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III. THE WOODEN HORSE.
Nine years the Greeks laid siege to Troy, and Troy held out against
every device. On both sides the lives of many heroes were spent, and
they were forced to acknowledge each other enemies of great valor.
Sometimes the chief warriors fought in single combat, while the armies
looked on, and the old men of Troy, with the women, came out to watch
far off from the city walls. King Priam and Queen Hecuba would come,
and Cassandra, sad with foreknowledge of their doom, and Andromache,
the lovely young wife of Hector, with her little son whom the people
called The City King. Sometimes Fair Helen came to look across the
plain to the fellow-countrymen whom she had forsaken; and although she
was the cause of all this war, the Trojans half forgave her when she
passed by, because her beauty was like a spell, and warmed hard hearts
as the sunshine mellows apples. So for nine years the Greeks plundered
the neighboring towns, but the city Troy stood fast, and the Grecian
ships waited with folded wings.
The half of that story cannot be told here, but in the tenth year of
the war many things came to pass, and the end drew near. Of this tenth
year alone, there are a score of tales. For the Greeks fell to
quarrelling among themselves over the spoils of war, and the great
Achilles left the camp in anger and refused to fight. Nothing would
induce him to return, till his friend Patroclus was slain by Prince
Hector. At that news, indeed, Achilles rose in great might and returned
to the Greeks; and he went forth clad in armor that had been wrought
for him by Vulcan, at the prayer of Thetis. By the river Scamander,
near to Troy, he met and slew Hector, and afterwards dragged the hero's
body after his chariot across the plain. How the aged Priam went alone
by night to the tent of Achilles to ransom his son's body, and how
Achilles relented, and moreover granted a truce for the funeral honors
of his enemy,--all these things have been so nobly sung that they can
never be fitly spoken.
Hector, the bulwark of Troy, had fallen, and the ruin of the city was
at hand. Achilles himself did not long survive his triumph, and,
ruthless as he was, he ill-deserved the manner of his death. He was
treacherously slain by that Paris who would never have dared to meet
him in the open field. Paris, though he had brought all this disaster
upon Troy, had left the danger to his countrymen. But he lay in wait
for Achilles in a temple sacred to Apollo, and from his hiding-place he
sped a poisoned arrow at the hero. It pierced his ankle where the water
of the Styx had not charmed him against wounds, and of that venom the
great Achilles died. Paris himself died soon after by another poisoned
arrow, but that was no long grief to anybody!
Still Troy held out, and the Greeks, who could not take it by force,
pondered how they might take it by craft. At length, with the aid of
Odysseus, they devised a plan.
A portion of the Grecian host broke up camp and set sail as if they
were homeward bound; but, once out of sight, they anchored their ships
behind a neighboring island. The rest of the army then fell to work
upon a great image of a horse. They built it of wood, fitted and
carved, and with a door so cunningly concealed that none might notice
it. When it was finished, the horse looked like a prodigious idol; but
it was hollow, skilfully pierced here and there, and so spacious that a
band of men could lie hidden within and take no harm. Into this
hiding-place went Odysseus, Menelaus, and the other chiefs, fully
armed, and when the door was shut upon them, the rest of the Grecian
army broke camp and went away.
Meanwhile, in Troy, the people had seen the departure of the ships, and
the news had spread like wildfire. The great enemy had lost
heart,--after ten years of war! Part of the army had gone,--the rest
were going. Already the last of the ships had set sail, and the camp
was deserted. The tents that had whitened the plain were gone like a
frost before the sun. The war was over!
The whole city went wild with joy. Like one who has been a prisoner for
many years, it flung off all restraint, and the people rose as a single
man to test the truth of new liberty. The gates were thrown wide, and
the Trojans--men, women, and children--thronged over the plain and
into the empty camp of the enemy. There stood the Wooden Horse.
No one knew what it could be. Fearful at first, they gathered around
it, as children gather around a live horse; they marvelled at its
wondrous height and girth, and were for moving it into the city as a
trophy of war.
At this, one man interposed,--Laocoön, a priest of Poseidon. "Take
heed, citizens," said he. "Beware of all that comes from the Greeks.
Have you fought them for ten years without learning their devices? This
is some piece of treachery."
But there was another outcry in the crowd, and at that moment certain
of the Trojans dragged forward a wretched man who wore the garments of
a Greek. He seemed the sole remnant of the Grecian army, and as such
they consented to spare his life, if he would tell them the truth.
Sinon, for this was the spy's name, said that he had been left behind
by the malice of Odysseus, and he told them that the Greeks had built
the Wooden Horse as an offering to Athena, and that they had made it so
huge in order to keep it from being moved out of the camp, since it was
destined to bring triumph to its possessors.
At this, the joy of the Trojans was redoubled, and they set their wits
to find out how they might soonest drag the great horse across the
plain and into the city to ensure victory. While they stood talking,
two immense serpents rose out of the sea and made towards the camp.
Some of the people took flight, others were transfixed with terror; but
all, near and far, watched this new omen. Rearing their crests, the
sea-serpents crossed the shore, swift, shining, terrible as a risen
water-flood that descends upon a helpless little town. Straight through
the crowd they swept, and seized the priest Laocoön where he stood,
with his two sons, and wrapped them all round and round in fearful
coils. There was no chance of escape. Father and sons perished
together; and when the monsters had devoured the three men, into the
sea they slipped again, leaving no trace of the horror.
The terrified Trojans saw an omen in this. To their minds, punishment
had come upon Laocoön for his words against the Wooden Horse. Surely,
it was sacred to the gods; he had spoken blasphemy, and had perished
before their eyes. They flung his warning to the winds. They wreathed
the horse with garlands, amid great acclaim; and then, all lending a
hand, they dragged it, little by little, out of the camp and into the
city of Troy. With the close of that victorious day, they gave up every
memory of danger and made merry after ten years of privation.
That very night Sinon the spy opened the hidden door of the Wooden
Horse, and in the darkness, Odysseus, Menelaus, and the other chiefs
who had lain hidden there crept out and gave the signal to the Grecian
army. For, under cover of night, those ships that had been moored
behind the island had sailed back again, and the Greeks were come upon
Not a Trojan was on guard. The whole city was at feast when the enemy
rose in its midst, and the warning of Laocoön was fulfilled.
Priam and his warriors fell by the sword, and their kingdom was
plundered of all its fair possessions, women and children and treasure.
Last of all, the city itself was burned to its very foundations.
Homeward sailed the Greeks, taking as royal captives poor Cassandra and
Andromache and many another Trojan. And home at last went Fair Helen,
the cause of all this sorrow, eager to be forgiven by her husband, King
Menelaus. For she had awakened from the enchantment of Venus, and even
before the death of Paris she had secretly longed for her home and
kindred. Home to Sparta she came with the king after a long and stormy
voyage, and there she lived and died the fairest of women.
But the kingdom of Troy was fallen. Nothing remained of all its glory
but the glory of its dead heroes and fair women, and the ruins of its
citadel by the river Scamander. There even now, beneath the foundations
of later homes that were built and burned, built and burned, in the
wars of a thousand years after, the ruins of ancient Troy lie hidden,
like mouldered leaves deep under the new grass. And there, to this very
day, men who love the story are delving after the dead city as you
might search for a buried treasure.
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