Weekend Reading: A Tour of Troy

The Troy exhibition at the British Museum has been going for a few months now – and if you’re anything like me you’ll have read enough reviews and seen enough photos to make an actual visit seem almost unnecessary.

And yet… when the opportunity arose for me to join a private tour this week, I couldn’t resist.

I love the British Museum. It’s just so ridiculously big. I’ve always thought that the hallmark of a great museum (the same also applies to book shops, by the way) is the ease with which you can get completely lost in it. I tend to get lost in the BM almost as soon as I go in, and can spend many happy hours trying to find my way out again, while getting distracted by all sorts of things I wasn’t expecting to see. The Troy exhibition, however, isn’t like that; I was surprised at how small the space was. The effect is that attention is concentrated on a few pieces which are prominently displayed – some of which felt like old friends, and others which I’d never seen in person before.

A variety of approaches to Troy were attempted, from the artistic to the archaeological, with a final focus on reception of the Trojan War on later art and culture. In trying to do so much in such a small space the curators have had to be very selective – and inevitably the selection didn’t please everybody. I heard a lot of complaints about the omission of opera in particular.

I’ll be posting a fuller review this weekend by somebody else who went to the exhibition recently; but here are a few of my own pictures to keep you going:

It was a pleasure to go round the exhibition with MA students Klara and Tom, and to meet in person the founders of Hellene Travel, who have what sounds like the perfect job! Everyone (except perhaps the opera buffs) seemed to find something to fascinate them, so we all ended up lurking in different corners of the exhibition.

The highlight for me was, unsurprisingly, the books, including a handwritten copy of Pope’s translation of the Iliad. I could happily have taken that home with me – but that’s one of the few things they don’t sell in the gift shop.


I admit, I was a little disappointed to see no interactive Trojan Horse. True, there were wooden slats suspended from the ceiling to look like the bones of a giant wooden horse, and that was impressive. But I was hoping for one you could hide in and jump out of. Maybe with swords, or flaming torches. There could have been a slide…

Although I tend to get lost in the British Museum, I do always manage to find my way to the gift shop. It has an online version, for those who can’t get there in person. Goodies relating to the Troy exhibition include: Trojan Horse chocolates to eat while reading the Iliad, a Trojan Warriors bookend to prop up your multiple copies of the Iliad, and a Greek pot pin badge to wear while you’re away from your copies of the Iliad. All needs catered for.

In other news, my Lego Classicist figure arrived this week. Now there are two of me, which is something I’ve always wanted. I’m intending to send Lego Cora Beth out to do my teaching, and I’ll stay at home in my pyjamas, watching Picard and eating chocolate biscuits.

Taking Lego Cora Beth to visit Arbeia Roman Fort.

This week’s links from around the internet


Roman slave burials – Live Science

Looted ancient masterpiece – The Guardian 

Finding Pliny’s head (?!) – Haaretz

Recreating a mummy’s voice – The Guardian

Ancient gods riding mythical animals – Live Science

Roman plaster in Lincoln – BBC

Producing honey on the Palatine – Wanted in Rome

Comment and opinion

Time and memory – In Medias Res 

The colours of the Parthenon Marbles – Country Life

Epic rap – Topica

Black classicisms in the visual arts – Society for Classical Studies

Pre-game interview with Sisyphus – The New Yorker 

Who was Homer? – British Museum Blog

The herdsman of the stars – Classical Wisdom Weekly

Talking about Classics in prison – OU Classical Studies Blog

Podcasts, video and other media

Broadcasts on Titian’s poesie – The National Gallery 

Roman history topics – Emperors of Rome 

The battle of Salamis – Maritime History Podcast


9 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: A Tour of Troy

  1. I remember when the reading room was open to all and it was up in the big round elevated section.. I used to go there to study in silence when I was in 6th form, everything is a business these days.. I still haven’t been to the Troy exhibition.. must go.. the pics are great, thanks.


  2. Did you go to the Bassae temple frieze room.? It’s amazing.. its small.. and I spent an hour walking round in a circle looking at them.. the museum security woman in this small room was looking at me as though I was nuts..


  3. I used to find myself wandering aimlesly around the museum without really taking anything in – that is until I signed up with the OU! I then found myself wanting to see the module illustrations ‘in the flesh’ which then made me more disciplined in viewing a set number of exhibits plus the gallery they were in.

    At this stage I have to own up to being only 25 minutes from Kings Cross on the train so the British Museum, British Library, The Senate House et al are my second homes now.

    Back to the BM. My love affair really started with the Benin Bronzes on AA100 (not to mention a quick visit to the Pitt Rivers – amazing and eclectic). I felt sorry for these pieces being right at the back from the main entrance, down the stairs and to the side in the African galleries but it was so worth while – they are stunning and literally take your breath away. However, the love affair really took off when I transferred from History to Classical Studies. Now, although I see other pieces there are three exhibits I call in and see every time I am there, somewhat like a ritual. The Sophilos Dinos, which is featured in the Troy exhibition. I wasn’t surprised as, at a gallery talk in my early days, the guide explained what it was, who it depicted and how many thought it was a representation of the actual start of the Trojan War. It is an amazing pice. Second, the Portland Vase for no other reason than the craftmanship, its beauty and not least its chequered history representing the skill of restorers. Last but no means least the tombstone of Regina of Arbeia. Of couse the Vindolanda Tablets opposite are of paramount importance but this ‘everyday’ gave monument tells us so much about the Roman empire but at the same time poses so many intruiging questions.

    Of course there are many (oh so many) other interesting things to see, one of my favourites and mostly unknown is the wide display of marble samples in the Enlightenment Room. It is both fun and exciting to see the different patterns and colours that Rome drew of from across the empire and I like to match it with the floor of San Clemente in Rome which is also made up of marble pieces and round sliced columns recycled from Rome’s buildings https://jeannetifft.photoshelter.com/image/I0000ne.bAid9CxY

    Rome must have been almost blindingly colourful.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the Troy exhibition although agree it was a little squeezed for space. I am afraid that I get a bit fractious with other people getting in my way and seeming to loiter for too long but my biggest hate is backpacks. What do people put in them? I have all I need in my pockets and they definitely shouldn’t be allowed in tight exhibitions (apologies if you have one). It meant that, to my shame I did not see one of the most startling pot namely the sacrifice of Polyxena. On the positive side it does gove me an excuse to go back – and I will, we’re members (he said smugly).

    I agree the books on display were a wonder however one of the high points fo me and I knew what it was before we got there, was the excerpt from Queens of Syria. I saw this when doing the reception module of A863. It is so moving and frakkly made me weep. Powerful, humbling and tragic – everyone should see it.

    Yet again I have rabbited on – apologies but I get so excited!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, if that doesn’t encourage people to visit the British Museum, I don’t know what will! You should write for the guide book, Colin!

      One of the joys of regular museum-visiting (and I admit to doing the same with art galleries too) is checking in with your favourite pieces. That’s when something shifts in your perceptions, I think. It’s like having friends…!

      I wish I lived a bit closer – the 4 hour journey each way makes a visit to the British Museum a rare occasion for me. It’s worth the trip though!

      Liked by 1 person

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