Famous Men of Greece - John Haaren

Achilles Bravest of Greeks

Bravest of all the Greeks who went to fight the Trojans was Achilles. He was the son of Peleus and the beautiful sea-nymph Thetis, at whose marriage feast the goddess of discord had thrown the golden apple among the guests.

Thetis herself could never die, and when Achilles was born she determined to make him also immortal. With the child in her arms she went down to the gloomy kingdom of Hades. You will remember that a dark river called the Styx flowed round the underworld. If a mortal were dipped into the Styx no sword or arrow or other weapon could injure him. Thetis held Achilles by the heel and dipped him into the water. In her haste to get out of the underworld she forgot to dip in the heel by which she had held the child. So in that heel, and only there, Achilles could be wounded.

When Thetis heard that the Greeks were going to fight the Trojans she was greatly distressed, for she knew that if her son went to the war he would certainly lose his life. She dressed him as a girl and took him to Scyros, a far away island of Greece, and left him there in the palace of the king Lycomedes.

Now Calchas had foretold that Troy could never be taken without the help of Achilles. So the Greek princes were determined that he should go with them.

A Grecian chief, called Ulysses the crafty, learned where he was hidden and set out to find him.

One day a peddler appeared at the gate of the palace in Scyros, bringing all sorts of beautiful things for sale. The princesses were wild with delight as the peddler showed one thing after another. Suddenly the blast of a war trumpet rang through the air. Away ran all the girls save one. That one seized a shield and a spear which were among the peddler's wares and stood instantly ready for battle.

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Greece by John Haaren


Then the peddler, who was Ulysses, knew that he had found Achilles. So he told the young man that all the princes of the Greeks were preparing for war against Troy. Achilles was eager to go with them, and so in spite of all that Thetis had done, her son sailed to Troy with the other Greek princes. For nine years he was the champion of the Greeks.

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Greece by John Haaren


In the tenth year of the war a great misfortune befell the Greeks. They had taken captive two beautiful maidens, one of whom had been given as a slave to Achilles, the other to Agamemnon. Now it happened that Agamemnon's slave was the daughter of Chryses, a priest of the sun-god Apollo.

The loss of his daughter was a great grief to Chryses, and he prayed to Apollo for vengeance. In answer Apollo drew his silver bow and shot arrows which brought a terrible pestilence into the camp of the Greeks. The tents were soon filled with the dead and the dying.

The soothsayer, Calchas, told the Greeks why Apollo had punished them, and the girl was sent back to her father. The god was satisfied, and his arrows stopped bringing the plague to the Greeks.

But Agamemnon now took the other maiden from Achilles, and this made the son of Thetis so angry that he declared he would help the Greeks no more. For days and days he stayed in his tent, or sat by the seashore and told his wrongs to his mother.

Then the Trojans, learning that Achilles was not fighting, grew bold and at last came out through the gates of their city and drove the Greeks from the field. Hector, a son of Priam, followed them to their ships. Some of the Trojans took lighted torches and tried to burn the Greek fleet. One ship caught fire.

Just then, however, there rushed to the shore a warrior who looked so like Achilles that the Trojans fled from the ships to the gates of their city. The unknown warrior was not Achilles but Patroclus, his devoted friend, who had put on Achilles' armor. The Trojans had mistaken him for the great hero. Even Hector fled before him. But Apollo, who fought on the side of the Trojans, at last shot forth from his silver bow an arrow which struck Patroclus, and he fell to the earth. Hector then slew him and carried off the armor of Achilles as his prize.

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Greece by John Haaren


When Achilles learned that his friend had been slain he forgot his wrongs and rushed from his tent, shouting the war-cry of the Greeks. He had neither shield nor spear. Yet the Trojans fled at the sound of his voice; and the ships and tents of the Greeks were saved.

The body of Patroclus was then carried into the tent of Achilles, and the hero wept for his friend.

As he sat mourning his mother Thetis rose from her home in the sea and came to comfort him. She then went to Vulcan the great blacksmith, who, you remember, made all things of iron and bronze for the gods, and said:

"Good Vulcan, make for my son such a suit of armor as never mortal has worn."

Soon the forges of Aetna were glowing; the Cyclops' anvils were ringing, and a suit of armor fit for a god was made.

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Greece by John Haaren


In this armor Achilles made terrible havoc among the Trojans. He scattered them as a wolf might scatter a flock of sheep. He killed Hector at last, tied the body to his chariot, and dragged it three times round the tomb of Patroclus.

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Greece by John Haaren


Paris avenged the death of Hector by wounding Achilles in the heel. From the wound the great hero died.

Hundreds of Trojans had been killed by the Greeks; but the walls of Troy still stood and not one Grecian warrior had entered the gates.

Troy was kept safe in a wonderful way. In the city was an image of Athene, which the Trojans believed had come down from heaven. It was called the Palladium, from Pallas, another name of Athene. So long as the Palladium stood in its place, Troy could never be captured.

At length, crafty Ulysses, with the help of another Greek warrior named Diomedes, got possession of the Palladium. One night the two climbed the walls of Troy, went to the temple where the Palladium was kept, and carried the image away.

When they returned to the Grecian camp Ulysses advised the Greeks to build a huge wooden horse. When it was finished it was filled with armed men and left standing before the walls of the city. Then the Grecian army burned their tents and sailed away as if they were going home. But really they only went a short distance and hid behind an island not far from the Trojan coast.

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Greece by John Haaren


One crafty Greek named Sinon had been left behind. He told the Trojans that the wooden horse would protect their city, just as the Palladium had done. So, very foolishly, they drew the horse within the walls.

When night came Sinon released the armed men from the horse and signalled to the Greek fleet with a flaming torch. In a very short time the ships were all back, and the Greek soldiers again were swarming before the walls of Troy. The city gates were opened by Sinon and his companions, and in poured the Greeks by thousands. They slaughtered the sleeping Trojans, sacked the palace of Priam, and burned the city.

And now, after ten long years of fighting, Menelaus recovered his beautiful Helen. Then he and the rest of the Greeks set sail for their native land.

Many of the Trojans were carried away into slavery by their Greek conquerors. Andromache, the beautiful wife of Hector, was given to the son of Achilles, who took her home to his palace, a captive.

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Greece by John Haaren