Shattered by War and Repulsed by Fate: The Troy Exhibit at The British Museum

The collection of papyri, sculpture, pottery, paintings and literature on display at The British Museum’s Troy Exhibit is, to say the least, mesmerizing.   A large part of the exhibit is devoted to telling the story of the Trojan Saga through black and red figure vase painting from the 6th and 5th centuries BCE.  It was a special treat for me to go to the museum with @flowerville since, as a skilled potter herself, she helped me appreciate even more the creative process of making these delicate vessels.

Black figure amphora by Execkias. Achilles and Ajax playing a game. c. 540-530 BCE.


The marble sculpture of The Wounded Achilles by Filippo Albacini was also something we lingered over for a long time.  It is placed in such a way in the center of the exhibit that it is easily viewed from all sides.

The Wounded Achilles. Filippo Albacini. 1825. Marble with restored gilded arrow.


Another view of The Wounded Achilles.


The objects that I think we were the most fond of, and certainly most excited to view, were the books.  The displays of literature included Dryden’s 1697 translation of the Aeneid as well as Pope’s handwritten draft of the Iliad which includes his drawing of the Shield of Achilles.

Dryden’s 1697 translation of Vergil’s Aeneid


Handwritten draft of Pope’s translation of the Iliad with a drawing of the Shield of Achilles. 1712-24


I really could go on and on about the exhibit but these are just a few of the highlights.  One additional piece I would like to mention, which was built as a set especially for the exhibit, is an enormous wooden skeleton of the Trojan Horse as if it were in the process of being constructed by the Greeks.  It immediately brought to mind these lines of Vergil’s Aeneid 2.13-17 (translation is my own):

Fracti bello fatisque repulsi
ductores Danaum tot iam labentibus annis
instar montis equum divina Palladis arte
aedificant, sectaque intexunt abiete costas;
votum pro reditu similant; ea fama vagatur.

Shattered by war, repulsed by fate, and
with so many years now having slipped by,
the leaders of the Greeks, with divine
inspiration from Athena, built a horse
that was as big as a mountain. They covered
up the skeleton and ribs they constructed
with felled trees. They pretended to
pray for a safe return; this rumor
of their departure was spread around.


A skeleton of the Trojan Horse suspended from the exhibit ceiling.


This was really a once in a lifetime experience for me and sharing it with flowerville made it even more of a special occasion.  Our only real complaint was that there wasn’t enough Latin and Ancient Greek text included with the English translations.  But viewing these artifacts has inspired us both to look at and translate the ancient texts, especially The Aeneid.






Filed under Classics, Opinion Posts

10 responses to “Shattered by War and Repulsed by Fate: The Troy Exhibit at The British Museum

  1. Severn Meadows

    Thanks for this- inspiring! And a good reminder: I’ll get there before it closes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Looks fabulous. Definitely on the New Year in London itinerary.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love, love, love the British Museum. Every time we’ve been to London we’ve stayed around the corner from it so that it’s walking distance, and because it’s free, we can slip for half an hour or an hour whenever we’ve got a bit of time at the end of the day after doing other things.
    And those vases! 40 years ago when I was at university, studying Greek and Roman Art, most of what I saw was B&W pictures in books. I didn’t know then that there are good collections here in Melbourne, and I could have gone to see them. (Did you know that the Hermitage has a good collection too?)
    Unfortunately our major gallery, the National Gallery of Victoria is going through a ‘hip’ phase and has stored most of its ancient treasures and replaced them with exhibits about women’s fashion. I kid you not. It is deeply depressing when you consider that for most of the people in our region with Europe so far away and expensive to get to, the NGV is the best place to see ancient art

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Beautiful post, Melissa! This must be a fascinating exhibition.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your translation of the extract from the Aeneid was a wonderful reminder of the conciseness of Latin. I’d always admired that when I was studying it so many years ago now. Five tight lines, and it took you nine to render it – beautifully – into English.

    Liked by 1 person

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