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Stories of the Ancient Greeks by  Charles D. Shaw


 

 

THE WOODEN HORSE

[103]

T
HE brave Hector was dead, but other friends went to the help of Troy. One of these was Penthesilea, queen and leader of the Amazons. These were women who were brave fighters, and who did not permit any men to live in their country. The queen met death at the hands of Achilles, who was very sorry afterwards.

When Achilles was a child his mother had dipped him in the river Styx, and the heel by which she had held him was the only spot where he could be hurt.

During the war with Troy he had seen and loved Priam's daughter, Polyxena. He told the Trojans that if she would marry him, he would try to make peace between them and the Greeks. While the matter was being talked over in the temple of Apollo, Paris, with a poisoned arrow, shot Achilles in the heel. He died; and Ajax and Ulysses carried back his body to the ship. The shining armor was given to Ulysses.

The Trojans had a statue of Athene, which was said to have fallen from heaven. It was called the Palladium, and they believe that while it was safe among them their city could never be taken. Ulysses and a friend went into the city one night, entered the temple, took the statue, and carried it to the Greek ships.

[104] Even then the city stood unconquered. Ulysses thought of a plan by which it might be captured. Some of the ships were taken away and hidden behind an island. Many men worked at building a large wood horse, which they said was to be offered to Athene. It was hollow, and a number of soldiers crept into it, after which it was closed up and left standing in the camp.

The rest of the Greeks went on board their ships and rowed away. The Trojans thought their enemies were gone forever. So they came out of their city and walked about, glad to be free. They went to the deserted camp of the Greeks, and picked up old swords and broken helmets and other things that had been left on the ground.

Everybody wondered at the huge horse standing there. "What can be the use of that?" said some. Others said, "Let us take it into the city and put it in some temple." Still others declared that it would be far better not to touch it, but to leave it entirely alone.

Laocoön was a priest of the temple of Poseidon. He advised them to be very careful. "Have you not already suffered enough from the fraud of our enemies? As for me, I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts."

He threw his spear at the horse's side. A sound like a groan followed the blow. The people were about to break and burn the horse when a crowd of men were seen dragging along a frightened Greek. His name was Sinon, and it was part of the plan that he should remain in the camp, so that he might be captured by the Trojans.

[105] The leaders asked him why he was there and what was the meaning of this horse. He told them that Ulysses hated him, and had left him on shore when the rest of the Greeks went away. The horse, he said, was an offering to Athene. It had been made very large so that it might not be carried into the city. "Our prophet told us," he added, "that if the Trojans ever took it they would surely conquer us."

While the people were wondering how they could get the horse into the city, two large snakes came up out of the sea. They went straight to the place where Laocoön's two sons were standing together, and began to twine around them. The father ran to help his boys, but the serpents wrapped themselves around him also. The helpless Trojans stood by and saw the priest and his children crushed and strangled in those dreadful folds.

The people now thought that the horse must truly be sacred, and with much labor, yet rejoicing, carried it into the city. At night, Sinon, the Greek, opened the horse and let out the soldiers. He also opened the gates of the city to the other Greeks, who had come silently back.

The Trojans had gone happily to sleep, thinking it needless to keep a watch, because no enemy was near. They were wakened by the light of a great fire. Their temples were in flames. They rushed into the streets astonished and frightened. Greek soldiers met them at their doors and showed them no mercy.

The old king Priam put on his armor that he might fight; but the queen, Hecuba, persuaded him to go with [106] her to the temple of Zeus and pray for help. While they were kneeling at the altar their youngest son rushed in and fell dead at their feet. After him came the son of Achilles, who had wounded him. Priam threw his spear at this fierce enemy, but the young man struck him down beside his son.

Ilion, or Troy, was entirely destroyed. Many of the people were killed. Many more, with the old queen and her daughter, were carried away as captives.

Paris was among the dead. Menelaus found his wife Helene, who had caused all this trouble and misery, and they went back to Sparta, their old home. The Greek leaders gathered their men who were left, and set said for the land they had not seen for ten long years. The Trojan war was over, and Troy was no more.


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