Clay tablets hold key to tale of Helen, Paris and the siege of Troy

New archaeological finds show that Homeric and Hollywood epics may be based on more than just myth

The legend has dominated Western culture for more than 3,000 years - the kidnapping of the most beautiful woman in the world, the thousand ships sent to bring her back, and the bloody 10-year war that followed.

Now a leading British historian claims that the true story of Troy is finally about to be uncovered.

Bettany Hughes, currently making a television series about ancient Greece, says that a number of recently unearthed clay tablets hold "the keys" to the compelling tale of Helen, Paris and the siege of Troy.

The famous story - originally told in Homer's epic poem The Iliad - has always been considered more myth than reality. Now, says Ms Hughes, a collection of shattered tablets discovered beneath the Greek city of Thebes could completely overturn that belief.

"There is no doubt that this discovery is one of the keys that will unlock the story of Troy," Ms Hughes said yesterday. "The tablets that have been rescued at Thebes mean we are having to re-draft the Bronze Age map. What is emerging is a picture of a world remarkably close to that described by Homer."

The fragmented tablets, inscribed in the ancient script known as Linear B, have been dated back to the 13th century BC - the period when the Trojan war is supposed to have been fought. A number of pieces are still emerging from the site.

"It's fabulously frustrating," said Ms Hughes. "The tablets are slowly, slowly being deciphered, but it is like putting together a massive jigsaw."

Promisingly, the tablets already decoded mention a number of key names from Homer - including lost or vanished cities that supplied ships for the famous fleet led by Agamemnon and Achilles. This, says Ms Hughes, is highly significant, as the tablets pre-date Homer's supposedly fictional work by around 500 years.

"Up until now, no one has written seriously about the characters in The Iliad: the people who make it live and breathe," said Ms Hughes, who has been working on a biography of Helen for the past four years. "Evidence like this means that at last we can start to draw lines between the three points of the triangle - the archaeological, textual and literary sources."

The Iliad tells the story of what happened after Paris, the Prince of Troy, took Helen, Queen of Sparta, back to Troy. Her husband, King Menelaus, assembled an army of warriors from across Mycenaean Greece, including Achilles, and declared war on Troy.

The legend of Troy returns to the forefront of popular culture later this month, when Wolfgang Petersen's $200m Hollywood film opens, with Brad Pitt starring as Achilles and Orlando Bloom as Paris.

Despite Ms Hughes's confidence, other leading experts urged caution until the discoveries at Thebes have been studied fully. Professor Tom Palaima, a Linear B expert at the University of Texas, warned that the ongoing archaeological process required "maximum ingenuity".

"The Linear B tablets are important because they show us that the Mycenaean Greeks had a vested interest in operating along the coast of Asia Minor, and that would have brought them into direct contact with the Trojans," Professor Palaima said.

"To my mind, given all the new information, I don't find it at all difficult to conclude that at some point a combined Greek military campaign could have been launched against Troy, giving rise to the epic."

Dr Michael Lane, an Aegean scholar at Sheffield University, said: "It's perfectly correct to say that the Linear B tablets provide us with a lot of information about the institutions of the time, but they don't directly cover the topics that the epic poems do.

"By and large, the majority constitute lists - things like who has a flock of sheep in a certain place. The stories of the Trojan war are about big guys bashing each other - not about somebody making notes."

Life and Style
life
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
health
News
Joan Rivers has reportedly been hospitalised after she stopped breathing during surgery
people81-year-old 'stopped breathing' during vocal chord surgery
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, UI, JMX, FIX)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, U...

Structured Finance

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - An excellent new instruction w...

SQL Server Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Server Developer SQL, PHP, C#, Real Time,...

C#.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer C#, Win Forms, WPF, WCF, MVVM...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone