|A Story of the Golden Age of Greek Heroes|
|by James Baldwin|
|This book paves the way to an enjoyable reading of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, by presenting the legends about the causes of the Trojan War woven into a continuous narrative, ending where the story of the Iliad begins. The youthful Odysseus is the hero, as he journeys to visit his grandfather Autolycus, then Nestor and Menelaus, hearing the old stories as he goes. Ages 8-12 |
BECALMED AT AULIS
 A PLEASANT wind from the west sprang up, and drove the
great fleet out into the sea. Not a single one of the
thousand ships was lost or left behind; and after a
quick and happy voyage, they came in sight of a
fruitful land and a great city with high towers and
"The gods have favored us, even beyond what we asked!"
cried the Hellenes.
Achilles and his Myrmidons landed first, and without
waiting for the other ships to come up, they rushed
across the plain, and began an assault upon the town.
Like a swarm of locusts lighting down upon a field of
grain, and consuming every thing before them, so came
the destroying Hellenes. The gates were broken down;
the astonished people fled in dismay, and sought safety
among the hills and in the forest on the other side of
the town. Not until many houses had been burned, and
many people slain, did Odysseus and Menelaus, whose
ships had been delayed, reach the place.
 "Men of Hellas!" they cried, hastening into the midst
of the carnage. "What is this you are doing? This is
not Troy. It is the peaceful city of Teuthrania in
Mysia. Cease your slaughter, and return at once to your
vessels, lest the wrath of the gods fall upon you."
The word was carried from mouth to mouth; and the hasty
heroes, crestfallen and ashamed, stopped their bloody
work, and turned their faces back towards the shore
where their ships lay beached. None too soon did they
retreat; for the king of Mysia, one Telephus a son of
Heracles, having quickly called his warriors together,
fell upon their rear, and slew great numbers of them,
following them even to the sloping beach. As the last
ship was pushing out, an arrow from the bow of King
Telephus struck Patroclus, wounding him sorely. Then
Achilles, poising his long spear, threw it with deadly
aim among the Mysians; it struck King Telephus, and
laid him senseless though not slain upon the sandy
No sooner had the fleet set sail again upon the sea,
than Poseidon stirred up the waves in anger, and loosed
the winds upon them. Great was the terror, and great
indeed was the destruction. Some of the ships were sunk
in mid-sea, and some were driven upon the rocks and
wrecked. But the greater number of them, after days and
weeks of buffeting with the waves, made their way back
When the heroes stood again on the shores of the
 Euripus, they began to think that doubtless there was
some truth in the omen of the snake and the birds; and
the most hopeful among them ceased to dream of taking
Troy in a day. While waiting for stragglers to come in,
and for the shattered vessels to be repaired, they
found enough to do to keep the time from dragging
heavily; and when not engaged in some kind of labor
they amused themselves with various games, and great
sport had they with quoits and javelins, with bows and
arrows, and in wrestling and running. And now and then
they went out into the woods of Eubœa, and hunted
the wild deer which roamed there in abundance.
One day it chanced that Agamemnon, while hunting,
started a fine stag, and gave it a long chase among the
hills, and through the wooded dells, until it sought
safety in a grove sacred to Artemis the huntress queen.
The proud king knew that this was a holy place where
beasts and birds might rest secure from harm; yet he
cared naught for what Artemis had ordained, and with
his swift arrows he slew the panting deer. Then was the
huntress queen moved with anger, and she declared that
the ships of the Hellenes should not sail from Aulis
until the king had atoned for his crime. And a great
calm rested upon the sea, and not a breath of air
stirred the sails at the mast-heads of the ships. Day
after day and week after week went by, and not a speck
of cloud was seen in the sky above, and not a ripple on
the glassy face of the deep. All
 the ships had been put
in order, new vessels had been built, the warriors had
burnished their armor and overhauled their arms a
thousand times; and yet no breeze arose to waft them
across the sea. And they began to murmur, and to talk
bitterly against Agamemnon and the chiefs.
In the mean while, a small vessel driven by rowers came
up the Euripus, and stopped among the ships at Aulis.
On board of it was King Telephus of Mysia, sorely
suffering from the wound which Achilles had given him
on the Teuthranian beach. He had come to seek the hero
who had wounded him, for an oracle had told him that he
only could heal the grievous hurt. Achilles carried the
sufferer to his tent, and skilfully dressed the wound,
and bound it up with healing herbs; for in his boyhood
he had learned from wise old Cheiron how to treat such
ailments, and now that knowledge was of great use to
him. And soon the king was whole and strong again; and
he vowed that he would not leave Achilles, but would
stay with the Hellenes, and pilot them across the sea
to Troy. Yet the wrath of Artemis continued, and not
the slightest breeze arose to cool the air, or fill the
waiting sails of the ships.
At last Agamemnon sent for Calchas the soothsayer, and
asked him in secret how the anger of the huntress queen
might be assuaged. And the soothsayer with tears and
lamentations answered that in no wise could it be done
save by the sacrifice to Artemis of his
 maiden daughter
Iphigenia. Then the king cried aloud in his grief, and
declared that though Troy might stand forever, he would
not do that thing; and he bade a herald go through the
camp, and among the ships, and bid every man depart as
he chose to his own country. But before the herald had
gone from his tent, behold his brother Menelaus, the
wronged husband of fair Helen, stood before him with
downcast eyes and saddest of hearts.
"After ten years of labor and hope," said he to
Agamemnon, "wouldst thou give up this enterprise, and
ODYSSEUS AND MENELAUS PERSUADING AGAMEMNON TO SACRIFICE IPHIGENEIA.
Then Odysseus came also into the tent, and added his
persuasions to those of Menelaus. And the king
hearkened to him, for no man was more crafty in
counsel; and the three recalled the herald, and formed
a plan whereby they might please Artemis by doing as
she desired. And Agamemnon, in his weakness, wrote a
letter to Clytemnestra his queen, telling her to bring
the maiden Iphigenia to Aulis, there to be wedded to
King Achilles. "Fail not in this," added he, "for the
godlike hero will not sail with us unless my daughter
is given to him in marriage." And when he had written
the letter, he sealed it, and sent it by a swift
messenger to Clytemnestra at Mycenæ.
Nevertheless the king's heart was full of sorrow, and
when he was alone he planned how he might yet save his
daughter. Night came, but he could not sleep; he walked
the floor of his tent; he wept and lamented like
bereft of reason. At length he sat down, and wrote
another letter: "Daughter of Leda, send not thy child
to Aulis, for I will give her in marriage at another
time." Then he called another messenger, an old and
trusted servant of the household, and put this letter
into his hands.
"Take this with all haste to my queen, who, perchance,
is even now on her way to Aulis. Stop not by any cool
spring in the groves, and let not thine eyes close for
sleep. And see that the chariot bearing the queen and
Iphigenia pass thee not unnoticed."
The messenger took the letter, and hasted away. But
hardly had he passed the line of the tents when
Menelaus saw him, and took the letter from him. And
when he had read it, he went before his brother, and
reproached him with bitter words.
"Before you were chosen captain of the host," said he,
"you were kind and gentle, and the friend of every man.
There was nothing that you would not do to aid your
fellows. Now you are puffed up with pride and vain
conceit, and care nothing even for those who are your
equals in power. Yet, for all, you are not rid of your
well-known cowardice; and when you saw that your
leadership was likely to be taken away from you unless
you obeyed the commands of Artemis, you agreed to do
this thing. Now you are trying to break your word,
sending secretly to your wife, and bidding her not to
bring her daughter to Aulis."
Then Agamemnon answered, "Why should I
de-  stroy my
daughter in order to win back thy wife? Let the suitors
who swore an oath to King Tyndareus go with thee. In
what way am I bound to serve thee?"
"Do as you will," said Menelaus, going away in wrath.
Soon after this, there came a herald to the king,
saying, "Behold, your daughter Iphigenia has come as
you directed, and with her mother and her little
brother Orestes she rests by the spring close to the
outer line of tents. And the warriors have gathered
around them, and are praising her loveliness, and
asking many questions; and some say, 'The king is sick
to see his daughter whom he loves so deeply, and he has
made up some excuse to bring her to the camp.' But I
know why you have brought her here; for I have been
told about the wedding, and the noble groom who is to
lead her in marriage; and we will rejoice and be glad,
because this is a happy day for the maiden."
Then the king was sorely distressed, and knew not what
to do. "Sad, sad indeed," said he, "is the wedding to
which the maiden cometh. For the name of the bridegroom
At the same time Menelaus came back, sorrowful and
repentant. "You were right, my brother," said he.
"What, indeed, has Iphigenia to do with Helen, and why
should the maiden die for me? Send the Hellenes to
their homes, and let not this great wrong be done."
"But how can I do that now?" asked Agamemnon.
 "The warriors, urged on by Odysseus and Calchas, will
force me to do the deed. Or, if I flee to Mycenæ,
they will follow me, and slay me, and destroy my city.
Oh, woe am I, that such a day should ever dawn upon my
Even while they spoke together, the queen's chariot
drove up to the tent's door, and the queen and
Iphigenia and the little Orestes alighted quickly, and
merrily greeted the king.
"It is well that you have sent for me, my father," said
Iphigenia, caressing him.
"It may be well, and yet it may not," said Agamemnon.
"I am exceeding glad to see thee alive and happy.
"If you are glad, why then do you weep?"
"I am sad because thou wilt be so long time away from
"Are you going on a very long voyage, father?"
"A long voyage and a sad one, my child. And thou, also,
hast a journey to make."
"Must I make it alone, or will my mother go with me?"
"Thou must make it alone. Neither father nor mother nor
any friend can go with thee, my child."
"But when shall it be? I pray that you will hasten this
matter with Troy, and return home ere then."
"It may be so. But I must offer a sacrifice to the
gods, before we sail from Aulis."
"That is well. And may I be present?"
 "Yes, and thou shalt be very close to the altar."
"Shall I lead in the dances, father?"
Then the king could say no more, for reason of the
great sorrow within him; and he kissed the maiden, and
sent her into the tent. A little while afterward, the
queen came and spoke to him, and asked him about the
man to whom their daughter was to be wedded; and
Agamemnon, still dissembling, told her that the hero's
name was Achilles, and that he was the son of old
Peleus and the sea-nymph Thetis.
"And when and where is the marriage to be?" asked the
"On the first lucky day in the present moon, and here
in our camp at Aulis," answered Agamemnon.
"Shall I stay here with thee until then?"
"Nay, thou must go back to Mycenæ without delay."
"But may I not come again? If I am not here, who will
hold up the torch for the bride?"
"I will attend to all such matters," answered
But Clytemnestra was not well pleased, neither could
the king persuade her at all that she should return to
Mycenæ. While yet they were talking, Achilles
himself came to the tent door, and said aloud to the
servant who kept it, "Tell thy master that Achilles,
the son of Peleus, would be pleased to see him."
When Clytemnestra overheard these words, she hastened
to the door, and offered the hero her hand.
 But he was
ashamed and drew back, for it was deemed an unseemly
thing for men to speak thus with women. Then
Clytemnestra said, "Why, indeed, should you, who are
about to marry my daughter, be ashamed to give me your
Achilles was struck with wonder, and asked her what she
meant; and when she had explained the matter, he said,—
"Truly I have never been a suitor for thy daughter,
neither has Agamemnon or Menelaus spoken a word to me
And now the queen was astonished in her turn, and cried
out with shame that she had been so cruelly deceived.
Then the keeper of the door, who was the same that had
been sent with the letter, came forward and told the
truth regarding the whole matter. And Clytemnestra
cried to Achilles, "O son of the silver-footed Thetis!
Help me and help my daughter Iphigenia, in this time of
sorest need! For we have no friend in all this host,
and none in whom we can confide but thee."
Achilles answered, "Long time ago I was a pupil of old
Cheiron the most righteous of men, and from him I
learned to be honest and true. If Agamemnon rule
according to right, then I will obey him; but not
otherwise. And now since thy daughter was brought to
this place under pretence of giving her to me as my
bride, I will see that she shall not be slain, neither
shall any one dare take her from me."
 On the following day, while Agamemnon sat
grief-stricken in his tent, the maiden came before him
carrying the babe Orestes in her arms; and she cast
herself upon her knees at his feet, and caressing his
hands, she thus besought him: "Would, dear father, that
I had the voice of Orpheus, to whom even the rocks did
listen! then I would persuade thee. O father! I am thy
child. I was the first to call thee 'Father,' and the
first to whom thou saidst 'My child.' "
The father turned his face away, and wept; he could not
speak for sadness. Then the maiden went on: "O, father,
hear me! thou to whom my voice was once so sweet that
thou wouldst waken me to hear my prattle amid the songs
of birds when it was meaningless as theirs. And when I
was older grown, then thou wouldst say to me, 'Some
day, my birdling, thou shalt have a nest of thy own, a
home of which thou shalt be the mistress.' And I did
answer, 'Yes, dear father, and when thou art old I will
care for thee, and pay thee with all my heart for the
kindness thou dost show me.' But now thou hast
forgotten it all, and art ready to slay my young life."
A deep groan burst from the lips of the mighty king,
but he spoke not a word. Then after a death-like
silence broken only by the deep breathings of father
and child, Iphigenia spoke again: "My father, can there
be any prayer more pure and more persuasive than that
of a maiden for her father's welfare?
 and when the
cruel knife shall strike me down, thou wilt have one
daughter less to pray for thee." A shudder shook the
frame of Agamemnon, but he answered not a word.
At that moment Achilles entered. He had come in haste
from the tents beside the shore, and he spoke in
hurried, anxious accents.
"Behold," said he, "a great tumult has arisen in the
camp; for Calchas has given out among the men that you
refuse to do what Artemis has bidden, and that hence
these delays and troubles have arisen. And the rude
soldiers are crying out against you, and declaring that
the maiden must die. When I would have stayed their
anger, they took up stones to stone me,—my own
Myrmidons among the rest. And now they are making ready
to move upon your tent, threatening to sacrifice you
also with your daughter. But I will fight for you to
the utmost, and the maiden shall not die."
As he was speaking, Calchas entered, and, grasping the
wrist of the pleading maiden, lifted her to her feet.
She looked up, and saw his stony face and hard cold
eyes; and turning again to Agamemnon, she said, "O
father, the ships shall sail, for I will die for thee."
Then Achilles said to her, "Fair maiden, thou art by
far the noblest and most lovely of thy sex. Fain would
I save thee from this fate, even though every man in
Hellas be against me. Fly with me quickly to
long-oared galley, and I will carry thee safely away
from this accursed place."
"Not so," answered Iphigenia: "I will give up my life
for my father and this land of the Hellenes, and no man
shall suffer for me."
And the pitiless priest led her through the throng of
rude soldiers, to the grove of Artemis, wherein an
altar had been built. But Achilles and Agamemnon
covered their faces with their mantles, and staid
inside the tent. Then Talthybius the herald stood up,
and bade the warriors keep silence; and Calchas put a
garland of sweet-smelling flowers about the victim's
"Let no man touch me," said the maiden, "for I offer my
neck to the sword with right good will, that so my
father may live and prosper."
In silence and great awe, the warriors stood around,
while Calchas drew a sharp knife from its scabbard.
But, lo! as he struck, the maiden was not there; and in
her stead, a noble deer lay dying on the altar. Then
the old soothsayer cried out in triumphant tones, "See
now, ye men of Hellas how the gods have provided for
you a sacrifice, and saved the innocent daughter of the
king!" And all the people shouted with joy; and in that
self-same hour, a strong breeze came down the Euripus,
and filled the idle sails of the waiting ships.
"To Troy! to Troy!" cried the Hellenes; and every man
hastened aboard his vessel.
How it was that fair Iphigenia escaped the knife;
 by whom she was saved, or whither she went,—no one knew.
Some say that Artemis carried her away to the land of
the Taurians, where she had a temple and an altar; and
that, long years afterward, her brother Orestes found
her there, and bore her back to her girlhood's home,
even to Mycenæ. But whether this be true or not,
I know that there have been maidens as noble, as
loving, as innocent as she, who have given up their
lives in order to make this world a purer and happier
place in which to live; and these are not dead, but
live in the grateful memories of those whom they loved
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