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When this treachery came to light, all Greece took fire with indignation. The heroes remembered their pledge, and wrath came upon them at the wrong done to Menelaus. But they were less angered with Fair Helen than with Paris, for they felt assured that the queen had been lured from her country and out of her own senses by some spell of enchantment. So they took counsel how they might bring back Fair Helen to her home and husband.
Years had come and gone since that wedding-feast when Eris had flung the apple of discord, like a firebrand, among the guests. But the spark of dissension that had smouldered so long burst into flame now, and, fanned by the enmities of men and the rivalries of the gods, it seemed like to fire heaven and earth.
A few of the heroes answered the call to arms unwillingly. Time had reconciled them to the loss of Fair Helen, and they were loath to leave home and happiness for war, even in her cause.
One of these was Odysseus, king of Ithaca, who had married Penelope, and was quite content with his kingdom and his little son Telemachus. Indeed, he was so unwilling to leave them that he feigned madness in order to escape service, appeared to forget his own kindred, and went ploughing the seashore and sowing salt in the furrows. But a messenger, Palamedes, who came with the summons to war, suspected that this sudden madness might be a stratagem, for the king was far famed as a man of many devices. He therefore stood by, one day (while Odysseus, pretending to take no heed of him, went ploughing the sand), and he laid the baby Telemachus directly in the way of the ploughshare. For once the wise man's craft deserted him. Odysseus turned the plough sharply, caught up the little prince, and there his fatherly wits were manifest! After this he could no longer play madman. He had to take leave of his beloved wife Penelope and set out to join the heroes, little dreaming that he was not to return for twenty years. Once embarked, however, he set himself to work in the common cause of the heroes, and was soon as ingenious as Palamedes in rousing laggard warriors.
There remained one who was destined to be the greatest warrior of all. This was Achilles, the son of Thetis,--foretold in the day of Prometheus as a man who should far outstrip his own father in glory and greatness. Years had passed since the marriage of Thetis to King Peleus, and their son Achilles was now grown to manhood, a wonder of strength indeed, and, moreover, invulnerable. For his mother, forewarned of his death in the Trojan War, had dipped him in the sacred river Styx when he was a baby, so that he could take no hurt from any weapon. From head to foot she had plunged him in, only forgetting the little heel that she held him by, and this alone could be wounded by any chance. But even with such precautions Thetis was not content. Fearful at the rumors of war to be, she had her son brought up, in woman's dress, among the daughters of King Lycomedes of Scyros, that he might escape the notice of men and cheat his destiny.
To this very palace, however, came Odysseus in the guise of a merchant, and he spread his wares before the royal household,--jewels and ivory, fine fabrics, and curiously wrought weapons. The king's daughters chose girdles and veils and such things as women delight in; but Achilles, heedless of the like, sought out the weapons, and handled them with such manly pleasure that his nature stood revealed. So he, too, yielded to his destiny and set out to join the heroes.
Everywhere men were banded together, building the ships and gathering supplies. The allied forces of Greece (the Achaeans, as they called themselves) chose Agamemnon for their commander-in-chief. He was a mighty man, king of Mycenae and Argos, and the brother of the wronged Menelaus. Second to Achilles in strength was the giant Ajax; after him Diomedes, then wise Odysseus, and Nestor, held in great reverence because of his experienced age and fame. These were the chief heroes. After two years of busy preparation, they reached the port of Aulis, whence they were to sail for Troy.
But here delay held them. Agamemnon had chanced to kill a stag which was sacred to Diana, and the army was visited by pestilence, while a great calm kept the ships imprisoned. At length the Oracle made known the reason of this misfortune and demanded for atonement the maiden Iphigenia, Agamemnon's own daughter. In helpless grief the king consented to offer her up as a victim, and the maiden was brought ready for sacrifice. But at the last moment Diana caught her away in a cloud, leaving a white hind in her place, and carried her to Tauris in Scythia, there to serve as a priestess in the temple. In the mean time, her kinsfolk, who were at a loss to understand how she had disappeared, mourned her as dead. But Diana had accepted their child as an offering, and healing came to the army, and the winds blew again. So the ships set sail.
Meanwhile, in Troy across the sea, the aged Priam and Hecuba gave shelter to their son Paris and his stolen bride. They were not without misgivings as to these guests, but they made ready to defend their kindred and the citadel.
There were many heroes among the Trojans and their allies, brave and upright men, who little deserved that such reproach should be brought upon them by the guilt of Prince Paris. There were Aeneas and Deiphobus, Glaucus and Sarpedon, and Priam's most noble son Hector, chief of all the forces, and the very bulwark of Troy. These and many more were bitterly to regret the day that had brought Paris back to his home. But he had taken refuge with his own people, and the Trojans had to take up his cause against the hostile fleet that was coming across the sea.
Even the gods took sides. Juno and Athena, who had never forgiven the judgment of Paris, condemned all Troy with, him and favored the Greeks, as did also Poseidon, god of the sea. But Venus, true to her favorite, furthered the interests of the Trojans with all her power, and persuaded the warlike Mars to do likewise. Zeus and Apollo strove to be impartial, but they were yet to aid now one side, now another, according to the fortunes of the heroes whom they loved.
Over the sea came the great embassy of ships, sped hither safely by the god Poseidon; and the heroes made their camp on the plain before Troy. First of all Odysseus and King Menelaus himself went into the city and demanded that Fair Helen should be given back to her rightful husband. This the Trojans refused; and so began the siege of Troy.
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