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.