The Iliad has it all: war, corruption, greed, power, and the passions of both gods and men. In this detailed retelling, Robert Graves draws the major characters of this timeless classic in broad, gritty strokes, making Agamemnon, Paris, Odysseus, and others accessible for young readers.
Written with a younger audience in mind, The Siege and Fall of Troy is nevertheless exhaustively researched and compelling enough to be of interest to both students of history and adult readers. With humor, wit, and energy, Graves is expert at weaving a story based on exhaustive scholarly research and deep imaginative prowess.
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The Foundation of Troy
Troy, they say, was founded by Prince Scamander who, because of famine, sailed eastward from the island of Crete with a large number of followers, resolved to plant a colony in some fertile spot. An oracle had ordered him to settle wherever earth-born enemies should disarm his men under cover of darkness. He landed on the coast of Phrygia, within sight of a tall mountain overgrown by pines, which he named Ida in honour of Cretan Mount Ida, and camped beside a river to which he gave his own name, Scamander. On waking next morning, the Cretans saw that a swarm of hungry mice had nibbled their bow-strings, the leather straps of their shields, and all edible parts of their armour. Since these must clearly be the earth-born enemies of the Oracle, Scamander called a halt, made friends with the Phrygian natives, and began farming the soil. Not long afterwards a colony of Locrian Greeks landed close by and put themselves under his leadership. Though the Phrygians let him build a city near the River Scamander, he could not at first decide on the best position. Then someone proposed sending a dappled cow into the plain, and watching where she lay down to chew her cud. The cow chose a small hill, and around it Scamander's men marked out the boundaries of Troy. They built houses inside, but did not raise the walls for some years, being too busy improving their farms.
At last, a Trojan king named Laomedon won all the help he needed from two important gods — Poseidon and Apollo. They had rebelled against Almighty Zeus, the leading god of Olympus, who sentenced them to be Laomedon's slaves for a whole year. At the King's orders, Poseidon built most of the walls, while Apollo played a harp and looked after the royal flocks and herds. Aeacus, a Locrian colonist, built the wall facing seaward. It was, of course, not nearly so strong as those built by the gods.
Laomedon promised to pay Apollo, Poseidon and Aeacus good wages for their work but, being the meanest of men, sent them off empty-handed. Aeacus sailed back to Greece in disgust; Apollo infected the Trojan flocks with foot-rot; and Poseidon took his revenge by sending a scaly sea-monster ashore to swallow alive every Trojan it came across. When the Trojans blamed Laomedon for their misfortunes, he consulted Apollo's oracle. The priestess told him that the monster would not go away until it had eaten his daughter Hesione. He therefore bound her naked to a rock. In the nick of time, however, the hero Heracles passed, on one of his Labours, and took pity on Hesione. He promised to destroy the monster if Laomedon let him marry her and also gave him two wonderful snow-white horses, a present from Almighty Zeus. Laomedon eagerly agreed. Heracles thereupon broke the monster's skull with one blow of his olive-wood club, and rescued Hesione.
Laomedon, mean as ever, cheated Heracles: refusing him not only Hesione, but the horses, too. Heracles went away cursing, and returned a few weeks later in command of a small fleet which Aeacus's son Telamon lent him. They took Troy by surprise, shot down Laomedon, killed all his sons — except the youngest, whose name was Priam — and carried off Hesione.
Priam became King of Troy. Having made the city stronger than ever before, after a long and wise reign, he called a council to decide how his sister Hesione could best be brought home. When he suggested sending a fleet to rescue her, the Council advised that he should first politely demand her surrender. Priam's envoys accordingly visited Salamis, where she was said to be living. They were there reminded that Laomedon had originally promised Hesione to Heracles, but cheated him; that Heracles had come back, sacked Troy, carried her off, and given her in marriage to his friend Telamon; that Telamon's father Aeacus had also been cheated by Laomedon; finally that Hesione had borne Telamon a son named Teucer the Archer (now grown up) and did not wish to leave Salamis, even for a short visit.CHAPTER 2
Paris and Queen Helen
King Priam sulked on hearing the envoys' account of their visit to Salamis, and when his own son Paris ran away with Queen Helen of Sparta and brought her to Troy, refused to send her back either. It was this decision that provoked the long, calamitous Trojan War, which benefited nobody, not even the conquerors.
Here is the story of Paris and Helen. Paris was Priam's son by Queen Hecuba who, just before his birth, dreamed that instead of a child she bore a blazing faggot, from which wriggled countless fiery serpents. Priam asked Apollo's prophet Calchas what the dream meant. Calchas answered: 'This child will be Troy's ruin. Cut his throat as soon as he is born!' Priam could not bring himself to kill any baby, especially his own son, but the warning frightened him; so he gave the child to his chief cattleman, saying: 'Leave him behind a bush somewhere in the woods on Mount Ida, and don't go there again for nine days.'
The cattleman obeyed. But on the ninth day, passing through the bushy valley in which Paris had been left, he found a she-bear suckling him. Amazed at this sight, the cattleman brought Paris up with his own children.
Paris grew to be tall, handsome, strong and clever. He was always invited by the other cattlemen to judge bullfights. Almighty Zeus, watching from his palace on far-off Olympus, noticed how honestly he gave his verdict on such occasions; and one day chose him to preside over a beauty contest at which he did not care to appear himself. This is what had happened. The Goddess of Quarrels, Eris by name, was not invited to a famous wedding (that of the Sea-goddess Thetis and King Peleus of Phthia), attended by all the other gods and goddesses. Eris spitefully threw a golden apple among the guests, after scratching on the peel: 'For the Most Beautiful!' They would have handed the apple to Thetis, as the bride; but were afraid of offending the three far more important goddesses present: Hera, Almighty Zeus's wife; Athene, his unmarried daughter, who was Goddess not only of Wisdom but of Battle; and his daughter-in-law Aphrodite, Goddess of Love. Each of them thought herself the most beautiful, and they began quarreling about the apple, as Eris had intended. Zeus's one hope of domestic peace lay in ordering a beauty contest and choosing an honest judge.
So Hermes, Herald of the Gods, flew down with the golden apple and a message for Paris from Zeus. 'Three goddesses,' he announced, 'will visit you here on Mount Ida, and Almighty Zeus's orders are that you shall award this apple to the most beautiful. They will all, of course, abide by your decision.' Paris disliked the task, but could not avoid it.
The goddesses arrived together, each in turn unveiling her beauty; and each in turn offering a bribe. Hera undertook to make Paris Emperor of Asia. Athene undertook to make him the wisest man alive and victorious in all his battles. But Aphrodite sidled up, saying: 'Darling Paris, I declare that you're the handsomest fellow I've seen for years! Why waste your time here among bulls and cows and stupid cattlemen? Why not move to some rich city and lead a more interesting life? You deserve to marry a woman almost as beautiful as myself — let me suggest Queen Helen of Sparta. One look at you, and I'll make her fall so deep in love that she won't mind leaving her husband, her palace, her family — everything, for your sake!' Excited by Aphrodite's account of Helen's beauty, Paris handed her the apple; whereupon Hera and Athene went off angrily, arm in arm, to plot the destruction of the whole Trojan race.
Next day, Paris paid his first visit to Troy, and found an athletic festival in progress. His foster-father, the cattleman, who had come too, advised him against entering the boxing contest which was staged in front of Priam's throne; but Paris stepped forward and won the crown of victory by sheer courage rather than skill. He put his name down for the footrace, too, and ran first. When Priam's sons challenged him to a longer race, he beat them again. They grew so annoyed, to think that a mere peasant had carried off three crowns of victory in a row, that they drew their swords. Paris ran for protection to the altar of Zeus, while his foster-father fell on his knees before Priam, crying: 'Your Majesty, pardon me! This is your lost son.'
The King summoned Hecuba, and Paris's foster-father showed her a rattle left in his hands when he was a baby. She knew it at once; so they took Paris with them to the palace, and there celebrated a huge banquet in honour of his return. Nevertheless, Calchas and the other priests of Apollo warned Priam that unless Paris were immediately put to death, Troy would go up in smoke. He answered: 'Better that Troy should burn, than that my wonderful son should die!'
Priam made ready a fleet to sail for Salamis and rescue Queen Hesione by force of arms. Paris offered to take command, adding: 'And if we can't bring my aunt home, perhaps I may capture some Greek princess whom we can hold as a hostage.' He was of course already planning to carry off Helen, and had no intention of fetching back his old aunt, in whom no Trojan but Priam took the least interest, and who felt perfectly happy at Salamis.
While Priam was deciding whether he should give Paris the command, Menelaus, King of Sparta, happened to visit Troy on some business matter. He made friends with Paris and invited him to Sparta; which enabled Paris to carry out his plan easily, using no more than a single fast ship. He and Menelaus sailed as soon as the wind blew favourably and, on arrival at Sparta, feasted together nine days running. Under Aphrodite's spell, Helen loved Paris at first sight, but was greatly embarrassed by his bold behaviour. He even dared to write 'I love Helen!' in wine spilt on the top of the banqueting table. Yet Menelaus, grieved by news of his father's death in Crete, noticed nothing; and when the nine days ended, he set sail for the funeral, leaving Helen to rule in his absence. This was no more than Helen's due, since he had become King of Sparta by marrying her.
That same night Helen and Paris eloped in his fast ship, putting aboard most of the palace treasures that she had inherited from her foster-father. And Paris stole a great mass of gold out of Apollo's temple, in revenge for the prophecy made by his priests that he should be killed at birth. Hera spitefully raised a heavy storm, which blew their ship to Cyprus; and Paris decided to stay there some months before he went home — Menelaus might be anchored off Troy, waiting to catch him. In Cyprus, where he had friends, he collected a fleet to raid Sidon, a rich city on the coast of Palestine. The raid was a great success: Paris killed the Sidonian king, and captured vast quantities of treasure.
When at last he returned to Troy, his ship loaded with silver, gold and precious stones, the Trojans welcomed him rapturously. Everyone thought Helen so beautiful, beyond all comparison, that King Priam himself swore never to give her up, even in exchange for his sister Hesione. Paris quieted his enemies, the Trojan priests of Apollo, by handing them the gold robbed from the God's treasury at Sparta; and almost the only two people who took a gloomy view of what would now happen were Paris's sister Cassandra, and her twin-brother Helenus, both of whom possessed the gift of prophecy. This they had won accidentally, while still children, by falling asleep in Apollo's temple. The sacred serpents had come up and licked their ears, which enabled them to hear the God's secret voice. Yet it did them no good: because Apollo arranged that no one would believe their prophecies. Time after time Cassandra and Helenus had warned Priam never to let Paris visit Greece. Now they warned him to send Helen and her treasure back at once if he wanted to avoid a long and terrible war. Priam paid not the least attention.CHAPTER 3
The Expedition Sails
When Helen had grown to womanhood at Sparta, in the palace of her foster-father Tyndareus — she was the daughter of Almighty Zeus by Leda, Queen of Sparta, and sister of the Heavenly Twins Castor and Polydeuces — most of the kings and princes of Greece wanted to marry her. Among them were Diomedes of Argos, Idomeneus of Crete, Cinyras of Cyprus, Patroclus of Phthia, Palamedes of Euboea, Ajax of Salamis, his half-brother Teucer the Archer (Hesione's Greek son), and Odysseus of Ithaca. They all brought rich presents, or all except Odysseus. Having no hope of success, he came emptyhanded. The husband chosen would obviously be Menelaus, brother of the High King Agamemnon of Mycenae, who had married Helen's sister Clytaemnestra.
Though Tyndareus sent none of these suitors away, he dared not accept their presents for fear he might be accused of favouritism. But since each had set his heart on winning Helen, the loveliest in Greece, Tyndareus grew frightened at the prospect of an open battle in his palace. Odysseus came to him, saying: 'If I tell you how to avoid a fight, King Tyndareus, may I marry your niece Penelope?' 'It's a bargain!' Tyndareus cried. 'Very well,' said Odysseus. 'This is what you must do: make them swear to defend whoever becomes Helen's husband against everyone else who grudges him his good luck.'
'What sensible advice!' said Tyndareus, smiling gratefully. He at once sacrificed a horse to Poseidon, cut the carcase into twelve pieces, and made each suitor stand on one of them, repeating after him the oath suggested by Odysseus. Then he buried the pieces beneath a mound called 'The Horse's Tomb'; and explained that the men who broke his oath would fall under the God's lasting displeasure. Afterwards he announced that Menelaus was to be Helen's husband, and named him heir to the Spartan throne.
If Hera and Athene had not been so vexed with Paris for awarding the apple to Aphrodite, the Trojan War might never have begun. But as soon as Hera heard that he was carrying off Helen (who, by the way, left behind her nine-year-old daughter Hermione), she sent Iris, Goddess of the Rainbow, to tell Menelaus the news. Menelaus hurried home from Crete, complaining to his brother Agamemnon: 'That rascal Paris came to Sparta as a guest, and has wickedly eloped with my wife Helen. He envied my good luck. I count on you to remind all her other suitors of the oath that they swore before Poseidon. They must join us at once in an expedition against Troy.'
Agamemnon, knowing that Troy was an almost impregnable city and that King Priam had powerful allies in Asia Minor and Thrace, hesitated for a while. Then he said: 'Yes, I fear we may have to do as you ask, brother. But first let us send envoys to Troy, demanding the return of Helen and the stolen treasure. If Priam is sensible, he will surely not risk a war against Greece.'
When Agamemnon's envoys came to Troy, Priam told them that he knew nothing of the matter — which was true, because Paris had not yet got back from Sidon. He added: 'Nevertheless, my lords, if Queen Helen has really left Sparta with my son and the Palace treasures, she must have done so of her own free will. Paris took only a single ship, and his few sailors can hardly have plundered King Menelaus's palace, and Apollo's temple, without her help.'
This reasonable answer annoyed Agamemnon, who sent messengers throughout Greece, to remind Helen's suitors of their oath and collect volunteers. 'The Gods are on our side,' he explained, 'because of Paris's treacherous behaviour. We shall have no trouble in storming Troy, which is immensely rich. Its fall will give us passage into the Black Sea. The Trojans, on guard at the straits, now make us pay double for all imported Eastern goods, such as timber, iron, hides, perfumes, spices and precious stones. How pleasant to save so much money!'
Agamemnon and Palamedes visited Odysseus, King of Ithaca, but found him most unwilling to join the expedition. In fact, when told of their arrival, he put on a prophet's round felt cap, then ploughed a field with an ox and an ass yoked together, flinging salt over his shoulder as he went. He did this because an oracle had warned him that, having once left Ithaca to fight at Troy, he would not return until twenty years later — alone and in rags. To 'plough with an ox and an ass' was a proverb meaning to work summer and winter, and each furrow sown with salt stood for a wasted year. But as soon as the plough reached the tenth furrow Palamedes snatched Odysseus's son Telemachus from Penelope's arms, and set him down in front of the team, forcing his father to pull up. Palamedes thereby prophesied that Telemachus, or 'the final battle', would take place in the tenth year. Unable to deny this, Odysseus promised to contribute a small fleet.
Agamemnon's envoys also went to Cyprus where King Cinyras promised fifty ships, but cheated by sending only one real ship and forty-nine toy ones, with dolls for crews, which the captain launched as he drew near the coast of Greece. Agamemnon called on Apollo to punish the fraud; and Apollo made Cinyras die of a sudden illness.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Siege and Fall of Troy"
Copyright © 1990 Beryl Graves.
Excerpted by permission of RosettaBooks.
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Table of Contents
I. The Foundation of Troy,
II. Paris and Queen Helen,
III. The Expedition Sails,
IV. The First Eight Years of War,
V. Achilles Quarrels with Agamemnon,
VI. The Greeks Win the Advantage,
VII. The Trojans Win the Advantage,
VIII. The Camp Endangered,
IX. Achilles Avenges Patroclus,
X. The Wooden Horse,
XI. The Sack of Troy,
XII. The Greeks Go Home,
XIII. Odysseus's Wanderings,