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Troy: Myth and Reality


Museums & Galleries


21/11/2019 - 08/03/2020


British Museum

Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG

Room 30, Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery

Tickets: £20 adults, £17 concessions, under 16s free.

Last week we went to see Tutankhamun at the Saatchi Gallery. A real live king, the discovery of whose riches-filled tomb has given him immortality. The wonder on seeing the treasures today is all tied up with a real event that unarguably happened.  

There is a section in the British Museum's latest blockbuster, Troy: Myth and Reality that sets out the archaeological case for a real battle at a real Troy in north west Turkey. Fact finders will be interested but the magic of Troy is not about geography but about words, from tales handed down in folklore, told by a master storyteller and then re-told, in words, pictures, plays for millennia. This is a show about the universal truths in a good story and kids - we reckon 8+ - will love it.

The big themes the show tackles are made clear from the very start. The first room contains three pieces under a quote from the Iliad:-

"Rage. Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles..."

Troy pot

An Athenian jar (from approx 530BC) portrays Achilles in vengeful slaying mode (there is a lot of vengeful slaying going on). He is killing an Amazonian warrior and at the moment she dies, their eyes meet and hatred becomes love.

Cy Twombly Anthony Caro

Next to this is an abstract canvas by Cy Twombly from 1962 - a bloodied spear? a mountain? The scratchy base includes the words of its title, 'The Vengeance of Achilles'. It is childlike in its simplicity and children will instantly respond to its representation of out of control fury, 'seeing red'. The room is completed with four pieces from Anthony Caro recreating the Trojan battlefield in a modern context. Anger, love, the horrors of war.

Into the exhibition proper. Throughout, key moments in the story are picked up with quotes from the Iliad and the Odyssey. Sculptures, ceramics and paintings depict the violence of the battle, the rage of Achilles. This is a bloody world. Kids will enjoy the wooden tablet of a schoolboy's study of Homer, a scrap of papyrus with lines from the Aeneid written out. Methods may have changed but the study is not so very different.

Go through the framework of the Trojan horse itself and learn about the history of the birth of Rome as Aeneas escapes the destruction of Troy and Virgil takes over the story.

If your kids are into fact-finding, they will enjoy the archeological case for the existence of the city but we found the third section more engaging as you explore the myth over the ages. From the first book printed in English to a poster from the Brad Pitt film, we cannot get enough. 

We are invited to look at how representations and responses have changed. To war, to the treatment of woman. Older children can listen to an army veteran responding to a drawing of Achilles holding the dead Patroclus and a trafficked woman telling her story. They are sensitively handled but probably suited for 11+. There is a super-creepy Cranach painting of the Judgment of Paris that will spark discussion and a powerful video portrayal of the women of Troy voiced by Syrian refugees. 

Judgment of Paris

And at the end two symbols of war. Achilles' golden shield and a delicate modern interpretation of it. What is strength? War? A thought provoking, brilliant show.

One tip. The exhibition pre-supposes a certain amount of basic knowledge of the myth. You will get much more out of it if you have done some background reading. The study of Ancient Greece forms part of the National Curriculum in KS2, so chances are your kids will be doing it in in school from Year 3. But whether or not they are reading it at school, make sure that you have read the stories together before you go. (If you are anything like us, your Priam, Hector, Achilles knowledge may need some brushing up anyway!)

Click here to book tickets. 

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Room 30, Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery

Tickets: £20 adults, £17 concessions, under 16s free.


Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG

Venue phone:

020 7323 8299

Venue website:

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