In his recently published book, “The Trojan War: A New History", author and historian Barry Strauss takes a subject that has been written about extensively, both in history books and in literary narratives, and attempts to breathe new life into it by offering innovative interpretations and original arguments about it. The simple title of the book makes a bold claim: Strauss proposes to write a new history of the Trojan War, and his approach in doing so allows him to reach an audience that is remarkably inclusive; both Trojan War scholars and readers with a general interest in history are likely to find “The Trojan War: A New History" by Barry Strauss both interesting and accessible.
History scholars will find the framing of the subject in “The Trojan War: A New History" by Barry Strauss to be compelling, controversial, or both, while general readers will enjoy Strauss’s narrative skill and deftness in rendering a good old-fashioned tale of scandal and intrigue. In fact, it is this “scandal and intrigue" approach that Strauss claims makes his history of the Trojan War new. While conventional histories of the Trojan War propose that the feud over the beautiful Helen merely served as the spark to ignite existing political tensions, both domestic and foreign, what Strauss posits as the reason for the Trojan War is altogether different. By relying upon the literary-historical account of the Trojan War penned byHomer, the poet who wrote The Odyssey among other texts, Strauss contends that Helen really wasthe reason for the war, emblematic of all that was important to inhabitants of the Bronze Age.
As Strauss explains in the opening of the book, “The Bronze Age was an era that preferred to put things in personal terms rather than in [political] abstractions" (17). Thus, instead of arguing or fighting over interests such as “justice, security, or any of the other issues that would be part of a war debate today," the parties to the Trojan War preferred to sublimate those concerns by focusing instead on “family and friendship, crime and punishment" (Strauss 17). This is the argument that Strauss advances in “The Trojan War: A New History”.
It is, without question, the job of the historian to revive the facts on record with the detailed touch of an active and highly visual imagination. Strauss, as a professor of classics and history, seems to have an innate understanding that the lessons of history are likely to be lost if those teaching it are not able to engage students in the story part of history, and the first chapter of the book is successful in this regard; it is, in fact, a consuming page-turner. In the initial pages of “The Trojan War: A New History”, however, the critical reader wonders just how much creative liberty Strauss has taken with his subject.