Photo from Ancient Greek vases formerly in the private collection of Elie Borowski, Christie’s, 2000

“Sing, goddess, the anger of Achilles” are the opening words of one of the most famous epics of all time, Homer’s Iliad, describing a year in the Trojan War. That anger may be what is depicted in this Attic black-figure Greek vase from the sixth century B.C. Memnon (king of Ethiopia who came to Troy’s aid) had killed Achilles’ friend Antilochus; in revenge Achilles faces Memnon in single combat and kills him. The warriors wear greaves and Corinthian helmets and carry shields as protection while wielding spears. Backup swords are slung from their shoulders. As they face each other in combat, their mothers Eos (the Dawn) and Thetis (a Nereid, or daughter of the god of the Mediterranean, Nereus) look on, while below two panthers stalk a stag.

Historians and archaeologists have long debated the historicity of Homer, some arguing that the places and artifacts Homer mentions in his epics reflect the realia of the eighth century B.C., when he lived, and not the 12th century B.C., when the battles supposedly occurred. But archaeological finds confirm a 12th-century B.C. date for this realia, for example, the greaves and weaponry Homer describes. Author Edwin Yamauchi argues that, although Homer’s works are literary creations, they preserve accurate historical memories.