Most information that the world has today that deals with the history of ancient Greece is in the literature from the time. Great epics such as the Iliad and the Odyssey, from the unknown poet Homer, make up most of the literature that has even been found from this era. The problem with getting our history from literary sources is that when Homer first recited his Iliad he was actually trying to entertain, so all of the information might not be accurate, although based on actual events. Also, in the Greek culture it was common to allow the credit for certain kinds of deeds to go to their gods or goddesses, which today's historians just suppose to be allegorical references. But, if the gods or goddesses do not exist, then how did the Trojan War start in the first place? The story that most people know as to what started the war is a myth involving the goddesses and what archeologists have so far found; no one is exactly sure what started the war.
First, the Greek myth that most people have given credit for the history of how the Trojan War started:
A sea nymph, Thetis, was getting married to Peleus, a mortal. All of the gods and goddesses were invited to this great wedding, except Eris, a rather unpopular goddess. When Eris discovered that there was a wedding going on that she had not been invited to she decided to get back at all who went. She decided to roll an apple into the reception of the wedding, but she put an inscription on the apple that intended it for the most beautiful goddess at the wedding. When the apple rolled in and the inscription was read Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite all felt that she, respectively, was the most beautiful and should get the apple. All three goddesses begged of the gathered gods to choose, but all of the gods refused to make an enemy of the other two that he did not choose. So finally, someone made the suggestion that the three goddesses should let a mortal choose; Priam's son, Paris, was designated to choose. The goddesses went to him and each begged him to choose her. Hera offered Paris, if he chose her, the chance at infinite wisdom; Athena offered to let him defeat the Achaeans if they went to war; and finally, Aphrodite offered Paris the love of the most beautiful woman in Greece, Helen. Paris chose Aphrodite, she received the apple and he got Helen, the wife of an Achaean chieftain, Menelaus. The war started as an expedition to recover the stolen Helen.
This could all be looked at allegorically, and the decision could be made that in all actuality Paris, of his own free will, fell in love with Helen and stole her away to Troy. But, does anyone really want such a simple explanation to say what started a war that killed so many people and ended a part of civilization? According to today's archeological findings know one knows from true detail exactly what caused the downfall of Troy. As of now the modern world even knows the location of King Priam's city, but they do not necessarily know what caused it to be destroyed.
There is of course the possibility of taking the writings of Dictys of Crete into account. As the known story of Dictys goes, he was a person alive during the Trojan war. He accompanied the leaders Idomeneus and Meriones with the armies against Troy, these leaders, supposedly, asked Dictys to keep a record of their campaign. After Dictys returned from the war he was old and requested on his death bed to have his books buried with him. Long after his death shepards were walking past a tomb that had been broken open by an earthquake; the shepards noticed a locked tin box and took it, expecting treasure. When they opened the box, the shepards found linden tablets with Phoenician writing on them. The tablets were then passed between various hands until they reached Nero who had them translated to Greek.
The story that the tablets held only briefly speaks of the beginning or the start of the war. Technically Dictys was not involved in the start and he states that what he knows of the start is "accurate as possible, Ulysses being my source." The story, as told by Dictys, goes that King Priam's son Alexander was staying as a guest with Menelaus, when he fell in love with Menelaus's wife, Helen. While Menelaus was away, Alexander took Helen away to Troy, along with all of her belongings. After Menelaus found out about what Alexander had done, he went to Sparta and called a meeting of all of the rulers of Greece. At the meeting it was decided to send envoys to Troy to request the return of Helen. The envoys actually reached Troy before Alexander, and although they tried to convince King Priam to see the folly of his son, he refused to here the condemnation of his son, who was not there to defend himself. The envoy waited until Alexander arrived and then they tried again to talk to the council of Troy, but this time Alexander burst in with Helen and asked them to allow her to choose. Helen chose to stay at Troy because she had left Menelaus willingly. Angered, the envoys left and both countries prepared for war.
The only problem with this account, which could possibly be the best interpretation of what started the Trojan War, is the authenticity. The story of how it was found is actually in the preface to the surviving Latin texts, and the only piece of the Greek papyrus that still exists dates from 206 CE, and no longer do any of the linden tablets exist. So, some scholars believe that the story is a fake and that Dictys of Crete never existed.
Once again it is still not entirely known as to what exactly started the Trojan war. Some probably do not care, but the Trojan War based on other legends could possibly be what later helped populate Rome. Supposedly, the survivors of Troy, after the city finally lost, found their way to where Rome began and started over. Also, great heroes, legends, and stories have developed because of the Trojan War. So, if the origin of the war cannot be truly defined how can the facts of what happened during or after be truly established? Dictys of Crete may or may not have existed as his story tells and the poet Homer may or may not have been a blind Ionian; but these people have helped present historians to dig deeper into the mystery that is the Trojan War.