Friday, June 22, 2012

June 11, 1184 BC – Trojans Discover Achaean Ruse

Ten years of siege and warfare ended suddenly when the Greeks of Achaea left the shores of Troy.  They had arrived under King Agamemnon of Mycenae, the greatest Greek city-state, after Prince Paris of Troy had abducted Queen Helen of Sparta.  Agamemnon, whose family had been cursed with ill-fortune despite its might due to the sins of his ancestor Tantalus, and his brother Menelaus had spent much of their youth in exile in the house of Spartan King Tyndareus, whose daughter Clytemnestra married Agamemnon.  The question of a spouse for Helen, however, caused stir all over Greece as she was the daughter of Zeus by Queen Leda of Sparta, whom he had seduced in the form of a swan.  Her divine beauty drew in dozens of royal suitors from as far away as Crete and Ithaca.  The Ithacan Prince Odysseus brought no gifts but an offering to solve the matter, which had confounded Tyndareus as he was afraid any choice would cause a war.  All the suitors were required to take an oath to defend the winner of Helen’s hand, thus ending any chance of a violent quarrel.  When the oaths were confirmed by the sacrifice of a horse, Tyndareus chose Menelaus, who had not attended and sent his brother Agamemnon in his place, to marry Helen.

Years passed quietly until Paris of Troy arrived after having served as judge in a beauty contest for Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, choosing the last because of her bribe to award him the most beautiful mortal woman in the world, Helen.  Despite her husband and daughter, Hermione, Helen fell in love with the prince and left.  When the betrayal was discovered, Menelaus and his brother Agamemnon called upon all of the suitors to fulfill their oaths and declare war upon Troy.  Many of the Greeks, now kings, were uneasy about the expedition, but honor forced them to comply.  Odysseus feigned madness for a short while to avoid the war before finally complying.  Even Achilles, who had been hidden by his nymph mother Thetis in the disguise of a young girl, drew up arms when he was discovered by Odysseus.  The Greeks assembled a fleet of a thousand ships and, after offending and finally appeasing the goddess Artemis, launched their long assault against Troy’s strong walls with an estimated 100,000 men.

Battles in outlying cities and islands raged for nine years without achieving more than a siege of Troy.  Infighting grew up, such as Odysseus planting a bribe from King Priam of Troy on Palamedes that resulted in the Greeks stoning Palamedes for treason and later refusing justice to his father Nauplius for the good of the war effort.  Later, a mutiny arose, but it was put down by strong words from Achilles.  Soon after, Achilles himself decided to quit the war when Agamemnon took his concubine, coming back only when his cousin Patroclus was killed by the Trojan crown prince, Hector.  Achilles killed Hector, returned his body to Priam, and was killed by an arrow from Paris after falling in love with a Trojan princess.  Odysseus and Ajax of Salamis bickered over Achilles’ armor, and Ajax, arguably the second-greatest Greek general, killed himself upon losing.  Odysseus recovered the wounded Philoctetes, who used Heracles’ bow to shoot Paris, which caused Helen to switch loyalties out of homesickness.  After his death, the Trojan princes fought over Helen’s hand, and eventually Deiphobus won out, driving his brother Helenus into exile, where he was caught by Odysseus and interrogated for the prophecies needed to be fulfilled to destroy Troy.

After meeting the requirements, Odysseus launched a scheme in which the Greek fleet would retreat as if in defeat.  They left behind a giant horse statue made of wood as a sacrifice to ensure safe travel home and Sinon, who would pretend to be a Greek deserter trick the Trojans into bringing the horse inside the city.  A festival began around the horse, though some Trojans such as Laocoön, priest of Neptune, were suspicious.  He cried out,
“O wretched countrymen! what fury reigns?
What more than madness has possess'd your brains?
Think you the Grecians from your coasts are gone?
And are Ulysses' arts no better known?”

Laocoön threw his spear into the side of the statue, which proved to be hollow as he suggested, and struck someone inside.  Initially, the Trojans (“fated to be blind”) ignored the cries inside as wood settling and turned their attention to Sinon, who painted a picture of immortality for Troy if they brought the horse inside the city walls.  However, as Laocoön prepared to give in to the crowd and sacrifice a bull in thanks, he discovered blood dripping from the spear-wound.  At last the Trojans realized the ruse, and, after defeating sea serpents sent by Athena out of vengeance, brought the horse inside, where they surrounded it with soldiers and burned it.  Inside the horse were the thirty best warriors of the Greeks, including kings Diomedes of Argos, Ajax of Locris, Menelaus of Sparta, Menestheus of Athens, and Odysseus himself.  The resulting massacre wiped out a generation of Greek leadership, leaving only a few to trickle back to their homes in Greece, which turned into civil war as the people sought vengeance on Agamemnon and the survivors.

With order restored, the Trojans began rebuilding their empire with the aid of their allies from the war such as the Amazons of Asia and assuming control of lands conquered en route to Troy by Memnon of Ethiopia, Priam’s stepbrother.  Upon Priam’s death, cunning Deiphobus became king and launched an invasion of Greece that devastated the land and pushed Greek survivors into the western Mediterranean.  The Trojans came into contest with the Phoenicians, conquering their principal city of Tyre with the aid of the Hebrew warrior-king David and sending more refugees toward Dido’s kingdom of Carthage.  In the 800s BC, Trojan imperial power was broken by Assyrians, and the city became a smaller kingdom dominating the Hellespont, often at war with the nearby Greek city-states.  After the overthrow of the Babylonians by the Medes and Persians, Cyrus and Darius invaded Asia Minor, overwhelming Troy and marching on the European nations of Macedon and Scythia.  The Greeks rejoiced at seeing their old enemy Troy finally subservient and gladly established relations with the Persian Empire.  Using Greek support, the Persians were able to solidify their control over the Macedonians and Thracians of the western Black Sea.  Meanwhile, the seafaring Greeks spent centuries fighting with the Carthaginians over domination of the Mediterranean, eventually falling as Carthaginian unity overwhelmed haphazard Greek alliances.  Carthaginians continued expansion northward to the British Isles and southward to Africa until they, too, fell under conquests by Goths, who were in turn conquered by Vikings.  Through it all, the Eternal City of Troy has stood, most lately as the capital of the Great Turkish Empire.


In reality, according to Virgil’s Aeneid, Laocoön’s spear did not strike anyone.  The Trojans brought the statue into the city, and Odysseus and his men sneaked out that night to open the gates to the Greek army, which had returned secretly.  Troy fell on a date calculated by Eratosthenes of Cyrene, though much of the fortune gained by the Greeks would be lost as gods continued to curse them.  Trojan survivors led by Aeneas were believed to have contributed to the founding of Rome, while the Greeks became a major world power.  They conquered the Persians through Alexander the Great, resulting in the Hellenization of the Middle East, and were conquered themselves by Rome, who adopted much of their civilization.

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