|The Story of Greece|
|by Mary Macgregor|
| Stories from the history of ancient Greece beginning with mythical and legendary stories of gods and heroes and ending with the conquests of Alexander the Great. Gives short accounts of battles and sieges, and of the men who made Greece a great nation. Ages 10-14 |
ACHILLES AND BRISEIS THE FAIRCHEEKED
 THE story of Perseus belongs to the Heroic Age of Greek history, to the
time when heroes were half mortal, half divine. Many other wonderful
tales belong to the Heroic Age, but among them all none are so famous
as those that are told in the Iliad
and the Odyssey. The Iliad tells
of the war that raged around the walls of the city of Troy;
of the adventures of the goodly Odysseus.
In the north-west corner of Asia, looking toward Greece, the ruins of
an ancient city have been discovered. It was on this spot that Troy or
Ilium was believed to have stood.
Strange legends gathered round the warriors of the Trojan War, so
strange that some people say that there never were such heroes as those
of whom the Iliad tells. However that may be, we know that in long
after years, when the Greeks fought with the people of Asia, they
remembered these old stories, and believed that they were carrying on
the wars which their fathers had begun.
The Iliad and the Odyssey
were written by a poet named Homer, so many
wise folk tell. While others, it may be just as wise, say that these
poems were not written by one man, but were gathered from the legends
of the people, now by one poet, now by another, until they grew into
the collection of stories which we know as
the Iliad and the Odyssey.
At first these old stories were not written in a book; they were sung
or told in verse by the poets to the people of Hellas. And because
what is "simple and serious lives longer than what is merely clever,"
these grave old stories of
 two thousand years ago are still alive, and
people are still eager to read them.
Some day you will read the Iliad and the Odyssey. In this story I can
only tell you about a few of the mighty warriors who fought at Troy,
about a few of their strange adventures.
If you look at a map of Greece you will easily find, in the south, the
country called Peloponnesus. In Peloponnesus you will see Sparta, the
capital city, over which Menelaus was king,
when the story of the Iliad
Menelaus was married to a beautiful queen named Helen. She was the
fairest woman in the wide world.
One day there came to the court of the king a prince named Paris. He
was the second son of Priam, King of Troy. Menelaus welcomed his royal
guest and treated him with kindness, but Paris repaid the hospitality
of the king most cruelly. For when affairs of State called Menelaus
away from Sparta for a short time, Paris did not wait until he
returned. He hastened back to Troy, taking with him the beautiful
Queen of Sparta, who was ever after known as Helen of Troy.
When Menelaus came home to find that Helen had gone away to Troy, he
swore a great oath that he would besiege the city, punish Paris, and
bring back his beautiful queen to Sparta; and this was the beginning of
the Trojan War.
Menelaus had not a large enough army to go alone against his enemy. So
he sent to his brother Agamemnon, who was the chief of all the mighty
warriors of Hellas, and to many other lords, to beg them to help him
besiege Troy, and if it might be, to slay Paris.
The chiefs were eager to help Menelaus to avenge his wrongs, and soon a
great army was ready to sail across the Hellespont to Asia, to march on
But before the army embarked, the warriors sent, as was their custom, to
an oracle, to ask if their expedition would be successful.
 "Without the help of goodly Achilles, Troy will never be taken," was
Achilles was the son of Thetis, the silver-footed goddess, whose home
was in the depths of the sea.
Well did she love her strong son Achilles. When he was a babe she
wished to guard him from the dangers that would surely threaten him
when he grew to be a man, so she took him in her arms and carried him
to the banks of the river Styx. Whoever bathed in these magic waters
became invulnerable, that is, he became proof against every weapon.
Silver-footed Thetis, holding her precious babe firmly by one heel,
plunged him into the tide, so that his little body became at once
invulnerable, save only the heel by which his mother grasped him. It
was untouched by the magic water.
Achilles set sail with the other chiefs for Troy, so it seemed as though
the city would be taken by his help, as the oracle foretold. With him
Achilles took his well-loved friend Patroclus.
For nine long years was the city of Troy besieged, and all for the sake
of Helen the beautiful Queen of Sparta. Often as the years passed, she
would stand upon the walls of Troy to look at the brave warriors of
Hellas, to wonder when they would take the city. But when nine years
had passed, no breach had yet been made in the walls.
Often she would stand upon the walls of Troy
When the Hellenes needed food or clothing, they attacked and plundered
the neighbouring cities, which were not so well defended as Troy.
The plunder of one of these cities, named Chryse, was the cause of the
fatal quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles.
In Chryse there was a temple sacred to Apollo, guarded by a priest
named Chryses. His daughter Chryseis, and another beautiful maiden
named Briseis the Faircheeked, were taken prisoners when the town was
sacked by the Hellenes. Agamemnon claimed the daughter of the priest
as his share of the spoil, while Briseis he awarded to Achilles.
When Chryses the priest found that his daughter had
 been carried away
by the Greeks, he hastened to the tent of Agamemnon, taking with him a
ransom great "beyond telling." In his hands he bore a golden staff on
which he had placed the holy garland, that the Greeks, seeing it, might
treat him with reverence.
"Now may the gods that dwell in the mansions of Olympus grant you to
lay waste the city of Priam and to fare happily homeward," said the
priest to the assembled chiefs, "only set ye my dear child free and
accept the ransom in reverence to Apollo."
All save Agamemnon wished to accept the ransom and set Chryseis free,
but he was wroth with the priest and roughly bade him begone.
"Let me not find thee, old man," he cried, "amid the ships, whether
tarrying now or returning again hereafter, lest the sacred staff of the
god avail thee naught. And thy daughter will I not set free. But
depart, provoke me not, that thou mayest the rather go in peace."
Then Chryses was angry with Agamemnon, while for his daughter's sake he
Down by the "shore of the loud-sounding sea" he walked, praying to
Apollo, "Hear me, god of the silver bow. If ever I built a temple
gracious in thine eyes, or if ever I burnt to thee fat flesh . . . . of
or goats, fulfil thou this my desire; let the Greeks pay by thine
arrows for my tears."
Apollo heard the cry of the priest, and swift was his answer. For he
hastened to the tents of the Greeks, bearing upon his shoulders his
silver bow, and he sped arrows of death into the camp.
Dogs, mules, men, all fell before the arrows of the angry god. The
bodies of the dead were burned on great piles of wood, and the smoke
rose black toward the sky.
For nine days the clanging of the silver bow was heard. Then Achilles
called the hosts of the Greeks together, and before them all he spoke
thus to Agamemnon: "Let us go home, Son of Atreus," he said, "rather
than perish, as we surely
 shall do if we remain here. Else let us ask
a priest why Apollo treats us thus harshly."
But it was easy to tell why Apollo was angry, and Calchas, a seer,
answered Achilles in plain-spoken words. "The wrath of the god is upon
us," he said, "for the sake of the priest whom Agamemnon spurned,
refusing to accept the ransom of his daughter. Let Chryseis be sent
back to her father, and for sacrifice also a hundred beasts, that the
anger of the god may be pacified."
Deep was the wrath of Agamemnon as he listened to the words of Calchas.
"Thou seer of evil," he cried, his eyes aflame with anger, "never yet
hast thou told me the thing that is pleasant. Yet that the hosts of
our army perish not, I will send the maiden back. But in her place
will I take Briseis the Faircheeked, whom Achilles has in his tent."
When Achilles heard these words he drew his sword to slay Agamemnon.
But before he could strike a blow he felt the locks of his golden hair
caught in a strong grasp, and in a moment his rage was checked, for he
knew the touch was that of the goddess Athene. None saw her save
Achilles, none heard as she said to him, "I came from heaven to stay
thine anger. . . . Go to now, cease from strife, and let not thine hand draw
Then Achilles sheathed his sword, saying, "Goddess, needs must a man
observe thy saying even though he be very wroth at heart, for so is the
Yet although Achilles struck no blow, bitter were the words he spoke to
the king, for a coward did he deem him and full of greed. "If thou
takest from me Briseis," he cried, "verily, by my staff, that shall not
blossom again seeing it has been cleft from a tree, never will I again
draw sword for thee. Surely I and my warriors will go home, for no
quarrel have we with the Trojans. And when Hector slaughters thy
hosts, in vain shalt thou call for Achilles."
Well did Agamemnon know that he ought to soothe the
 anger of Achilles
and prevail on him to stay, for his presence alone could make the
Trojans fear. Yet in his pride the king answered, "Thou mayest go and
thy warriors with thee. Chieftains have I who will serve me as well as
thou, and who will pay me more respect than ever thou hast done. As
for the maiden Briseis, her I will have, that the Greeks may know that
I am indeed the true sovereign of this host."
The Assembly then broke up, and Chryseis was sent home under the charge
of Odysseus, one of the bravest of the Greek warriors.
When the priest received his daughter again, he at once entreated
Apollo to stay his fatal darts, that the Greeks might no longer perish
in their camp. And Apollo heard and laid aside his silver bow and his
arrows of death.
Then Agamemnon called heralds, and bade them go to the tent of Achilles
and bring him Briseis of the fair cheeks. "Should Achilles refuse to
give her up," said the angry king, "let him know that I myself will
come to fetch the maiden."
But when the heralds told Achilles the words of the king, he bade
Patroclus bring the damsel from her tent and give her to the messengers
of Agamemnon. And the maiden, who would fain have stayed with
Achilles, was taken to the king.
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