Few pieces of literature have had the same impact on the world as Homer’s epics, and the recent BBC/Netflix venture Troy: Fall of a City is just the latest in a long line of modern and ancient adaptations and reinventions sprawling from the Iliad and the Odyssey. The epics themselves began as stories, passed down from generation to generation by ancient bards before the alphabet existed – by the time the epics were written down they described events some 500 years in the past!
For the ancient Greek audience that heard the epics performed, they would have been as familiar with the characters, places and narrative beats as we are with the legendary exploits of King Arthur – probably more so. It might surprise modern readers of the Iliad then that it covers only a few weeks in the ninth year of the ten year war – (spoilers) it doesn’t even include the Trojan horse! The timeline is deliberately blurred: why would it take nine years before Paris duels Menelaus? Surely that would happen in the first week! The 2004 film Troy ‘solved’ this by reducing 10 years to a week, and Troy: Fall of a City avoided the issue simply by referring to years as having past with confusing vagueness.
But perhaps this is unavoidable: when we consider that most of the intended audience would only hear sections of these epics at any one time, and the language of the texts is deliberately old fashioned even for the ancients (it’s as if a modern author wrote in the style of Shakespeare), the timelessness may well be an intended part of these epics to increase their mythic status. This timelessness in the Iliad means that even if it technically spans just a few weeks, the events are representative of the whole war.
Unfortunately for the film industry, the epics are truly timeless classics.