Helen of Troy
[It was the Greeks’ tenth year of the siege of Troy. There was an internal quarrel among the Greeks, and Achilles, the mightiest of the Greeks, left the battlefield angrily. This provided a chance for the Trojans to take the upper hand. They had a spectacular audience. But when the Trojans at one of the Greek ships were on fire, Achilles returned to the battle-final. He killed Hector and was killed by Paris, who had stolen Helen.]
The Greeks held funeral games after the death of Achilles. In these games, Eumelus won the chariot race, Diomedes the footrace, Ajax the discus throw, and Tencer the archery contest.
Thetis, the mother of Achilles, decided to award her son’s arms to the most courageous Greek left alive.
No one dared to claim them Except for Ajax and Odysseus, who had boldly fought for the body of Achilles. Agamemnon could not decide between the two and sought Nestor’s advice.
“Our enemies are more likely to be unbiased about our courage,” Nestor told Agamemnon, “Send our spies by night to listen under the Trojan walls and find out their opinion about our heroes.”
Accordingly, Agamemnon sent spies who went by night and listened under the walls and overheard a party of young girls chattering together. They were talking about the Greek heroes carrying away the dead body of Achilles in the teeth of the Trojan opposition.
“Ajax was the bravest of the lot,” said one of the girls. “How he bore away dead Achilles from the battlefield through a storm of missiles!”
“Set a corpse on the shoulders of a slave woman, and she will carry it,” said another. “Odysseus bore the brunt of our attack and was the real hero.”
The rest of the girls agreed with the second girl.
The spies reported what they had heard, and Agamemnon awarded the arms of Achilles to Odysseus,
This was an insult to Ajax. Agamemnon and Menelaus would never have dared to insult Ajax in this manner had Achilles been alive. Achilles had been very fond of his cousin Ajax.
Ajax was so enraged at this insult that he went mad. The Greeks had plundered several Trojan farms and taken many cattle and sheep, kept as common spoil. Ajax, in his madness, went amidst the cattle, sword in hand, and slaughtered them.
He chose two white-footed rams and lopped off the head and tongue of one of them, mistaking it, perhaps, for Agamemnon or Menelaus. He tied the other upright to a pillar and flogged it, calling it Odysseus and screaming abuse,
At last, he came to his senses. In utter despair, he went to the seashore and committed suicide by stabbing himself with a sword.
Later, when the body of Ajax was discovered, Menelaus said that Ajax did not deserve a funeral but should be left to the kites and vultures. But Odysseus intervened and insisted that Ajax should have a decent funeral. He even helped in the ceremony.
After they lost their bravest warrior, Achilles, the Greeks were in despair. Calchas, the prophet, now told them that Troy could not be taken unless the bows and arrows of Heracles were brought from Lemnos. Philoctetes had them.
Agamemnon sent Odysseus and Diomedes on a ship to Lemnos, some forty miles away. When the Greek warriors arrived, Philoctetes was suffering from a carbuncle. Odysseus tricked him into handing over the bow and arrows, but Diomedes would have nothing to do with the theft.
At this juncture, Heracles peared to Philoctetes and said, Go with them to Troy. You will earn a great name and good spoils in the war. Along with Neoptolemus, you shall take part in the sack of Troy. Troy will not fall without either of you.”
So Philoctetes accompanied Odysseus and Diomedes to the Greek camp, taking with him the bows and arrows of Heracles. The Greeks bathed him and put him to sleep. Then Machaon, the surgeon, operated on the carbuncle and dressed the wound with healing herbs and the serpentine stone.
Soon Philoctetes was wholly cured. He challenged Paris to combat in archery. The combat took place. Philoctetes shot only four arrows at Paris: the first one went wide, the second one pierced Paris’ left hand in which he held his bow, the third arrow hit the right eye of Paris, and the fourth struck his ankle, wounding him mortally.
Menelaus wanted to despatch Paris, but Paris managed to limp off beyond the reach of Menelaus and took refuge in the city of Troy. A basketful of healing herbs was ordered from Mount Ida, but Paris died when they arrived.
As soon as Paris died, there was a quarrel between his brothers Helenus and Deiphobus, each of whom wanted Helen as his wife. Their father, Priam, supported the claim of Deiphobus on the ground that he had shown more extraordinary bravery in the war. But Helen could not forget that she was still Queen of Sparta and wife to Menelaus, while she considered her marriage with Paris an affair arranged by the gods.
One night, she went on to the top of the walls of Troy and began to tie a rope to the battlements to escape and join her people when she was caught by a sentry and taken back. Then Deiphobus married her by force, much to the disgust of the Trojans. Helenus immediately left Troy, intending to live on Mount Ida.
Now Calchas told Agamemnon that Helenus knew the secret oracles that protected Troy. Agamemnon asked Odysseus to drag Helenus to the Greek Camp. When Odysseus came searching for him, Helenus was in the temple of Thymbracan Apollo as the guest of Chryses.
“I deserted Troy,” Helenus told Odysseus, not because I was afraid of death. Paris committed sacrilege at this very time when he killed Achilles. No amends have been made yet. I can disclose the oracles to you on condition that I will be given a secure home in some distant land.”
When Odysseus agreed to this, Helenus went on:
“Troy falls this summer if a certain bone of Pelops is brought to your camp; Neoptolemus takes the field; and Athene’s Palladium is stolen from the citadel, for the walls cannot be breached while it remains there. This is the substance of the oracles.”
Pelops shoulder blade was at Pisa, and Agamemnon at once sent for it. Odysseus, Phoenix and Diomedes sailed to Scyros to fetch Neoptolemus, the twelve-year-old son of Achilles. The boy saw his father’s ghost on his arrival. Odysseus gladly gave him the arms of Achilles.
Though young Neopto, Lemus proved mature in council and war.
Now the Palladium had to be stolen. Odysseus and Diomedes, who took this task upon themselves, concocted a plan. Odysseus got flogged mercilessly by Diomedes, Bloodstained. He sneaked into Troy, filthy and dressed in rags, pretending to be a runaway slave. Helen alone saw through his disguise. When she privately questioned him about the purpose of his visit, Odysseus gave evasive replies. She invited him to her house, where she bathed and gave him good food.
“I am only a prisoner in Troy,” she confided to him. “I want to go home. Hecabe alone knows the real state of my mind and sympathises with me. I want you to reveal to me the details of your plan.”
At that moment, Hecabe entered. No longer in disguise, Odysseus threw himself at her feet, weeping from terror, and implored her not to denounce him. She not only did not condemn Odysseus, but she even guided him back to reach his friends safely.
Odysseus stole the Palladium on his way back. Diomedes, waiting for him on the other side of the wall, took the Palladium on his shoulders, and they began to walk to the camp under a full moon. Odysseus wanted all the glory and dropped behind Diomedes and lifted his sword to kill him. But Diomedes saw the shadow of the raised sword, spun round, crew his sword and disarmed Odysseus. Then he pinioned his hands and drove him to the ships, kicking him all the way!