ERIS, the goddess of strife, was not invited to the wedding of Peleus with the sea-nymph Thetis. Many gods came, for Hera had arranged the match, the centaur Cheiron had advised Peleus on how to sneak up and rape Thetis, and Zeus himself (and/or Poseidon) had wooed the bride until learning her son was destined to be greater than his father. Enraged by being left off the guest list, Eris tossed a golden apple into the wedding crowd. Inscribed "To the Fairest," it set off a unseemly dispute for the prize among three major Olympian goddesses-Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. The gods were too wise to try to judge a beauty contest among goddesses, and gave the job to a mortal, PARIS, one of many sons of King PRIAM of Troy.
All three goddesses tried to bribe Paris: Hera offered Paris power and riches. Athena offered Paris military glory. Aphrodite offered Paris the most beautiful woman in the world. Being young, Paris gave the prize to Aphrodite, even though he was already the lover of Oenone, a local water-nymph.
The most beautiful woman in the world was Helen, the wife of Menelaus of Sparta, known as Helen of Troy for her part in starting the Trojan War. Paris visited Sparta and, aided by Aphrodite, ran away with his hostess. Her husband's brother Agamemnon then summoned all Greece for a great expedition against Troy, thus involving them all in the tragic fate of the House of Atreus.
In the war itself, the Trojans were led by HECTOR (Hektor), another and the best of the many sons of Priam. Hector fights on despite the pleas of his wife Andromache.
The Greeks were commanded by Agamemnon, but their strongest fighter was ACHILLES , the son of Peleus and Thetis. His mother had dipped him in the river Styx to make him invulnerable but had held him by his heel, which remained mortal. She knew that if he went to Troy he would win glory and die early, so she hid him at the court of Lycomedes of Skyros (who had earlier hosted Theseus) disguised as a girl, till his fondness for weapons gave him away to Agamemnon's emissaries, Odysseus and Nestor. His stay at that court was not wasted, however, for he fell in love with Deidameia, one of his host's daughters, and sired a son Pyrrhus (Pyrrhos) , who later joined the army at Troy, earning the name of Neoptolemus (new recruit) and Menelaus's daughter Hermione as a bride.
It would take the Greeks ten years to capture Troy. In the meantime, they occupied themselves by raiding her allies and fighting among themselves. The worst such dispute was the 'Wrath of Achilles" which is the subject of Homer's Iliad, an epic poem in 24 books. It begins with a quarrel which leads Achilles to sulk in his tents, and ends with the deaths of Achilles's best friend Patroclus and Hector. Troy itself is doomed by the loss of Hector, but the war goes on.
After the Iliad. Achilles himself was later killed by Paris, who shot a poisoned arrow into his heel. Some say Achilles was killed while being betrothed to Priam's daughter Polyxena, who then committed suicide (or was sacrificed) at his tomb. When Achilles died, both Odysseus and AJAX [Aias] claimed his armor. In some versions, Ajax went mad and committed suicide when it was awarded to his rival. This would have been Ajax Major, the Great Ajax; the army at troy also included a Lesser Ajax, Ajax Minor.
The Greeks were now told they needed the poisoned arrows of Heracles to win. Their carekeeper, PHILOCTETES, was reluctant to help, since the Greeks had abandoned him on an island on their way to Troy, complaining about an unbearable stench from a wound in his foot. He was eventually cured and joined them. One of his arrows killed Paris. Helen was then married another son of Priam, Deiphobus.
Unable to break down the walls of Troy, the Greeks sailed off, leaving behind a giant wooden horse (the TROJAN HORSE). Sinon, left behind by the Greeks--he claimed it was because Odysseus is his enemy--told the Trojans the horse was a sacrifice to Athena. Both Priam's daughter CASSANDRA and the seer Laocoon,, the son of Antenor, warned against accepting the gift. But no one ever listened to Cassandra's warnings, a penalty for having accepted the gift of prophecy from Apollo and still not sleeping with him. And the gods sent a monstrous serpent from the sea to kill Laocoon and his sons. Convinced, the Trojans took the horse inside the walls, though they have to break down part of one of their gates to do so. That night the men inside it, led by Odysseus, emerged to open the gates of Troy to their comrades, who had sailed back. The Greeks burned Troy and killed its men, though Aeneas escaped so his heirs could found Rome. Even Hector's young son Astyanax was killed, his head dashed against a wall lest he grow up to seek revenge.
The women of Troy were carried off into slavery. Hector's widow ANDROMACHE was carried off by Neoptolemus, though in some accounts she eventually marries yet another son of Priam. Cassandra was taken from Athena's altar, raped by the Lesser Ajax, and taken away as a a concubine of Agamemnon. Helen, however, was still so beautiful that Menelaus forgave her and took her back as his wife.
The Return of Odysseus The story of the destruction of Troy may recall a real event that was part of a flurry of destructive events around 1200 B.C. which ended some Bronze Age civilizations. These may also be reflected in the stories of the difficult homecomings of the various victorious Greeks. One such story was that of ODYSSEUS, the King of Ithaka, the trickiest of the Greek heroes at Troy, and the hero of Homer's Odyssey, an epic in 24 books. In English poetry, Odysseus is often known by his Roman name, Ulysses.
From other sources, we know that Odysseus was a reluctant particpant in the war, although he had been sent to recruit Achilles. Odysseus himself had feigned madness to avoid enlisting, plowing crazily until one of those sent to summon him had placed his infant son TELEMAKHOS (Telemachus) in front of the plow. When Odysseus swerved to avoid him, it was ruled that he was sane enough to fight. Despite this setback, Odysseus was the craftiest of the Greeks, just as Achilles was the strongest warrior.
It took Odysseus ten years to make it back home from Troy, by which time the baby he had left behind, Telemakhos, was a grown young man, and his wife PENELOPE was being besieged by suitors convinced that he was dead and demanding she remarry. She'd promised she'd do so as soon as she finished a weaving task-but each night she plucked out all the work she had done that day. Although generally taken as a model of wifely fidelity, as she is in Homer, some other (late) sources give her as the mother of the goatlike deity Pan by Odysseus, by the suitors Antinoos or Amphinomos, or by all of the suitors together. Penelope was the daughter of the nymph Periboea and Icarius, the brother of King Tyndareus of Sparta.
Odysseus returns in
disguise and slaughters the suitors with the help of his son.
He himself eventually dies at the hand of
Telegonus his son
by the witch Kirke, encountered on the ride
home. Accounts differ on how this came to be, but Telegonus had not
recognized his father. Some say that Telegonus then married Penelope.
[Last posted July 15, 2002, by Bob Canary, mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org]