The Invasion of Troy


Eventually a thousand ships assembled at Aulis, a port north of Athens.  After a false start, blocked and scattered by a storm, the thousand ships regrouped at Aulis. However Calchas, a prophet, told them that the goddess Artemis was angry with Agamemnon, since he had killed a sacred deer and Artemis was preventing the wind from blowing. Calchas said the only way to appease the goddess was for Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter Iphiginea to the goddess. Threatened with being replaced by Palamedes as the commander of the army, Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia.  The wind resumed and the armada once again set sail for Troy.  As Agamemnon was married to Helen's sister, Clytemnestra, needless to say, she was a bit upset with Agamemnon for killing their daughter and when he finally returns home from the war his reception will be something less than pleasant.

This black figure amphora, shows another sacrifice that takes place after the sack of Troy. To make the wind blow so that the Achaeans can return home the Trojan princess Polyxena is sacrificed at the grave of Achilles.

It must be noted that the gods are active though out the epic, but their powers are limited by Zeus. The other gods' intervention inevitably leads back onto its original course determined by Fate*, a power greater than the Olympians. Zeus serves as an enforcer of Fate, giving no quarter to anyone, even his blood relatives. His own son, Sarpedon, was allowed to die at the hands of Patroclus while Zeus looked on, unwilling to break Fate. 

Calchas also prophesized that the first Achaean to land in Troy would be the first to die. When they reached the shores of Troy everyone hesitated to disembark.  Odysseus appeared to disembark by throwing his shield from the ship and jumping upon it, without stepping  upon Trojan soil. Seeing this, Protesilaus jumped off his ship as well, becoming the first to actually land in Troy.  Protesilaus, Odysseus and Achilles killed several Trojans before Protesilaus was killed by Hector, the Prince of Troy.

The long siege began. With Trojans behind the city walls, the Greeks looted nearby allies of Troy and collected supplies around the Thracian peninsula. Achilles, Ajax and their men conquered several islands and looted a number of towns.

Odysseus did not forgive Palamedes for placing Telemachus in the path of the plow. He took revenge by forging a letter from Priam, the king of Troy,  to Palamedes. Upon the discovery of the apparent treachery, Agamemnon had Palamedes killed by stoning.  Palamedes' father, Nauplius, avenged his son by spreading word among the wives of the Achaean kings that their husbands intended to dethrone them with courtesans brought from Troy.  Agamemnons' wife, Clytemnestra, believed the rumor and began an affair with Aegisthus, Agamemnon's cousin.

Meanwhile, Agamemnon  almost derailed the Greek campaign by taking Briseis, the concubine of Achilles, after he had to return Chryseis, the daughter of a priest of Apollo, due to the anger of Apollo. Consequently, Achilles in a rage then refused to participate in the war. (This incident is where Homer begins the Iliad.)

Achilles participating in the war had been prophesized to be vital in defeating Troy. In spite of his absence the Achaeans were  relatively successful.  Diomedes, an Achaean hero, killed Pandaros and nearly killed Aeneas, the Trojan hero, but for his protection by his divine mother Aphrodite.  Diomedes' even wounded Aphrodite and her lover, the god Ares.  This successes soon reversed, as the Trojans pinned them back to their own camps and only the intervention from Poseidon kept the Trojans from setting fire to the Achaean camp and ships.

Achilles tending Patroclus' wounds from a red-figure kylix by the Sosias painter, c. 500 B.C., Berlin

The next day the Trojans breached  the Greek camp. The desperate Achaeans appealed to Achilles  to return to the battlefield.  Patroclus the close friend of Achilles, went into battle wearing Achilles'  armor. Patroclus drove the Trojan forces back towards Troy, but was thwarted by Apollo. Patroclus was then killed by Hector, and the armor confiscated.

When  Achilles learned of the death of Partoclus he reentered the war with one thought: Hector must die. But Achilles's armor was now in the possession of Hector and Achilles could not enter the fighting without armor. When Achilles told his mother Thetis about Patroklos's death and the fate of his armor, she went to the artificer of the immortals, Hephaestus, and requested new armor. As Thetis had cared for Hephaestus when he had been thrown from Mount Olympus by his mother, he agreed to make new armor for Achilles.

Homer provides a detailed description of the shield which is summarized  below along with a modern reproduction of the famous shield.

achilles shield The shield shows sky, sea, sun, moon, constellations, and two cities. In one of the cities are weddings, quarrels with judges, and heralds. In the other city is a group of fighting men divided in two, with wives and children watching as the men march to war, with Ares and Athena leading in burnished gold. When the besieged see two enemy shepherds, they kill them and cut off their flock. The besiegers run to the rescue and the two sides line up along the river banks to fight. There is also a fallow field on the shield, a king's estate, and a vineyard. Hephaestus put on it a herd of cattle, a meadow with shepherds, a dancing circle, and Ocean on the outermost rim.

When Thetis went to Achilles with the new armor and shield, she unceremoniously dropped them at his feet, for she knew her son would soon die in the gleaming armor. The armor was so bright that Achilles's men could not look directly at it. Achilles was now ready to mete out death to Trojans and, finally, Hector.

When the Achaeans were ready to fight, Achilles took the forefront of the battle formation. The goddess Hera told Achilles that he was destined to die at Troy, but Achilles was undaunted. His new armor flashed like a bright star as he moved into the ranks of the Trojans.

When he saw the onslaught of Achilles in his unstoppable anger, Hector lost his nerve and began to run. Every time Hector tried to reach the safety of the city walls, Achilles would cut him off and force him back to open ground. King Priam watched the spectacle from the walls. Achilles chased Hector four times around the city until finally he stopped and faced Achilles, ready to fight.

Hector stood his ground until Achilles was close enough the hear him. He asked Achilles if they could agree that the victor would not strip the loser of his armor and that the body of the loser would be returned to those who could give it a proper burial. Achilles refused any conditions and swore to Hector that his body would be the sport of the Achaean dogs.

Hector made a valiant spear throw but Achilles's armor deflected the blow. Finally, Achilles thrust his spear into Hector's throat and he fell to the ground. Before he died he requested  that his body be given to his parents for a suitable burial. Achilles vaulted over Hector's corpse and said that, instead of a heroes' burial, his body should be butchered and eaten.

map of trojan war

When the other Achaeans arrived on the scene, they mutilated the corpse of Hector in view of the Trojans who were watching from the walls. Achilles then pierced Hector's ankles and using a leather strap, tied the body to his chariot and dragged the corpse around the city walls to further humiliate the Trojans. Finally, Achilles takes the body to his tent and places it under his bed.

On this 5th century Attic skyphos in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, by the Brygos painter, we see the Trojan King Priam begging Achilles for the body of his son Hector

Guided by Hermes, King Priam entered Achilles's shelter and asked for the return of the body. Achilles amazed at the king's bravery and his godly appearance was civil. Both men wept … Priam for his son and Achilles for his dead companion.  A ransom was offloaded from a wagon and King Priam returned to Troy with Achilles's promise of an eleven day truce so that Hector could be given a proper funeral.

(The Iliad ends with the return of Hector's body to his parents. We don't find out until The Odyssey that the Achaeans won the war by using the Trojan Horse to gain entrance to the city. The fragmented remains of The Returns and The Epic Cycle give us some insight as to the aftermath of the war but the circumstances of Achilles's death are not clear.)

* The Moirai, three women weaving the tapestry of history: Clotho (spinner),  Lachesis (allotter) and Atropos (unturnable). In Plato's Republic the Three Fates are daughters of Ananke (necessity).weaving women

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