In "Troy Town," Dante Gabriel Rossetti tells the story of Helen, queen of Sparta, who desperately longs for love. She offers a carved cup to Venus, goddess of love and beauty and pleads for the love of a man. In her prayers, Helen, who compares her breasts to apples, reminds the goddess of a time when Venus, too, desperately coveted something. At one time, Venus competed with Hera and Athena for the golden apples from the Tree of Life. Paris, Prince of Troy, offered them in return for a favor from the goddess he chose, and he selected Venus's gift. Perhaps reminded of her own desire, she sees in Helen's heart something that suited her mood and vocation as a goddess, Venus decided to grant Helen's wish. At her behest, Cupid struck Paris with love's arrow, and with that first fateful moment when

Paris turned upon his bed,
               (O Troy Town!)
Turned upon his bed and said,
Dead at heart with the heart's desire, —
"Oh to clasp her golden head!"
               (O Troy's down,
               Tall Troy's on fire!
)

Troy's fate was sealed.

Questions

1. Rossetti constantly brings up apples, referring to the golden apples of life that began the Trojan War (when Paris chose to give the apples to Venus rather than Hera or Athena), and comparing Helen's breasts to "apples sweet". Apples traditionally symbolized temptation or the downfall of Adam and Eve, possibly drawing a parallel between the fall from grace and the fall of Troy. What else could apples symbolize?

2. The refrain of "O Troy Town" and "O Troy's down, Tall Troy's on fire!" brings to mind the call and response structure inherent in the music of plantation slaves in America. Was this similarity intentional, and if so, what message was Rossetti attempting to communicate?

3. Poets commonly wrote on the theme of love surpassing death, and the insignificance of death if one has experienced true love. Rossetti described the first moment of Paris' love with the slightly ominous line "Dead at heart with the heart's desire." Why did he choose to connect the terms of love and death negatively, despite the poetic themes to the contrary?

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Last modified 11 October 2004