Helen of Troy | Part 5

(The Greeks got up an expedition against Troy when Paris, son of Priam of Troy, took away Helen, wife of Menelaus of Greece and the Trojans refused to give her up. The siege of Troy continued for nine years without much fighting. But the Greeks spent this time ravaging the country around Troy. And many an atrocity was perpetrated inside and outside the Greek camp during these nine years.)

THE ninth year of the war was drawing to a close. It was winter, and there was no fighting. The Greeks spent their time enlarging their camp and practising archery.

Near the camp was the temple of Thymbraean Apollo, which was neutral territory. Both Greeks and Trojans visited this temple and offered sacrifices. So at times, the Greeks came across the notables of Troy in this temple.

One day, Achilles arrived at the temple to make sacrifices when Hecabe, the mother of Paris, was there on a similar errand, accompanied by her daughter Polyxena. Polyxena was a beautiful girl, and Achilles fell desperately in love with her.

He returned to his camp burning with love for her and sent a messenger to Hector to find out on what terms he could marry Polyxena.

“Polyxena shall be yours If you betray the Greek camp and come over to Priam’s side,” Hector sent back his reply.” if you fail to do so, you must swear to murder your cousin Great Ajax and some other Greek warriors.”

Achilles shrank back from such terms. Soon winter was gone, and spring came, and the fighting resumed. Achilles tried to meet Hector on the field in the first engagement but failed. Once, when he was attempting to reach Hector, Helenus, a brother of Hector, saw this and pierced his hand with an arrow.

The trend of the war showed that the gods were damaging to the Greeks.

When Achilles raided the country around Troy, he sacked several towns and enslaved several women. Among them were two girls named Chryseis and Briseis. Chryseis was allotted to Agamemnon, while Briseis became the property of Achilles at the time the spoils were divided.

Chryseis was the daughter of Chryses, a priest of Apollo. Chryses went with Many gifts to Agamemnon to get back his daughter and appealed to him.

But Agamemnon refused to listen to him, abused him and drove him away. After this. Day after day. Showers of deadly arrows fell mysteriously on the Greek forces. as a result, hundreds of the Greeks began to die. Only the ordinary soldiers died from the hand, not the kings or the princes.

After ten days, Calchas, the seer, revealed the cause of this mysterious affair.

“Chryses is Apollo’s priest and dear to that god. Agamemnon drove him away with contempt and abuse when he came with a ransom for his daughter. As a result, Apollo becomes angry and punishes us with deadly arrows. To stop this calamity, let Chryseis be sent back to her father with honour,” said Calchas.

Accordingly, Agamemnon sent Chryseis back to her father and took Briseis, who had been allotted to Achilles for himself, to make good for his loss.

Achilles resented this act of the High King. “I shall take no further part in this war,” he announced. “I am withdrawing with all my forces.”

Since Achilles was in love with Polyxena, this quarrel allowed him to take a step which would greatly please Priam, Polyxena’s father, and Achilles left the battlefield, taking his Myrmidons with him.

The Trojans were immensely pleased when they heard that Achilles had sworn to take part in the war no more, and they made a vigorous attack on the Greeks. Agamemnon was alarmed. He granted the Trojans a truce.

Fighting was suspended. Since Helen was the cause of the dispute, Parris and Menelaus were asked to fight a duel to decide who should possess Helen. The contest was fought but proved indecisive, for Paris disappeared in the middle of the fight; it was said that Aphrodite saw that Paris was getting the worst of the battle and carried him off to Troy in a magic mist.

The truce was broken when Pandarus shot an arrow at Menclaus. Diomedes came up and killed Pandarus and wounded Aeneas.

Glaucus confronted Diomedes, but they recalled how their fathers had been close friends and abstained from fighting. They parted after exchanging gifts.

Then Hector challenged Achilles to single combat. But Achilles sent word that he had retired from the war.

The Greeks chose Great Ajax to fight in single combat with Hector since Great Ajax was the best of the Greek warriors after Achilles.

Hector and Great Ajax fought until nightfall without scoring a victory over the other. They were equally matched. They ended by praising each other’s skills and exchanging gifts.

Both parties agreed upon a truce. The Greeks buried their dead, raised a long barrow over the place and built a wall. Beyond the wall, they dug a long, palisaded trench.

Then the fight was resumed, and it proved disastrous to the Greeks. They were driven back across the trench and behind the wall. That night the Trojans encamped close to the Greek ships.

Agamemnon was in despair. The defeat was inevitable unless Achil les was somehow wooed back to the battlefield.

He sent a delegation of Phoenix, Ajax, Odysseus and two heralds with countless gifts to alleviate Achilles. Briseis would return to him if only he fought again.

There was a reason for the return of Briseis. Chryseis, who had been returned to her father, had said to her father, “I have been thrilled with Agamemnon, and I wish to remain with him.”

So Chryses brought his daughter back to Agamemnon.

Achilles was friendly with Agamemnon’s deputies, but he refused their offer. He even informed them that he intended to sail home with his men the following day.

That night, when the moon was high, Odysseus and Diomedes planned to raid the Trojan lines.

While they were going on this errand, they came upon Dolon, who was sent out on patrol by the Trojans. Both the Greeks fell upon him, forcibly extracted information from him and then killed him.

Dolon revealed a significant bit of information. King Rhesus of Thrace had joined the Trojans with his forces and magnificent horses, white as snow and swift as the wind. It was foretold that if these horses had once eaten Trojan fodder and drunk water from the river Scamander, Troy would become invincible. Odysseus and Diomedes learned from Dolon that Rhesus encamped on the right flank of the Trojan lines.

After Killing Dolon, they proceeded to the camp of Rhesus, killed Rhesus and twelve of his companions in their sleep, and went away, taking the horses with them. The horses had not yet eaten Trojan fodder nor drunk of the waters of Scamandar.

The surviving Thracians awoke, found their King and his companions assassinated, and the horses gone and began to flee in despair. The Greeks put to death almost all of them.

Despite all this, the Greeks had another great defeat in the fight that took place the following day. Agamemnon, Diomedes, Eurypylus and Machaon, the surgeon, were all wounded, and the Greeks took flight.

Hector, who pursued them like a ferocious lion, breached their wall and pushed on towards the Greek ships. The two Ajaxes, Poseidon and Idomeneus, could not halt the push despite their best efforts, and Hector broke through the Greek lines.

Great Ajax nearly killed Hector with a large stone, but soon Hector rallied and restored the courage of the Trojans. They again went forward till they reached the Greek ships. One of the ships was set ablaze. The vessels of Protesilaus was the first Greek to land on Trojan soil and the first Greek who died in the ensuing fight with the Trojans.

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