Greek Gods - Heroes - and Men - S. B. Harding

Achilles and the War about Troy

If you were to go aboard a ship in Greece, and sail toward the east, you would before many days come to the mainland of Asia. There, in another country and another continent from Greece, was in olden times a famous city called Troy. Here lived a strong, brave race of people, who had made their city great by their industry in peace and their courage in war.

The king of this people was a good man named Priam, who was much beloved by every one. He had many children, so many, in fact, that one more or less did not matter much in his great household. But one day another little son was born to King Priam, and the priest said that he would grow to be a danger and a trouble to his family and his country. To prevent this trouble, King Priam had his servants take the baby, and leave it on a barren mountain-side to die. There some shepherds found the child, and reared him carefully; and he grew to be a tall, beautiful youth, very active and skillful in all sorts of games.

When Paris—for that was the boy's name,—had become a young man, he was called upon to decide a very odd question. Among the gods there was one who was called the goddess of Discord, because she was always causing quarrels wherever she went The other gods did not like her, so they did not invite her to a great feast to which the other gods were all asked. Then the goddess of Discord took a beautiful golden apple, and wrote on it, "To the fairest," and tossed it among the other gods as they feasted. At once a quarrel arose as to who should have the apple. Of the three great goddesses,—Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite,—each claimed that she was the fairest, and that the apple was for her. As none of them would give up, they had to ask some one to decide which one was the most beautiful.

Now, none of the gods wished to decide the question for fear lest he should offend the goddesses. So it was agreed to leave the decision to one of the children of men; and Paris was the judge whom Zeus chose. When the goddesses heard who was to be the judge, they each made haste to bribe him to decide in her favor. Hera, as queen of the gods, promised him power. Athena offered to make him the wisest man in the world; and Aphrodite promised him the most beautiful woman for his wife Paris chose the latter gift, and gave the golden apple to Aphrodite.

Not long after this, King Priam held games at Troy, in which the young men of the kingdom were invited to try their strength with one another. The shepherd lad Paris joined in all of these games, and was so skillful that he was the winner of the prize. Then a priestess revealed that he was the son of Priam; and in spite of the trouble that had been foretold form this son, Priam received him gladly, and restored him to his place as prince of Troy.

It was not long, however, that Paris was content to remain in Troy. He wished to see the world, and find the beautiful wife whom Aphrodite had promised him; so he sailed away across the sea to Greece. There he came to the court of a king named Menelaus, whose wife, Helen, was the most beautiful woman in all that land. As soon as he saw Helen, Paris knew that her was the wife that Aphrodite had intended for him; so he stole her away from her husband, and carried her back with him to Troy.

This led to a great war between the Greeks and the Trojans. King Menelaus, and his brother, King Agamemnon, called upon all the kings of Greece to join them in trying to get Helen back, and in punishing the Trojans. After many months the fleet that was to carry them across the sea was ready, and a great army set sail. When they reached troy they left their ships, and camped upon the plains around the walls of the city. The Trojans closed their city gates, only coming out now and then to fight the Greeks. For many years the war dragged on. It seemed as if the Greeks could not take the city, and the Trojans could not drive away the Greeks.

In this great war, even the gods took part. Aphrodite, of course, took the side of Troy, because it was through the promise she had made to Paris that the war had begun Hera and Athena both took the side of the Greeks. Of the other gods, some took one side and some the other; and long after this the Greeks loved to tell how men sometimes fought even against the gods.

Agamemnon was the leader of the Greeks, but the bravest man and the best fighter was Achilles This prince was the son of a goddess of the ocean and of a Greek king, and possessed wonderful strength and beauty. When he was a baby, his goddess mother had dipped him in the waters of a dark river in the kingdom of Hades, and he had become proof against any weapon except at one little place in the heel, where his mother's hand had prevented the water from touching him. When Agamemnon and Menelaus called upon the men of Greece to fight again Troy, Achilles gladly took his shield and spear and joined them, although it had been foretold that he should meet his death before Troy. There he fought bravely; and even Hector, the eldest son of King Priam, and that champion of the Trojans, did not dare to stay outside the walls while Achilles was in the field.

In the tenth year of the war Achilles became very angry at a wrong that had been done him by Agamemnon. After that he refused to join in the fighting, and sat and sulked in his tent. When the Trojans saw that Achilles was no longer in the field, they took courage again. Hector and the other Trojan warriors came forth and killed many Greek heroes, and soon the Greek army was in full flight. The Trojans even succeeded in burning some of the Greek ships.

Then the Greeks were very much dismayed, and sent to Achilles, and asked him to help them. But he was still angry, and he refused. At last the dearest friend of Achilles came, and begged him to aid them once more. Still Achilles refused; and all that he would promise was to let his friend take his armor and go in his place. So his friend took the armor of Achilles and went forth, thinking that the sight of Achilles' arms would once more set the Trojans flying. But soon word was brought to Achilles that Hector had slain his friend, and carried off his armor

Then Achilles saw that his foolish anger had cost him the life of his friend. His grief was very great; and he threw himself upon the ground and wept, until messengers came to tell him that the Trojans were carrying off the body of his friend, so that the Greeks might not bury it. Achilles sprang to his feet, and rushing toward the battlefield without chariot or armor he shouted in wrath. The goddess Athena joined her voice to his; and the sound startled the Trojans so that they turned and fled, leaving the body of Achilles' friend in the hands of the Greeks

The next day Achilles put on a new suit of armor which his goddess mother had obtained from the god Hephaestus, and rushed into battle again to avenge his friend. All day long the battle raged about the walls of Troy, the gods fighting among men to protect and aid their favorites. At last at the end of the day, when the Trojans had been driven back within their walls, Hector alone remained without. After a fierce battle Achilles slew him; and so great was the anger of Achilles, that he tied the feet of the dead Hector to his chariot, and dragged him through the dust to the Greek camp.

But Achilles himself did not live much longer. As he was fighting one day soon after this, and arrow shot by Paris struck him in the heel,—the one spot where he could be wounded,—and he was killed.

After Achilles was dead the Greeks could not hope to take Troy by open fighting, so they tried a trick. They pretended that they were tired of the long war, and that they were going home. They built a wooden horse as tall as a house; and leaving that in their camp as an offering to their gods, the Greeks got on board their ships and sailed away. Then the Trojans came flocking out of their city to examine this curious thing which the Greeks had left behind. Some of the wiser heads feared the wooden horse, and wanted to burn it; but the others said that they would take it into the city, and keep it as a memorial of their victory over the Greeks.

So they took it within the city walls. That night after the Trojans were all asleep, a door opened in the side of the wooden horse, and a man slipped out. Then there came another, and then another, until about fifty of the bravest Greeks had appeared These Greeks slew the guards and opened the gates. The Greeks who had sailed away that morning had come back as soon as night fell, and were waiting outside As soon as the gates were opened they rushed into the sleeping city, and after that night there were only heaps of ruins where the city of Troy once stood.

In the fight of that night King Priam and his queen and all of his children and most of his people were killed. King Menelaus found Helen, and took her back again to his own country. The priest's saying at the birth of Paris had come true He had brought destruction on his family and on his kingdom, and it was right that he also should lose his life in the fall of Troy.