Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

The Trojan War

When Paris had carried off Helen to Troy, her husband Menelaus called on the Greek leaders to help him bring her back. That meant war, and some were very unwilling to risk their lives and the lives of their soldiers in such a cause. One named Odysseus, whom we will call by his Latin name, Ulysses, pretended to be insane. He yoked up a donkey and a cow to the plow, and sowed salt in his field. The messenger who had been sent to him placed the little son of Ulysses before the plow. Of course the father turned his strange team aside and could no longer pretend to be out of his mind.

He persuaded several to go with him to the war, among them Achilles. The mother of this young man was unwilling to have him fight against Troy, so she dressed him like a girl and placed him among the daughters of a friendly king. Ulysses heard of this and put on the clothes of a traveling merchant. He went to the palace with rings and bracelets and belts, and two or three good swords. The girls came out to see these treasures and were pleased with the jewelry. One among them did not look at the rings and ornaments, but lifted the swords and tried their weight.

Ulysses said, "Young man, your dress is that of a girl, but your eye is that of a man. You are Achilles, and you must go with me to Ilion and to battle."

Two years were spent in collecting ships and men. The entire company met at Aulis, ready to sail together. But the winds were contrary, and no vessel could leave the port. A deadly sickness broke out among the men. It was found that one of the chiefs had hunted and killed a stag sacred to Artemis, who was very angry. The fortune-teller, or soothsayer, who was with the company, said that the goddess demanded the sacrifice of Iphigenia, the daughter of the chief.

The maiden was sent for and came, not knowing what was to be done. An altar had been built. She was bound and placed upon it, while the leaders stood waiting to see her die. The priest raised the knife to strike, but a thick cloud came down and hid the altar, and the girl was gone. The goddess carried her to Tauris and made her a priestess in the temple there.

The sickness passed away. The wind blew strongly out of the port. The fleet sailed and soon reached the coast of Troy. War began at once and lasted for nine years without seeming any nearer an end.

A quarrel arose between Achilles and Agamemnon, the king whose daughter was to have been sacrificed at Aulis. Achilles said he would fight no more, but would go home to Greece.

The gods and goddesses took a deep interest in the case. Hera and Athene were angry at Paris and the Trojans, but Aphrodite was friendly to them. Ares took her side, but Poseidon helped the Greeks.

Fighting went on more fiercely than ever. The Trojans won victory after victory, and the Greeks were driven to their ships. The enemy followed and were about to burn the vessels, when Poseidon went among the Greeks as a soothsayer and gave them new courage. Ajax the Greek met Hector of Troy, who darted his lance, which struck but did no harm. Then Ajax took a huge stone and threw it with all his might. It fell on Hector like a falling mountain, and he sank to the ground hurt and stunned. Zeus sent Apollo to cure him, and he soon was busy again in the fight.

The battle went against the Greeks. Some chiefs were wounded, others were killed. Once more the Trojans reached the ships and were preparing to burn them.

A dear friend of Achilles, named Patroclus, went to the hero and said, "Oh, my friend! If you will not come and help us, lend me your armor and your soldiers, that I may drive away these enemies before they destroy all our ships."

Achilles said, "Take my armor and my men and drive away our foes, but do not try to follow them without my help."

The Trojans thought they saw the great Achilles with his troops coming against them. They fled, and Patroclus followed, driving them like sheep, until he met Hector. These two fought, and Patroclus fell. Then Hector took from him the armor of Achilles and put it on.

When Achilles heard that his friend was dead he started up and said, "I will go out and fight with Hector this very day."

His mother said, "Remember, you have no armor. Wait until to-morrow, and you shall have a suit better than the first."

She hastened to Hephæ, who made the armor, and at the dawn of day it lay at the feet of Achilles. He went into the battle and drove the Trojans inside the wall of their city.

Only Hector stood outside waiting to meet him, but when he saw Achilles coming he turned and ran. Achilles followed him three times around the city; then Hector stood and fought. The spear of Achilles pierced him, and he fell.

Achilles striped the armor from the body, tied Hector's feet behind his chariot, and drove around the city, dragging the dead hero through the dust. The Trojans stood weeping on the walls, among them the father and mother and wife of Hector, lamenting at the dreadful sight.

The Greeks took the body of Patroclus and burned it with many honors, but Hector's corpse lay out upon the plain. Priam, his father and king of Troy, heaped a litter full of gold and rich dresses and other costly gifts. The gods helped him and his servants to carry it to the tent of Achilles as a ransom for the corpse of Hector. It was accepted, and the weeping company carried back those poor remains to the city and gave them the highest funeral honors.