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A World Without Gods: This Troy Could Have Done with Some Divine Intervention (Movie Review)

Will Self
The Evening Standard, May 13, 2004.


"In his seminal work The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes theorised that when the events that the Homeric Iliad describes took place, the ancient Greeks literally heard the voices of their gods. Like schizophrenics, these bronze-age peoples had a tenuous grasp on the thinking 'I' most of us take for granted; so, when the voices spoke to them in commanding tones, they obeyed. It's a bold theory, and helps to explain the particular way in which the ancient Greeks thought their deities were involved in initiating and partially controlling their actions. In Troy, Wolfgang Petersen's epic recreation of The Iliad, the voices are out of the frame, and so are the gods. The director eschewed the divine origin and control of the Trojan war on the grounds that a modern audience would have been unable to suspend disbelief in it. If only he had read Jaynes - or just about any competent authority - Petersen could have found a way of suggesting the mental world of the period, without recourse to whitegirt hard bodies lobbing golden apples around the set. They spent $175 million making this flick: they could have at least put a classicist on the payroll. Instead we get The Iliad for agnostics, and peopled by them as well."