“This Whole Great Universe Serves as a Theatre”: Pan-European Trojan Origins

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Peter Latka, University of Toronto, Canada


    There is nothing so alive in the mouths of men as [Homer’s] name and his works; nothing so well known and accepted as Troy, Helen, and his wars, which perhaps never existed.…Not only certain private families but most nations seek their origin in his fictions. – Michel de Montaigne
    In this excerpt from his 1588 essay “Of the most outstanding men”, Michel de Montaigne describes Homer’s influence as contributing to a Europe-wide contemporary social phenomenon. These observations call attention to three central elements linking Troy with the historical imaginary of late sixteenth-century Europeans: the remarkable popularity of the Troy legend (“nothing so alive…nothing so well known and accepted”); the uncertainty surrounding the legend’s veracity (“which perhaps never existed”); and the use of Troy by “private families” and “nations” to legitimate origins. Admiring Homer’s ability to shape the European socio-political landscape, “after more then three thousand years,” Montaigne continues on in his essay to express “astonishment” that Homer, “who by his authority created and brought into credit in the world many deities, has not himself gained the rank of a god” (569). With this hyperbolic claim, Montaigne expresses awe for the legacy of Homer’s influence on the Western European historical imaginary. This wonder at the commixture of fiction and reality on the European political stage ultimately comes to be expressed in theatrical terms: “Is it not noble drama in which kings, commonwealths, and emperors keep playing their parts for so many ages, and for which this whole great universe serves as a theatre” (571)? Montaigne’s wonder at this pan-European socio-cultural phenomenon serves as the springboard for this paper’s analysis of medieval and early modern extra-literary artefacts from today’s Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The Trojan origins-related artefacts examined in this study include chronicles, coats of arms, fine art, monarchical genealogies, pedigree rolls (private families), stone monuments, and tapestries.