The Trojan War



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The Trojan War

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More than a thousand years before Christ, near the end of the Mediterranean was a great city very rich and powerful, second to none on earth. The name of it was Troy, and even today no city is more famous. The cause of its long-lasting fame was a war told of in one of the world’s greatest poems, the Iliad, and the cause of the war went back to a dispute between three jealous goddesses.
Prologue: THE JUDGEMENT OF PARIS

The evil goddess of Discord, Eris, was naturally not popular in Olympus…. At an important marriage, that of King Peleus and the sea nymph Thetis, to which she alone of all the divinities was not invited, she threw into the banqueting hall a golden apple marked For the Fairest. Of course all the goddesses wanted it, but in the end the choice was narrowed down to three: Aphrodite, Hera and Athena. They asked Zeus to judge between them, but very wisely he refused to have anything to do with the matter. He told them to go to Mount Ida, near Troy, where the young prince Paris…was doing shepherd’s work because his father Priam, the King of Troy, had been warned that this prince would someday be the ruin of his country, and so had sent him away.

His amazement can be imagined when there appeared before him the wondrous forms of the three great goddesses. He was asked…to consider the bribes each offered and choose which seemed to him best worth taking. Nevertheless, the choice was not easy. What men cared for most was set before him. Hera promised to make him Lord of Europe and Asia; Athena, that he would lead the Trojans to victory against the Greeks and lay Greece in ruins; Aphrodite, that the fairest woman in all the world should be his. Paris, a weakling and something of a coward too,…chose the last. He gave Aphrodite the golden apple.

That was the Judgment of Paris, famed everywhere as the real reason why the Trojan War was fought.


THE TROJAN WAR

The fairest woman in the world was Helen, the daughter of Zeus and Leda…. When her suitors assembled in her home to make a formal proposal for her hand, they were so many and from such powerful families that her reputed father, her mother’s husband…was afraid to select one among them, fearing that the others would unite against him. He therefore exacted first a solemn oath from all…. [The suitors] all bound themselves to punish…anyone who carried or tried to carry Helen away. Then Helen’s reputed father chose Menelaus, the brother of Agamemnon, and made him King of Sparta as well.

So matters stood when Paris gave the golden apple to Aphrodite. The Goddess of Love and Beauty knew very well where the most beautiful woman on earth was to be found. She led the young shepherd…straight to Sparta, where Menelaus and Helen received him graciously as their guest. The ties between guest and host were strong. Each was bound to help and never harm the other. But Paris broke that sacred bond. Menelaus trusting completely to it left Paris in his home and went off to Crete….

So Paris took Helen off. Menelaus got back to find Helen gone, and he called upon all Greece to help him. The chieftains responded, as they were bound to do. They came eager for the great enterprise, to cross the sea and lay mighty Troy in ashes. Two, however, of the first rank, were missing: Odysseus, King of the Island of Ithaca, and Achilles, the son of Peleus and the sea nymph Thetis. Odysseus, who was one of the threwdest and most sensible men in Greece, did not want to leave his house and family to embark on a romantic adventure overseas for the sake of a faithless woman…. Achilles was kept by his mother. The sea nymph knew that if he went to Troy he was fated to die there….

So the Greek fleet made ready. A thousand ships carried the Greek host. They met at Aulis, a place of strong winds and dangerous tides, impossible to sail from as long as the north wind blew. And it kept blowing, day after day….

The army was desperate. At last the soothsayer, Calchas, declared that the gods had spoken to him: Artemis was angry… The only way to calm the wind… was to sacrifice to Artemis a royal maiden, Iphigenia, the eldest daughter of Agamemnon. This was terrible to all, but to her father hardly bearable…. Nevertheless he yielded….

The thousand ships carried a great host of fighting men and the Greek Army was very strong, but the Trojan City was strong too. Priam, the King, and his Queen, Hecuba, had many brave sons to lead the attack and to defend the walls, one above all, Hector, than whom no man anywhere was nobler or more brave, and only one a greater warrior, the champion of Greeks, Achilles. Each knew that he would die before Troy was taken.

For nine years victory wavered, now to this side, now to that. Neither was ever able to gain any decided advantage. Then a quarrel flared up between two Greeks, Achilles and Agamemnon…. Again a woman was the reason. Chryseis, daughter of Apollo’s priest, had been carried off by the Greeks and given to Agamemnon. Her father came to beg for her release, but Agamemnon would not let her go. Then the priest prayed to the mighty god he served and Apollo heard him. From his sun-chariot he shot fiery arrows down upon the Greek Army, and men sickened and died so that the funeral pyres were burning continually.

At last Achilles called an assembly of the chieftains. He told them that they could not hold out against both the pestilence and the Trojans, and that they must either find a way to appease Apollo or else sail home….

Therefore when Chryseis had been returned to her father, Agamemnon sent two of his squires to Achilles’ tent to take his prize of honor away from him, the maiden Briseis…. Achilles swore before gods and men that Agamemnon would pay dearly for the deed….

The war by now had reached Olympus—the gods were ranged against each other. Aphrodite, of course, was on the side of Paris. Equally, of course, Hera and Athena were against him. Ares, God of War, always took sides with Aphrodite; while Poseidon, lord of the sea, favored the Greeks, a sea people. Apollo cared for Hector and for his sake helped the Trojans, and Artemis, his twin sister, did so too. Zeus liked the Trojans best, on the whole, but he wanted to be neutral.

Up on the wall of Troy the old King Priam and the other old men…sat watching the contest. To them came Helen, the cause of all that agony and death, yet as they looked at her, they could not feel any blame. “Men must fight for such as she,” they said to each other. “For her face was like to that of an immortal spirit.” She stayed by them, telling them the names of this and that Greek hero, until to their astonishment the battle ceased. The armies drew back on either side and in the space between, Paris and Menelaus faced each other. It was evident that the sensible decision had been reached to let the two most concerned fight it out alone….



Menelaus was victor and bidding the Trojans give Helen back. This was just, and the Trojans would have agreed if Athena, at Hera’s prompting, had not interfered. Hera was determined that the war should not end until Troy was ruined. Athena, sweeping down to the battlefield, persuaded the foolish heart of Pandarus, a Trojan, to break the truce and shoot an arrow at Menelaus….

On the Greek side, with Achilles gone, the two greatest champions were Ajax and Diomedes…. Diomedes came face to face with Hector. There to his dismay he saw Ares too. The bloodstained murderous god of war was fighting for Hector…. Then Hera was angry. She…asked Zeus if she might drive that bane of man, Ares, from the battlefield…. Then Hera hastened down to stand beside Diomedes and urge him to smite the terrible god and have no fear. At that…Diomedes rushed at Ares and hurled his spear at him. Athena drove it home, and it entered Ares’ body. The war god bellowed as loud as ten thousand cry in battle…

Ares, really a bully at heart and unable to bear what he brought upon unnumbered multitudes of men, fled up to Zeus in Olympus and complained bitterly of Athena’s violence. But Zeus looked at him sternly and told him he was as intolerable as his mother, and bade him cease his whining.

As Hector went back to the battle, he turned aside to see once more, perhaps for the last time, the wife he tenderly loved, Andromache, and his son, Astyanax. He met her on the wall where she had gone in terror to watch the fighting when she heard the Trojans were in retreat. With her was a handmaid carrying the little boy. Hector smiled and looked at them silently, but Andromache took his hand in hers and wept. “My dear lord,” she said, “you who are father and mother and brother unto me as well as husband, stay here with us. Do not make me a widow and your child an orphan.” He refused her gently. He could not be a coward, he said. It was for him to fight always in the forefront of the battle. Yet she could know that he never forgot what her anguish would be when he died. That was the thought that troubled him above all else, more than his many other cares. He turned to leave her, but first he held his arms to his son. Terrified the little boy shrank back, afraid of the helmet and its fierce nodding crest. Hector laughed and took the shining helmet from his head. Then holding the child in his arms he caressed him and prayed, “O Zeus, in after years may men say of this my son when he returns from battle, ‘Far greater is he than his father was.’”



So he laid the boy in his wife’s arms and she took him, smiling, yet with tears. And Hector pitied her and touched her tenderly with his hand and spoke to her: “Dear one, be not so sorrowful. That which is fated must come to pass, but against my fate no man can kill me.” Then taking up his helmet he left her and she went to her house, often looking back at him and weeping bitterly.
Patroclus, Achilles’ beloved friend…cried to Achilles, “You can keep your wrath while your countrymen go down in ruin. I cannot. Give me your armor. If they think I am you, the Trojans may pause and the worn-out Greeks have a breathing space….” So Patroclus put on the splendid armor all the Trojans knew and feared, and led Achilles’ men to the battle. At the first onset…the Trojans wavered;…But at last Patroclus met Hector face to face and his doom was sealed as surely as a boar is doomed when he faces a lion. Hector’s spear gave him a mortal wound and his soul fled from his body down to the house of Hades. Then Hector stripped his armor from him and casting his own aside, put it on.

As Achilles learned that Hector had killed Patroclus and taken his armor, Achilles went down in the sea caves and told his mother Thetis, “I will no longer live among men if I do not make Hector pay with his death for Patroclus dead.”

Thetis did not attempt to hold him back. “Only wait until morning,” she said, “and you will not go unarmed to battle. I will bring you arms fashioned by the divine armorer, the god Hephaestus himself.”

Marvelous arms they were when Thetis brought them, worthy of their maker, such as no man on earth had ever done…. A flame of fierce joy blazed in Achilles’ eyes as he put them on….

By this time the great Scaean gates of Troy had been flung wide, for the Trojans at last were in full flight and were crowding into the town. Only Hector stood unmoved before the wall.

On came Achilles, glorious as the sum when he rises. Beside him was Athena, but Hector was alone. Apollo had left him to his fate. As the pair drew near he turned and fled. Three times around the wall of Troy pursued and pursuer ran with flying feet. It was Athena who made Hector halt…. Hector faced Achilles. He cried out to him, “If I kill you I will give back your body to your friends and do you do the same to me.” But Achilles answer, “Madman. There are on covenants between sheep and wolves, nor between you and me.” So saying he hurled his spear. It missed its aim, but Athena brought it back. Then Hector struck with a true aim; the spear hit the center of Achilles’ shield. But to what good? That armor was magical and could not be pierced. He drew his sword, his only weapon now, and rushed upon his enemy Achilles. Before Hector could approach, Achilles, who knew well that armor taken by Hector from the dead Patroclus aimed at an opening in it near the throat, and drove the spearpoint in. Hector fell, dying at last. With his last breath he prayed, “Give back my body to my father and my mother.” “No prayers from you to me, you dog,” Achilles answered. “I would that I could make myself devour raw your flesh for the evil you have brought upon me.”

Achilles stripped the bloody armor from the corpse while the Greeks ran up to wonder how tall he was as he lay there and how noble to look upon. But Achilles’ mind was on other matters. He pierced the feet of the dead man and fastened them with thongs to the back of his chariot, letting the head trail. Then he lashed his horses and round and round the walls of Troy he dragged all that was left of glorious Hector.

At last when his fierce soul was satisfied with vengeance he stood beside the body of Patroclus and said, “Hear me even in the house of Hades. I have dragged Hector behind my chariot and I will give him to the dogs to devour beside your funeral pyre.”

Then the aged King heaped a car with splendid treasures, the best in Troy, and went over the plain to the Greek camp…. He came into the presence of the man who had killed and maltreated his son. He clasped his knees and kissed his hands and as he did so Achilles felt awe and so did all the others there, looking strangely upon one another. “Remember, Achilles,” Priam said, “your own father, of like years with me and like me wretched for want of a son. Yet I am by far more to be pitied who have braved what no man on earth ever did before, to stretch out my hand to the slayer of my son.”

Grief stirred within Achilles’ heart as he listened. Gently he raised the old man. “Sit by me here,” he said, “and let our sorrow lie quiet in our hearts….” Then he bade his servants wash and anoint Hector’s body and cover it with a soft robe, so that Priam should not see it…. “How many days do you desire to make his funeral?” he asked. “For so long I will keep the Greeks back from battle.” Then Priam brought Hector home, mourned in Troy as never another. Even Helen wept.

Nine days they lamented him; then they laid him on a lofty pyre and set fire to it. When all was burned they quenched the flame with wine and gathered the bones into a golden urn, shrouding them in soft purple. They set the urn in a hollow grave and piled great stones over it.

This was the funeral of Hector, tamer of horses.



And with it the Iliad ends.







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