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The Trojan War
Until about a 100 years ago, we were quite sure that the Trojan War was purely legend, and that asking when it happened would be like asking when Atlantis sank. But at the close of the 19th century archaeologists led by Heinrich Schliemann found the remains of a great citadel that existed on the Western shore of Asia Minor, the traditional location of Troy, and which appeared to be overrun in a great war around the year 1250 B.C.E., a time which is compatible with the traditional story of the Trojan War. In the ancient world, the legend underwent many changes and amplifications. The kernel of the story is contained in Homer's two epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey. The incidents he relates, whether narrated in depth or only touched upon, 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. The account that follows highlights the important incidents of the war in Homer's version, and in other versions where they are relevant for our class.
Marriage of Peleus and Thetis  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 a golden apple inscribed, "For the fairest." The quarrel that ensued between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite for the prize of beauty was decided by the Trojan prince Paris in favor of Aphrodite, who in return secured for him the possession of Helen, while Hera and Athena became, from that time onward, the implacable enemies of the whole Trojan race. According to Homer, after Paris carried off Helen, her husband Menelaus was understandably upset. He happened to be brother to Agamemnon, the greatest king among the Greeks, and the two of them visited all the Greek chieftains and convinced them to take part in a great expedition which they were preparing to avenge the wrong. Agamemnon was chosen commander-in-chief; next to him the most prominent Greek heroes are his brother Menelaus, Achilles and Patroclus, two unrelated men named Ajax, 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. The entire host of 100,000 men and 1,186 ships assembled in the harbor of Aulis. Here, while they made sacrifices to secure the good will of the gods for the expedition, a snake darted out from under the altar, ascended a tree, devoured a brood of eight young sparrows and the mother-bird, and finally 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 oracle from Delphi that Troy would fall when the best of the Greeks quarreled.
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. They are dispersed by a storm and driven back to Greece, and then assemble afresh at Aulis. Once there, they learn that divine disfavor is preventing them from the crossing to Troy until Agamemnon agrees to sacrifice his own daughter Iphigenia to appease the angry gods (an incident entirely unknown to Homer). After landing, skirmishing, and pitching their camp, Odysseus and Menelaus 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, never takes hold, owing to the opposition of Paris. War is declared. The number of the Trojans is scarcely one tenth that of the besiegers; and although they possess many brave heroes, such as Aeneas, Sarpedon, Glaucus, and especially Hector, in their fear of Achilles they dare not risk a general engagement, and remain holed up behind their walls. 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 resource to foraging expeditions in the neighborhood, undertaken by sea and by land under the generalship of Achilles.
At last the decisive tenth year arrives. The Iliad narrates the events of this year, confining itself to the space of fifty-one days. Over the course of the war, the Greeks have taken many war prizes from the surrounding countryside. One of these prizes happens to be Chryseis, the daughter of Chryses, a priest of Apollo. He comes in priestly garb into the camp of the Greeks to ransom his daughter from Agamemnon. He is rudely repulsed, and Apollo consequently visits the Greeks with a plague. In an assembly of the Greeks summoned by Achilles, the seer 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 favorite slave Briseis. 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 returns the girl and restores Achilles' honor. The Trojans immediately take the open field, and Agamemnon is induced by a promise of victory, conveyed in a lying dream from Zeus, to start the fight.
The armies are standing opposed to one another, prepared for fight, when they agree to a treaty that the whole conflict will be decided by a duel between Paris and Menelaus. Paris is overcome in the duel, and is only rescued from death by the intervention of Aphrodite. When Agamemnon presses for the fulfillment of the treaty, the Trojan Pandarus breaks the peace by shooting an arrow at Menelaus, and the agreement falls apart. The first open engagement in the war begins, in which, under the protection of Athena, Diomedes performs miracles of bravery and wounds even Aphrodite and Ares. Diomedes and the Lycian Glaucus are on the verge of fighting, when they recognize one another as hereditary guest-friends and stop their duel, a marker of how important is the concept of hospitality (XENIA, in Greek). The day ends with an indecisive duel between Hector and Ajax son of Telamon. They call a truce to bury their dead, and the Greeks, acting on the advice of Nestor, surround their camp with a wall and trench. When the fighting begins again, Zeus forbids the gods to take part in it, and ordains that the battle shall end with the defeat of the Greeks. On the following night Agamemnon already begins to think about fleeing, but Nestor advises reconciliation with Achilles. Agamemnon sends an embassy, including Odysseus, to make amends with Achilles. The efforts of ambassadors are, however, fruitless. Then Odysseus and Diomedes go out on a night-time reconnaissance mission, kill many Trojans, and capture a Trojan spy. 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, and the Greeks retire behind the camp walls. The Trojans advance and attack the Greek walls. The opposition of the Greeks is brave; but Hector breaks the rough 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 Ajaxes and Idomeneus, succeed with the help of Poseidon in repelling the Trojans, while Telamonian Ajax dashes Hector to the ground with a stone; but the latter soon reappears on the battlefield with fresh strength granted to 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 Ajax in vain defends. The Trojans advance still further to where they are able to begin torching the Greek ships. Hector and AchillesAt this point, Achilles allows his friend Patroclus to borrow his armour and enter the battle with their contingent of soldiers to help 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.
The Iliad concludes with the burial of Patroclus and the funeral games established in his honor, the restoration of Hector's corpse to Priam, and the burial of Hector, for which Achilles allows an armistice of eleven days. 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 at the head of an Ethiopian contingent. He slays Antilochus son of Nestor, but is himself slain by Achilles. Death of AchillesAnd now comes the fulfillment 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, 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, which provokes a fight among the Greeks for the title and the arms. Odysseus wins, and his main competition, the Telamonian Ajax, kills himself.
Odysseus captures Helenus, son of Priam, who advises the Greeks that Troy could not be conquered without the arrows of Heracles and the presence of someone related to Achilles. They fetch Philoctetes, the heir of Heracles, whom the Greeks had abandoned and left for dead on the island of Lemnos, and Neoptolemus, the young son of Achilles, who had been brought up on Seyros. The Trojan HorseThe 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 a small statue of Athena, called the Palladium, from the temple of Athena on the citadel, has been successfully fulfilled by Diomedes and Odysseus, the town can only be taken by treachery. On the advice of Athena, 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. The rest of the Greeks pretend to abandon the fight. They burn their camp and embark on ship, only, however, to hide in waiting behind a nearby island. The Trojans, streaming out of the town, find the horse, and are in doubt as to 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 an evil plan of Odysseus to use him as a human sacrifice, and that the horse has been erected to expiate the robbery of the Palladium. To destroy it would be fatal to Troy, he claims, but should it be brought into the city, the Trojans would conquer Europe. The Trojan Laocoon warns against the Greek gift and is killed by sea monsters. The Trojans take it as a sign and decide to bring the statue into the city.
The Trojans are overjoyed and celebrate their victory and the departure of the Greeks. Sinon in the night opens the door of the horse. The heroes descend, and light the flames that give to the Greek fleet the agreed-upon 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, Aeneas, Hector's wife Andromache, and Cassandra, who is taken as a war prize by Agamemnon. The Greeks run riot in the conquered city and their offenses set off divine outrage. For many of the Greeks, their sufferings are far from over. Their voyages home, in Greek NOSTOI, are fraught with troubles. Only Nestor, Diomedes, Neoptolemus, Philoctetes, and Idomeneus reach home in safety; while Menelaus and Odysseus first have to undergo wanderings for years. The Locrian Ajax is killed at sea, and Agamemnon immediately after his arrival home.
 
See Also:
  Odysseus in the Trojan War
Timeline of Relevant Events
Relevant genealogical information:
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