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Trojan War

The story of the Trojan War, like the story of the Argonauts, underwent, in the course of time, many changes and amplifications. The main portion of the story is contained in the two epic poems ascribed to Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey. The incidents, either narrated or briefly touched upon in these, were elaborated or developed by the post-Homeric poets, partly by connecting them with other popular traditions, and partly by the addition of further details of their own invention. While in Homer it is simply the rape of Helen which is the occasion of the war, a later legend traced its origin to the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, when Eris threw down among the assembled gods the golden apple inscribed “For the fairest” (τῇ καλῇ). The quarrel that ensued between Heré, Athené, and Aphrodité for the prize of beauty was decided by Paris in favour of Aphrodité, who in return secured him the possession of Helen, while Heré and Athené became, from that time onward, the implacable enemies of the whole Trojan race.

According to Homer, after Helen had been carried off by Paris, Menelaüs and Agamemnon visited all the Greek chieftains in turn, and prevailed on them to take part in the expedition which they were preparing to avenge the wrong. According to the later account, the majority of the chieftains were already bound to follow the expedition by an oath, which they had sworn to Tyndareos. Agamemnon was the chosen commander-in-chief; next to him the most prominent Greek heroes are his brother Menelaüs, Achilles, and Patroclus, the two Aiaxes, Teucer, Nestor and his son Antilochus, Odysseus, Diomedes, Idomeneus, and Philoctetes, who, however, at the very outset of the expedition, had to be left behind, and does not appear on the scene of action until just before the fall of Troy. Later epics add the name of Palamedes.

The entire host of 100,000 men and 1186 ships assembled in the harbour of Aulis. Here, while they were sacrificing under a plane-tree, a snake darted out from under the altar and ascended the tree, and there, after devouring a brood of eight young sparrows and the mother-bird herself, was turned into stone. This omen Calchas, the seer of the host, interpreted to mean that the war would last nine years, and terminate in the tenth with the destruction of Troy (Iliad, ii. 299-332). Agamemnon had already received an oraele from the Delphian god that Troy would fall when the best of the Greeks quarrelled. In Homer the crossing to Troy follows immediately; but in the later story the Greeks at first land by mistake in Mysia, in the country of Telephus (q.v.), and, being dispersed by a storm and driven back to Greece, assemble afresh at Aulis, whence they are only permitted to set out after the sacrifice of Iphigenia (an incident entirely unknown to Homer). On the Greek side the first to fall is Protesilaüs, who is the first to land. The disembarkation cannot take place until Achilles has slain the mighty Cycnus. After pitching their camp, Odysseus and Menelaüs proceed as ambassadors to Troy, to demand the surrender of Helen. But this proposal, in spite of the inclination of Helen herself and the admonition of the Trojan Antenor, falls to the ground, owing to the opposition of Paris, and war is declared. The number of the Trojans, whose chief hero is Hector, scarcely amounts to the tenth part of that of the besiegers; and although they possess the aid of countless brave allies, such as Aeneas, Sarpedon, and Glaucus, in their fear of Achilles they dare not risk a general engagement. On the other hand, the Achaeans can do nothing against the well fortified and defended town, and see themselves confined to laying ambuscades and devastating the surrounding country, and compelled by lack of provisions to have recourse to foraging expeditions in the neighbourhood, undertaken by sea and by land under the generalship of Achilles. At length the decisive tenth year arrives. The Homeric Iliad narrates the events of this year, confining itself to the space of fifty-one days.

Chryses, priest of Apollo, comes in priestly garb into the camp of the Greeks to ransom his daughter Chryseïs from Agamemnon. He is rudely repulsed, and Apollo consequently visits the Greeks with a plague. In an assembly of the Greeks summoned by Achilles, Calchas declares the only means of appeasing the god to be the surrender of the girl without ransom. Agamemnon assents to the general wish; but, by way of compensation, takes from Achilles, whom he considers to be the instigator of the whole plot, his favourite slave Briseïs. Achilles withdraws in a rage to his tent, and implores his mother Thetis to obtain from Zeus a promise that the Greeks should meet with disaster in fighting the Trojans until Agamemnon should give her son complete satisfaction. The Trojans immediately take the open field, and Agamemnon is induced by a promise of victory, conveyed in a dream from Zeus, to appoint the following day for a battle. The hosts are already standing opposed to one another, prepared for fight, when they agree to a treaty that the conflict for Helen and the plundered treasures be decided by a duel between Paris and Menelaüs. Paris is overcome in the duel, and is only rescued from death by the intervention of Aphrodité. When Agamemnon presses for the fulfilment of the treaty, the Trojan Pandarus breaks the peace by shooting an arrow at Menelaüs, and the first open engagement in the war begins, in which, under the protection of Athené, Diomedes performs miracles of bravery and wounds even Aphrodité and Ares. Diomedes and the Lycian Glaucus are on the point of fighting, when they recognize one another as hereditary guest-friends. Hector goes from the battle to Troy, and the day ends with an indecisive duel between Hector and Aiax, son of Telamon. In the armistice ensuing, both sides bury their dead, and the Greeks, acting on the advice of Nestor , surround the camp with a wall and trench. When the fighting begins afresh, Zeus forbids the gods to take part in it, and ordains that the battle shall terminate with the discomfiture of the Greeks. On the following night Agamemnon already begins to meditate flight, but Nestor advises reconciliation with Achilles. The efforts of the ambassadors are, however, fruitless. Hereupon Odysseus and Diomedes go out to reconnoitre, capture Dolon, a Trojan spy, and surprise Rhesus, king of the Thracians, the newly arrived ally of the enemy. On the succeeding day Agamemnon's bravery drives the Trojans back to the walls of the town; but he himself, Diomedes, Odysseus, and other heroes leave the battle wounded; the Greeks retire behind the camp walls, to attack which the Trojans set out in five detachments. The opposition of the Greeks is brave; but Hector breaks the great gate with a rock, and the stream of enemies pours itself unimpeded into the camp. Once more the Greek heroes who are still capable of taking part in the fight, especially the two Aiaxes and Idomeneus , succeed, with the help of Poseidon, in repelling the Trojans, while Telamonian Aiax dashes Hector to the ground with a stone; but the latter soon reappears on the battle-field with fresh strength granted him by Apollo at the command of Zeus. Poseidon is obliged to leave the Greeks to their fate; they retire again to the ships, which Aiax in vain defends. The foremost ship is already burning, when Achilles gives way to the entreaties of his friend Patroclus, and sends him, clad in his own armour, with the Myrmidons to the help of the distressed Greeks. Supposing it to be Achilles himself, the Trojans in terror flee from the camp before Patroclus, who pursues them to the town, and lays low vast numbers of the enemy, including the brave Sarpedon, whose corpse is only rescued from the Greeks after a severe fight. At last Patroclus himself is slain by Hector with the help of Apollo; Achilles' arms are lost, and even the corpse is with difficulty saved. And now Achilles repents of his anger, reconciles himself to Agamemnon, and on the following day, furnished with new and splendid armour by Hephaestus at the request of Thetis, avenges the death of his friend on countless Trojans and finally on Hector himself. With the burial of Patroclus and the funeral games established in his honour, the restoration of Hector's corpse to Priam, and the burial of Hector, for which Achilles allows an armistice of eleven days, the Iliad concludes.

Immediately after the death of Hector the later legends bring the Amazons to the help of the Trojans, and their queen Penthesilea is slain by Achilles. Then appears Memnon, who is also mentioned by Homer; at the head of his Aethiopians he slays Antilochus son of Nestor , and is himself slain by Achilles. And now comes the fulfilment of the oracle given to Agamemnon at Delphi; for at a sacrificial banquet a violent quarrel arises between Achilles and Odysseus, the latter declaring craft and not valour to be the only means of capturing Troy. Soon after, in an attempt to force a way into the hostile town through the Scaean Gate, or, according to later legend, at the marriage of Priam's daughter Polyxena in the temple of the Thymbraean Apollo, Achilles falls slain by the arrow of Paris, directed by the god. After his burial, Thetis offers the arms of her son as a prize for the bravest of the Greek heroes, and they are adjudged to Odysseus. Thereupon his competitor, the Telamonian Aiax, slays himself. For these losses, however, the Greeks find some compensation. Acting on the admonition of Helenus, son of Priam, who had been captured by Odysseus, that Troy could not be conquered without the arrows of Heracles and the presence of a descendant of Aeacus, they fetch to the camp Philoctetes, the heir of Heracles, who had been abandoned on Lemnos, and Neoptolemus, the young son of Achilles, who had been brought up on Scyros. The latter, a worthy son of his father, slays the last ally of the Trojans, Eurypylus, the brave son of Telephus; and Philoctetes, with one of the arrows of Heracles, kills Paris. Even when the last condition of the capture of Troy (the removal of the Palladium from the temple of Athené on the citadel) has been successfully fulfilled by Diomedes and Odysseus, the town can only be taken by treachery. (See Palladium.) On the advice of Athené, Epeius, son of Panopeus, builds a gigantic wooden horse, in the belly of which the bravest Greek warriors conceal themselves under the direction of Odysseus, while the rest of the Greeks burn the camp and embark on board ship, only, however, to anchor behind Tenedos. The Trojans, streaming out of the town, find the horse, and are in doubt what to do with it. According to the later legend they are deceived by the treacherous Sinon, a kinsman of Odysseus, who has of his own free will remained behind. He pretends that he has escaped from the death by sacrifice to which he had been doomed by the malice of Odysseus, and that the horse has been erected to expiate the robbery of the Palladium; to destroy it would be fatal to Troy, but should it be set on the citadel, Asia would conquer Europe. The fate of Laocoön removes the last doubt from the minds of the Trojans (see Laocoön); the city gate being too small, they break down a portion of the wall and draw the horse up to the citadel as a dedicatory offering for Athené. While they are giving themselves up to transports of joy, Sinon in the night opens the door of the horse. The heroes descend and light the flames that give to the Greek fleet the preconcerted signal for its return. Thus Troy is captured; all the inhabitants are either slain or carried into slavery, and the city is destroyed. The only survivors of the royal house are Helenus, Cassandra, and Hector's wife Andromaché, besides Aeneas. For the fate of the rest see Deïphobus; Hecuba; Polydorus; Polyxena; Priamus; Troïlus.

After Troy has been destroyed and plundered, Agamemnon and Menelaüs, contrary to custom, call the drunken Greeks to an assembly in the evening. A division ensues, half siding with Menelaüs in a desire to return home at once; while Agamemnon and the other half wish first to appease by sacrifice the deity of Athené, who has been offended by the outrage of the Locrian Aiax (see Aiax, 1). The army consequently sets out on its journey in two parts. Only Nestor , Diomedes, Neoptolemus, Philoctetes, and Idomeneus reach home in safety; while Menelaüs and Odysseus have first to undergo wanderings for many a long year.

Death overtakes the Locrian Aiax on the sea, and Agamemnon immediately after his arrival home. See Cyclic Poets; Epos; Homerus; Ilium; Troia; Tryphiodorus; Tzetzes; Vergilius.

The Trojan legend appears in later literature, both mediæval and modern, and has inspired much that is interesting and beautiful in art as well. The spurious histories of Dares Phrygius and Dictys Cretensis (see Dares; Dictys) supplied the material for the writers of the Middle Ages, who worked it up into many forms. The Arthurian legends and the Fabliaux both draw from it, and in A.D. 1160 it was elaborated in literary form by Benoît de Sainte-More, whose poem, Le Roman de Troie, in some 30,000 lines, is dedicated to Queen Eleanor of Poitiers and England. In this, the poet has apparently invented new episodes, such as the loves of Briseïda, daughter of Calchas, with Diomedes and Troïlus; whence Boccaccio's poem Filostrato, Chaucer's Troïlus and Cryseyde, and Shakspeare's Troïlus and Cressida, while Gower in his Confessio Amantis also alludes to it. Benoît's poem was translated into German in the twelfth century, into Latin by Guido della Colonna in the thirteenth century, and later into Italian. From it, again, Lydgate derived his Troye Book (first printed in 1513), Caxton his Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye (1474), the first book ever printed in English, and Thomas Heywood his Life and Death of Hector (1614). Geoffrey of Monmouth, Gaimar, Wace, and Layamon tell of a Trojan hero, Brut, who found his way to Britain. See Moland and D'Héricault, Nouvelles Françaises en Prose du XIVe Siècle (1858); Joly, Benoît de Ste.More et le Roman de Troie (1870); Greif, Die Mittelalterlichen Bearbeitungen der Trojanersage (1886); Collilieux, Dictys et Dares (1886); and Gorra, Testi Inediti di Storia Trojana (Turin, 1887).

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