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Troy: The Unfortunate Change of Sexuality and Gender Dynamics From Iliad

Updated: Jul 25, 2022



For the Greek mythology geeks out there, the only saving grace of the 2004 movie "Troy" - aside from an armoured and glamorous Brad Pitt - was its graphic cinematography, and nothing else.


Based on Homer's great epic Iliad, Troy should have been a creative retelling of the epic's tale without changing the historical aspects. Exaggeration for cinematic value may have been welcome, but what was not welcome was the complete - excuse the use of the word - butchering of the original epic's story. The foremost of that being this: Achilles and Patroclus in Iliad were gay lovers! But what did the movie decide their relationship with each other to be? Wait for it - cousins! (If you don't sense homophobia yet idk how to convince you otherwise. Seriously? Cousins??)



Before we get to that, however, it should be brought to your knowledge that Iliad and Odyssey remain two of the most revered literature pieces in the history of literature, Besides being the greatest epics ever written in the 7th century BC (yes, that's how ancient they are), they are also our major source of learning Greek mythology, war history, and Greek culture. They, along with other Greek, Latin, and Roman literary works such as Aeneid by Virgil, remain the source of inspiration for books, movies, and popular media to this day. This is why we all have at least once in our lives heard the phrase "Trojan War" or the idiom "Achilles' heel." Hence, those who have not read or studied the epics themselves, know a thing or two about Greek mythology through books such as Percy Jackson, Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles and Circe, or movies such as Wonder Woman, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Troy, Disney's Hercules, and the list goes on.


Coming back to Troy, other than changing the original story line and killing off characters that did not at all originally die, the movie has quite conspicuously changed the gender and sexuality dynamics from the original Iliad. Not only is Achilles not shown as a homosexual, he is shown promiscuous with girls (lying in bed with two of them early in the movie), and falls in love with Briseis, who, by the way, was a commoner in Iliad and not royal blood. She is made a royal priestess in the movie to justify her bravado thought unconventional for women. Achilles himself says that she would not look down upon men if it weren't for her royalty. The relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was one of deep affection and love, but Homer never explicitly suggested their romantic relationship (which, given that homosexuality was not uncommon in Ancient Greece, he may not have felt the need to) but it has always been debated through centuries. However, most people (me included) agree with the Greek Philosopher Plato who in his book Symposium, written in 370 BC, argues that there is enough evidence in Iliad that shows Achilles and Patroclus were lovers.


If the movie's aim was to not show a homosexual relation, it could have portrayed them as warrior partners in deep care of each other if not as lovers, but what irks the fans is that they are portrayed as cousins. as if to curb so much as a whisper of any remark passed on why two grown men were affectionate towards each other to an extent that Achilles wrecked havoc when his beloved Patroclus was killed (homophobic, don't you think?)



On top of that, the movie time and again mentions slave women kept for the "amusement" of men, even though Greek culture shows that slave boys were preferred over women. The role of women in the movie was mitigated to women as the subject of desire, woman (Helen of Troy) as the cause of war, and women as the keepers of men's and kings' honour. The movie romanticizes the concept of "war waged for love", completely disregarding the fact the original myth portrays the Goddess Aphrodite as the one who promised Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, to Prince Troy in exchange for receiving a golden apple. So no, Paris and Helen were not in it for love but a subject of the Gods' trickery. By disregarding this, however, the movie shows Helen in a bad light (even though she is not despised by other characters) as the cause of the Trojan war for eluding with Prince Paris when she was already married to the Spartan King.



In fact, none of the Goddesses are mentioned as playing an integral role in the movie. The only one paid heed to - you guessed it - is a male God, Apollo. He is invoked upon, prayed to, and it is his temple that Achilles desecrates. Nowhere to be seen is the role of Goddesses. It was Athena who hindered the journey of the Greek fleet to Troy, and Aphrodite who incited Helen. Even Achilles' mother was a Goddess, a sea nymph with immense power and influence over Achilles' life. However, the movie shows her as a docile woman (that too only once and for a few seconds) with no implication of her being a Goddess. Divinity aside, the movie does not show slave women either. The only time they are there is when a feast is going on, to serve, dance, entertain, and satiate. Unlike Iliad, the movie does not show women, slave though they were, out in the camps tending to the battle wounded or working, crafting, and farming for all the soldiers. Neither is Hector's mother, Hecuba the Queen of Troy, shown in the film.



Although it remains a shame that Troy is one highly inaccurate historical war fiction, it can be enjoyed as a good action movie by those who are unaware of its inaccuracies. However, the lack of depiction of women in a powerful role, and the "no homo" sentiments of the makers of this movie, will remain a sore point for fans of classical literature.


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11 Comments


Rafay Abdul Razzaq
Rafay Abdul Razzaq
Aug 07, 2022

Thank you for such a wonderful blog Ayesha!

I've recently been playing God of War, which is based entirely on Greek and Norse mythology and I think your blog came at the perfect time :) I agree with you entirely on historical inaccuracies in popular media products and it just makes me think of the role of gender in mythologies as a whole. As we saw in Lajjah, Indian mythology also recounts traditional gender roles in its stories of Gods and Goddesses. After all, it is humans who have carried out these legacies of stories from one generation onto another and it is no doubt that our own interpretations will affect the characters within those stories.


God of war is…

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Rafay this is such a good observation, thanks a lot! First of all, it is exciting to know that there is a game based on Greek and Norse mythology. Secondly, I completely agree with the fact that defining gender roles for Gods is a human construct, and now that you have mentioned it, I would surely research into the socio-cultural context of when Greek texts were interpreted. And as far as assigning gender roles goes, it definitely is the human perception that reduces the roles and duties of Goddesses as lesser than Gods. Perhaps it is not an entirely conscious choice, as we have internalized gendered stereotypes that they come naturally to us. In Greek mythology from what I know,…

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Thankyou Ayesha for writing this!

From its opening scenes, ''Troy,'' freely adapted by David Benioff from ''The Iliad'' and other sources, plunges you into a world shaped by complex codes of honor, loyalty and military virtue. Or, rather, it plunges you into a world where people talk about such things incessantly, and where every speech is punctuated by booming timpani and the ululations of an apparently tongueless female singer, her inarticulate moans announcing that this is not just a movie but an epic. The war between Ancient Greece and the Trojans is epic in scale and isn't about poetry. The movie dialogue was very good. The cast is overall excellent and delivers wonderful performances.


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Yes Zunaira you are absolutely right! One cannot completely ignore the cinematic value of a movie because of its historical inaccuracy, but it sure does undermine its positive reception. To this day people adore Troy for its battles scenes, choreographed action sequences, costumes, dialogues, and of course, Brad Pitts amazing amazing performance (he was the best Achilles!) That being said, the movie would have done even better if the Greek mythology fans were not upset at the misrepresentation. My only question in the blog was this too: why? What was the need to not only not make Patroclus Achilles' lover, but make him his cousin instead! And to further the abstinence from homosexuality, the movie showed women as the prize…

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Hi Ayesha!

For someone who has never read Iliad and only seen Troy, I was shockingly disappointed how the film failed to accurately capture and retell Iliad. It used to be one of my favourite Brad Pitt films; now, I'm not so sure :(. The portrayal of originally LGBTQ+ characters as straight ones has unfortunately been done elsewhere as well. The Greek hero Hercules was also famously bisexual in Ancient Greek myth. However almost every depiction of Hercules in film adaptations, including Dwayne Johnson, shows the character as heterosexual. 'Straightwashing' not only weakens queer representation, but closes all doors on the the chance to help positively influence and shape the narratives, and the messages sent by those narratives, in popular…


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Aimen thank you so much for bringing this to light! Yes, the straightwashing concept is infuriating. And historically, many figures/characters had different sexualities (Alexander the Great is thought to be bisexual) but it is never brought into any further conversations in mainstream media. Speaking of Benedict Cumberbatch, it is indeed upsetting as you pointed out that he played a non-binary character but in a cynical way. However, it was also through Cumberbatch's movie The Imitation Game that I learnt of the horrific crimes and laws against homosexuals. He plays Alan Turing, a real life person and one of the biggest scientists, who was prosecuted and chemically castrated for being a homosexual (how horrifying!) But that's the thing right, that we…

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Absolutely brilliant article Ayesha! I enjoyed reading it immensely. This is such a common trope we see where canonically LGBTQ characters are written as straight characters. And people saying it’s up to the creators choice what they do, do not understand the uproar that is created if a straight character is even hinted to be queer. In short, homosexuality has always historically been erased especially from historical fiction and epics like Illiad.


Although this is a completely different example, but it reminded me of the recent controversy surrounding Will Byers character from Stranger Things. People all over the internet got soooo offended when it was hinted and then ultimately revealed that his character is gay. This just proves that the…


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Thank you so much for your kind words Khadija! :) And yes, you are correct about the backlash received when creators choose to reveal a queer character. So it is really funny, that backlash is received both ways, both on including and excluding queer characters. While excluding it, the reason for backlash is clear: people sense homophobia (in the case of Iliad) or the lack of sensitivity to be inclusive. While including queer characters, backlash is received for that media product to appear inclusive for the sake of being inclusive, and not because it was actually well thought-out. An example to add to yours, is that of Beauty and The Beast's 2017 live action starring Emma Watson. Many people (including…

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I think whenever a film or television media product is made based on an older work, it has a responsibility to do justice to that work. However, the creators who remake the work do rightfully have space to exercise their own creativity and know-how so that people who watch the remade content can see clearly that the work borrows heavily from the original media product it is based on (in this case The Iliad) but the influence of the creators is also visible. It is their version of that work. In this case the film creator's work or vision of The Iliad. However, there is a line that you must not cross lest the telling become inauthentic. While I have…


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Thanks for sharing that response. Unfortunately, I have not seen Parizaad either. But I do understand the point you are making. Given the statement about better female and LGBTQ representation in other films of that era, I think then that looking at the creative processes of those who were involved in the making of Troy itself is the way to go.

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