A section from
‘A Jedi shall not know hatred, nor fear… nor love.’ from Star Wars Episode II
THE TROJAN WAR: KINGS, WARRIORS & WOMEN
The city of Troy was located on the west coast of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) across the Aegean Sea from the Greek states. That site was occupied for over four thousand years. The Trojan War probably took place in the middle of that period i.e. 1200 BCE
Homer’s Iliad which narrates the legends of the Trojan War was written three centuries later, after a period called the Dark Age when all literature before the time was destroyed.
The walls of the city and their impregnable nature were a constant feature of the story. These walls were built at the time of King Laomedon by Apollo and Poseidon, but the treacherous king didn’t compensate them. What followed was the wrath of the duo, from which the city was saved by Heracles, but he too was shortchanged by Laomedon. In return Heracles killed the king and all his successors save Priam who then became the king of Troy.
King Priam had nineteen sons from his wife Hecuba. One of these - Paris - became infatuated with Helen - a Spartan queen and Menalaus’ wife; Paris abducted Helen and took her back to Troy.
A few words about Greek legal opinion on adultery: The Athenian lawmaker Draco allowed a man to kill his wife’s lover, and some other Greek states also allowed adulterers to be killed with impunity. In other places the adulterers were sent for summary trials and executions. By another code of law adulterers had to pay a ransom that would vary with their status and the situations.
So the Paris-Helen affair was by any mean serious and dangerous.
Menalaus-the cuckold husband, approached his older brother and king of Mycanae-Agamemnon, who took up his little brother’s cause and suited it to his own ambitions. He united the Greek states and took a hundred of his ships to Troy to reclaim Helen for Menalaus and the Trojan kingdom for himself.
Thus began the legend of the face that launched a thousand ships and the Trojan War that lasted more than a decade.
The story of the Trojan War is best told through the men and women and their battles. Foremost among all of the legends is Achilles.
Achilles commands primacy despite his complicated nature and frequent absence from battle; nevertheless his skill as a warrior is unquestionable. As a child Achilles was raised by a learned Centaur-Chiron, who educates the boy. Later, when his mother has a premonition of his death she tries to prevent him from going to war; she disguises him as a girl and hides him in the court of King Lycomeda. Achilles falls in love with the king’s daughter-Deidamia and they have a son called Neoptolemus. The wily Odysseus discovers Achilles identity and Achilles then joins the Greek contingent with his Myrmidons and fifty ships.
From all the writings of Homer it is clear that Odysseus was one of his favourites. He is selectively in the finest sections, showing off his cunning and martial skills; and when popular opinion seemed to portray Odysseus in a negative light, Homer wrote ‘The Odyssey’ which recounts his adventures back home to his kingdom Ithaca. During the war, Odysseus uses wisdom, diplomacy and intellect in addition to his martial prowess to fight the Trojans. And in a wrestling match at funeral games he uses cunning draws a wrestling match with the mighty Ajax. Well into the war, Odysseus discovers that a wounded Greek compatriot left behind on a remote island holds the key to the fall of Troy, and arranges to bring back Philoctetes using any means possible. These traits drove Odysseus to prominence in the war despite his kingdom being a small and out-of-the-way place in the Greek states.
Greek military methods: The Iliad is one of the earliest account of warfare, but despite the scale of the story it gives very few clues to the art of warfare. We can tell that tactics and planning were not developed at all, and victory was sourced from personal courage rather than strategy. Also, battles were often decided in individual duels rather than mass formations. Examples of this are found in Hector’s duels with Ajax and later with Achilles. Greek soldiers were mostly infantry and were heavily armed. The use of chariots was poorly developed and the thrust of pitched battle was shock combat.
The cause of the Trojan War could easily have been Agamemnon’s ambition, but it is much more interesting to blame a woman - it certainly makes for a better story-telling. And so we come to Helen - who’s allure is legendary and certainly surpasses Cleopatra in the looks department if not in style. Legend has her as a daughter of Zeus and a deity in Sparta before she became a mortal and wife to King Menalaus of Sparta. In the Iliad though she is only human. In Troy she leads a less than perfect life with the deception of her husband always hanging over her head. Her beauty is marveled at by all, and King Priam and Hector give her all the respect and kindness that is due.
Her Trojan lover Prince Alexandros (or Paris as he is better known) is the younger brother of Hector; though he is a valiant warrior he is not as warlike as his brother, who makes him feel effeminate. Paris is adept at using the bow, but that is of little help to him during his duel with Menalaus which he loses. Paris’ life is saved by the timely intervention of Hector.
Hector on the other hand is one of the Trojan’s best soldiers. A consummate family man, dutiful son and effective warrior, he symbolizes a typical good-guy. In the war he is defeated in a duel with Ajax but his strength is restored nevertheless, and then is responsible for slaying Achilles cousin Patroclus. Following this he faces the wrath of Achilles in a duel and is himself killed. His body is desecrated by Achilles who drags it across the battlefield.
King Priam approaches Achilles and begs him to return the body of his dead son. Achilles is moved to pity seeing a pathetic and broken once-powerful king and returns Hector’s body for a ransom. A truce is called for a period of eleven days for the funeral games of the dead. In literature Priam is synonymous with a man who has seen both extremes of prosperity and doom.
In following battles of the Trojan War Achilles is killed when Paris shoots him with an arrow through the heel - Achilles only weak spot. The mighty Ajax carried Achilles body from the battlefield to Greek defences while Odysseus held back the Trojans. Achilles arms were given to Odysseus as per his wishes but this gesture drives Ajax insane as he thought himself worthy of them. In his madness Ajax goes on a killing spree which ends with him taking his own life. He is denied the burial of a warrior.
The Greeks and Trojans had preconceived notions about warrior codes that were not necessarily practical. Old-school warriors preferred battle with swords and spears because it was the traditional way and considered the most noble. The more unorthodox warriors used what weapons were suitable to the occasion, like Odysseus’ and Paris’ use of arrows. While Odysseus’ use of arrows was considered to add to his reputation for good strategy, Paris’ bias towards arrows the bow gave him a reputation as an effeminate fighter. This was because the bow was just one weapon in Odysseus’ arsenal unlike Paris who favoured the bow altogether. Ajax’ weapon of choice was a massive shield of ox-hide.
Projectile were not the obvious weapon of choice during the era of the Trojan War because of the propensity for settling battles through individual combat.
With a view to decide the seemingly endless war, the Greeks build the ‘Trojan Horse’ to penetrate the walls of Troy. The ploy is simple. Deceive the Trojans by feigning defeat, and leave the wooden horse as an offering to the Greek deities. The Trojans fell for it hook, line and sinker. They dragged the offering into Troy, bragged about victory and got drunk on wine, women and pride. Meanwhile the Greek warriors that are hiding in the wooden horse bide their time. Among them are Odysseus and Neoptolemus (Achilles’ son). In the dead of night the descend from the belly of the beast and slaughter the Trojans using little discretion. Waiting in the wings, the Greek troops march on Troy, finally broaching it’s legendary defences.
Hector’s family suffers a terrible fate after the fall of Troy. His son - Astyanax is killed, his mother becomes Odesseus’ prize and his wife - Andromache becomes the concubine of Neoptolemus and she goes on the bear him three sons. Later in her life Andromache comes under the protection of Achilles’ father. Priam is killed in his own palace at the altar of Zeus by Neoptolemus.
Menalaus once again claims his wife Helen. Their return to Sparta is eventful and includes a stopover in Egypt. His life thereafter as king is unremarkable, and he remains a pleasant and hospitable king; some legends nevertheless consider him weak for not being able to punish Helen for her infidelity as was customary of the times. In Greek art Menalaus is depicted as unable to kill Helen, and helpless before her beauty. Helen, despite everything, commands a degree of respect as queen on her return to Sparta. Menalaus and Helen share a tomb in Sparta.
Agamemnon is killed en route to Mycenae.
Neoptolemus returns to Greece a distinguished warrior and marries Hermoine, the daughter of Menalaus and Helen.
Paris is killed by the Greek leader Philoctetes.
Odysseus survives the Trojan War and sails home to Ithaca. It would be many years that he would finally enter his kingdom to reclaim his throne and wife - Penelope. His adventures are recounted in Homer’s The Odyssey.
Further Reading on FactBehindFiction.com
Best of the Site
Achilles was the greatest warrior of the Greeks. He was the King of Hellas & Phythia in Thessaly. Achilles was a complex man, who followed a strict warrior code and followed it to the death.
Second only to Achilles in battle, Ajax was the prince of Salamis. Ajax re-appears in The Odyssey where he confronts Odysseus.
Odysseus, King of Ithaca is a courageous and resourceful warrior in The Iliad. Though he fights alongside Achilles and Ajax he gets the better of them in competitions. Homer’s Odyssey recounts his adventures on his journey back home.
Briseis was Hector’s cousin who was captured by Achilles and made concubine. When King Agamemnon stole her away Achilles fury lead him to abandon battle.
Further Reading at
Ulysses had a vital but ambiguous role in Homer's Iliad. He was responsible for the death of two powerful Greeks including Ajax; and his treatment of prisoners of war is sometimes bloodcurling. His brilliance came at a high cost of life - Trojan & Greek.