Helen of Troy | Part 9

[The war between the Greeks and the Trojans was in its last phase. On both sides, the best of the warriors had fallen, and Odysseus made a plan to capture Troy. The first step in the project was to create a giant wooden horse. Some of the bravest Greeks hid in the belly of the horse. Leaving the horse and their spy, Sinon, the rest of the Greeks pretended to sail away. The Trojans hauled the horse into their city and celebrated victory.]

While the Trojans were merry-making, the Greeks inside the horse were trembling in terror. Epeius wept silently. Only Neoptolemus was unperturbed. Even when the point of Laocoon’s spear broke through the wooden horse close to his head, he did not betray any emotion. He clutched his lance and sword menacingly and nudged Odysseus repeatedly, indicating that he should order the assault. For it was Odysseus that was in command of this expedition.

In the evening, Helen, accompanied by her husband Deiphobus, came to see the horse. She went around the horse, patting its flanks. As if to amuse Deiphobus, she teased the Greeks inside the horse by imitating the voice of each of their wives in turn and calling them by their names. When they heard her call their names, both Menelaus and Diomedes, sitting next to Odysseus, were tempted to leap out. But Odysseus restrained them. He clapped his hand over the mouth of Anticlus when he was on the point of answering.

It was now night. Exhausted with feasting and revelry, the Trojans slept soundly. Not even the bark of a dog broke the stillness. Helen alone lay awake. A bright round light blazed above her chamber as a signal to the Greeks.

At midnight, just as the moon was about to rise, Sinon slipped out of the city to light a beacon on the tomb of Achilles. At that exact moment, Antenor waved a torch to signal the return of the Greek vessels waiting on the sea.

Agamemnon answered these signals by lighting pine-wood chips on the deck of his ship, and the whole fleet drove shoreward.

Antenor saw Agamemnon’s answer to his signal, cautiously approached the wooden horse, and reported in a low voice that all was well. Odysseus ordered Epeius to open the trap door.

One of the Greeks leapt out before the rope ladder was lowered and broke his neck. The rest descended by the rope ladder. Some ran to open the gates for the Greeks who had landed; others fell upon the tired sentries guarding the palace and killed them. Menelaus could think of only Helen and ran towards her house.

Then the terror started. The Greeks poured silently through the moonlit streets, broke into houses, and cut the throats of sleeping Trojans. Odysseus never promised Helen and Hecabe that all unarmed would be spared.

Priam, Hecabe and their daughters took refuge beneath a laurel tree at the altar raised to Zeus. Priam wanted to rush into the thick of the fight, but Hecabe restrained him, saying, “You are too old and feeble for battle. Remain among us in this safe place.”

Priam yielded to her, but the Greeks came there pursuing his son Polites and killed him, Neoptolemus delivering the death blow. Priam hurled a spear at Neoptolemus but missed him. The Greeks seized him, dragged him to his palace, and butchered him at the threshold.

When Menelaus went to Deiphobus’ house, Odysseus, too, went with him. There ensued bloody combat between Menelaus and Deiphobus, which ended when Helen plunged a dagger into the back of Deiphobus and killed him.

Menelaus had all along decided that Helen should die. But, now that she had killed Deiphobus with her hand and seen her uncommon beauty, he changed his mind. He threw his sword away, took Helen by her hand and went towards his ships.

Though a Trojan, Antenor had helped the Greeks to sack Troy. Some Greek soldiers forgot this and wounded one of his sons, intending to kill him when Odysseus came upon the spot and saved him. Then he ordered that a leopard’s skin be placed on the door of Antenor’s house so the Greeks could know that the house and its inmates were to be spared. Similarly, the home of Aeneas too was marked and spared from pillage.

As soon as the Greeks started plundering Troy, Cassandra, the eldest daughter of Priam, fled to Athene’s temple from which the Palladium had been stolen. There Little Ajax found her and dragged her away. She was destined for concubinage along with other Trojan women the Greeks seized. Agamemnon claimed her as his prize.

After the massacre, the Greeks plundered and burned Troy, razed the walls, offered sacrifices to their gods, and divided the spoils.

Hector’s widow Andromache became the prize of Neoptolemus. Her infant son Astyanax was put to death by the common consent of the Greeks, on the advice of Odysseus, who suggested that Priam’s descendants should be systematically put to death.

There was a debate regarding the fate of Polyxena, whom Achilles had loved. Achilles had wished that, after the fall of Troy, Polyxena should be sacrificed on his tomb. Recently he had appeared in dreams to some of the Greeks and threatened that he would prevent the departure of the Greek fleet if his last wish were not fulfilled.

Calchas declared that Polyxena should not be denied to Achilles, but Agamemnon objected to the sacrifice of that girl. “Enough blood has already been shed,” he said. “Dead men should not exercise any rights over live women.”

Some of the Greeks did not agree with Agamemnon. They said that Agamemnon held this view only to please Cassandra, Polyxena’s sister, who became his concubine. The debate deteriorated into a quarrel, and Odysseus had to intervene and persuade Agamemnon to give way.

The Council at last decided upon Polyxenas’ sacrifice. Odysseus was instructed to fetch her. Neoptolemus was invited to officiate as a priest. Polyxena was sacrificed on Achilles’ tomb, in the sight of the whole army. The Greeks gave her an honourable burial.

As soon as Polyxena was buried, favourable winds sprang up. The Greeks concluded that the spirit of Achilles was satisfied and sent the winds to aid them on their return journey. Without any delay, they got into their ships and set sail.

Hecabe, the wife of Priam, was won by Odysseus as his prize. But she began to utter hideous invectives against Odysseus and the other Greeks for their barbarity and breach of faith, and the Greeks put her to death and threw her in the sea.

On their way back, the Greek warriors went each their own way. Some of them never reached their homes.

Agamemnon and Menelaus fell out with each other when they were about to leave the Trojan shore. Menelaus suggested that they should sail at once while the wind was favourable. “Let us first sacrifice to Athene,” Agamemnon replied. “What did she do to us?” Menelaus asked. “She favoured the Trojans all the time.” The brothers parted on ill terms and never saw each other again.

Agamemnon, Neoptolemus and Nestor were among the few who reached home without any mishap. Menelaus, on the contrary, was caught in a storm and lost most of his vessels, reached Egypt and failed to go home for eight years. By the time he did come home, Agamemnon had already been murdered.

Odysseus, who played a prominent part towards the end of the Trojan war by planning the sack of Troy with the help of the wooden horse, did not reach home until after ten years. His wanderings constitute another marvellous tale.

Thus fell Troy, one of the world’s great cities, before the Greeks destroyed it. Later it never regained its glory, though the descendants of Aeneas ruled it for some time.

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