse holding the Argive leaders, bringing the Trojans death and ruin! Then, summoned it may be by some god who thought to hand victory to the Trojans, you arrived, with godlike Deiphobus on your heels. You circled our hollow hiding-place, striking the surface, calling out the names of the Danaan captains, in the very voices of each of the Argives’ wives.  Diomedes, Tydeus’ son, and I, and Odysseus were there among them, hearing you call, and Diomedes and I were ready to answer within, and leap out, but Odysseus restrained us, despite our eagerness. The rest of the Achaeans kept silent too, though Anticlus wanted to call out, and reply, till Odysseus clapped his strong hands over his mouth, saving all the Achaeans, and he grasped him so till Pallas Athene led you away.’" [Bk IV:260-289]


"[R]esourceful Odysseus spoke to the bard, saying: ‘Demodocus, I praise you above all mortal men, one taught by the Muse, Zeus’ daughter, or perhaps by Apollo, for you sang the Achaeans’ fate with truth and feeling, all of their actions and their suffering, all the efforts they exerted, as if you had been there, or heard it from one who was. Now, come, change your theme, and sing of the making of the Wooden Horse, that Epeius fashioned with Athene’s help, that noble Odysseus contrived to have dragged inside the citadel, filled by cunning with warriors who then sacked Troy. Tell the tale as it happened, and I will say to all mankind that the god has given you freely of the power of divine song.’

At his words the bard, inspired by the god, began, and raising his voice picked up the tale at the point where the Argives had burned their camp, boarded their oared ships, and sailed some way off, leaving glorious Odysseus and the rest sitting inside the Horse, at the Trojan’s meeting place. The Trojans themselves had dragged it into the citadel. There it stood, while the people sat round it, discussing it endlessly to no conclusion. Three suggestions found favour: to cut through the hollow timber with pitiless bronze, or drag it to the edge of the rock and over the cliff, or let it stand there, as a grand offering to the gods, in propitiation, which is what happened in the end. For it was their destiny to be destroyed when the city accepted that huge horse of wood, where the best of the Argives lay hidden, bringing death and ruin to Troy. 

Then he sang how the Achaeans left their hollow hiding place, and poured from the horse, to sack the city. He sang how the other warriors dispersing through the streets, laid waste high Troy, but Odysseus, the image of Ares, together with godlike Menelaus, sought Deiphobus’ house. There, said the tale, Odysseus fought the most terrible of fights, but conquered in the end, with the help of great-hearted Athene." [Bk VIII:469-520]

Later accounts offer a bit more details about the creation of the horse and its subsequent employment to sack the city. The Roman poet Virgil, in the second book of the Aeneid, recounts the entire story in great detail, basing it--most likely--off of Hómēros' account and filling in the blanks himself, along with writers who picked up the tale between Hómēros and his time. The most notable difference between Hómēros and Virgil is that in Virgil's tale, a man named Sinon was left behind along with the horse to sell the lie. He had volunteered for the position and was subsequently captured.

"You, eternal fires, in your invulnerable power, be witness, you altars and impious swords I escaped, you sacrificial ribbons of the gods that I wore as victim: with right I break the Greek’s solemn oaths, with right I hate them, and if things are hidden bring them to light: I’m bound by no laws of their country. Only, Troy, maintain your assurances, if I speak truth, if I repay you handsomely: kept intact yourself, keep your promises intact. All the hopes of the Greeks and their confidence to begin the war always depended on Pallas’s aid. But from that moment when the impious son of Tydeus, Diomede, and Ulysses inventor of wickedness, approached the fateful Palladium to snatch it from its sacred temple, killing the guards on the citadel’s heights, and dared to seize the holy statue, and touch the sacred ribbons of the goddess with blood-soaked hands: from that moment the hopes of the Greeks receded, and slipping backwards ebbed: their power fragmented, and the mind of the goddess opposed them. Pallas gave sign of this, and not with dubious portents, for scarcely was the statue set up in camp, when glittering flames shone from the upturned eyes, a salt sweat ran over its limbs, and (wonderful to tell) she herself darted from the ground with shield on her arm, and spear quivering. Calchas immediately proclaimed that the flight by sea must be attempted, and that Troy cannot be uprooted by Argive weapons, unless they renew the omens at Argos, and take the goddess home, whom they have indeed taken by sea in their curved ships. And now they are heading for their native Mycenae with the wind, obtaining weapons and the friendship of the gods, re-crossing the sea to arrive unexpectedly, So Calchas reads the omens. Warned by him, they’ve set up this statue of a horse for the wounded goddess, instead of the Palladium, to atone severely for their sin. And Calchas ordered them to raise the huge mass of woven timbers, raised to the sky, so the gates would not take it, nor could it be dragged inside the walls, or watch over the people in their ancient rites. Since if your hands violated Minerva’s gift, then utter ruin (may the gods first turn that prediction on themselves!) would come to Priam and the Trojans: yet if it ascended into your citadel, dragged by your hands, Asia would come to the very walls of Pelops, in mighty war, and a like fate would await our children." [BkII:145-194]

So how much is true of the tale? Is there any evidence to support the myth? The Odysseia dates back to the eighth or ninth century, BC., several hundred years after the war is supposed to have taken place. As such, we can assume some embelishment to the story was necessary to flesh out the story--or even make it a story at all. Archeologists are sure, however, that the Troy existed.

Around 1870, Heinrich Schliemann headed an archeological dig in Turkey. His site was located south of the southwest end of the Hellespont and northwest of Mount Ida. In 1865, an  English archaeologist named Frank Calvert had excavated trial trenches in a field he had bought from a local farmer. The results were promissing, and Schliemann took over Calvert's dig--which had since been named 'Hisarlik'--and took sole credit for the future finds at the site, even though Calvert had done the work of locating the site in the first place.

At Hisarlik, Schliemann found evidence of nine cities built on top of each other, as well as evidence of a high wall which must have fortified the town. Schliemann figured that the city of Troy--or Ilion/Ilios (Ἴλιον/Ἴλιος) as it would have been called at the time of the ancient Hellenes--must have been one of the lower, older, cities and thus he blasted his way down to the second city, where he found signs that seemed to corroborate his story--jewelery included, that Schliemann took to be those of Helen--which turned out to be a thousand years older than the time described in the epic. Due to his methodology, much of the later cities was destroyed.

Archeologists today believe that the sixth and seventh oldest cities found in layers at Hisarlik are the best candidates for the Troy of The Iliad. There is, however, no sign to be found of a huge wooden horse--not that odd considering the time that has passed and the fact that wood rots away over said time. Still, modern scholars think the horse was part of Hómēros' artistic license as a writer. Archeological evidence suggests that city number six would have fit the setting of Troy described by the writer... but evidence points to its destruction not by the hands of man, but the hands of nature: Troy six was destroyed by a massive earthquake. Troy seven, however, was not as grand as Troy six, but its streets were littered with arrowheads, indicating that this city was, indeed, sacked by human hands.

It's not hard to imagine Hómēros spun the histories of these two overlapping cities together, but why the wooden horse as a dramatic ending to his epic? Earthquakes are in the domain of the Earth Shaker Poseidon, who in Hellenic mythology is also the Tamer of Horses. In the Homeric Hymn to Poseidon, the author describes Poseidon in the following way:

"I begin to sing about Poseidon, the great god, mover of the earth and fruitless sea, god of the deep who is also lord of Helicon and wide Aegae. A two-fold office the gods allotted you, O Shaker of the Earth, to be a tamer of horses and a saviour of ships! Hail, Poseidon, Holder of the Earth, dark-haired lord! O blessed one, be kindly in heart and help those who voyage in ships!" [22]
Using his artistic license, Hómēros may have used the horse that destroyed Troy as a more exciting explanation of Poseidon's hand in the whole affair when He leveled the town with an earthquake. Poseidon, who in the epic actively took part in the battles and was always--unwaveringly so--at the side of the Hellenes, not the Trojans.

So no, it's very likely the Trojan horse never existed, but it makes for a very good ending to a story about a war that actually took place--perhaps not as written down, but took place none the less. The Battle(s) of Troy are an epic tale of the Gods, of humans at their best and worst, of tradition and of faith. It is a story and a teaching tool and valuable to anyone looking to discover the ways of the ancient Hellenes. The wooden horse of Troy is most likely a myth, but an inspirational one: in overcoming the odds, skill, intelligence, and wisdom are often as valuable or even more valuable as brute strength. Foster both in yourself and your community and you will always succeed.