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The Trojan War
The Fairest of All
Early Greece is probably most famous for a long and bloody war. The war took place between Greece and the city of Troy. It was called the Trojan War. Here is how it began. Up on Mount Olympus, the gods and goddesses were having a party. A rather mean goddess named Eris (EAR -iss) was not asked to the party. This made her very angry. So Eris waited outside the party with a golden apple in her hand. On it she wrote, "For the fairest." She threw the apple into the middle of the party.
Each goddess believed she was the fairest. All of them wanted the apple. The gods at the party decided that one of three goddesses must be the fairest. These were Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. Hera was queen of the gods and the wife of Zeus. Athena was the goddess of wisdom and the daughter of Zeus. Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty.
"You pick among us," the three goddesses begged Zeus. "Who is the fairest of us all?"
"You are all beautiful," said Zeus. "I will not choose. There is a fine young man named Paris. He is the son of King Priam (PRY-um) of Troy. I shall send the three of you to him. He will decide who should get the golden apple."
Paris was off in the hills keeping his fathers sheep. The King had sent him there because the gods had told him that Troy would be destroyed because of Paris. The king felt it was the best to send his son away.
What a surprise for Paris when three goddesses appeared before him! They did not ask him who was the fairest. Rather, each goddess told him what she would give him if he picked her.
"I will give you all of Europe and Asia," promised Hera, the queen of the gods.
"I will give you the mind to win a war someday!" promised Athena, the goddess of wisdom.
"I will give you the fairest woman in the world!" promised Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
Paris did not want power or wisdom. He wanted love. He gave the golden apple to Aphrodite.
"The fairest woman is Helen," she said. "She is married to Menelaus (Men-uh-LAY-us), the King of the Greek city of Sparta."
Paris headed for Sparta. He did not know then about a promise made among the men of Greece.
The promise came about when Helen's father was trying to choose her husband. She was so beautiful that her father was afraid. If he chose one man, the others would be angry. They might go to war against the one he chose.
So all the men made a promise. All of them would help Helens husband if anyone tried to steal her away. Helen married Menelaus. The other men kept their promise. They would help him if he needed it.
When Paris got to Sparta, he went to visit Helen and Menelaus. They brought him into their home and were very nice to him. Then Menelaus had to go away. While he was gone, Paris and Helen fell in love and ran away together.
When Menelaus returned, his beautiful wife was gone. He called upon the men of Greece to help him get her back. They all set off for Troy to find Paris and bring Helen home. Paris had no idea what his city would have to face. His love for Helen would start a war.
The war between Troy and Greece began. There were battles on land and sea. Both sides fought so hard that the war went on for 10 years. Yet in all this time, the Greeks could not get into the city of Troy. A high wall ran all around the city, and the Greeks could not get by it.
The great hero of the Greek army was Achilles (uh-KILL-eez). He was strong and brave, and everyone knew it. He had won many battles for the Greeks.
As strong as he was, however, Achilles had a weak spot. When he was a baby, his mother dipped him into a magic river. The water from this river would keep Achilles safe from harm. However, when his mother dipped him, she held him by the place just above his right heel. The magic water did not touch that spot. Achilles' heel was the one place he could be hurt.
At Troy, Achilles had fought one-on-one against Hector, the son of King Priam of Troy and the brother of Paris. But these fights were always outside the wall. Even Achilles could not get past.
One last battle took place between Achilles and Hector. It was a sword fight. Achilles knocked Hector's sword out of his hands. Then he chased Hector all around the city wall. At last, he caught Hector and killed him. Then Achilles tied Hector's body behind his chariot. He ordered his horses to run. They dragged Hector's body behind the chariot in the dirt and dust.
King Priam was very sad to hear of Hector's death. He begged for the return of his son's body. What harm could there be in doing that? Achilles said to himself. So he brought Hector's body to the city gate of Troy. He did not know that Paris was waiting for him at the gate.
Achilles lifted Hector's body from the chariot. Just then, Paris shot an arrow at Achilles. The arrow hit Achilles in his right heel. This, of course, was his weak spot. The arrow killed him right away.
The Wooden Horse
After Achilles died, another great hero rose up in the Greek army. His name was Odysseus (oh-DISS-e-us). He was king of Ithaca, but he fought like everyone else. "There is only one way we can win over the Trojans," said Odysseus. "We must get past the gate and into the city."
"But how?" the other men wondered. "We can't get in the gate. And we can't break down the wall."
Odysseus asked Athena, the goddess of wisdom, what they should do.
Athena told him a poem:
Could is should,
Should is would,
Would is wood, of course.
What began with an apple
Must end with a horse.
What could this mean? Odysseus wondered. He knew about the golden apple that had started the Trojan War. But what was this about a horse? Then it came to him. He must build a wooden horse!
Odysseus worked out a plan. He and his men built a huge wooden horse. It was so big that 20 men could fit inside it. There was a trap door in the belly of the horse. There were wheels under its feet.
The next morning, the Trojans looked over their wall. There were no Greeks in sight. Where could they be? The Trojans believed the war must be over. They believed the Greeks had given up and gone home.
Then the Trojans saw the wooden horse outside the gate. They believed the Greeks were leaving them a gift of peace.
"Beware of Greeks bearing gifts," King Priam's helper said. "They could be playing a trick."
But King Priam opened the gate. A group of men rolled the horse into the city. There it sat as the Trojans went to sleep. They slept well, believing they had won the war and peace had come at last.
But in the middle of the night, the trap door in the horse opened. Out came the 20 Greeks. Among them were Odysseus and Menelaus. They all ran toward the city gate and opened it wide.
The rest of the Greek army had not really gone home. They had sailed in theirboats, just out of sight of Troy.
During the night they sailed back and waited on land. When the gate opened, the army rushed into Troy.
The Trojans did not have a chance. The Greeks killed everyone in sight. Then they set the city on fire. Soon, there was nothing left of Troy.
Some say Paris was killed in this last battle of the war. Others say he got away and lived out the rest of his days with another name in another land.
Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, came to Troy. She had helped start the war. Now she helped Menelaus get his wife, Helen, out of Troy. The two of them went back to Sparta. For the rest of their days, they lived a happy life as king and queen.
After 10 years, the Trojan War was over. Odysseus and the rest of the Greek army began their long trip home.