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The Children's Book by  Horace E. Scudder
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THE BOOK OF ANCIENT STORIES

THE HORSE OF WOOD

FROM CHURCH'S STORIES FROM VIRGIL

[428] FOR ten years King Agamemnon and the men of Greece laid siege to Troy. But though sentence had gone forth against the city, yet the day of its fall tarried, because certain of the gods loved it well and defended it, as Apollo, and Mars, the god of war, and Father Jupiter himself. Wherefore Minerva put it into the heart of Epeius, Lord of the Isles, that he should make a cunning device wherewith to take the city. Now the device was this: he made a great horse of wood, feigning it to be a peace-offering to Minerva, that the Greeks might have a safe return to their homes. In the belly of this there hid themselves certain of the bravest of the chiefs, as Menelaus, and Ulysses, and Thoas the AEtolian and Machaon, the great physician, and Pyrrhus, son of Achilees (but Achilles himself was dead, slain by Paris, Apollo helping, even as he was about to take the city), and others also, and with them Epeius himself. But the rest of the people made as if they had departed to their homes; only they went not farther than Tenedos, which was an island near to the coast.

Great joy was there in Troy when it was noised abroad that the men of Greece had departed. The gates were opened, and the people went forth to see the plain and the camp. And one said to another, as they went, "Here they set the battle in array, and there were the tents of the fierce Achilles, and there lay the ships." And some stood and marveled at the great peace-offering to Minerva, even the horse of wood. And Thymoetes, who was one of the elders of the city, was the first who advised that it should be brought within the walls and set in the citadel. But whether he gave this counsel out of a false heart, or because the gods would have it so, no man knows. And Capys, and others with him, said that it should be drowned in water, or burned with fire, or that men should pierce it and see whether there were aught within. And the people were divided, some crying one thing and some another. Then came forward the priest Laocoon, and a great company with him, crying, "What madness is this? Think ye that the men of Greece are indeed departed, or that there is any profit in their gifts? Surely, there are armed men in this mighty horse; or haply they have made it that they may look down upon our walls. Touch it not, for as for these men of Greece, I fear them, even though they bring gifts in their hands."

And as he spake he cast his great spear at the horse, so that it sounded again. But the gods would not that Troy should be saved.

Meanwhile there came certain shepherds, dragging with them one whose hands were bound behind his back. He had come forth to them, they said of his own accord, when they were in the field. And first the young men gathered about him mocking him, but when he cried aloud, "What place is left for me, for the Greeks suffer me not to live, and the men of Troy cry for vengeance upon me?" they rather pitied him, an bade him speak, and say whence he came and what he had to tell.

Then the man spake, turning to King Priam: [429] "I will speak the truth, whatever befall me. My name is Sinon, and I deny not that I am a Greek. Haply thou has heard the name of Palamedes, whom the Greeks slew, but now, being dead, lament; and the cause was that, because he counseled peace, men falsely accused him of treason. Now, of this Palamedes I was a poor kinsman, and followed him to Troy. And when he was dead, through the false witness of Ulysses, I lived in great grief and trouble, nor could I hold my peace, but sware that if ever I came back to Argos I would avenge me of him that had done this deed. Then did Ulysses seek occasion against me, whispering evil things, nor rested till at the last, Calchas the soothsayer helping him—but what profit it that I should tell these things? For doubtless ye hold one Greek to be even as another. Wherefore slay me, and doubtless ye will do a pleasure to Ulysses and the sons of Atreus."

Then they bade him tell on, and he said,—

"Often would the Greeks have fled to their homes, being weary of the war, but still the stormy sea hindered them. And when this horse that ye see had been built, most of all did the dreadful thunder roll from the one end of the heaven to the other. Then the Greeks sent one who should inquire of Apollo; and Apollo answered them thus: 'Men of Greece, even as ye appeased the winds with blood when ye came to Troy, so must ye appease them with blood now that ye would go from thence.' Then did men tremble to think on whom the doom should fall, and Ulysses, with much clamor, drew forth Calchas the soothsayer into the midst, and bade him say who it was that the gods would have as a sacrifice. Then did many forebode evil for me. Ten days did the soothsayer keep silence, saying that he would not give any one to death. But then, for in truth the two had planned the matter beforehand, he spake, appointing me to die. And to this thing they all agreed, each being glad to turn to another that which he feared for himself. But when the day was come, and all things were ready, the salted meal for the sacrifice and the garlands, lo! I burst my bonds and fled, and hid myself in the sedges of a pool, waiting till they should have set sail, if haply that might be. But never shall I see country, or father, or children again. For doubtless on these will they take vengeance for my flight. Only do thou, O king, have pity on me, who have suffered many things, and yet have harmed no man."

And King Priam had pity on him, and bade them loose his bonds, saying, "Whoever thou art, forget now thy country. Henceforth thou art one of us. But tell me true: why made they this huge horse? Who contrived it? What seek they by it? To please the gods or to further their siege?"

Then said Sinon, and as he spake he stretched his hands to the sky, "I call you to witness, ye everlasting fires of heaven, that with good right I now break my oath of fealty and reveal the secrets of my countrymen. Listen then, O king. All our hope has ever been in the help of Minerva. But, from the day when Diomed and Ulysses dared, having bloody hands, to snatch her image from her holy place in Troy, her face was turned from us. Well do I remember how the eyes of the image, well-nigh before they had set it in the camp, blazed with wrath, and how the salt sweat stood upon its limbs, aye, and how it thrice leaped from the ground, shaking shield and spear. Then Calchas told us that we must cross the seas again, and seek at home fresh omens for our war. And this, indeed, they are doing even now, and will return anon. Also, the soothsayer said, 'Meanwhile ye must make the likeness of a horse, to be a peace-offering to Minerva. And take heed that ye make it huge of bulk, so that the men of Troy may not receive it into their gates, nor bring it within their walls, and get safety for themselves thereby. For if,' he said, ' the men of Troy harm this image at all, they shall surely perish; but if they bring it into their city, then shall Asia lay siege hereafter to the city of Pelops, and our children shall suffer the doom which we would fain have brought on Troy.'"

These words wrought much on the men of Troy, and as they pondered on them, lo! the gods sent [430] another marvel to deceive them. For while Laocoon, the priest of Neptune, was slaying a bull at the altar of his god, there came two serpents across the sea from Tenedos, whose heads and, necks whereon were thick manes of hair, were high above the waves, and many scaly coils trailed behind in the waters. And when they reached the land they still sped forward. Their eyes were red as blood and blazed with fire, and their forked tongues hissed loud for rage. Then all the men of Troy grew pale with fear and fled away, but these turned not aside this way or that, seeking Laocoon where he stood. And first they wrapped themselves about his little sons, one serpent about each, and began to devour them. And when the father would have given help to his children, having a sword in his hand, they seized upon himself, and bound him fast with their folds. Twice they compassed about his body, and twice his neck, lifting their heads far above him. And all the while he strove to tear them away with his hands, his priest's garlands dripping with blood. Nor did he cease to cry horribly aloud, even as a bull bellows when after an ill stroke of the axe it flees from the altar. But when their work was done, the two glided to the citadel of Minerva, and hid themselves beneath the feet and the shield of the goddess. And men said one to another, "Lo! the priest Laocoon has been judged according to his deeds; for he cast his spear against this holy thing, and the gods have slain him." Then all cried out together that the horse of wood must be drawn into the citadel. Whereupon they opened the Scaean Gate, and pulled down the wall that was thereby, and put rollers under the feet of the horse, and joined ropes thereto. So, in much joy, they drew it into the city, youths and maidens singing about it the while, and laying their hands to the ropes with great gladness. And yet there wanted not signs and tokens of evil to come. Four times it halted on the threshold of the gate, and men might have heard the clashing of arms within. Cassandra also opened her mouth, prophesying evil: but no man heeded her, for that was ever the doom upon her, not to be believed speaking truth. So the men of Troy drew the horse into the city. And that night they kept a feast to all the gods with great joy, not knowing that the last day of the great city had come.


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