The cause of the Trojan War can be traced all the way back to the courtship of Helen. Helen was stunningly beautiful. Many Greek princes courted her for marriage. Her step father feared that trouble from rejected suitors would follow Helen and her groom. To insure Helen’s safety, her step father made all the men who wanted to be her husband, swear an oath to protect Helen and her chosen groom. Helen chose King Menelaus of Sparta.
The next chapter in the story had to do with a beauty competition between three of the most powerful female goddesses. (Click here for the Judgment of Paris.)
When Paris abducted Helen to Troy, all the Greek princes were bound by the oath they had taken when they were courting her. Since it was their duty to help Menelaus recover Helen, the Greeks sent one thousand ships to Troy to recover Helen; hence the saying, “A face that could launch a thousand ships”.
Agamemnon, brother to Menelaus, led the Greek forces. The fleet of one thousand ships was delayed off the Greek coast. The winds continued to blow west, the opposite direction the Greeks needed to sail to Troy. Agamemnon consulted an oracle which told him to sacrifice his daughter to Artemis and the winds would turn. He complied with the oracle, an act for which his wife never forgave him. After the sacrifice, the Greek ships headed east for Troy.
Some of the gods chose sides in this epic war. Poseidon supported the Greeks. After he helped build the walls of Troy (as a punishment set upon him by Zeus), Poseidon was not given wages from the Trojan King. Athena and Hera also sided with the Greeks since Paris had picked Aphrodite, not either of them, as “The Fairest.” The Greeks also had Hermes and Hephaestus on their side.
Aphrodite sided with the Trojans to protect Paris who had chosen her as “The Fairest”. Apollo, Artemis, and Ares also sided with the Trojans. Zeus, Hades, Demeter and Hestia stayed relatively neutral during the war.
For the first nine years of the war, the Greeks attacked the surrounding cities and outlying areas to cut off the food supply from Troy. The city of Troy itself had huge walls which were built with the help of the gods. It was not until the tenth year that the Greeks attacked the city of Troy itself.
In the tenth year of the war, Achilles was killed by Paris’s arrow that was guided by Apollo. Odysseus and Ajax had a fight over who should get the armor of Achilles. Odysseus was awarded the armor of Achilles, and Ajax went mad in despair at losing the prize. He killed flocks of sheep and cattle he thought were his enemies. He regained his sanity, but he committed suicide after realizing what he had done in his madness. His death delt a terrible blow to the Greeks, and in addition the Amazon warriors had joined the side of the Trojans. The war was not going well for the Greeks at this point.
The Greeks learned from a captive Trojan prophet that four things had to happen if they were to conquer Troy.
1) Achilles’ son Neoptolemus, who the Greeks had abandon on an island several years earlier, had to join the fight.
2) The Greeks had to use the bow and arrow of Hercules.
3)Bones of Agamemnon’s grandfather had to be brought to Troy.
4)A wooden statue of Athena had to be stolen from the Trojan citadel.
The Greeks, through the great energy and cunning of leaders like Odysseus were able to accomplish all four of the tasks. Odysseus came up with a plan to get into the city. With Athena’s help, the Greeks built a large horse out of the wood from their ships. They hid their warriors on the inside of the horse and waited for the Trojans. When the Trojans approached the horse, a Greek solider named Sinon met them. He claimed the Greeks had attempted to sacrifice him but he escaped. He claimed the horse was an offering to Athena and that they should take the horse into their city to get Athena’s protection.
A Trojan prophet named Laocoon did not believe Sinon. He said to beware of the Greeks and their gifts and threw a spear at the horse. Just then a sea serpent came out of the sea and swallowed Laocoon. Sinon told the Trojans that they must accept the horse if they did not want to offend the gods as Laocoon obviously did. The Trojans wheeled the horse into the city.
That night after the Trojans had fallen to sleep, the Greeks got out of the horse and opened the city gates letting the rest of the Greek army in. The Greeks sacked the city to the extent of angering even the gods who where on their side. They raped and killed people near several of the gods’ altars and burned the city. After ten years, the war was finally over.
Of the original thousand ships that sailed to war, only one hundred started the return voyage. Out of those hundred, ships most were destroyed on their journey home by Poseidon’s waves. Most of those who did finally make it home, found the homecoming undesirable. The most famous trip home was made by Odysseus, who was not able to return to Greece until ten years after the war. (Click here for more details on the story).
Heroes of the War
For the Greeks
Achilles (click here for details)
Diomedes (click here for details)
Odysseus (click Here for details)
Ajax of Salamis – was able to fight Hector the Trojan champion to a draw and had conquered the city a generation earlier with Hercules
Teucer –best of all the Greek archers
Ajax of Locris – great spearman and second only to Achilles in swiftness
For the Trojans
Hector (click here for details)
Aeneas (click here for details)
Laocoon by Baccio Bandinelli, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Major Gods and Goddesses
Introduction | Creation Story | Olympians VS. Titans | Creation of Man | Revolt of Giants
Abduction of Persephone | The Underworld | Visitors to Underworld | Amzon Warriors
Ares vs. Athena | Daedalus and Icarus | Echo and Narcissus | Judgement of Paris
Perseus and Andromeda | Trojan War
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