Jupiter, father of the gods, once fell deeply in love with a beautiful
sea nymph named Thetis, the daughter of Nereus and Doris,--
"Thetis of the silver feet, and child
Of the gray Ancient of the Deep."
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
[Sidenote: Jupiter and Thetis.]
He was very anxious indeed to marry her, but, before taking such an
important step, deemed it prudent to consult the Fates, who alone
could inform him whether this union would be for his happiness or not.
It was very fortunate for him that he did so, for the three sisters
told him that Thetis was destined to be the mother of a son who would
far outshine his father.
Jupiter carefully pondered this reply, and concluded to renounce the
marriage rather than run any risk of being forced to surrender his
power to one greater than he. Thetis' hand he then decreed should be
given in marriage to Peleus, King of Phthia, who had loved her
faithfully, and had long sued in vain.
Thetis, however, was not at all anxious to accept the hand of a mere
mortal after having enjoyed the attention of the gods (for Neptune
also had wooed her), and demurred, until Jupiter promised his own and
the gods' attendance at the marriage feast. The prospect of this
signal honor reconciled the maiden, and the wedding preparations were
made in the coral caves of her father, Nereus, beneath the
Thither, mindful of his promise, came Jupiter, with all the gods of
"Then, with his Queen, the Father of the gods
Came down from high Olympus' bright abodes;
Came down, with all th' attending deities."
The guests took their seats, and pledged the bride and groom in
brimming cups of wine,--Bacchus' wedding gift to Thetis. All was joy
and merriment, when an uninvited guest suddenly appeared in the
banquet-hall. All present immediately recognized Eris, or Discordia,
goddess of discord, whose snaky locks, sour looks, and violent temper
had caused her to be omitted from the wedding list,--
"The Abominable, that uninvited came
Into the fair Peleian banquet-hall."
[Sidenote: The apple of discord.]
This omission angered her, and made her determine to have her revenge
by troubling the harmony which evidently reigned among all the guests.
For a moment she stood beside the bountiful board, then threw upon it
a golden apple, and, exhaling over the assembly her poisoned breath,
she vanished. The general attention was, of course, turned upon the
golden fruit, whereon the inscription "To the fairest" was clearly
All the ladies were at first inclined to contend for the prize; but
little by little all the claimants withdrew except Juno, Minerva, and
Venus, who hotly disputed for its possession. Juno declared that the
queen of the gods, in her majesty and power, surely had the best
right; Minerva, that the beauty of wisdom and knowledge far surpassed
external charms; and Venus smiled, and archly requested to be informed
who might assert greater claims than the goddess of beauty.
The dispute grew more and more bitter, and the irate goddesses called
upon the guests to award the prize to the most deserving; but the
guests, one and all, refused to act as umpires, for the apple could be
given to but one, and the two others would be sure to vent their anger
and disappointment upon the judge who passed over their charms in
favor of a third. The final decision was therefore referred to Paris,
who, although performing the lowly duties of a shepherd, was the son
of Priam and Hecuba, King and Queen of Troy.
When but a babe, Paris had been exposed on a mountain to perish,
because an oracle had predicted that he would cause the death of his
family and the downfall of his native city. Although thus cruelly
treated, he had not perished, but had been adopted by a shepherd, who
made him follow his own calling.
[Sidenote: Paris and Œnone.]
When Paris reached manhood, he was a very handsome and attractive
young man, and won the love of Œnone, a beautiful nymph to whom he
was secretly united. Their happiness, however, was but fleeting, for
the Fates had decreed that Paris' love for the fair Œnone would soon
That rules the will of Jove, had spun the days
Of Paris and Œnone."
Quintus Smyrnæus (Elton's tr.).
[Sidenote: Judgment of Paris.]
Instead of lingering by the fair nymph's side, Paris wandered off to a
lonely mountain top, where the three goddesses sought him to judge
their quarrel. Minerva, in glittering armor, first appeared before his
dazzled eyes, and proffered the bribe of extensive wisdom if he would
but give her the preference.
Juno, queen of heaven, next appeared in royal robes and insignia, and
whispered that he should have great wealth and unlimited power were he
only to award the prize to her.
"She to Paris made
Proffer of royal power, ample rule
Unquestion'd, overflowing revenue
Wherewith to embellish state, 'from many a vale
And river-sunder'd champaign clothed with corn,
Or labor'd mine undrainable of ore.
Honor,' she said, 'and homage, tax and toll,
From many an inland town and haven large,
Mast-throng'd beneath her shadowing citadel
In glassy bays among her tallest towers.'"
But all Minerva's and Juno's charms and bribes were forgotten when
Venus, in her magic cestus, appeared before the judge. This artful
simplicity was the result of much thought, for we are told that
"Venus oft with anxious care
Adjusted twice a single hair."
Then, trembling lest her efforts should prove vain, she gently drew
near the youth, and softly promised him a bride as fair as herself, in
return for the coveted golden apple.
Won either by her superior attractions or by her alluring bribe, Paris
no longer hesitated, but placed the prize in her extended palm.
"Ere yet her speech was finished, he consign'd
To her soft hand the fruit of burnished rind;
And foam-born Venus grasp'd the graceful meed,
Of war, of evil war, the quickening seed."
Coluthus (Elton's tr.).
This act of partiality, of course, called down upon him the wrath and
hatred of Juno and Minerva, who, biding their time, watched for a
suitable opportunity to avenge themselves; while Venus, triumphant,
and anxious to redeem her promise, directed Paris to return to Troy,
make himself known to his parents,--who, the goddess promised, would
welcome him warmly,--and obtain from them a fleet in which he might
sail to Greece.
[Illustration: PARIS. (Vatican, Rome.)]
In obedience to these instructions, Paris ruthlessly abandoned the
fair and faithful Œnone, and, joining a band of youthful shepherds,
went to Troy, under pretext of witnessing a solemn festival. There
he took part in the athletic games, distinguished himself, and
attracted the attention of his sister Cassandra.
[Sidenote: Paris' return to Troy.]
This princess was noted for her beauty, and it is said had even been
wooed by Apollo, who, hoping to win her favor, bestowed upon her the
gift of prophecy. For some reason the god's suit had not prospered;
and, as he could not take back the power conferred, he annulled it by
making her hearers refuse to credit her words.
Cassandra immediately called her parents' attention to the
extraordinary likeness Paris bore to her other brothers; and then,
breaking out into a prophetic strain, she foretold that he would bring
destruction upon his native city. Priam and Hecuba, scorning her
prophecy, joyfully received their long-lost son, lovingly compelled
him to take up his abode in their palace, and promised to atone for
their past neglect by granting his every wish.
[Sidenote: Paris sails for Greece.]
Still advised by Venus, Paris soon expressed a desire to sail for
Greece, under the pretext of rescuing Hesione, his father's sister,
whom Hercules had carried off, after besieging Troy. He was promptly
provided with several well-manned galleys, and soon after appeared at
the court of Menelaus, King of Sparta, whose young wife, Helen, was
the most beautiful woman of her time, if we are to believe the
testimony of her contemporaries.
"Full threescore girls, in sportive flight we stray'd,
Like youths anointing, where along the glade
The baths of cool Eurotas limpid play'd.
But none, of all, with Helen might compare,
Nor one seem'd faultless of the fairest fair.
As morn, with vermeil visage, looks from high,
When solemn night has vanish'd suddenly;
When winter melts, and frees the frozen hours,
And spring's green bough is gemm'd with silvery flowers:
So bloom'd the virgin Helen in our eyes,
With full voluptuous limbs, and towering size:
In shape, in height, in stately presence fair,
Straight as a furrow gliding from the share;
A cypress of the gardens, spiring high,
A courser in the cars of Thessaly.
So rose-complexion'd Helen charm'd the sight;
Our Sparta's grace, our glory, and delight."
Theocritus (Elton's tr.).
[Sidenote: Helen's suitors.]
A daughter of Jupiter and Leda (whom Jove had courted in the guise of
a snow-white swan), Helen had many suitors who ardently strove to win
her favor. The noblest, bravest, and best came to woo and hoped to
win; but all were left in suspense, as the maiden did not show any
preference, and refused to make known her choice.
Tyndareus, Helen's stepfather, thinking the rejected suitors might
attempt to steal her away from any husband she selected, proposed that
all the candidates for her hand should take a solemn oath, binding
themselves to respect the marital rights of the favored suitor, and
help him regain possession of his wife should any one venture to
"This was cause
To Tyndarus her father of much doubt,
To give, or not to give her, and how best
To make good fortune his: at length this thought
Occurr'd, that each to each the wooers give
Their oath, and plight their hands, and on the flames
Pour the libations, and with solemn vows
Bind their firm faith that him, who should obtain
The virgin for his bride, they all would aid;
If any dar'd to seize and bear her off,
And drive by force her husband from her bed,
All would unite in arms, and lay his town,
Greek or Barbaric, level with the ground."
Euripides (Potter's tr.).
All agreed to this proposal, the oath was taken, and Helen, whose
deliberations had come to an end, bestowed her hand upon Menelaus,
King of Sparta.
[Sidenote: Abduction of Helen.]
On his arrival at Sparta, in Lacedæmonia, Paris was received with
graceful hospitality by Menelaus and Helen. He had not sojourned there
many days, however, before the king was called away from home, and
departed, confiding to his wife the care of entertaining his princely
guest. During his absence, Paris, urged by Venus, courted Helen so
successfully, that she finally consented to elope with him, and
allowed herself to be borne away in triumph to Troy.
"Then from her husband's stranger-sheltering home
He tempted Helen o'er the ocean foam."
Coluthus (Elton's tr.).
[Sidenote: Preparations for war.]
Menelaus, on his return from Crete, discovered his guest's treachery,
and swore never to rest satisfied until he had recovered his truant
wife, and punished her seducer. Messengers were sent in haste in every
direction, to summon Helen's former suitors to keep their oath, and
join Menelaus at Aulis with men and weapons. All came promptly at his
call except Ulysses, King of Ithaca, who, to console himself for
Helen's refusal of his suit, had married her cousin, Penelope, and had
now no dearer wish than to linger by her side and admire his infant
[Sidenote: Ulysses feigns madness.]
In the presence of the messenger Palamedes, Ulysses feigned insanity,
hoping thereby to elude the tedious journey to Troy; but the messenger
was not so easily duped, and cleverly determined to ascertain the
truth by stratagem. One day, therefore, when the king was plowing the
seashore with an ox and horse harnessed together, and sowing this
strange field with salt, Palamedes placed the babe Telemachus in the
furrow, directly in front of the plow, and marked how skillfully
Ulysses turned his ill-assorted team aside to avoid harming his heir.
This action sufficed to prove to Palamedes that the king had not lost
all control of his senses, and enabled him to force Ulysses to obey
[Illustration: ABDUCTION OF HELEN.--Deutsch.]
[Sidenote: Agamemnon made chief.]
At Aulis the assembled army with unanimous consent elected
Agamemnon, Menelaus' brother, chief of the expedition, which
numbered, among many others, Nestor, noted for his wise counsel; Ajax,
gigantic in strength and courage; and Diomedes, the renowned warrior.
The troops were assembled, the vessels freighted; but before they
departed, the chiefs considered it expedient to consult an oracle, to
ascertain whether their expedition was destined to succeed. In a
somewhat veiled and ambiguous manner, they received answer that Troy
could never be taken without the aid of the son of Peleus and Thetis,
Achilles, of whom the Fates had predicted that he would surpass his
father in greatness (p. 305).
[Sidenote: Achilles' early life.]
Thetis loved this only child so dearly, that when he was but a babe,
she had carried him to the banks of the Styx, whose waters had the
magic power of rendering all the parts they touched invulnerable.
Premising that her son would be a great warrior, and thus exposed to
great danger, she plunged him wholly into the tide with the exception
of one heel, by which she held him, and then returned home.
Some time after, an oracle foretold that Achilles would die beneath
the walls of Troy from a wound in his heel, the only vulnerable part
of his body. With many tears Thetis vowed that her son should never
leave her to encounter such a fate, and intrusted the care of his
education to the Centaur Chiron, who had taught all the greatest
heroes in turn.
From this instructor Achilles learned the arts of war, wrestling,
poetry, music, and song,--all, in short, that an accomplished Greek
warrior was expected to know,--and, when his studies were finished,
returned to his father's court to gladden his fond mother's heart by
Thetis' joy was all turned to grief, however, when rumors of the war
imminent between Greece and Troy came to her ears. She knew her son
would soon be summoned, and, to prevent his going, sent him off to the
court of Lycomedes, where, under some pretext, he was prevailed upon
to assume a disguise and mingle with the king's daughters and their
One messenger after another was dispatched to summon Achilles to join
the fleet at Aulis, but one after another returned without having seen
him, or being able to ascertain where he was hiding. The Greeks,
however anxious to depart, dared not sail without him. They were in
despair, until Ulysses, the wily, proposed a plan, and offered to
carry it out.
"Ulysses, man of many arts,
Son of Laertes, reared in Ithaca,
That rugged isle, and skilled in every form
Of shrewd device and action wisely planned."
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
[Sidenote: Ulysses discovers Achilles.]
Arrayed in peddler's garb, with a pack upon his shoulders, Ulysses
entered Lycomedes' palace, where he shrewdly suspected Achilles was
concealed, and offered his wares for sale. The maidens selected
trinkets; but one of them, closely veiled, seized a weapon concealed
among the ornaments, and brandished it with such skill, that Ulysses
saw through the assumed disguise, explained his presence and purpose,
and by his eloquence persuaded the young Achilles to accompany him to
The Greeks were now ready to embark; but no favorable wind came to
swell the sails, which day after day hung limp and motionless against
the tall masts of their vessels.
Collected and imbodied, here we sit
Inactive, and from Aulis wish to sail
Euripides (Potter's tr.).
[Sidenote: Sacrifice of Iphigenia.]
Calchas, the soothsayer of the expedition, was again consulted, to
discover how they might best win the favor of the gods; and the reply
given purported that no favorable wind would blow until Iphigenia,
daughter of Agamemnon, was offered up in sacrifice to appease the
Many other propitiatory methods were tried; but as they all proved
ineffective, Agamemnon, urged by his companions, sent for his
daughter, feigning that he wished to celebrate her nuptials with
Achilles before his departure.
"I wrote, I seal'd
A letter to my wife, that she should send
Her daughter, to Achilles as a bride
Euripides (Potter's tr.).
Iphigenia came to her father secretly delighted at being the chosen
bride of such a hero; but, instead of being led to the hymeneal altar,
she was dragged to the place of sacrifice, where the priest, with
uplifted knife, was about to end her sufferings, when Diana suddenly
appeared, snatched her up in a cloud, and left in her stead a deer,
which was duly sacrificed, while Iphigenia was borne in safety to
Tauris, where she became a priestess in one of the goddess's temples.
[Sidenote: Arrival at Troy.]
The gods were now propitious, and the wind slowly rose, filled the
sails of the waiting vessels, and wafted them swiftly and steadily
over the sea to the Trojan shores, where an army stood ready to
prevent the Greek troops from disembarking. The invaders were eager to
land to measure their strength against the Trojans; yet all hesitated
to leave the ships, for an oracle had foretold that the first warrior
who attempted to land would meet with instant death.
"'The Delphic oracle foretold
That the first Greek who touched the Trojan strand
[Sidenote: Protesilaus and Laodamia.]
Protesilaus, a brave chief, seeing his comrades' irresolution, and
animated by a spirit of self-sacrifice, sprang boldly ashore, and
perished, slain by the enemy, as soon as his foot had touched the
foreign soil. When the tidings of his death reached his beloved wife,
Laodamia, whom he had left in Thessaly, they well-nigh broke her
heart; and in her despair she entreated the gods to let her die, or
allow her to see her lord once more, were it but for a moment. Her
appeal was so touching, that the gods could not refuse to hear it, and
bade Mercury conduct her husband's shade back to earth, to tarry with
her for three hours' time.
"'Such grace hath crowned thy prayer,
Laodamia! that at Jove's command
Thy husband walks the paths of upper air:
He comes to tarry with thee three hours' space;
Accept the gift, behold him face to face!'"
With an inarticulate cry of joy, Laodamia beheld the beloved
countenance of Protesilaus once more, and from his own lips heard the
detailed account of his early death. The three hours passed all too
quickly in delicious intercourse; and when Mercury reappeared to lead
him back to Hades, the loving wife, unable to endure a second parting,
died of grief.
The same grave, it is said, was the resting place of this united pair,
and kind-hearted nymphs planted elm trees over their remains. These
trees grew "until they were high enough to command a view of Troy, and
then withered away, while fresh branches sprang from the roots."
"Upon the side
Of Hellespont (such faith was entertained)
A knot of spiry trees for ages grew
From out the tomb of him for whom she died;
And ever, when such stature they had gained
That Ilium's walls were subject to their view,
The trees' tall summits withered at the sight;
A constant interchange of growth and blight!"
Hostilities had now begun, and the war between the conflicting hosts
was waged with equal courage and skill. During nine long years of
uninterrupted strife, the Greeks' efforts to enter Troy, or Ilium, as
it was also called, were vain, as were also the Trojans' attempts to
force the foe to leave their shores. This memorable struggle is the
theme of many poems. The oldest and most renowned of all, the Iliad,
begins with the story of the tenth and last year's events.
[Sidenote: Chryseis and Briseis.]
Among a number of captives taken in a skirmish by the Hellenic troops,
were two beautiful maidens, Chryseis, daughter of Chryses, priest of
Apollo, and Briseis. The prisoners were, as usual, allotted to various
chiefs, and Agamemnon received the priest's daughter as reward for his
bravery, while Achilles triumphantly led to his tent the equally fair
When Chryses heard that his child had fallen into the hands of the
enemy, he hastened to Agamemnon's tent to offer a rich ransom for her
recovery; but the aged father's entreaties were all unheeded, and he
was dismissed with many heartless taunts. Exasperated by this cruel
treatment, he raised his hands to heaven, and implored Apollo to
avenge the insults he had received by sending down upon the Greeks all
manner of evil. This prayer was no sooner heard than answered, by the
sun god's sending a terrible plague to decimate the enemy's troops.
"The aged man indignantly withdrew;
And Phœbus--for the priest was dear to him--
Granted his prayer, and sent among the Greeks
A deadly shaft. The people of the camp
Were perishing in heaps."
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
The Greeks, in terror, now consulted an oracle to know why this
calamity had come upon them, and how they might check the progress of
the deadly disease which was so rapidly reducing their forces. They
were told that the plague would never cease until Agamemnon
surrendered his captive, and thus disarmed Apollo's wrath, which had
been kindled by his rude refusal to comply with the aged priest's
All the Greek chiefs, assembled in council, decided to send Achilles
to Agamemnon to apprise him of their wish that he should set Chryseis
free,--a wish which he immediately consented to grant, if Briseis were
given him in exchange.
The plague was raging throughout the camp; the cries of the sufferers
rent the air; many had already succumbed to the scourge, and all were
threatened with an inglorious death. Achilles, mindful of all this,
and anxious to save his beloved companions, consented to comply with
this unreasonable request; but at the same time he swore, that, if
Agamemnon really took his captive away, he would not strike another
Chryseis was immediately consigned to the care of a herald, who led
her back to her aged father's arms. Ready to forgive all, now that his
child was restored to him, Chryses implored Apollo to stay his hand,
and the plague instantly ceased.
As for Agamemnon, he sent his slaves to Achilles' tent to lead away
Briseis; and the hero, true to his promise, laid aside his armor,
determined to fight no more.
"The great Achilles, swift of foot, remained
Within his ships, indignant for the sake
Of the fair-haired Briseis."
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
[Sidenote: Achilles' wrath.]
Thetis, hearing of the wanton insult offered her son, left her coral
caves, ascended to Olympus, cast herself at Jupiter's feet, and with
many tears tremulously prayed he would avenge Achilles and make the
Greeks fail in all their attempts as long as her son's wrath remained
Jupiter, touched by her beauty and distress, frowned until the very
firmament shook, and swore to make the Greeks rue the day they left
their native shores,
"To give Achilles honor and to cause
Myriads of Greeks to perish by their fleet."
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
[Sidenote: Agamemnon misled.]
In consequence of a treacherous dream purposely sent by Jupiter to
delude him, Agamemnon again assembled his troops, and proposed a new
onslaught upon the Trojan forces. But when the army was drawn up in
battle array, Hector, the eldest son of Priam, and therefore leader of
his army, stepping forward, proposed that the prolonged quarrel should
be definitely settled by a single combat between Paris and Menelaus.
"Hector then stood forth and said:--
'Hearken, ye Trojans and ye nobly-armed
Achaians, to what Paris says by me.
He bids the Trojans and the Greeks lay down
Their shining arms upon the teeming earth,
And he and Menelaus, loved of Mars,
Will strive in single combat, on the ground
Between the hosts, for Helen and her wealth;
And he who shall o'ercome, and prove himself
The better warrior, to his home shall bear
The treasure and the woman, while the rest
Shall frame a solemn covenant of peace.'"
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
[Sidenote: Menelaus and Paris fight.]
This proposal having been received favorably, Menelaus and Paris soon
engaged in a duel, which was witnessed by both armies, by Helen and
Priam from the Trojan walls, and by the everlasting gods from the
wooded heights of Mount Ida; but in the very midst of the fight,
Venus, seeing her favorite about to succumb, suddenly snatched him
away from the battlefield, and bore him unseen to his chamber, where
he was joined by Helen, who bitterly reproached him for his cowardly
Indignant at this interference on Venus' part, the gods decreed that
the war should be renewed; and Minerva, assuming the form of a Trojan
warrior, aimed an arrow at Menelaus, who was vainly seeking his
vanished opponent. This act of treachery was the signal for a general
call to arms and a renewal of hostilities. Countless deeds of valor
were now performed by the heroes on both sides, and also by the gods,
who mingled in the ranks and even fought against each other, until
recalled by Jupiter, and forbidden to fight any more.
[Sidenote: Hector and Andromache.]
For a little while fortune seemed to favor the Greeks; and Hector,
hastening back to Troy, bade his mother go to the temple with all her
women, and endeavor by her prayers and gifts to propitiate Minerva and
obtain her aid. Then he hastened off in search of his wife Andromache
and little son Astyanax, whom he wished to embrace once more before
rushing out to battle and possible death.
He found his palace deserted, and, upon questioning the women, heard
that his wife had gone to the Scæan Gate, where he now drove as fast
as his noble steeds could drag him. There, at the gate, took place the
parting scene, which has deservedly been called the most pathetic in
all the Iliad, in which Andromache vainly tried to detain her husband
within the walls, while Hector gently reproved her, and demonstrated
that his duty called him out upon the field of battle, where he must
hold his own if he would not see the city taken, the Trojans slain,
and the women, including his mother and beloved Andromache, borne away
into bitter captivity.
[Illustration: PARTING OF HECTOR AND ANDROMACHE.--Maignan.]
Pressed to his side meanwhile, and, all in tears,
Clung to his hand, and, thus beginning, said:--
'Too brave! thy valor yet will cause thy death.
Thou hast no pity on thy tender child,
Nor me, unhappy one, who soon must be
Thy widow. All the Greeks will rush on thee
To take thy life. A happier lot were mine,
If I must lose thee, to go down to earth,
For I shall have no hope when thou art gone,--
Nothing but sorrow. Father have I none,
And no dear mother.
* * * * *
Art father and dear mother now to me,
And brother and my youthful spouse besides.
In pity keep within the fortress here,
Nor make thy child an orphan nor thy wife
Then answered Hector, great in war: 'All this
I bear in mind, dear wife; but I should stand
Ashamed before the men and long-robed dames
Of Troy, were I to keep aloof and shun
The conflict, coward-like.'"
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
Then he stretched out his arms for his infant son, who, however,
shrank back affrighted at the sight of his brilliant helmet and
nodding plumes, and would not go to him until he had set the gleaming
headdress aside. After a passionate prayer for his little heir's
future welfare, Hector gave the child back to Andromache, and, with a
last farewell embrace, sprang into his chariot and drove away.
"'Sorrow not thus, beloved one, for me.
No living man can send me to the shades
Before my time; no man of woman born,
Coward or brave, can shun his destiny.
But go thou home, and tend thy labors there,--
The web, the distaff,--and command thy maids
To speed the work. The cares of war pertain
To all men born in Troy, and most to me.'"
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
[Sidenote: Greeks repelled.]
Paris, ashamed now of his former flight, soon joined his brother upon
the battlefield, and together they performed many deeds of valor. The
time had now come when Jupiter was about to redeem the promise given
to Thetis, for little by little the Greeks were forced to yield before
the might of the Trojans, who, stimulated by their partial success,
and fired by Hector's example, performed miracles of valor, and
finally drove their assailants into their intrenchments.
Death and defeat now dogged the very footsteps of the Greek forces,
who were driven, inch by inch, away from the walls, ever nearer the
place where their vessels rode at anchor. They now ardently longed for
the assistance of Achilles, whose mere presence, in days gone by, had
filled the Trojan hearts with terror; but the hero, although Briseis
had been returned unmolested, paid no heed to their entreaties for
aid, and remained a sullen and indifferent spectator of their flight,
while the Trojans began to set fire to some of the vessels of their
"The goddess-born Achilles, swift of foot,
Beside his ships still brooded o'er his wrath,
Nor came to counsel with the illustrious chiefs,
Nor to the war, but suffered idleness
To eat his heart away; for well he loved
Clamor and combat."
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
Discouraged by all these reverses, in spite of their brave resistance,
the Greeks, in despair, concluded that the gods had entirely forsaken
them, and beat a hasty and ignominious retreat to the shore, closely
followed by the enemy, who uttered loud cries of triumph.
[Sidenote: Patroclus dons Achilles' armor.]
Patroclus, Achilles' intimate friend, then hastened to the hero's side
to inform him of his comrades' flight, and implore him once more to
rescue them from inevitable death. But Achilles, summoning all his
pride to his assistance, did not waver in his resolve. Suddenly
Patroclus remembered that the mere sight of Achilles' armor might
suffice to arrest the enemy's advance and produce a diversion in favor
of the Greeks: so he asked permission to wear it and lead the
Myrmidons, Achilles' trusty followers, into the fray.
"Send me at least into the war,
And let me lead thy Myrmidons, that thus
The Greeks may have some gleam of hope. And give
The armor from thy shoulders. I will wear
Thy mail, and then the Trojans, at the sight,
May think I am Achilles, and may pause
From fighting, and the warlike sons of Greece,
Tired as they are, may breathe once more, and gain
A respite from the conflict."
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
Achilles had sworn, it is true, not to return to the scene of strife,
but was quite willing to lend men and arms, if they might be of any
use, and immediately placed them at his friend's disposal. Hastily
Patroclus donned the glittering armor, called aloud to the Myrmidons
to follow his lead, and rushed forth to encounter the enemy.
[Sidenote: Death of Patroclus.]
The Trojans paused in dismay, thinking Achilles had come, and were
about to take flight, when all at once they discovered the fraud. With
renewed courage, they opposed the Greek onslaught. Many heroes bit the
dust in this encounter, among others Sarpedon, the son of Jupiter and
Europa (p. 45),--whose remains were borne away from the battlefield by
the twin divinities Sleep and Death,--ere Hector, son of Priam, and
chief among the Trojan warriors, challenged Patroclus to single
combat. Needless to say, the two closed in deadly battle, and fought
with equal valor, until Patroclus, already exhausted by his previous
efforts, and betrayed by the gods, finally succumbed.
"The hero fell
With clashing mail, and all the Greeks beheld
His fall with grief."
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
With a loud cry of victory, Hector wrenched the armor off the mangled
corpse, and quickly withdrew to array himself in the brilliant spoils.
The tidings of Patroclus' fall spread rapidly all through the Grecian
camp, and reached Achilles, who wept aloud when he heard that his
beloved friend, who had left him but a short time before full of life
and energy, was now no more. So noisily did the hero mourn his loss,
that Thetis, in the quiet ocean depths, heard his groans, and rushed
to his side to ascertain their cause.
[Sidenote: Achilles' grief.]
Into his mother's sympathetic ear Achilles poured the whole story of
his grief and loss, while she gently strove to turn his thoughts aside
from the sad event, and arouse an interest for some pursuit less
dangerous than war. All her efforts were vain, however; for Achilles'
soul thirsted for revenge, and he repeatedly swore he would go forth
and slay his friend's murderer.
Have I to live, or to concern myself
In men's affairs, save this: that Hector first,
Pierced by my spear, shall yield his life, and pay
The debt of vengeance for Patroclus slain."
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
Then, in sudden dread lest Hector should fall by another's hand, or
withdraw from the battlefield and thus escape his vengeance, Achilles
would have rushed from his tent unarmed; but his mother prevailed upon
him to wait until the morrow, when she promised to bring him a full
suit of armor from Vulcan's own hand. Rapidly Thetis then traversed
the wide space which separates the coast of Asia Minor from Mount
Ætna, where Vulcan labored at his forge.
"She found him there
Sweating and toiling, and with busy hand
Plying the bellows."
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
[Sidenote: Achilles' armor.]
Arrived before him, she breathlessly made known her errand, and the
god promised that the arms should be ready within the given time, and
immediately set to work to fashion them. By his skillful hands the
marvelous weapons were forged; and when the first streak of light
appeared above the horizon, he consigned them to Thetis, who hastened
back to her son's tent, where she found him still bewailing the loss
[Illustration: THETIS BEARING THE ARMOR OF ACHILLES.--Gérard.]
During Thetis' absence, messengers had come to Achilles' tent to warn
him that Patroclus' body was still in the enemy's hands, and to
implore him to come and rescue the precious corpse. Mindful of his
promise to his mother, Achilles still refused to fight, but, springing
upon the rampart, uttered his mighty war-cry, the sound of which
filled the enemy's hearts with terror, and made them yield to the
well-directed onslaught of Ajax and Diomedes, who finally succeeded in
recovering the body, which they then reverently bore to Achilles'
To console Achilles for his friend's death, Thetis exhibited the
glorious armor she had just obtained, helped him put it on, and then
bade him go forth and conquer.
"'Leave we the dead, my son, since it hath pleased
The gods that he should fall; and now receive
This sumptuous armor, forged by Vulcan's hand,
Beautiful, such as no man ever wore.'"
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
[Sidenote: Death of Hector.]
Thus armed, mounted in his chariot drawn by his favorite steeds, and
driven by his faithful charioteer Automedon, Achilles went forth to
battle, and finally seeing Hector, whom alone he wished to meet, he
rushed upon him with a hoarse cry of rage. The Trojan hero, at the
mere sight of the deadly hatred which shone in Achilles' eyes, turned
to flee. Achilles pursued him, and taunted him with his cowardice,
until Hector turned and fought with all the courage and recklessness
Their blows fell like hail, a cloud of dust enveloped their struggling
forms, and the anxious witnesses only heard the dull thud of the blows
and the metallic clash of the weapons. Suddenly there came a loud cry,
then all was still; and when the dust-cloud had blown away, the
Trojans from the ramparts, where they had waited in agony for the
issue of the fight, beheld Achilles tear the armor from their
champion's body, bind the corpse to his chariot, and drive nine times
round the city walls, Hector's princely head dragging in the dust.
Priam, Hecuba, and Andromache, Hector's beautiful young wife,
tearfully watched this ignominious treatment, and finally saw Achilles
drive off to the spot where Patroclus' funeral pile was laid, and
there abandon the corpse.
Achilles then returned to his tent, where for a long time he
continued to mourn his friend's untimely end, refusing to be
[Sidenote: The gods' decree.]
The gods, from their celestial abode, had also witnessed this
heartrending scene, and now Jupiter sent Iris to Thetis, and bade her
hasten down to Achilles and command him to restore Hector's body to
his mourning family. He also directed Mercury to lead Priam, unseen,
into Achilles' tent, to claim and bear away his son's desecrated
corpse. Thetis, seeking Achilles in his tent, announced the will of
"I am come
A messenger from Jove, who bids me say
The immortals are offended, and himself
The most, that thou shouldst in thy spite detain
The corse of Hector at the beaked ships,
Refusing its release. Comply thou, then,
And take the ransom and restore the dead."
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
[Sidenote: Return of Hector's body.]
Mercury acquitted himself with his usual dispatch, and soon guided
Priam in safety through the Grecian camp to Achilles' tent, where the
aged king fell at the hero's feet, humbly pleading for his son's body,
and proffering a princely ransom in exchange.
Achilles, no longer able to refuse this entreaty, and touched by a
father's tears, consigned Hector's corpse to the old man's care, and
promised an armistice of fourteen days, that the funeral rites in both
camps might be celebrated with all due pomp and solemnity; and with
the burial of Hector the Iliad comes to a close.
[Sidenote: Death of Penthesilea.]
At the end of the truce the hostilities were renewed, and the Trojans
were reinforced by the arrival of Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons,
who, with a chosen troop of warrior maidens, came to offer her aid.
The brave queen afforded them, however, only temporary relief, as she
was slain by Achilles in their very first encounter.
He, too, however, was doomed to die "in the flower of his youth and
beauty," and the Fates had almost finished spinning his thread of
life. In an early skirmish, while in close pursuit of the Trojans,
Thetis' son had once caught sight of Polyxena, daughter of Priam, and
had been deeply smitten by her girlish charms. He now vainly tried to
make peace between the conflicting nations, hoping that, were the war
but ended, he might obtain her hand in marriage.
[Sidenote: Death of Achilles.]
His efforts to make peace failed; but at last he prevailed upon Priam
to celebrate his betrothal with Polyxena, with the stipulation that
the marriage would take place as soon as the war was over. The
betrothal ceremony was held without the city gates; and Achilles was
just about to part from his blushing betrothed, when Paris, ever
treacherous, stole behind him and shot a poisoned arrow into his
vulnerable heel, thus slaying the hero who had caused so many brave
warriors to bite the dust.
"Thus great Achilles, who had shown his zeal
In healing wounds, died of a wounded heel."
O. W. Holmes.
His armor--the glorious armor forged by Vulcan--was hotly contested
for by Ulysses and Ajax. The former finally obtained the coveted
weapons; and Ajax' grief at their loss was so intense, that he became
insane, and killed himself in a fit of frenzy, while Polyxena,
inconsolable at her betrothed's death, committed suicide on the
magnificent tomb erected over his remains on the Trojan plain.
[Sidenote: Philoctetes' arrows.]
The oracles, silent so long, now announced that Troy could never be
taken without the poisoned arrows of Hercules, then in the keeping of
Philoctetes (p. 238). This hero had started with the expedition, but
had been put ashore on the Island of Lemnos on account of a wound in
his foot, which had become so offensive that none of the ship's
company could endure his presence on board.
Ten long years had already elapsed since then, and, although a party
of Greeks immediately set out in search of him, they had but little
hope of finding him alive. They nevertheless wended their way to the
cave where they had deposited him, where, to their unbounded surprise,
they still found him. The wound had not healed, but he had managed to
exist by killing such game as came within reach of his hand.
"Exposed to the inclement skies,
Deserted and forlorn he lies;
No friend or fellow-mourner there,
To soothe his sorrows, and divide his care;
Or seek the healing plant, of power to 'suage
His aching wound, and mitigate its rage."
Sophocles (Francklin's tr.).
Incensed by the Greeks' former cruel desertion, no entreaty could now
induce Philoctetes to accompany the messengers to Troy, until Hercules
appeared to him in a dream, and bade him go without delay, for there
he would find Machaon (p. 64), Æsculapius' son, who was to heal his
[Sidenote: Death of Paris and Œnone.]
The dream was realized. Philoctetes, whole once more, joined the Greek
host, and caused great dismay in the enemy's ranks with his poisoned
arrows. One of his deadly missiles even struck Paris, and, as the
poison entered his veins, it caused him grievous suffering. Paris then
remembered that his first love, Œnone, who knew all remedies and the
best modes of applying them, had once told him to send for her should
he ever be wounded. He therefore sent for Œnone; but she, justly
offended by the base desertion and long neglect of her lover, refused
her aid, and let him die in torture. When he was dead, Œnone repented
of this decision; and when the flames of his funeral pyre rose around
him, she rushed into their midst, and was burned to death on his
"But when she gain'd the broader vale and saw
The ring of faces redden'd by the flames
Infolding that dark body which had lain
Of old in her embrace, paused--and then ask'd
Falteringly, 'Who lies on yonder pyre?'
But every man was mute for reverence.
Then moving quickly forward till the heat
Smote on her brow, she lifted up a voice
Of shrill command, 'Who burns upon the pyre?'
Whereon their oldest and their boldest said,
'He, whom thou would'st not heal!' and all at once
The morning light of happy marriage broke,
Thro' all the clouded years of widowhood,
And muffling up her comely head, and crying
'Husband!' she leapt upon the funeral pile,
And mixt herself with _him_ and past in fire."
[Sidenote: The Palladium.]
Two of Priam's sons had already expired, and yet Troy had not fallen
into the hands of the Greeks, who now heard another prophecy, to the
effect that Troy could never be taken as long as the Palladium--a
sacred statue of Minerva, said to have fallen from heaven--remained
within its walls (p. 60). So Ulysses and Diomedes in disguise effected
an entrance into the city one night, and after many difficulties
succeeded in escaping with the precious image.
[Sidenote: The wooden horse.]
Men and chiefs, impatient of further delay, now joyfully hailed
Ulysses' proposal to take the city by stratagem. They therefore
secretly built a colossal wooden horse, within whose hollow sides a
number of brave warriors might lie concealed. The main army feigned
weariness of the endless enterprise, and embarked, leaving the horse
as a pretended offering to Minerva; while Sinon, a shrewd slave,
remained to persuade the Trojans to drag the horse within their gates
and keep him there, a lasting monument of their hard-won triumph.
To the unbounded joy of the long-besieged Trojans, the Greek fleet
then sailed away, until the Island of Tenedos hid the ships from view.
All the inhabitants of Troy poured out of the city to view the wooden
horse, and question Sinon, who pretended to have great cause of
complaint against the Greeks, and strongly advised them to secure
their last offering to Minerva.
The Trojans hailed this idea with rapture; but Laocoon, a Trojan
priest, implored them to leave the horse alone, lest they should bring
untold evil upon their heads.
"'Wretched countrymen,' he cries,
'What monstrous madness blinds your eyes?
* * * * *
Perchance--who knows?--these planks of deal
A Grecian ambuscade conceal,
Or 'tis a pile to o'erlook the town,
And pour from high invaders down,
Or fraud lurks somewhere to destroy:
Mistrust, mistrust it, men of Troy!'"
Virgil (Conington's tr.).
[Sidenote: Death of Laocoon.]
Deaf to all warnings and entreaties, they dragged the colossal image
into the very heart of their city, tearing down a portion of their
ramparts to allow its passage, while Laocoon hastened down to the
shore to offer sacrifice to the gods. As he stood there by the
improvised altar, with one of his sons on either side to assist him in
his office, two huge serpents came out of the sea, coiled themselves
around him and his sons, and crushed and bit them to death.
Toward Laocoon hold their way;
First round his two young sons they wreathe,
And grind their limbs with savage teeth:
Then, as with arms he comes to aid,
The wretched father they invade
And twine in giant folds: twice round
His stalwart waist their spires are wound,
Twice round his neck, while over all
Their heads and crests tower high and tall.
He strains his strength their knots to tear,
While gore and slime his fillets smear,
And to the unregardful skies
Sends up his agonizing cries."
Virgil (Conington's tr.).
[Illustration: LAOCOON. (Vatican, Rome.)]
The awestruck witnesses of this terrible scene, of course, declared
that the gods resented his interference concerning the wooden horse,
and had justly punished the sacrilegious hand which had dared strike
it with a spear, merely to demonstrate, that, being hollow, it might
contain an armed band. Ever since then, Laocoon and his sons' struggle
with the serpents has been a favorite subject for poets and artists.
[Sidenote: Fall of Troy.]
In the mean while, the Greeks had been hiding behind Tenedos; but when
night came on, they returned to the site of their ten-years'
encampment, and were let into the city by Sinon, who also released
their companions from their prison within the wooden horse. Although
taken by surprise, the city guards made desperate attempts to repel
the Greeks; but it was now too late, for the enemy had already broken
into houses and palaces, and were killing, pillaging, and burning all
in their way.
"The melancholy years,
The miserable melancholy years,
Crept onward till the midnight terror came,
And by the glare of burning streets I saw
Palace and temple reel in ruin and fall,
And the long-baffled legions, bursting in
Through gate and bastion, blunted sword and spear
With unresisted slaughter."
The royal family, even, was not exempt from the general massacre; and
the aged Priam, who lived to see his last son perish before his eyes,
finally found relief in death.
[Sidenote: Return of the Greeks.]
Their object accomplished, the Greeks immediately sailed for home,
their vessels heavily laden with plunder and slaves. But the homeward
journey was not as joyful as might have been expected; and many, after
escaping from the enemy's hands, perished in the waves, or found death
lying in wait for them by their own fireside.
Menelaus, with his wife Helen, who, in spite of the added ten years,
retained all her youthful beauty, were detained in Egypt by contrary
winds, sent to punish them for omitting the usual sacrifice to the
gods. He at last consulted Proteus, who revealed how the wrath of the
gods could best be allayed, and how favorable winds could be secured
to waft him home.
As for Agamemnon, leader of the Greeks, he returned to Argos only to
be murdered by his wife Clytæmnestra and her paramour Ægisthus.
"'Ægisthus, bent upon my death,
Plotted against me with my guilty wife,
And bade me to his house, and slew me there,
Even at the banquet.'"
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
Then, mortally afraid lest Orestes, Agamemnon's son, should avenge his
father's death, Ægisthus prepared to slay him too; but Electra, the
boy's sister, discovering this intention, helped him to escape, and
placed him under the fatherly protection of Strophius, King of Phocis,
whose son, Pylades, became his inseparable friend. In fact, their
devotion to each other was so great, that it has become proverbial in
Electra had not forgotten her father's base murder, although years had
elapsed since it occurred; and wh
en Orestes had attained manhood, she
bade him come and punish those who had committed the crime. Orestes
came, slew Ægisthus and Clytæmnestra, and then, terrified at what he
had done, took flight, but only to be pursued by the Furies and
Nemesis, goddess of revenge, sent by the gods to punish him for taking
justice into his own hands.
Arrived at Delphi, Orestes consulted the oracle, and learned that his
crime would be forgiven if he brought a statue of Diana in Tauris back
to Greece. The young prince hastened thither, accompanied by the
ever-faithful Pylades, who never left his side; and there, in a
temple, he found his long-lost sister Iphigenia, who helped him obtain
the image he sought, and accompanied him back to his native land,
where Nemesis left him forever.