“These events I relate are the living seeds, and they will bear bloody fruit, I promise.” So says Ulysses, King of Ithaca, as he recounts the origins of the Trojan War. Renowned Greek mythologist Bernard Evslin masterfully depicts the ten-year war: its beginnings rooted in discord among the gods; the seduction of the famed beauty Helen of Troy; and the spectacular development of the Trojan Horse, Ulysses’ cunning ploy to win the war. Evslin brings to life the dramatic twists and turns of this classic tale of human folly, mortal heroism, and the brutality and brilliance that have come down through the ages.
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The Trojan War
By Bernard Evslin
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1971 Bernard Evslin
All rights reserved.
The man stooped under a huge bale. He passed through the castle gates and climbed the broad stone stairs that led to the women's quarters. The brass-helmeted sentries stood silently watching him go. Ordinarily they did a little playful torturing of peddlers before allowing them in—beat them a bit about the shoulders with their spear-shafts, plucked their beards, and scattered their wares. They weren't really cruel, these sentries, they were fighting men, but it had been a long time between wars, and they were bored. For some reason they had not bothered this red-headed fellow. Perhaps it was that his shoulders were so broad and his arms so knotted with muscle—and he had lifted the great bale of goods so easily off his white donkey. His grin was servile enough, and he had tipped them a greasy little bow like all peddlers. Nevertheless, they let him pass through the gates and across the courtyard without tormenting him.
And it was strange, too, that the great guard dogs, the brindle mastiffs with their spiked brass collars, did not charge the stranger, nor even growl.
The peddler flung down his bale and knelt on the stone-flagged floor, pulling out garment after shining garment as the tall daughters of King Scyros crowded about him, chattering and laughing and shrieking with greed. For they loved clothes, these daughters of the king, and Scyros was such a remote island, they felt themselves falling far behind the fashions. Besides ... they had a visitor to impress: the tall yellow-headed silent girl—a country cousin who had been with them for three months now without ever telling them anything about herself. She listened to all they had to say, smiling her curious thin-lipped smile, but never told any secrets in return.
"Spread out your wares, man," cried Calyx, the eldest princess. "Don't pull them out one by one. Spread them so we can see them all."
"Yes, princess," said the peddler.
With a sweep of his arm he spread his goods upon the stone floor. Silks and furs and garments of wonderfully woven flax, dyed with the colors of mountain sunset. Jewels flashed—rings, bracelets, anklets, necklaces. And, on a long cloak of black wool, were couched a lance and a sword. Unjewelled were these weapons, made for battle use not ceremony; their blades were heavy and sharp, newly honed. The hilt of the sword was bull-horn; the haft of the throwing lance of polished ash, its head of bronze. With gull-cries of greed the girls fell upon the garments—all except their visitor. She leaped across the chamber and snatched up the weapons. Flexed her long legs in a fighting stance, and whipped the sword through the air, decapitating a horde of imaginary foes.
The princesses fell silent, stared at their cousin, eyes huge. The peddler smiled. He arose. His stoop was gone, gone the little servile selling-grin. He stood there massively, smiling, and watched as the princesses' yellow-headed cousin shadow-duelled—whirling, ducking, stabbing.
"It is well," said the peddler. And his voice was different too. "By your choices shall you be known. I have come a long way for you, Achilles. And now you must come back with me."
"Achilles!" shrieked the maidens.
"Achilles," said the peddler.
He approached the tall girl, seized the shoulder of her tunic, and ripped it away, baring her to the waist, and disclosing not another maiden, but a young man muscled like the statue of a god.
"A man," murmured the princesses. "She's a man."
The young man said nothing, but seized the peddler by the beard and raised his sword.
"Softly, Achilles," said the peddler. "I too am unlike what I seem. We are kinsmen far back, you and I. I am Ulysses, King of Ithaca."
Achilles let his hand fall.
"Ulysses," echoed the princesses.
And, indeed, even before the Trojan War was fought this name was known the length and breadth of Hellas as that of the boldest pirate-king of the Inner Sea, a master of strategy on land and water.
"But why do you seek me, cousin?" said Achilles. "My mother bade me dress in maiden's garb and hide myself in this court in obedience to some oracle or other. She said she would call me back when the Fates had been satisfied—a matter of weeks. But now you come first to fetch me away. By what right?"
"Oh, you may abide here among the maidens and wait for your mother," said Ulysses. "But I think I should tell you that there's a war on."
"A war?" shouted Achilles, snatching up his sword. "A real war?"
"Very real. With Troy. Against some of the most fearsome warriors of this age or any other."
"Why do we stand here conversing?" cried Achilles. "Let's go!"
Ulysses bowed to the princesses. "You may keep these garments, fair maidens. They are my gift to you. Accept too my apologies for the slight deceit I was forced to practice."
"Farewell, cousins," said Achilles. "Gentle maids, farewell. After this war is over, I shall return—in my own guise, and attempt to thank you for your hospitality."
The two men passed from the chamber, and left the courtyard. The princesses watched from the embrasures; saw them disappear through the gates and then appear again around the corner of the cliff where the road dipped to the sea. And that night nine of them dreamed of Achilles, and three, of Ulysses. But in the middle darkness their dreams crossed, and by dawn there was no counting.
Ulysses led the young man aboard his ship. They lifted anchor and set sail for Aulis where the war fleet was gathering. They sat on deck in the golden weather, and Ulysses told of how enmity was born between Greece and Troy.CHAPTER 2
SEEDS OF WAR
"Actually, you and this war were meant for each other," he said to Achilles. "Your seeds were planted on the same night—the night your mother and father were wed—at a wedding feast given by the gods themselves on Mt. Olympus. Know you, Achilles, that your father, Peleus, was the most renowned warrior of his day, and your mother, Thetis, the most beautiful naiad who ever rose naked and dripping from the tides of the moon to trouble man's sleep?"
"I'm aware of my own pedigree, man," snapped Achilles. "Get to the war."
"Patience, young friend, the war comes soon enough. Now, whoever it was of the High Ones who made out the invitation list to the wedding feast, neglected to include the Lady of Discord herself. Eris, queen of Harpies, sister to the War-god, who rides beside him in his chariot delighting in the cries of the wounded and the smell of blood, was not invited to the feast and, oh, Achilles, what a terrible omission it was.
"When the rejoicing was at its height and the stars reeled on their crystal axes, shaken by the laughter of the gods, then it was that Eris made herself invisible, entered the great banquet hall, and rolled upon the table a gleaming, heavy apple of solid gold. Upon the apple were written the words: 'To the most beautiful.' It glowed there like the heart of flame, and was immediately claimed by Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. The festivities were immediately rent by their quarreling as they shrieked like fishwives over a beached mackerel. The feast was ruined. Gentle Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth, and protector of feasts, wept great tears. Eris stood among the shadows, chuckling. Hestia begged Zeus to settle things by awarding the apple to whoever he considered to be the most beautiful. But Father Zeus was much too wise to be caught in a trap like that. Hera happened to be his sister and his wife, Athena his daughter, and Aphrodite a kind of half-sister—and, it is said, even more.
"'Peace, good company!' boomed Zeus. 'The question of choosing among three such enchanting beauties is too difficult to be undertaken by anyone who knows them well and has been exposed to their potent charms. We must therefore seek beyond our own small circle for a just decision. I shall search among the mortals of the earth for him of coolest judgment and most exquisite taste. Give me a few days to find him. In the meantime, I bid you cease your quarreling, my three fair claimants, and let the festivities resume. As for this little gem of contention, I shall just keep it myself until judgment is made.' And his huge hand closed lovingly about the golden apple."
"The war, man! The war!" cried Achilles. "Enough of parents, weddings, and high vanities! When will your tale tell of war?"
"Hark, now. These events I relate are the living seeds, and they will bear bloody fruit, I promise. And you, my boy, will be there for the harvesting. Where was I?"
"Zeus was seeking one wise among mortals to give judgment upon the claims of the goddesses."
"He chose Paris. Paris, secret prince of Troy, Priam's youngest son, thought to have been killed at birth because an oracle had warned that his deeds would destroy Troy."
"Reason enough for the king to drown him like a kitten. How is it he survived?"
"Oh, some plot of Hecuba's, no doubt. A mother's heart cherishes her sons, even those who endanger the state. It is said Queen Hecuba instructed her serving man to smuggle the babe out of the castle and give it to a certain shepherd to raise as his own. He grew up to be very beautiful. It's a handsome family anyway, and he is the fairest by far, they say, of Priam's fifty sons. The shepherd maids trailed him up and down the slopes. But he was too young; he spurned the maidens. And this, of course, recommended him to uneasy husbands and lovers, giving them a great opinion of his wisdom and moderation. So it was that he was called upon to mediate their disputes, to fix grazing rights, judge the points of cattle, and so forth. When Zeus bent his ear to earth to hear of a man of judgment, why the strongest word came from Mt. Ida, speaking the name, Paris ..."
The hot silver of a flying fish scudded suddenly out of the water followed by the black-silver hump of a broaching dolphin. For half a breath they hung in the air—long enough for Achilles to uncoil from the deck with a fluency that delighted the warrior heart of Ulysses. Swiftly, Achilles hurled a short lance through the air transfixing the winged fish so that it fell heavily before the dolphin—which drew out the lance, swam to the boat, and tossed the weapon aboard with a flick of its head, grinning up at the men like a dog. Then it turned and swam back for its meal.
"Well thrown," said Ulysses.
"It thirsts for blood," said Achilles, wiping his lance-head. "I must appease it with hunting till it can drink of the enemy upon the beaches of Troy. Unless, of course, I am lucky enough to fall in with a private quarrel."
"Strictly forbidden," said Ulysses. "There's a war on. Private quarrels must wait. We have all taken an oath, and you must too."
"Tell the tale, King of Ithaca. It shortens the journey."CHAPTER 3
THE JUDGMENT OF PARIS
They were fighting a headwind out of Scyros, and Ulysses saw that it would take some days to reach Aulis. So he told the story in the old bardic way with many a trill and flourish, and taking every byroad. But we will shorten it ...
In those days it was customary to bribe judges, which shows how far we have come since. And so Paris was offered bribes.
Hera offered him power. "Great fleets shall sail at your nod," she told him. "Armies shall march when you raise your hand. Dominion shall be yours over land and sea. All men shall be as slaves to you. Your smile will quicken them, your frown kill. And power is wealth. Your slaves will delve the earth for gold and jewels. Your galleys will plunder far places and sail back with cargoes beyond dreams of piracy to stuff your vaults. All this shall be yours if you award me the apple.
"Reverence, you will agree, is the highest wisdom. How can you judge more wisely than by conforming to the judgment of Father Zeus, master of choices, who of all living creatures chose me, me, me as his wife? A more serious choice, you understand, than among you mortals, for neither of us can die and he must keep me to wife through all eternity.
"Be reverent then, Paris. Be rich and powerful. Choose me, Hera. Let the apple be mine."
Athena spoke next. "Father Zeus, remember, has appointed you judge, meaning that he throws his own divine power behind your judgment. Otherwise he would have judged for himself. As for Hera's argument, it signifies nothing. Anyone acquainted with affairs on Olympus knows that it is godly to keep titles within the immediate family—that is the only reason Zeus married his sister. And it has been amply proved that he finds others more attractive than his wife.
"As for her offer, I can overbid that too. I offer you wisdom. Born from Zeus' head, I am Patroness of Intellectual Activities, you know, and wisdom is uniquely mine to offer. And without wisdom power loses its potence and wealth grows poor. I can teach you to know, to penetrate the innermost secrets of man's soul, and disclose to you certain divine secrets which men call nature. With such knowledge you will have mastery over other men and, more important, mastery over yourself. As for Hera's glittering promises, remember this: I am also Mistress of Strategy. Before battle, captains pray to me for tactics. Give me that apple and I will make you the greatest soldier of the age—and everyone knows that power and wealth depend finally on victory in war. Be wise, Paris, choose the Goddess of Wisdom."
All Aphrodite said was: "Come closer ..."
When he approached, she touched him, and the world changed. The sun dived into the sea and made it boil, and his blood boiled too. He felt himself going red-hot like a poker in the fire. Then she touched him with her other hand and a delicious icy coolness washed over him. He forgot everything but the touch of her hands, her fragrance, the music of her voice, saying:
"I am Aphrodite, Goddess of Love. I give you the first of two gifts now, and ask no promise. This gift is your own body, instrument of pleasure, wherein is contained the only true wealth, the only true power, the only wisdom. You shall receive the second gift after you have delivered judgment. There is a mortal woman on earth said to rival me in beauty. She is Helen, Queen of Sparta, and I hereby promise her to you."
Without hesitation, Paris awarded the apple to Aphrodite.
Screaming like Harpies, Athena and Hera flew back to Olympus and flung themselves before Zeus, trying to get Aphrodite disqualified for illegal use of hands. But Zeus laughed at them. He agreed with Paris' choice, and was thankful that it would be the young shepherd prince, and not himself, who would attract the savage reprisals of the goddesses.
Aflame with Aphrodite's touch, drunk with her promise, Paris dropped his role of shepherd and returned to Troy. He stormed into the great throne-room and swept the astounded Priam and Hecuba into his embrace, demanding they recognize him as their son. All their hesitations and fears were burned away in the blaze of his beauty, and they received him with great joy. His forty-nine brothers were a bit more dubious, remembering what the oracle had warned, but Priam was king and his wish was law. Besides, things had been dull and peaceful for some time and the prospect of danger was not unwelcome.
Then Paris asked that a ship be fitted out so that he might make an embassy to the kingdom of Sparta.
"I can tell you no more, Venerable Majesty. I must speak no further, brothers. The purpose of my voyage is a secret between me and the gods. But I promise you this: When I return I shall bring with me a cargo such as no ship has ever carried—and with it undying fame for us all. Thus a goddess has assured me in secret, and that secret is my destiny."
A small fleet was fitted out, and Paris sailed away for Sparta. In a few weeks' time he returned, bringing Helen with him. There, before all Troy, he declared her his wife, admitting that she was encumbered with a prior husband, but considering this detail beneath consideration. When Menelaus came to Troy, as come he must, then he, Paris, would engage the husband in single combat, and with one thrust of his spear make Helen half a widow and wholly a wife.
Priam and Hecuba, and Paris' forty-nine brothers and fifty sisters fully understood what was happening: Paris had not only stolen another man's wife but, even worse, committed a breach of hospitality, a much more serious sacrilege. They knew Troy would shortly be plunged into a bloody war with the most powerful chieftains of Achaea, Helles, Boetia, Sparta, Athens, and that entire warlike peninsula not yet called Greece.
But when Helen smiled at them they forgot all their fears. "It's true," they whispered to each other. "She's as beautiful as Aphrodite. Surely the gods will allow us to protect such a treasure."
The only dissenting voice was that of Cassandra, Priam's youngest daughter. Apollo had wooed her one summer past. His sunstroke caress left her with visions; the future painted itself in smoky pictures for her to read. But she had tired of the sun-god's touch, and Apollo, maddened, had said:
"Wicked girl, you shall choke with frustration even as I do now. I have given you the gift of prophecy, and now I make that gift a punishment. The more accurate your prediction, the less you shall be believed. And the colder the disbelief, the more ardent your forecast."
Excerpted from The Trojan War by Bernard Evslin. Copyright © 1971 Bernard Evslin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Seeds Of War,
The Judgment Of Paris,
The Events At Aulis,
The Siege Begins,
The War Council,
The Battle Begins,
Thunder On The Right,
On The Wall,
Hera And Zeus,
Attack And Counterattack,
Armor For Achilles,
The Scroll Of The Fates,
The Wrath Of Achilles,
The End Of The War,