One of the most famous wars in the history of wars was supposedly started by a single small object – a golden apple. The Trojan war was one of the most bloody wars of its time – though there are those who speculate that the war may have not even happened. What was this war that caused so many epic works of art – though also caused so much doubt. The Trojan War was long, bloody, and full of stories that maintain relevance even in modern day.
What Was the Trojan War?
The Trojan War was a long ordeal that is thought to have lasted for 10 years. Although the war itself was gruesome, the journey home proved to be just as difficult and took some individuals another 10 years to complete. The end result was a 20 year journey that was told through countless different forms of art and literature.
One of the most significant facts in the story of the Trojan War is that it was considered to be the last major event of the mythical age – likely because one of the main goals of the war was thought to be to eliminate the demigods that lived on the Earth.
Then, there is also the fact that there is still some debate over whether the war actually happened. There are many theories that offer up an answer to this question. Some believe that the Trojan War did occur, though they believe that many of the events of the war were fabricated in order to read better as poetry. They believe that the war was likely much smaller in scale and not quite as bloody as described in Homer’s texts.
There were also those that believed that the war did happen, but that the Trojans had won. These theorists claim that the Greeks came up with the tale that we know recognize as being the events of the Trojan War to try to cover up their humiliating defeat.
Then, there were those who believed the war never really happened and Troy was never a real place. These theorists gained the most popularity in the 1870’s and remained the most common perspective until Heinrich Schliemann published the work from his excavations at Hisarlik – the modern site which he believed was the ancient city of Troy. The site was verified to, in fact, be Troy in November of 2001, though few believe the events of the Iliad and the Odyssey actually occurred as they were presented.
What Started The Trojan War?
There are varying opinions as to what could have started the Trojan War and what extent the gods played in causing the conflict. Some would say that the war was started as a result of a dispute between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. Others, however, think the war was much more calculated. They point to Zeus starting the war because of his fear of being overthrown by one of the demigods that was born of himself or one of his siblings. People who agree with these theories usually claim that Zeus started the war to depopulate the Earth, which he felt was becoming too crowded, and eliminate the large population of demigods who lived on Earth.
Zeus Becomes Concerned By the Demigods
It was common knowledge that Zeus had come into power by overthrowing his father Cronus and that his father, Cronus, had come to power in the same way. This became very worrisome to Zeus as he realized that he may have to prepare for a challenger who wished to overtake his throne, and that it may come in the form of one of his own offspring. His fears were confirmed when he received two prophecies. The first stated that he would be overthrown by one of his children. The second stated that a sea-nymph named Thetis would bear a son that would become greater than his father (Zeus). The combined message of these prophecies made Zeus realize that he had to act quickly if he wanted to maintain his power.
Zeus Plots to Start a War
Thetis becomes engaged to be married (possibly at the request of Zeus or Hera [his wife]) and invites all the gods and goddesses to attend the ceremony. However, when Eris (the goddess of discord) arrived at the door of the reception and attempted to enter, Hermes stopped her on Zeus’ order. Eris became upset, and attempted to appease her ego by throwing a golden apple through the doorway inscribed with the words, ‘to the fairest.’
Her plan to cause discord among the wedding attendees worked – the apple was claimed by Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite – all of which claimed to be ‘the fairest’ of all the goddesses. They argued over the gift with great bitterness – so much so that the other gods and goddesses refused to tell them which of the three was the fairest because of their fear of the remaining two goddesses. Because the three goddesses were unable to obtain an answer from the other gods and goddesses, they turned to the opinion of a mortal.
Paris is Asked to Judge the Beauty of the Goddesses
The three goddesses appeared before Paris (a prince of Troy who was unaware of his lineage) on the recommendations of Zeus. They asked Paris to judge their beauty – even going as far as to appear naked before him to win his vote. Paris was unable to decide who was the fairest of the three goddesses, so they offered him bribes to decide the winner.
Athena offered him wisdom beyond his years and the skills and abilities of the greatest warriors in battle. Hera offered him immense political power and control over all of Asia. Lastly, Aphrodite offered him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world – Helen of Sparta.
Paris picked Aphrodite to be the most favorable of all the goddesses in order to win the hand of the most beautiful woman in the world in marriage. There was just one problem – Helen was already married – and ancient texts suggest that Aphrodite offered Helen to Paris in order to exact revenge on Helen’s current husband (Menelaus).
The Trouble With Paris Claiming Helen
When Helen was young, she had dozens of suitors who wished to claim her hand in marriage. In fact, she had so many suitors that her father was nervous to pick one bachelor because he feared the rest may react violently. Finally, a solution was decided on – all of the suitors would agree to defend Helen’s marriage regardless of which one of them was picked to be her husband.
Helen’s father eventually picked Menelaus – and it is possible that Aphrodite had something to do with this outcome. Menelaus had promised Aphrodite a sacrifice of 100 oxen if he were to win Helen’s hand in marriage. When he was selected as her husband, however, he forgot about his promise to Aphrodite – earning her scorn. This is likely why Aphrodite offered to deliver Helen to Paris – as a way to exact her revenge on Menelaus.
Paris Steals Helen
Paris traveled to Sparta while pretending to carry out diplomatic duties and sought out Helen. Before Helen saw Paris enter the palace, Aphrodite had Eros (aka Cupid) shoot her with an arrow so that she would fall in love with Paris from the moment she saw him, as promised. He was able to steal her away from Sparta without issue, as Menelaus was traveling to attend the funeral of his uncle.
The Attempted Recovery of Helen
When Menelaus returned and discovered what had happened in his absence he traveled with his trusted friend, Odysseus, to Troy and attempted to retrieve his wife through the diplomatic channels. They were unsuccessful with their attempts.
Angered, Menelaus remembers the oath that Helen’s suitors made when her father was choosing her husband. He sends his brother Agamemnon (also one of Helen’s suitors) to call upon the rest of the suitors and urge them to use their combined power to rescue Helen.
Preparations for War are Made
Once Menelaus has returned to Sparta, he works to organize the forces sent by Helen’s suitors and makes preparations for war. While doing this, he encounters a few problems. One of these problems is that Odysseus, his trusted friend, has gotten married while he was making preparations and fathered a child. Odysseus tries to pretend to be mad in order to evade the war, but eventually he must choose between his trickery and the life of his infant son. He gives up his act and reports to his post.
Another issue is that Thetis – who was prophecies to give birth to a son who would surpass Zeus – is trying to hide her son Achilles from going to war. Thetis had much to fear from Achilles being summoned. Aside from the fact that he was prophesized to surpass Zeus in greatness, he was only 15 years old at the time. She tried to disguise Achilles as a woman, but when a horn is blown he reveals that he is a man by standing to fight instead of running away in fear. When Achilles reports to his position as commander, the mission is finally ready to start.
A Prophecy is Made
Before the troops set sail they make a sacrifice to Apollo. After the sacrifice was made, a snake slithered out from underneath the altar and into a sparrows nest in a nearby tree. The creature then consumed the mother sparrow and her nine hatchlings. As soon as it had eaten them, it was turned to stone. This was interpreted to mean that Troy would fall in the tenth year of war. Having the last piece of the puzzle that was needed before setting off they left the island of Aulis and the Trojan War was finally underway.
Who Were the Opposing Sides During the Trojan War?
Although there are several different aspects of the war, there are two clear opposing sides – the Achaean forces who support Menelaus and the Trojan forces who support Paris. There are several key members of each side. The most noticeable are Achilles, Odysseus, Nestor, and Ajax on the side of the Achaeans and Paris, Priam, and Hector on the side of the Trojans.
Although the simple conclusion of the opposing sides is to simply look at the two powers that came together to face off over the hand of the most beautiful woman in the world, it is important to note that there are other factors at work.
Zeus is one of the main instigators of the war. He drove the two sides into conflict because of his fear that one of his own children would rise up and overthrow him. It also didn’t help that he had been unfaithful to his wife Hera and did not know if he should expect her to help one of his sons surpass him as an act of revenge.
Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite are also important to recognize in the struggle for power over the title of ‘the fairest’ of all the goddesses. These goddesses were also known to interfere throughout the Trojan War – often as a protest for not being chosen as ‘the fairest’ or in response to the actions of another goddess.
Aphrodite herself also had many underlying motives with the war. She knowingly offered Menelaus’ wife to Paris in order to receive the tile of ‘the fairest’ – likely because she held a grudge against Menelaus for forgetting to sacrifice the 100 oxen promised to her if he won Helen’s hand in marriage.
These are just a few of the issues that led to the many nuances and complications that arose during the Trojan War. There were many other factors at play in determining the fate of the city of Troy and the lover of Helen of Sparta.
Famous Stories From the Trojan War
The Trojan War is said to have spanned over a period of 10 years and was known to inspire many works of art and literature. The most popular of these are the Iliad (which details the last year of the siege on Troy), the Odyssey (which details the struggle of the Achaeans to return home), and the Epic Cycle (a collection of poems – the Cypria, the Aethiopis, the Little Iliad, the Iiou Persis, the Nostoi, and the Telegony).
While there were many stories that came to light during this time span, these are a few of the most famous stories to arise from the Trojan War.
Although the Achaeans were confident in their destiny to win the war, there was still much hesitation surrounding their arrival to the land of the Trojans. It was said that Calchas had foreseen that the first Achaean to walk on Trojan soil after the ships landed would also be the first soldier to die. There was a wait as the Greeks tried to determine who would be the first to step off the boats and onto the land. Finally, Protesilaus was tricked into walking on the land first by Odysseus. He was wrongfully told that by stepping on his shield he would technically avoid the fate predicted by Calchas. Protesilaus was killed in single combat by Hector, a prince of Troy. The sacrifice Protesilaus unwittingly made, however, would eventually lead to the Trojans conceding the beach to the Achaeans. He was buried as a god for his valiant efforts.
Odysseus Takes His Revenge on Palamedes
Although Odysseus completed his wartime duties with valor, he still held a grudge against the man who forced him to give up his ruse of insanity by putting his son’s life in danger – Palamedes.
At some point during the war, Odysseus was sent in search of grain for the Achaean troops but returned empty handed. Palamedes scorns him for this – which only adds to his dislike of the man. Odysseus challenges him to do better. Palamedes accepts the challenge.
When Palamedes left to find grain, Odysseus contrived a plot to exact his revenge. He forged a letter from King Priam of Troy that was addressed to Palamedes. In addition to this, he planted gold in Palamedes’ quarters. When Palamedes returned with the grain that was needed, Odysseus made sure that the fake letter and gold bribe were ‘discovered.’ The finds were reported to Agamemnon (who served as the highest commander), who had Palamedes executed for his ‘treachery.’
Trouble Arises When Achilles Refuses to Fight
The war took a bleak turn when the Achaeans began to run low on supplies and lost the will to fight. To rally their spirits, Agamemnon brought in the Wine Growers. These Wine Growers were known to be able to produce wine, wheat, and oil by simply touching the Earth, making them a great asset to the Achaeans. However, when Agamemnon refuses to return Chryseis (whom he has taken for himself) to her father, a plague is cast on the Achaeans until they agree to the return. To satisfy himself, Agamemnon decides to take Achilles’ concubine (Briseis).
Achilles is angered and refuses to fight because of Agamemnon’s actions. He implores Thetis to make a deal with Zeus – as long as Achilles does not fight, the Trojans will be given success. Zeus accepts the deal.
Achilles Avenges His Friend, Patroclus
There were gains and losses on both sides of the fight for a time. The Achaeans appeal to Achilles to return to battle but he refuses. When a ship is burned, however, Achilles allows his close friend, Patroclus, to borrow his armor and lead his army. Patroclus does well for a time, but when Apollo intervenes he is killed by Hector.
Achilles is struck by grief and is driven back to the battlefield. He kills many Trojans and finally secures vengeance on behalf of his friend by killing Hector.
Achilles is Killed
After avenging Patroclus, Achilles encounters Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons and daughter of Otrere and Ares. Penthesilea has been cleansed of a wrongdoing by Priam (King of Troy) and fights on his behalf in return. In some versions of the story she kills Achilles, though Achilles is resurrected on the request of Thetis. Another version claims that Achilles killed Penthesilea and fell in love with her shortly afterwards because of her great beauty.
Soon afterwards, Achilles fights against Memnon of Ethiopia – son of Tithonus and Eos. When Zeus weighs the fates of the two demigods, Memnon’s weight sinks and he is killed by Achilles. After killing Memnon, Achilles chased the Trojans into their own city. The gods were upset with him because he had killed so many of their children and allowed him to die. Achilles is killed by a poison arrow that was shot by Paris and guided by Apollo to hit his heel – the only spot that was defenseless.
A Prophecy is Made
After much more fighting and death, a prophecy is made in the 10th year that state Troy will not fall without Heracles’ bow. It is retrieved, along with the current owner (Philoctetes) who shoots and kills Paris. With Paris dead, his two remaining brothers (Deiphobus and Helenus) fight over the hand of Helen in marriage. When Helenus loses, he is captured on his way out of Troy because of his knowledge of prophecies concerning the fall of Troy. After being persuaded, he gives the Achaeans the information they need and they gather the remaining items that are needed in order to defeat the Trojans.
The Trojan Horse
Odysseus brought the end of the Trojan War when he devised the final – and most famous – plan; the Trojan Horse. A giant wooden horse was built and hollowed out so that soldiers could hide inside the horse. When the soldiers were safely hidden inside the horse, the rest of the army burned their camp and left in an apparent surrender.
The Trojans were overjoyed that the end of the war had come and dragged the horse into their city walls. They partied around the base of the horse and celebrated their perceived good fortune. When the city of Troy fell asleep however, the soldiers climbed out of the horse and massacred the whole population. Only a few women and children were spared.
The Trojan War was finally over, but because of the terrible destruction and sacrilege that was caused by the Achaeans, the gods decided that many of the soldiers would not make it back to their home – or would at least have a very difficult time trying to do so. This was the start of the Odyssey.