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Learning Latin with Dictys Cretensis: Journal of the Trojan War


Learning Latin with Dictys Cretensis: Journal of the Trojan War

“The Abduction of Helen” by Gavin Hamilton


By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB


Have you heard of Dictys Cretensis? Most likely not, since his work Journal of the Trojan War is mostly ignored by scholars. I happened upon this book while doing some research on the Trojan War. This work was supposedly written by an eyewitness who accompanied the Greek fleet on the expedition against Troy. In this short essay I will explain why this text is excellent reading for intermediate Latin students.

Who was Dictys?

Dictys is a character mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, a companion of the Cretan king Idomeneos. As he supposedly lived during the Trojan War, which tradition says took place three thousand years ago, we know nothing about his life or even if he existed at all. The Journal is said to be a Latin translation of a Greek manuscript, which, sadly, was lost. The book is divided into six parts: the first and second tell what happened before Homer’s Iliad, and so are called Antehomerica; the third and fourth retell events from Homer’s Iliad, and they are called Homerica; and the last ones, called Posthomerica, cover events from after Hector’s funeral all the way to the return of the Greek heroes after the sack of Troy.

Was he Really an Eyewitness of the Trojan War?

In my opinion, this work was probably written by a Latin writer who, in order to draw people’s attention to his work, claimed that it was written by an eyewitness of the events of the Trojan War. Some scholars believe the work De Excidio Troiae by Dares Phrigii, another “eyewitness” of the Trojan War, was actually written by Cornelius Nepos, who wanted his work to be associated with an older and more respected name in order to gain status.

Paris Kidnapping Helen

Late Latin tends to be easier than modern Latin, both in grammar and vocabulary, but even for Late Latin, the Journal<?em> is very easy to understand. Now let’s take a look at how Dyctis describes the well-known episode which caused the Trojan War, the kidnapping of Helen:

Per idem tempus Alexander Phrygius, Priami filius, Aenea aliisque ex consanguinitate comitibus, Spartae in domum Menelai hospitio receptus, indignissimum facinus perpetraverat. Is namque, ubi animadvertit regem abesse, quod erat Helena praeter ceteras Graeciae feminas miranda specie, amore eius captus ipsamque et multas opes domo eius aufert, Aethram etiam et Clymenam, Menelai adfines, quae ob necessitudinem cum Helena agebant.

During the same time the home of Menelaus at Sparta welcomed Alexander the Phrygian, the son of Priam, who had come with Aeneas and others of his relatives. Alexander, taking advantage of Menelaus’ absence, committed a very foul crime. Falling desperately in love with Helen, the most beautiful woman in Greece, he carried her off, along with much wealth, and also Aethra and Clymene, being Menelaus’ relatives, who attended on Helen.



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André Bastos Gurgel
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.

Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.



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