Mary Irvine’s Blog: ‘Troy’ Exhibition at the British Museum
What’s not to like – for me – steeped in all of this? It wasn’t the story of the Trojan War. It was the story of the city of Troy itself so anyone who went along to see/hear a re-telling of Homer’s epic account would have been disappointed. This was a story of a city thought for many years to be a city of myth and legend. Had Homer, if such a man existed, been writing about a real city with real heroes or merely, in vivid form, relaying folklore? The Ancient Greeks believed it true but for hundreds of year it was thought by the majority not so.
This exhibition sought to reveal the truth about the city of Troy. For anyone with knowledge of the many previous and ongoing excavations, the myths and the legends it was intelligible. However, for the non-‘expert’, professional or amateur, the way the exhibition was laid out could and did cause some confusion. The material was all there but it lacked cohesion.
Bust of Odysseus
Very near the beginning of the exhibition was a quotation from Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ pertaining to Odysseus, describing him as ‘a conniving man (I prefer the translation ‘A man of twists and turns’!) It was only in a later display that we saw the supposed bust of Odysseus or any more about him. The ‘Trojan Horse’ was his idea yet he wasn’t given credit.
There also seemed little clear explanation of the connection between the Odyssey and the Iliad or how the Ǣneid connected. I am aware that guide books and books of full information were available but these were quite expensive and hardly books to carry round the exhibition.
The work of Schliemann and other enthusiastic amateurs were given due credit as were that of the later, more, professional archӕologists. People such as Heinrich Schliemann believed passionately in the historical truth of Homer’s work and sought to find, in Homer, that truth, such as the position of Troy. People scoffed at him but he was later proved that he had found the right area and much now has been and is being discovered at Hisarlik on the Turkish Ǣgean Coast.
There was also a comprehensive display of Bronze Age Artefacts from the layer of Troy now acknowledged as Homer’s Troy. Incredulously a number of beautiful books with early translations of Homer’s work nestled in this area. They would surely have been better placed in the final part of the exhibition which concentrated on how the story of troy and its aftermath had influenced artwork throughout the age. It would also have been easier to admire them as this area was far more spaced; allowing people time to appreciate the exhibits.
This was one of the problems. There were too many people being allowed in at any one time to what was a comparatively small space, leading to queues building up at each individual exhibit. I enjoyed the exhibition, my companion less so, but I believe the experience could have been enhanced by a little more forethought such as mentioned above. Perhaps they should have taken a leaf out of the Saatchi gallery’s book in respect of their ‘Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh’ exhibition.
Mary Irvine, May 2020
This section: Mary Irvine: Writer and Philhellene
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