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Sunday, July 05, 2020

Explained: Why the Telangana HC compared Covid-19 to a Trojan horse

“Not testing in large numbers is almost like inviting the Trojan horse," the Telangana High Court said last week. What does this mean?

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: June 2, 2020 4:03:12 pm
Explained: 'Trojan horse', a term used by Telangana HC in a Covid-related case  An computer-generated illustration of the Trojan horse at the gates of Troy. (Getty Images)

Last week, the Telangana High Court pulled up the state government over its low rate of coronavirus testing. It directed health authorities to test the deceased for Covid-19 before releasing the bodies. It also asked the government why tests were not being conducted in high-risk zones.

“Not testing in large numbers is almost like inviting the Trojan horse. Why is the Telangana government under testing? Financial constraints cannot be cited as a reason as human lives are most important,” the bench said.

Used as a metaphor, the term “Trojan horse” refers to any person or thing that deceives or misleads a target in order to attack it from the inside. It is derived from the ancient Greek story of the Trojan War — an epic that has for centuries influenced western poetry, art and literature.

Part of Greek mythology, the Trojan legend was most notably recounted by the famed Greek author Homer in his epics, Iliad and Odyssey, both believed to have been written in the 8th century BC.

The Trojan War

As described in the classics, the war was fought after the ancient Greek state of Sparta invaded Troy, a kingdom located on the western shores of modern-day Turkey, after the Spartan queen Helen eloped with the Trojan prince Paris. According to some versions, Helen was abducted by the Trojans.

Distraught, Helen’s husband, the Spartan king Menelaus marched with his brother Agamemnon, the King of Mycenae (another Greek state), to rescue Helen. The Greek side was supported by other powerful allies, and included the fabled warriors Achilles, Odysseus, Nestor, and Ajax. The Greeks crossed the Aegean Sea and laid siege to Troy demanding Helen’s return.

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A bloody battle raged for more than 10 years, after which the Greeks made a show of retreating from their positions, while leaving a large wooden horse inside which some of their soldiers hid at the gates of Troy. To their great misfortune, the unsuspecting Trojan people decided to haul the wooden horse that they ostensibly took to be a gift, into their city. At nighttime, the Greek soldiers led by Odysseus emerged from the horse and opened the city gates from inside, through which a larger force entered, leaving Troy to ruin. As per Homerian classic Odyssey, Helen returned to Sparta with Menelaus.

What HC’s reference to Trojan horse means

The High Court was comparing asymptomatic coronavirus carriers to the Trojan horse. Similar to the story of Troy, we could be interacting with asymptomatic carriers, talking to them, inviting them over, while suspecting nothing, and before we know it, the virus would have transmitted to us.

Since a person has no symptoms, it is not possible to know if they are coronavirus carriers unless they are tested.

The ruins of Troy

The classical story, which contains episodes of divine miracles and superhuman achievements, was for years debunked as a work of fiction. However, archaeologists in the 19th century began looking for clues pointing towards such a war.

In 1870, the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann conducted major excavations at what was believed to be the site of the historic Troy, and ended up finding layers of debris, precious artifacts, and a small citadel mound. Over the years, researchers discovered nine layers of inhabitation built upon each other from 3000 BC until the abandoning of the site in 1350 AD — proving that Troy was a major city during the Bronze Age. The seventh layer, dated to around 1180 BC, is now believed to be the city which may have been destroyed during the Trojan War.

In 1998, UNESCO designated the Trojan remains at Hisarlik in Turkey as a World Heritage Site. “In scientific terms, its extensive remains are the most significant demonstration of the first contact between the civilizations of Anatolia and the Mediterranean world. Moreover, the siege of Troy by Spartan and Achaean warriors from Greece in the 13th or 12th century B.C., immortalised by Homer in the Iliad, has inspired great creative artists throughout the world ever since,” the UNESCO website says.

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