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La Caduta Di Troia (1911)

Iliad The Musical will be the first production on stage or screen to actually follow the Iliad narrative since the Iliad (which is itself a live show, composed over 2,700 years ago, lasting about 12 hours). But many productions have been made about Trojan War.

One such production is La Caduta Di Troia, or “The Fall of Troy”, a silent film released in 1911.

Though not faithful to Homer’s Iliad, it’s fantastic. They get many things right – things other productions get wrong. For example, they include immortals as characters (thank God!).

Of course, we’re still waiting on Iliad The Musical to provide a faithful production of the war as Homer told it, but until then you can enjoy this excellent film when you have 30 minutes to spare.

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Judgement of Paris

The judgement of Paris led to the Trojan War. It also led to some of the finest works of art ever created.

The story of the Trojan War begins at the wedding of Achilles’s parents, Thetis and Peleus.

All the gods are invited to the wedding except one: Eris, the goddess of discord. But this doesn’t stop her from leaving her mark on the occasion. Instead of attending the wedding, Eris plucks a golden apple from the Garden of Hesperides, writes “To the fairest one” on it, and tosses it inside the wedding ceremony.

Three goddesses – Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite – each claim that the apple is meant for herself. When they ask Zeus to settle the matter, and decide who is the fairest, he suggests that they ask a Trojan shepherd named Paris.

So Hermes leads them to Mount Ida.

Here Paris is confronted with three gods, each wanting the golden apple, each offering Paris something in return for judging her the fairest. Hera offers Paris political power over Europe and Asia. Athena offers Paris neverending victories on the battlefield. Aphrodite offers Paris the most beautiful woman in the world.

The judgement of Paris is to award Aphrodite the apple. This leads to Helen and Paris eloping, Agamemnon launching a thousand ships, Odysseus building the Trojan Horse, and eventually Helen sailing back home to Sparta with her husband Menelaus.

Above is a 1904 painting by Enrique Simonet titled El Juicio De Paris, and below are are some other classic renditions of the world-famous scene.

4th-3rd century BC engraving on the back of an Etruscan bronze mirror by unknown artist

1st century AD mosaic by unknown artist

c. 1485-1488 painting by Sandro Botticelli

c. 1510-1520 print by Mercantonio Raimondi, after Raphael


c 1550s painting by Frans Floris


c. 1600 painting by Hans Rottenhammer

c. 1638 painting by Peter Paul Rubens

c. 1645-1646 painting by Claude Lorrain


c. 1710-1720 painting by Michele Rocca


c. 1808 painting by Francois-Xavier Fabre


c. 1812 painting by Guillaume Guillon Lethiere


c. 1862-1864 painting by Paul Cezanne


c. 1906 painting by Eduard Lebiedzki


1908-1910 painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir


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Who is Hermes?

This 15-minute video gives an awesome overview of who Hermes is, including his identities as Pan and Mercury.

Among other roles, in Book 24 of Iliad Hermes guides King Priam across the Achaean border to Achilles’s hut. This leads to the emotional climax of the epic when Achilles finally softens his anger and agrees to give Hector’s body back to Priam.

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Where is the center of the world?

The center of the Ancient Greek world is in the town of Delphi. This stone is called the Omphalos, or “navel” of the world. Think of it as Mother Earth’s bellybutton.

A long time ago, Zeus wanted to find the center of the world, so he sent two eagles — one from each end of the earth. When they met at Delphi, Zeus sent down the Omphalos, a stone that his father ate and regurgitated (thinking he was eating his son Zeus) as navel of the world.

Omphalos Syndrome is the belief that the city with the most money and most powerful politicians is in fact the center of the world.

So, where is the center of the world? It used to be by the temple of Apollo at Delphi, where the great oracle Sibyl gave prophesy. Now, it’s just up the road at the new museum.

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The Ancient Greek aulos

The aulos is a double-reeded pipe, like an oboe (though it’s sometimes played with a single reed, like a clarinet) made out of bamboo and bone. This 1st century AD mosaic from the “House of the Tragic Poet” in Pompeii shows a piper playing two auli at once, surrounded by actors in goatskin dresses and theatrical masks.

Traditionally, you play two auli at once. This allows you to harmonize with yourself, and anyhow each aulos has only 1/2 of the notes in a scale, so you need two auli to play a complete scale.

While the lyre is associated with Apollo, the aulos is associated with Dionysus.

Here is a 2-minute aulos performance by Prof. Stefan Hagel.

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Song Of Seikilos

2,000 years ago Seikilos wrote a song for Euterpe, and carved it into her tombstone. Today it’s the oldest surviving complete song in the world.

Here’s an English translation of the song’s lyrics:

While you live, shine.
Have no grief at all.
Life exists only for a short while
and Time demands his due.

The lyrics give us the song’s time signature. The notes above the lyrics indicate what pitches to sing, and how long to sing them for. Here’s what it would look like if you stretched it out flat:

Here’s what it looks like transcribed into modern letters on a clean background:

Here’s one way to annotate it in modern musical notation:

And here’s a 3-minute performance of the piece.

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Fresco of Actor & Lyre Player

This 1st century AD fresco from Pompeii shows a singer/actor with his theatrical mask on the top of his head, and a lyre player playing a 9-string lyre.

Homer’s Iliad is traditionally performed by two such people. Indeed, at the time, the Iliad was the most popular show in Ancient Rome. Each line in the Iliad is played to six beats, and sung to notes on the lyre tuned to the enharmonic genus, playing notes in the ancient dorian scale.

So, we know the musical chords Homer composed for the Iliad. We know the drum beats. We know the lyrics. We just don’t know the melody.

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Vase of Sarpedon

This vase, painted around 440 BC, shows Hypnos and Thanatos carrying the body of Sarpedon off of the Trojan battlefield.

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Ancient Greek poetry is musical theater

The oldest known Greek poet was Homer. His poetry was set to music and sung out loud in public theaters like this one, built in Epidaurus in the 4th century BC.

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The Ancient Greek hydraulis

The hydraulis is a hand-powered organ. Just like a pipe organ in a modern church, the hydraulis makes sound by blowing air through pipes, and is played by pressing keys on a keyboard. This 2-minute video demonstrates what a Roman replica sounds like.

The word “hydraulis” literally means “water-pipe” because water (“hydra”) is used to deliver steady air pressure to a pipe (“aulos”).

This 2-minute video shows a hydraulis performance with a closer look at how the organ works.

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What Ancient Greek Music looks like

This shows the first and second verses of the First Delphic Hymn to Apollo, carved in marble for the Athenian Pythaides festival in 128 BC in Delphi. The composer’s name is Athenaios Athenaiou (Athenaios, son of Athenaios).

The melody is written above the lyrics, and shows which notes to sing (according to the Greater Perfect System).

The rhythm is inherent in the poetics of the verse. For example, we see cretics (instead of, say, iambs or dactyls) so we know the time signature is 5/8.

Here is a performance of the hymn.

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The Trojan War really happened

In 1184 BC, the 30-foot-high walls of Troy were set on fire, putting an end to the Trojan War.

The ashes, the arrowheads, and the fallen soldiers still exist to the present day — preserved underneath a later city built on its ruins.

The city of Priam, often called “Troy VII” or “Troy VIIa”, is still being unearthed in modern-day Turkey..

Modern Remains Of Troy

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The Ancient Greek kithara

The Ancient Greek kithara gives us the word “guitar”.

This 5-minute video shows Professor Stefan Hagel explaining some basics of Ancient Greek music, followed by a nice performance demonstrating what the kithara sounds like in the diatonic genus.

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Ogilby’s Iliad

People often overlook John Ogilby’s English translation of Homer’s Iliad. The frontispiece of this 1660 edition was engraved by Wenceslas Hollar.

It was published just after George Chapman’s famous translation, which he wrote in long-lined non-rhyming verse, in installments starting in 1598.

It was published just before Alexander Pope’s timeless translation, which he wrote in rhyming iambic pentameter couplets, in installments starting in 1715.

But Ogilby’s English translation was one of the first to be annotated, and his editions were always beautifully illustrated.

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Marble statue of Athena

This sculpture of Athena was carved out of marble in the 1st century AD/BC in Rome. It was a copy of an earlier Greek sculpture from the 4th century BC.

Of all Athena’s iconography, her helmet might be the most widely recognized, but she has other icons that you can use to identify her. If you look closely you can also see snakes on her tunic, and a big Gorgon on her brooch. These are dead giveaways you’re looking at Athena.

Homer characterizes her as the god of battle strategy and wisdom.

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How did the world begin?

This 7-minute video outlines one Ancient Greek story of the creation of the universe: the beautifully-worded Theogony of Hesiod.

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What Ancient Greek music sounds like

This 16-minute video is an interesting attempt to recreate authentic Ancient Greek music.

They cover some fundamental instruments like the kithara and the aulos. They play a jazzy version of Homer. It finishes with a really cool semi-authentic performance of the actual music Euripides composed for Orestes, which was a musical, not a play.

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The death of Aeschylus

In his life, Aeschylus wrote musicals, won awards, and pioneered innovations that are now standard in today’s theater. This 15th century illustration shows his death in 456 BC.

Legend has it he died from a turtle dropped on him by an eagle.

Now, that may sound ridiculous, but in fact there are eagles in that region that eat turtles by dropping them on stones from high up to crack their shells. Apparently, the eagle mistook Aeschylus’s bald head for a hard stone.

Pliny adds an ironic twist: Aeschylus was only outside in the first place to avoid a prophecy that he’d be killed by falling object.

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Fresco of lyre player

This fresco from the Bronze Age palace of Nestor (who fought in the Trojan war) in Ancient Greece shows a lyre player performing a song. The song is represented by a bird. Homer’s noble characters often speak with “winged words”.

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Mosaic of Achilles, Athena & Agamemnon

This 1st century AD mosaic, recovered from the ruins of Pompeii in the “house of Apollo”, depicts Book I of the Iliad. Achilles draws his sword, ready to attack Agamemnon, but Athena grabs Achilles’s hair and restrains him. She advises him to use his words instead.

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Who is Aphrodite?

This 16-minute video gives a good overview of who Aphrodite is, and how she came to be. In the Iliad, she represents the “mind” and Ares represents the “body”.

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The Greater Perfect System

For some 500 years in Ancient Greece, the standard music system was called the “Greater Perfect System”. This diagram here shows all of the notes in the diatonic genus of the Hypolydian tonos (or tropos). The full system includes 21 notes per octave, so the genus (whether diatonic, chromatic, or enharmonic) limits each octave to a more manageable 7-note “scale”. The full system also includes 15 different “keys”, so the tonos defines the scale’s lowest bass note (or proslambenomenos), here at around 110Hz. In other words, Aristoxenus would say these notes make up the diatonic genus in the Hypolydian tonos, and Mozart would say they make up a minor scale in the key of A.

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Leda and the Swan

This painting showing the birth of Helen of Troy is a copy of a now-lost Leonardo Da Vinci painting. It was painted by Cesar Da Sesto, one of Da Vinci’s students, in 1505-1510 AD. It shows Leda and Zeus (the swan) next to two hatching eggs. Helen and Clytemnestra are coming out of one egg. Castor and Pollux are coming out of the other egg.

Here’s a study Da Vinci did in his notebook around the same time.

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12-minute summary of the Iliad

This 12-minute video summarizing the Iliad is awesome and hilarious, but it skips over the ending, and so kinda misses the whole point of the Iliad.

They later posted this video explaining the ending better.