Wooden myths last forever

The Trojan Horse being led into the city in a 14th-century Venetian manuscript (London, British Library, Additional 15477)

I just love it when myths come back to bite us (in the ass), like Sartre’s annoying flies. Most cultural artefacts do not originate in fact, but in mythology, which is not to say fiction. And myths keep coming back, they are more resilient than any stone foundations. Long after the last ruins have faded in the undergrowth, the myths will still be with us, if we’re still around.

Take the Trojan horse, one of the most enduring ancient myths, which despite being made of wood, was designed to withstand all types of cultural weather. From the height of European myth-making, the Horse is still being built and deployed, the soldiers are still in, the city still gullible and on the brink of destruction. Whether Homer invented it, or whether there was a Homer at all, or whether the horse was first enlisted for the annihilation of the city of Troy and its people is absolutely irrelevant. Whoever built it – the myth, not the horse – was one of the creative minds the world has ever seen.

Thousands of years later, the Trojan Horse is still Trojan and it’s still a horse. Metonymically or literally, the Horse has been galloping freely through the European fields, rolled down into new situations, proving as effective now as it’s ever been. Like a fisherman’s rod tricking one amnesic fish after another. You’d think myths lost traction over time, people would outgrow them, become wise and start seeing the helmeted soldiers hidden in the wooden horse’s underbelly. Think again.

What I find most fascinating about the myth of the Trojan Horse is that it seems to be the foundational gesture towards the invention of fake news. The lesson which Homer teaches us – in the Odyssey, since the horse is strategically not mentioned (though arguably alluded to) in the Iliad, where any modern novelist would have inserted it – is that the power of deception seasoned with the illusion of service (i.e. gift-giving) is stronger than the strongest army. And the mythological charge of this is that this truth is as terrifyingly true now as 2,700 years ago.

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