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On "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter"

EXPLANATION: "The River-Merchant's Wife:


A Letter"
Lines 1-6

This opening stanza of 6 lines is organized around a central image of the river-
merchant and his wife as a child, confirmed by the first component of the central
image: the picture of a little girl with her hair cut in bangs. (The mark of an adult
woman in the ancient Chinese culture was elaborate arrangements of uncut long
hair.)Each line contributes to a clearer understanding of the central image of the
children. The repetition in three separate lines of the verb "playing" to describe the
little girl's activity at the front gate, as well as the little boy's presence on stilts and his
circling around where she sits, emphasizes the natural, contented activity of children
almost as a part of the natural world referred to here by "flowers" and "blue
plums." This stanza establishes the presence of the "I" and the "you" in the world of
the poem.

Lines 7-10

The second stanza places the girl and the boy, the "I" and the "you," as a woman and
man in the adult world. In ancient cultures, and in some cultures today, early
marriages are customary, and it is often also the custom for the wife to refer to her
husband by a respectful title. In the case of this poem the formality of the title is
softened by the direct address of "you" added right after it. Lines 8-9 establish the
child-wife's shyness in this formal adult situation by offering a picture of her bent
head and averted eyes, a shyness so extreme that she could not respond to her
husband, no matter how many efforts he made.

Lines 11-14

The central image of this stanza is the growth of love between the young husband and
wife. Her face, which in the first stanza has the bangs of childhood across her
forehead, in the second stanza is averted and unsmiling, "stops scowling" in the third
stanza. The vows of the marriage ceremony, "till death us do part," are evoked in lines
12 and 13 and poignantly reinforced by the triple repetition in line 13 of "forever." It
is unclear whether "climb the lookout" in line 14 is a reference to a ritual performed in
this culture by a wife after death, perhaps to look for other offers to marry that might
come her way. If it is, it means that the wife as a widow does not want to do this. In
any case, it is clear that there is nothing she wishes for after the death of her husband,
so deep is her love for him now.

Lines 15-18

An image of separation is developed in these lines as the husband takes on his role as
a river-merchant and travels the waters, conducting his work in the world on a distant
island. The wife's statement of the length of his absence is expressed in one line,
giving it full and emphatic force. And in line 18 the effect of this long absence is
brought to full comprehension by the use of the natural image of the sounds of the
monkeys that reflect back to her the sound of her own sorrow. The sounds that
monkeys make are generally interpreted as chirping, happy sounds, but the weight of
the wife's sorrow is so great that she can only hear the monkeys' noise as "sorrowful."

Lines 19-21

The first three lines of this final 11-line stanza are centered on the image of the river-
merchant's absence. Line 19 indicates that he was as averse to this separation as she
was. In line 20 the phrase "by the gate" (perhaps the same gate they played about as
children), indicates that she has returned to this gate and in her memory sees him
reluctantly leaving again. For her it is the scene of the beginning of his absence. And
evidently she knows this scene well: not only is there moss growing there, but she is
aware that there are different kinds of mosses, which she has not cleared away since
his departure. They are now too deep to clear away.

Lines 22-25

In line 22 the sadness of the river-merchant's wife is again reflected back to her by the
natural world, by the falling leaves and wind of autumn. This image becomes more
defined with her observation of the butterflies in the garden, for they are "paired" as
she is not, and they are becoming "yellow" changing with the season, growing older
together. The butterflies "hurt" her because they emphasize the pain of her realization
that she is growing older, but alone, not with her husband.

Lines 26-29

In these closing lines of the poem and the "letter" the river-merchant's wife reaches
out from her lonely world of sorrow to her husband in a direct request: Please let me
know when and by what route you are returning, so that I may come to meet you.
This, however, conveys more than it would at first appear. Her village is a suburb of
Nanking and she is willing to walk to a beach several hundred miles upstream from
there to meet her husband, so deeply does she yearn to close the distance between
them

TIME, AGE, AND THE SEASONS


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Symbol Analysis
"The River-Merchant's Wife" traces the course of the speaker's growth from childhood to
adulthood in a matter of years. To drive home the emotional development of our
speaker in that time, the poem makes use of time-related imagery along the way. Much
of this is connected with the transition from spring to autumn as a metaphor for the shift
from abundance (abundance of love, in the case of this poem) to a lack thereof. It's
telling that the speaker doesn't need to report much of anything about her emotional
state. (Maybe she's just really shy.) We don't need her to, though! Instead, we get a
very clear picture of her situation from the technique of the poem itself.

Line 1: The word "still" should tip you off that her hair isn't cut straight across
anymore. The hairstyle is a symbol of the speaker's childhood state.
Line 6: "Small people"? Why not kids? It seems that the concept of time is being
compressed here. These are literally children, but they are looked at as mini-
adults from an older perspective.
Lines 12-13: Mingling "dust" could be a metaphor for the sexual union of their
bodies. Since this is a loose translation by people who didn't know Chinese,
though, it could also be a literal reference to the ashes left after cremation. Even
after death, the speaker could be imagining that she'll be with her husband
"Forever and forever, and forever." (See how Pound's "translations" could be
different from the original and we'd never know it?)
Line 21-22: The mosses growing thick represent a metaphor for how much time
has passed since the speaker has seen her man.
Lines 22-24: Autumn is coming early. The early arrival of this season announces
the impending chill of winter. It also indicates the presence of decay, as yellow
leaves fall from the trees. Finally, we're put in mind of the sunset, which would be
taking place in the "West garden." All of these markers of time remind us of the
end of bright, sunny days, and highlight the speaker's isolation.
BUTTERFLIES
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Symbol Analysis
When we think of love and butterflies, we imagine the bubbly feeling that you get in your
tummy when you think of your loved one. In this poem? Not so much. Here, butterflies
represent for the speaker the absence of her husband. Like the falling leaves and the
coming autumn, they are another symbol of love absence and loneliness.

Line 23: Two things here. 1) The butterflies are paired, unlike some speakers I
can mention. Like some overly affectionate couple, these paired-up butterflies
only serve to remind her of her husband's absence. And 2) These guys are
yellow. Now, ordinarily, that would be a pretty, happy color for a butterfly to be.
When they appear with "The leaves [that] fall early this autumn," though,
the image they project is very reminiscent of those same dead, falling, yellow
leaves. In both cases, these bugs bug our speaker and serve to remind her
(and us) of the barren state of her emotional void.
Line 24: Where are these butterflies anyway? Oh, right, in the "West" garden.
Know what else happens in the West? The sun sets there, which is a common
symbol of decline, of things ending (like this couple's togetherness).
Line 25: In a line that's striking for being so short and direct, the speaker reveals
that the butterflies hurt here, for all of the symbolic reasons we've detailed above
(and not because they've suddenly grown stingers or anything).

ENVIRONMENT AND
GEOGRAPHY
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Symbol Analysis
Like monkeys? Like maps? You're in luck: "The River-Merchant's Wife" has both! The
poem also name-drops. Because Pound was working off somebody else's notes, he
uses the Japanese names of actual Chineselandmarks. The various references to real
places represent China as a whole to Pound's contemporary readers. By representing
China as a lush garden filled with exotic animals and obedient wives, the readers of the
past might not have had the same impressions that readers today will. Hopefully you
can better understand that China is a complex nation with a wide variety of people and
landscapes.

Lines 2-4: Flowers, plums, bamboo: these are elements of the children's play,
and reflect their (initially) happy connection to their natural environment.
Line 16: Pound turns a river, Ku-to-en, into the name of a region. This changes
the geographical landscape from a background into a dwelling place.
Line 18: Here, the speaker writes as though the monkeys understand, and share
in, her sorrow. The speaker's mood is reflected in (or does it affect?) the natural
environment in which she lives.
Lines 20-21: Nature has almost overgrown the garden (a.k.a. controlled nature).
The unruly mosses symbolize the sorrow that threatens to overtake the speaker.
Line 22: The falling leaves are symbolic of decline, and represent the end of
summer. The time of warmth has come to an end, both in terms of the weather
and the speaker's relationship.
Lines 29-30: This reference to a real place is tricky, because most Western
readers won't realize just how far the wife is willing to travel out to meet her
husband. Hint: it's hundreds of miles!

ANALYSIS: FORM AND METER


Free Verse
In a formal sense, we must first acknowledge that, while he was up to something boldly
experimental and groundbreaking with "A River Merchant's Wife," Pound didn't really
know squat about the meter of Chinese poetry. (It helps, you know, if you speak
Chinese, which he didn't really.) So, even though he was "translating," he didn't even try
to re-create any authentic "meter" out of Ernest Fenollosa's notes on this poem. (For
more on Fenollosa, please check out our "In a Nutshell" and "Why Should I Care?"
sections too.)
That wasn't the point for Pound. When we talk about form, then, we have to consider
the way in which he structured the poem around its content. Through five stanzas, the
poem chronicles the life of the speaker. We move from her early childhood, to her
sexual awakening, to full comfort in her marriage, and end with her present state:
longing for her husband.
Formally, stanzas 2, 3, and 4 are almost mirror images of each other, with their basic
form of four lines each and their content of how the speaker transformed over that year.
This mirroring helps us readers get the sense of each year in a compact stanza. And
when we get to the longest and final stanza, we really start to feel how loneliness of the
current year takes up the wife's time and energy.
If you ask us, the most interesting formal change in the poem occurs in lines 25 and 26.
These short lines of single-syllable words really draw attention to themselves in that
they make the reader pause after having read twenty-four pretty long lines (long as far
as modern poetry is concerned). As we then pay attention to this shift, we really get to
focus on the emotional climax of the speaker's monologue.
Pound's use of free verse, then, is due in part to his focus on the emotional resonance
of the poem's speaker. He's not caught up in duplicating stodgy old rhythms and
patterns. He's up to something wild and new (for his time, anyway). Free verse removes
any metrical constraints, and he's free to go right for the emotional jugular. Touch, Mr.
Pound. Touch.

ANALYSIS: SPEAKER
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Upon first glance, the speaker seems to merely be a dedicated wife. However, if we
look a little closer, we find the details and nuances of her personality. We discover that
she's a sensitive person who has emotional needs like everyone else on this planet. Her
life now seems solitary, but then again, this isolation recalls her childhood, with long
hours spent picking flowers (with no one to give them to) out by the gates of her family
home. As she writes her letter (the poem), she faces even longer hours, waiting for her
husband to return from his trip.
Of course, she never comes out and tells us any of this. We can only sense the mood of
the speaker indirectly from her poetic, and detailed, descriptions. How do we guess that
she might not have been happy about her marriage at first? Well, she "lower[ed] [her]
head" and "looked at the wall" (9). And how do we know that she's unhappy now? One
sign: "The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead" (18). Finally, how much does our
speaker miss her husband? She would "come out to meet [him] / As far as Cho-fu-Sa,"
(29-30) hundreds of miles away.
We don't think that this speaker is just being shy here. We think that she's actually
modeling a poetic philosophy that was championed by one of Ezra Pound's
contemporaries, another poet named William Carlos Williams. He said, famously, "No
ideas but in things," which is a loftier way of putting another common maxim for all
successful writing: show, don't tell. In both cases (though Williams had other, more
complex notions in mind, too), these mottos emphasize the importance of specific detail
in conveying ideas to a reader. In other words, don't just say that someone is beautiful.
Give us the deets, man! Hair color, eye color, fashion sensethe devil of good writing is
always, always in the details.
And the speaker seems to really get this. In a poem that was written by a poet who was
very conscious of pushing the envelope in poetry writing, our speaker is a model writer
in her own right!

ANALYSIS: SETTING
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Where It All Goes Down


We talk a lot about the setting in the "Detailed Summary" and the "Symbols" sections,
so by all means check those out if you haven't already. For our purposes here, we'd just
again underscore the importance of the natural environment to this rural scene, as well
as the way it both affects, and is seemingly affected by, the couple in the poem.
The big picture of this poem is that the husband has left the wife, gone "into far Ku-to-
en, by the river of swirling eddies" (19). In this sense, we're dealing with a split setting
Ku-to-en, where the husband is, and his home village, where the speaker has stayed
behind. And what connects these scenes? Rivers. The husband has gone to one river,
but the poem concludes with the wife wondering if he'll return via "the narrows of the
river Kiang" (27). So, the same mechanism that has pulled them apart is also the way
that they'll likely be reunited.
We bring this up because the push-pull that the rivers represent for the husband and
wife in the poem (pulling them apart, but potentially pushing them back together) gives
us a good way to think about how the setting affects, and is affected by, the wife, our
speaker. In the first stanza, we get happy childhood. This is communicated in part within
a natural setting that is controlled by the children: flowers are pulled, bamboo is used for
stilts, heckeven plums are used for playing games.
But this control over the environment seems to be totally undone in stanzas 4 and 5, in
which monkeys make a sad racket, mosses grow over everything, and the air is filled
with falling leaves and jerkface butterflies. In short, the setting is directly tied to the
speaker's isolated mood. If this is so, then, it gives us pause to wonder whether these
two setting descriptions (controlled when happy, uncontrolled when sad) are
coincidental to her mood, or whether the speaker might herself influence her
surroundings (or at least how she perceives her surroundings).
That possibility is a slim one, we recognize (unless she's Storm from the X-Men, which
would be way cool), but it gets at the main point to make about the role of the setting in
"The River Merchant's Wife": the natural environment cannot be separated from the
emotional reality of the speaker's experience. If you want to know how the speaker is
feeling, just check the state of her surroundings.
______________________----

Analysis: Telephone Conversation by


Wole Soyinka.
Soyinkas Telephone Conversation depicts a conversation between a white lady and an African American
man which casts a harsh light on the racism and prejudice which grips society.

The title reveals the fact that two people are talking on the phone, so the beginning of the poem is on a
positive note: The man is searching for a house and the land lady has named a considerable price, and
the area where it is located is an impartial and not racially prejudiced. Also the man could enjoy his
privacy as the land lady does not live under the same roof. The African man is ready to accept the offer,
but maybe there has been a similar incident in his past, for he stops and admits to her that he is black,
saying he prefers not to waste the time travelling there if shes going to refuse him on that bounds.
There is silence at the other end; silence which the black man thinks is the reluctant result of an inbred
sense of politeness. However he is wrong because when she speaks again, she disregards all formalities
and asks him to explain how dark he is. The man first thinks he has misheard but then realizes that that is
not true as she repeats her question with a varying emphasis. Feeling as if he has just been reduced to
the status of a machine, similar to the telephone in front of him, and asked to choose which button he is,
the man is so disgusted that he can literally smell the stench coming from her deceptive words and see
red everywhere around him. Ironically he is the one who is ashamed by the tense and awkward silence
which follows, and asks for clarification thinking sarcastically that the lady was really helpful by giving him
options to choose from. He suddenly understands what she is trying to ask, and repeats her question to
her stating if she would like him to compare himself with chocolate, dark or light? She dispassionately
answers and his thoughts change as he describes himself as a West African Sepia as it says in his
passport. The lady remains quite for a while, not wanting to admit to her ignorance, but then she gives in
to curiosity and asks what that is. He replies that it is similar to brunette and she immediately clarifies that
thats dark.
Now the man has had enough of her insensitiveness. He disregards all constraints of formality and mocks
her outright, saying that he isnt all black, the soles of his feet and the palms of his hands are completely
white, but he is foolish enough to sit on his bottom so it has been rubbed black due to friction. But as he
senses that she is about to slam the receiver on him, he struggles one last time to make her reconsider,
pleading her to at least see for herself; only to have the phone slammed on him.
Wole Soyinka uses two main literary devices to drive home the message of the poem. The first of the two
is imagery. Right at the beginning, the imagery used to describe the mental image the man has of the
woman: lipstick coated, gold rolled cigarette holder piped, just from listening to her voice shows one that
he thinks that she is, socially speaking above him, from a higher social class.
Then when he hears her question regarding how dark he is, he is so humiliated and angry that he sees
red everywhere. The imagery of the huge bus squelching the black tar is symbolic of how the dominant
white community treats those belonging to the minor black one.
The next most evident use is that of irony. In the beginning of the poem, the African says that he has to
self-confess when he reveals his skin color to the lady. The color of his skin is something that he has no
control over, and even if he did, it is not a sin to be dark skinned, so the fact that the man feels ashamed
and sorry for this is ironical and casts light on how ridiculous racism is that one should apologize or be
differentiated against solely because of the color of ones skin. Also, it seems almost comical that anyone
should be so submissive when he has actually committed no mistakes.
On the other hand, the lady is continuously described in positive terms, suggesting that she is of a good
breeding and upper class. Even when the reader finds out that she is a shallow and racist person who
exhibits extreme insensitivity by asking crude questions, the man seems to think that she is considerate;
and her clinical response to his question shows only light impersonality. The repeated and exaggerated
assertions of the womans good manners and sophistication drip with irony as her speech contradict this
strongly.
Also the basis of the woman rejecting to lease her house to the man is because of the prejudiced notion
that African Americans are a savage and wild people. This idea is completely discredited by the ironical
fact that throughout the poem the man retains better manners and vocabulary than the woman, using
words such as spectroscopic and rancid, whereas she does not know what West African Sepia is and
is inconsiderate in her inquiries. Using irony in this manner, Soyinka proves how absurd it is to judge the
intellect or character of a man depending on the color of his skin only.

The poem deals with a foul subject, that of racism and prejudice, in a lighthearted, almost comical
manner. A most important device which Soyinka has used to highlight this sense of racism, which was
previously widespread in western society, is that of the telephone. Had the person been speaking face to
face with the lady, this whole conversation would never have taken place. She would have either refused
outright, or would have found a more subtle way of doing so. The whole back and forth about how dark
the man is wouldnt have occurred. Thus the telephone is used to make the issue of racism clear and
prove how nonsensical it really is.
Written in an independent style and delivered in a passively sarcastic tone, this poem is a potent
comment on society. Soyinka might be speaking through personal experience, judging by the raw
emotions that this poem subtly convey: those of anger, rage, shame, humility and an acute sense of
disgust at the apathy and inhumanity of humans who wont judge a book by its cover but would turn down
a man for the color of his skin. In todays world, racism might be a dying concern; but that does not mean
that discrimination against other minorities has been completely eradicated. Despite the progressing
times, people continue to harbor prejudices and illogical suspicions about things they do not understand:
may it be others ideals, religions or traditions and customs. Thus this poem remains a universal message
for all of us, as Soyinka manages to convey just how absurd all prejudices are by highlighting the
womans poor choice of rejecting the man just because he does not share the same skin color.
Telephone Conversation is a favorite, both for its excellent use of rich language and the timeless
message it conveys.

Imagery and metaphors


In Telephone Conversation by Wole Soyinka, imagery is mostly employed when the
speaker depicts himself regarding colour, but also when he depicts the way he imagines
the landlady looks like:

Facially, I am brunette, but madam, you should see


The rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet
Are a peroxide blonde. Friction, caused
Foolishly, madamby sitting down, has turned
My bottom raven black (ll. 28-32)

Silenced transmission of
Pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came,
Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
Cigarette-holder pipped. (ll.6-9)

We recommend you also focus on the following stylistic devices:

Similes and comparisons


Metaphors
Alliteration
Symbols

Metaphors
The metaphor of the pressurized good-breeding (l. 7) is supposed to suggest the fact
that the woman initially came across as educated and elegant, but that her mask soon
disappeared under pressure, when she revealed her racist attitude.

At the same time, the metaphor of the stench of rancid breath (ll. 11-12) suggests the
fact that the woman wears a fetid mask behind...

...

Symbols
The colour red is a very important symbol in the poem, as it symbolises the mans
growing anger upon hearing a racist question.
The omnibus (which, in Latin, means for all) symbolises the white society which acts
superior and with violence in front of the black minority. In the same way,
the tar symbolises the black minority which is meant to feel inferior and which is almost
always squelched by the whites:

Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered


Omnibus squelching tar. It was real! Shamed (ll. 13-14)

...

Tekstenherovererkun et uddrag. Den fuldeteksterkun for medle

Summary and Analysis: Greek Mythology The Trojan War


The Preliminaries, The Course of the War, The Fall of
Troy, and The Returns
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Summary

King Priam ruled in the wealthy, fortified city of Troy. He was not only prosperous, but
he had fifty or more children, and it seemed as if good fortune would bless him and his
children for a long time to come. However, his wife, Hecuba, had a nightmare in which
she gave birth to a deadly firebrand. The seers interpreted this to mean that her unborn
child would destroy Troy and its inhabitants. When the infant was born it was exposed
on Mount Ida, but a she-bear nursed it and it survived, growing up as a shepherd called
Alexander, or Paris. Paris took the nymph Oenone as a lover.

At the wedding of Peleus and Thetis the gods were enjoying themselves when Eris, or
Strife, threw a golden apple into their midst with the words, "For the fairest," attached.
Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite all claimed the apple and asked Zeus to judge between
them, but he wisely refused, directing the three goddesses to a shepherd on Mount Ida
who could decide the loveliest. The goddesses approached Paris and each offered
Paris a bribe for selecting her. Hera promised to make him a king who would rule Asia
and have great wealth. Athena offered to give him wisdom and an invincible valor in
warfare. But Aphrodite won the apple by promising Paris the most beautiful woman in
the world the spectacular Helen. His choice was imprudent to say the least, since he
made implacable enemies of Hera and Athena, both of whom vowed to destroy him and
Troy.

On learning that he would possess Helen, Paris first went to Troy and established
himself as a true prince, the legitimate son of Priam and Hecuba. He now had no further
use for Oenone and abandoned her. Then he sailed for Sparta, where he seduced
Helen during her husband's absence and took her back to Troy with him.

Meanwhile Paris' sister Cassandra was faced with trouble. Apollo gave her the gift of
prophecy while trying to make love to her, but she had taken a vow of chastity and
resisted him. In anger Apollo turned his gift into a curse by making it so that no one
would believe her. When Paris returned with Helen and stood before Priam to get his
father's acceptance Cassandra came into the room, visualized all that would occur
because of Paris and his lust, gave shrieks of despair, and railed at her immoral brother.
Thinking Cassandra mad, Priam had his daughter locked in a palace cell.

When Menelaus returned to Sparta and found his wife Helen gone, he summoned the
Greek leaders to go with him to conquer Troy and recover Helen. These leaders were
pledged to aid Menelaus, for as they had courted Helen too they had taken an oath to
avenge any dishonor that fell upon her future husband because of her. Thus Paris
precipitated the Trojan War, which would fulfill the prophetic dream his mother had of
giving birth to a firebrand that would destroy Troy.

The Greek chieftains assembled at Aulis under the leadership of Agamemnon, the
brother of Menelaus. Most of the warriors were glad to go, eager to burn and sack Troy.
But two heroes were reluctant. An oracle told Odysseus that he would be twenty years
from home if he went, so he feigned madness when the Greek leaders came for him.
Palamedes exposed the ruse, and Odysseus had to go. Since Troy could not be taken
without the help of Achilles, the Greeks went to Scyros to fetch him. Achilles was
practically invulnerable as a fighter, for his mother, the nymph Thetis, had dipped him in
the River Styx at birth, rendering him immortal everywhere but in his heel, where she
had held him. Tutored by Chiron, he became an incredibly swift and fearsome warrior.
Knowing he would have a short but glorious life if he went to Troy, Thetis disguised her
valiant son in women's clothing at the Scyrian court. However, Odysseus discovered
Achilles by a trick, and he too consented to go.

At first the Greeks sailed to Mysia, and believing it to be Troy they made war. The
Mysian king, Telephus, was wounded in the battle by Achilles. Learning of their error,
the Greeks sailed back to Aulis. Since an oracle had said that Troy could not be taken
without Telephus' advice, Achilles was obliged to heal his victim. The renegade Trojan
prophet, Calchas, had sided with the Greeks, and when unfavorable winds prevented
the Greeks from sailing, Calchas declared that the goddess Artemis wanted the
sacrifice of a virgin. Agamemnon's daughter Iphigenia was chosen and sent for under
the pretext that she would marry Achilles. Yet she willingly allowed herself to be
sacrificed for the Greek cause. Some say, though, that Artemis put a deer in her place
and carried her off to the land of the Taurians. In any case the Greek expedition was
able to reach Troy.

An oracle had said that the first to leap ashore on Trojan territory would be the first to
die. Protesilaus took this burden on himself and was greatly honored for it after being
slain in a skirmish with Hector, the Trojan prince. A mighty warrior, Hector was the
mainstay of Troy in the ten years of fighting that followed. Yet Hector bore the
knowledge that both he and his city were doomed. If his brother Troilus had lived to be
twenty Troy might have been spared, but Achilles slew the boy in his teens. Troy had
one other defender of note, Aeneas, an ally from a neighboring land. The Greek army,
however, was full of heroes. In addition to Agamemnon, Menelaus, Nestor, Odysseus,
and Achilles, there were Diomedes and the two Ajaxes.

The gods took part in the war as well, affecting the outcome of various battles. Apollo,
Artemis, Ares, and Aphrodite sided with the Trojans, while Hera, Athena, Poseidon,
Hermes, and Hephaestus aided the Greeks. Zeus might interfere on occasion, but he
maintained neutrality for the most part, being fully aware of what would happen.

After nine years of fighting the Greeks had managed to lay waste many kingdoms allied
to Troy in Asia Minor, but they had not made much headway against Troy itself. There
was friction in the Greek camp. Odysseus still bore a grudge against Palamedes, the
man who had ruthlessly shown his madness to be a hoax. When Palamedes
denounced Odysseus for an unsuccessful foraging expedition, Odysseus framed
Palamedes, making him appear a traitor. Palamedes was stoned to death as a result.

But then a more disastrous quarrel broke out, this time between Agamemnon and
Achilles. Agamemnon had taken the daughter of a priest of Apollo as a trophy of war,
and when her father came to ransom her Agamemnon sent him off without her. The
priest called upon Apollo to avenge him, so Apollo sent a plague to the Greeks that
killed many. Achilles called a council and demanded that Agamemnon give back the
girl, Chryseis. Agamemnon angrily agreed, but he insisted on taking Achilles' own prize,
the maid Briseis, in her place. It would have come to murder had not Athena intervened.
Achilles then gave up Briseis, but in his wounded pride he decided to withdraw from the
war. Since the Greek victories up to that point had been due to Achilles' prowess, this
was a calamity for the Greeks. Achilles told his mother Thetis to petition Zeus for Trojan
victories, which she did.

Quick to see that Achilles and his band of Myrmidons had retired from the fighting, the
Trojans made a spirited attack. Agamemnon then granted a truce in which it was agreed
that Paris and Menelaus should fight in single combat for Helen. But the duel was
inconclusive, for Aphrodite, seeing that Paris was losing, wrapped him in a magic cloud
and took him back to Troy. Menelaus searched for Paris in the Trojan ranks, and
Agamemnon demanded that the Trojans surrender Helen. The Trojans were willing,
which might have ended the war. But Hera wanted Troy devastated, so she dispatched
Athena to break the truce. Athena then persuaded the Trojan archer Pandarus to fire an
arrow at Menelaus. The shot grazed Menelaus, and the fighting resumed in an angry
turmoil.

The greater Ajax and Diomedes fought in an inspired manner, killing Trojans by the
score. Diomedes slew Pandarus and wounded Aeneas. Aphrodite came to rescue her
son Aeneas, but Diomedes wounded her in the wrist, causing the goddess to flee.
However, Apollo bore Aeneas from the field and Artemis cured him. Diomedes then
encountered Hector, who was accompanied by the bloody Ares, god of battle.
Diomedes was intimidated and the Greeks drew back, but Athena gave Diomedes the
courage to attack Ares. Injured, Ares bellowed in pain and fled to Olympus.

Forced to retreat, Hector was advised to return to Troy and bid his mother Hecuba to
offer her most beautiful robe with a plea for mercy to the hostile Athena. Yet this gesture
failed to placate the goddess. After a poignant conversation with his wife Andromache
and dandling his infant son Astyanax, Hector went back to the field and issued a
challenge to duel to Achilles, who declined. Ajax took up the challenge, and in the fight
Ajax slightly bested Hector. The two warriors parted after exchanging gifts.

Honoring his promise to Thetis, who had asked him to aid the Trojans, Zeus ordered the
other gods from the battlefield. As a consequence the Greeks lost badly. Under Hector's
pounding assault the Greeks were almost driven back to their ships by evening.
Disheartened, Agamemnon considered abandoning the siege of Troy. But Nestor, who
was old and wise, recommended that he make peace with Achilles by giving him back
Briseis and a pile of wealth to boot. Achilles received the deputation from Agamemnon
courteously, but refused the offer. His pride was at stake, and he would only fight if he
or his Myrmidons were threatened. The situation seemed hopeless. Yet that night
Odysseus and Diomedes made a raid on the Trojan camp, killing many, including King
Rhesus, and stealing some horses.

The next day the Greeks were forced back to the beach, and Agamemnon, Odysseus,
and Diomedes were wounded. Hera resolved to turn the tide of battle. Using Aphrodite's
magic girdle, she seduced Zeus into making love to her and forgetting about the war.
While Zeus was engaged Poseidon entered the fray and made the Trojans retreat. Ajax
hurled a boulder at Hector and felled him, whereupon the Trojans ran madly for the city.
Zeus recovered from his infatuation, saw the rout, threatened to beat Hera, and ordered
Poseidon from the field.

Apollo came to Hector's aid, breathing vigor into him. Once again the Trojans gained the
upper hand. With Hector in the forefront the Trojans smashed down the protective
barricades the Greeks had built to protect their ships. Greatly alarmed, Achilles'
companion Patroclus tried to persuade his friend to fight, but still Achilles declined.
Patroclus then borrowed Achilles' armor and entered the battle. Thinking that Achilles
was now fighting, the Trojans panicked as Patroclus slaughtered them right and left. He
made his way to the walls of Troy, but Apollo dazed him as he tried to scale them.
Hector found Patroclus then and slew him, stripping him of his splendid armor.

When Achilles received news of Patroclus' death he threw himself on the ground in a
frenzy of grief and had to be restrained. His mother, Thetis, brought him new armor
fashioned by Hephaestus, but she warned him that if he killed Hector he himself would
perish soon after. Nevertheless, Achilles was determined to slay Hector and a host of
Trojans besides. The next morning he made a formal reconciliation with Agamemnon
and began fighting immediately.
The clash of arms that day was terrible. While Hector and Aeneas killed many Greeks
they could not stop Achilles in his furor of bloodletting. In fact, both Aeneas and Hector
had to be rescued with divine help. Achilles filled the Scamander River so full of bodies
in his dreadful onslaught that the waters over-flowed and nearly drowned him. The
gods, too, engaged in battle among themselves, as Athena felled Ares, Hera boxed
Artemis' ears, and Poseidon provoked Apollo.

Eventually Achilles encountered Hector outside the walls of Troy. Hector ran from his
opponent in a lapse of courage, circling the city three times. But Athena duped him into
making a stand, and Achilles' lance caught him in the throat. Although Hector had
pleaded with Achilles to let his parents ransom his body as he died, Achilles denied him
jeeringly. Then Achilles took Hector's corpse, tied it behind his chariot, and dragged it
back to the Greek camp as Hector's wife watched from the walls of Troy.

Since Patroclus' ghost demanded burial, Achilles prepared a glorious funeral. He cut the
throats of twelve Trojan nobles as a sacrifice on Patroclus' pyre, and funeral contests in
athletics followed. For eleven days Achilles dragged Hector's body around the pyre, yet
Apollo preserved the corpse from corruption. Then Zeus directed Thetis to bid Achilles
accept the ransom offered by King Priam for Hector's body. Zeus also sent Hermes to
Priam, and Hermes guided the old king with his ransom through the Greek lines to
Achilles' camp. Achilles treated Priam with courtesy, for Priam reminded him of his own
aged father, Peleus. Achilles took Hector's weight in gold and gave Priam the body,
which Priam took back to Troy. During the next eleven days there was a truce as the
Trojans mourned for the dead Hector, whom they cremated and buried.

Achilles managed to kill the Amazon Queen, Penthesileia, in the battles that followed.
And when the Trojans brought in Ethiopian reinforcements under Prince Memnon,
things went hard with the Greeks, for many were slain. But when Memnon killed
Achilles' friend Antilochus, Achilles retaliated by killing Memnon in a duel. However,
Achilles' life was drawing to a close, as he well knew. One day in battle Paris shot at
Achilles, and the arrow, guided by Apollo, struck him in the right heel, the only place
where he was vulnerable. The Greeks had a difficult time retrieving his corpse from the
field. Only the efforts of Ajax and Odysseus saved Achilles' body from the Trojans. The
hero was given a magnificent funeral.

There arose a dispute as to whether Ajax or Odysseus should receive Achilles'


resplendent armor. The Greek commanders voted on it and awarded the armor to
Odysseus. Dishonored and furious, Ajax resolved to kill a number of Greek leaders,
including Odysseus. But Athena visited him with madness, and that night Ajax
butchered a number of cattle under the delusion that they were the men who had
slighted him. When Athena removed his frenzy Ajax saw his irremediable folly and
committed suicide out of shame.

With their two most valiant warriors dead the Greeks became anxious about ever taking
Troy. Force of arms had been unsuccessful, so they turned to oracles increasingly.
Calchas told them they needed the bow and arrows of Heracles to win the war. These
items were in the hands of Prince Philoctetes, a warrior the Greeks had abandoned
years before on the way to Troy at the island of Lemnos because of a loathsome wound
that would not heal. Odysseus and Diomedes were dispatched to fetch the weapons.
On Lemnos, Odysseus tricked Philoctetes into handing over the bow and arrows and
prepared to leave, but Diomedes offered to take Philoctetes back to Troy with them,
where he would be cured of his wound. Philoctetes swallowed his long bitterness, sailed
for Troy, and killed Paris with the arrows of Heracles. Paris might have been spared if
his former mistress, the nymph oenone, had agreed to heal him, but she refused and
then hanged herself.

The death of Paris and possession of Heracles' weapons did not change the stalemate,
so Calchas told the Greeks that only Helenus, the Trojan seer and prince, knew how
Troy's downfall might be brought about. Odysseus captured Helenus on Mount Ida.
Helenus bore a personal grudge against Troy, having fought for Helen after Paris died
and having lost her, and he was willing to betray the city. First, the Greeks had to bring
Pelops' bones back to Asia from Greece. Agamemnon accomplished this. Second, they
had to bring Achilles' son Neoptolemus into the war, and a group of Greeks went to
Scyros to get him. Third, the Greeks had to steal the Palladium, a sacred image of
Athena, from the goddess's temple in Troy. Diomedes and Odysseus undertook the
dangerous mission. Once in Troy Odysseus was recognized by Helen, who saw through
his disguise but did not give him away. The two heroes seized the sacred image of
Athena and escaped unharmed.

If Odysseus claimed credit for the notion of the huge wooden horse, Athena had given
the idea to another. Nevertheless, Odysseus helped the plan succeed. A great horse of
wood was constructed under Greek supervision, one with a hollow belly to hold several
soldiers. One night this horse was brought to the Trojan plain and warriors climbed in
under Odysseus' direction. The rest of the Greeks burned their camps and sailed off to
wait behind the nearby island of Tenedos.

The next morning the Trojans found the Greeks gone and the huge, mysterious horse
sitting before Troy. They also discovered a Greek named Sinon, whom they took
captive. Odysseus had primed Sinon with plausible stories about the Greek departure,
the wooden horse, and his own presence there. Sinon told Priam and the others that
Athena had deserted the Greeks because of the theft of the Palladium. Without her help
they were lost and had best depart. But to get home safely they had to have a human
sacrifice, and Sinon was chosen, yet he got away and hid. The horse had been left to
placate the angry goddess, and the Greeks were hoping the Trojans would desecrate it,
earning Athena's hatred. These lies convinced Priam and many Trojans. However,
Cassandra and a priest named Laocon warned that the horse was full of soldiers. No
one believed Cassandra anyhow. And when Lacoon hurled a spear at the horse a
hostile god sent two large snakes to strangle him and his sons. The Trojans needed no
further proof: they drew the gigantic horse inside their city gates to honor Athena.

That night the soldiers crept from the horse, killed the sentries, and opened the gates to
let the Greek army in. The Greeks set fires throughout the city, began massacring the
inhabitants, and looted. The Trojan resistance was ineffectual. King Priam was killed by
Neoptolemus. And by morning all but a few Trojans were dead. Of Trojan males only
Aeneas, with his father and son, had escaped the slaughter. Hector's young son
Astyanax was thrown from the walls of the city. The women who were left went into
concubinage as spoils of war. And the princess Polyxena, whom Achilles had loved,
was sacrificed brutally upon the tomb of the dead hero. Troy was devastated. Hera and
Athena had their revenge upon Paris and his city.

Having accomplished their aim in sacking Troy, the Greeks now had to face the problem
of getting back to their various kingdoms. This was a problem, for the gods had scores
to settle with many Greeks. Soon after the Greeks set sail a fierce storm arose that blew
much of the Greek fleet far off course.

Of those who went by ship Agamemnon was one of the few that escaped the storm and
reached home easily. But immediately upon his return Agamemnon's wife,
Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus, slew him and his followers, including
Cassandra, at the banquet table. Clytemnestra had never forgiven her husband for
sacrificing Iphigenia.

Menelaus had resolved to kill Helen when he found her in Troy, but on seeing her naked
breasts he lost his determination and took her again as his wife. After offending Athena,
Menelaus and Helen were caught in the storm, lost most of their ships, and were blown
to Crete and Egypt. Unable to return to Sparta because of adverse winds, Menelaus
began trading. Eight years later he wrested the secret of getting home from the
prophetic sea god Proteus, master of changes. And having propitiated Athena,
Menelaus was able to sail to Sparta with Helen, returning a rich man. When the two of
them died they went to the Isles of the Blessed, being favored relations of Zeus.

The lesser Ajax, who had raped Cassandra in the temple of Athena while plundering
Troy, was shipwrecked on his way home. Scrambling onto the rocks, he rejoiced at
having escaped the vengeance of the gods. But Poseidon split the rock to which he
clung and drowned him. Athena then exacted an annual tribute of two maidens from
Ajax's fellow Locrians to be sent to Troy.

Bitterly resentful of the Greeks, Nauplius caused many of their ships to smash on the
Euboean coast by lighting a deceptive beacon. Philoctetes, who still nursed a grudge
against the Greeks for their shabby treatment of him, did not return to Greece but sailed
to Italy, where he founded two cities.

The prophet Calchas made it to Colophon, where he met the seer Mopsus. He engaged
Mopsus in a contest of prophecy, which he lost. Calchas then died.

Achilles' son Neoptolemus had established himself as a valiant fighter at Troy. Warned
against ruling his home kingdom, he went instead to Epirus and became the Molossian
king. Neoptolemus went to Delphi to demand retribution from Apollo, who had helped
kill his father. When the priestess refused he robbed and burned the temple. Later he
returned to Delphi, where he was killed in a dispute over sacrificial meat. The devotees
of Apollo then erected a new temple over his grave.

Of all the Greeks only the wise Nestor sailed swiftly home and enjoyed the fruits of old
age in peace, surrounded by stalwart sons. His virtues of prudence and piety had
enabled him to live to see three generations of heroes.

Analysis

The legend of the Trojan War comes from a number of sources besides Homer.
The Iliad deals with the central part of the tale, from the quarrel between Agamemnon
and Achilles to Hector's funeral. This is the heart of the story, but the legend as a whole
has a unity of its own. Schliemann's excavations at Troy and subsequent investigations
make it somewhat likely that a siege may have taken place in the Mycenaean period.
But regardless of actual historical fact and despite discrepancies in various treatments
of the legend this story has a reality and a coherence that seem remarkable.

The unity lies in the interweaving of the divine and the human. On a purely human level
the tale makes sense. Thus, Paris, a lecherous prince, abducts Helen. The Greeks are
bound by honor to seek revenge on both Paris and the city that harbors him. The war
lasts ten years, and the same honor that brought the Greeks occasions internecine
fights of great bitterness. Both sides fight valiantly, but fighting fails to bring Troy low.
The Greeks turn to oracles, which produce nothing. Finally, they turn to their own wits
and work out a stratagem that wins the war.

On the divine level the story makes equal sense. Hera and Athena hate Paris for
preferring Aphrodite, and they hate the city that bred him. Being goddesses of power
and bravery, they aid the Greeks in every possible way, even in giving them the plan
that brings Troy down. But everything that happened was known beforehand. The war
was fated before Paris was born. Some principle of Necessity wrote the whole scenario.

The human and the divine interact through dreams, oracles, and inspiration in battle.
And often the gods themselves put in a personal appearance to aid their favorites.
Dreams and oracles reveal the will of the gods, but inspired fighting shows the gods'
favor. Of course that favor is rather precarious, yet by means of it a hero wins the only
thing in life worth winning fame, glory in posterity. The Greeks looked back wistfully
to the period of the Trojan War and earlier as an age of true greatness.

One might think that a race which values courage in battle to the degree the Greeks did
would be blind to the squalor of war. But this legend shows nothing of the kind. Ruthless
slaughter, meanness and trickery, the degradation of death these are set forth
without mitigation in a realistic light. Hector and Achilles are basically tragic figures, for
they know the terrible doom that must fall on them, but they act out their destinies in
battle with valor.
An outstanding incident in this tale comes as Hector faces Achilles. Achilles has nothing
to lose, while Hector bears the weight of Troy on his shoulders. Seeing that Achilles is
full of divine power, Hector weakens and runs even though he is a man of great
courage. Athena has to trick him into making a stand, and Achilles slays him. Dying,
Hector begs his killer to allow his parents to ransom his body, and the last thing he
hears is Achilles' gloating refusal. But Achilles has set his own doom in motion. This
episode prefigures the fall of Troy in a heart-rending way. The foremost hero of Troy
has been slain by the foremost hero of Greece, who must shortly die in turn. Human
choice and divine inevitability are interwoven here in tragic terms. But the entire legend
of the Trojan War bears that same tragic stamp

THE TROJAN HORSE SUMMARY


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How It (Supposedly) Went Down


Brief Summary
To break the stalemate of the long and bloody Trojan War, wily Odysseus comes up
with a sneaky plan. Most of the Greeks will pretend to sail away, while a few hide inside
of a giant wooden horse. Despite the arguments of the priest Laocon and the seer
Cassandra, the Trojans drag the horse inside the city thanks to the lies of a Greek
named Sinon. That night, Odysseus and the rest of the Greeks inside the horse sneak
out, open the gates for their buddies, and finally lay waste to the city of Troy.

Detailed Summary
The brutal and bloody Trojan War has been going on for ten loooooooooong
years. (Notice the ten O's in that word. We take pride in our work here at
Shmoop.)
Tons of people have died.
It's depressing.
The great Trojan hero Hector got skewered by Achilles.
Achilles died after being shot in the heel by Paris, who started the whole thing by
stealing Helen from Menelaus.
Paris, himself, has been killed by the Greek hero, Philoctetes.
So, basically, death is everywhere, and everybody's getting pretty darn sick of
this awful war.
Still, though, both the Trojans and the Greeks are too stubborn to call it quits.
King Priam of Troy won't give Helen back to her husband, Menelaus.
And Greek commander King Agamemnon won't leave until his brother Menelaus'
(and all of Greece's) honor is satisfied.
The Greek armies have totally decimated the lands around Troy and kicked all
the Trojan allies' butts.
They'd totally be winning in weren't for these pesky walls of Troy, which are
super tall, super thick, and basically impenetrable.
Stalemate...
Ugh...
What to do?
One day, a light bulb goes off in the brain of wily Odysseus.
Odysseus, who's known for being crafty, goes to Agamemnon and the rest of the
Greek commanders with a sneaky plan.
He's like, "O.K. guys, what we need to do is build this really massive wooden
horse."
"I don't get how that helps," says some dumb Greek.
"Shut your pie-hole and let me finish," says Odysseus.
Continuing on, Odysseus tells them, "Most of us will pretend like we've given up
and sail our fleet over behind the island of Tenedos."
"Greeks never run away," shouts the same dumb Greek.
"I said 'pretend,' idiot. Now can it!" says Odysseus. "About thirty of us will hide
inside the horse. The Trojans will think it's some kind of gift and haul it into their
city. Then when they're all asleep, we'll sneak out, open the gates for everybody
else, and totally kill everybody in the city."
The Greeks think this is a pretty sweet plan, and they all get busy putting it into
motion.
They commission an artist named Epeius to oversee the building of the giant
wooden horse, and he does a bang-up job.
Odysseus and a bunch of other dudes climb into the horse, while everybody else
sails away and hides.
The only Greek left outside of the horse is Sinon, whom Odysseus appoints to
help sell the deception.
Eventually, the Trojans peek over their walls and are deliriously happy to see that
the Greeks are gone.
They come out of the city to check out the lay of the land, and they see the big
crazy horse.
The Trojans start debating about whether they should take it inside the city, or
just destroy it.
A priest named Laocon is totally for destroying it, famously saying that he's
"afraid of Greeks, even those bearing gifts."
The priest takes a spear and hits it against the horse.
A big booming echo resounds from the horse, and everybody knows it's hollow.
The Trojans are just about ready to go with Laocon's advice and destroy the
thing, when some Trojan soldiers bring in Sinon.
The Greek soldier tells the Trojans that Odysseus was trying to offer him as
human sacrifice, so he ran away and hid in the marsh.
Sinon tells them he totally hates his fellow countrymen, and begs the Trojans to
have mercy on him.
"Al lright," say the Trojans. "But what's up with this big crazy horse?"
Sinon tells them that the Greeks made it as an offering to Athena, who was really
mad at Odysseus for stealing her statue from her temple in Troy.
They made it super big, because their seer Calchas declared if the Trojans were
able to haul it into their city, then all the Greeks would be destroyed.
He also says that if the Trojans destroy the thing, then the Trojans will be
destroyed.
Laocon is still majorly suspicious and tells his fellow Trojans not to listen to
Sinon.
Just then the god Poseidon sends two giant sea serpents who gobble up
Laocon and his two sons. (Wow, we didn't see that one coming.)
The Trojans are all like, "Well, looks like the gods don't like Laocon very much.
We'd better do the opposite of what he says and haul this big old horse into the
city."
"Smart move," says Sinon. "You'll destroy those awful Greeks yet" (wink, wink).
So, the Trojans spend all day dragging the massive horse into Troy.
Before it enters, the seer, Princess Cassandra, warns them that the horse will
cause the downfall of the entire city.
She's been cursed by Apollo to never be believed, though, so the Trojans don't
pay any attention to her.
That night the city of Troy throws an epic rager to celebrate the end of the war.
About the time everybody passes out drunk, Odysseus and the other Greeks
inside the horse make their move.
Before long, the gates of Troy are open and the city is full of brutal Greek
soldiers.
The Greeks are totally merciless.
Men are killed, women are raped, babies are flung from the city walls (not even
kidding), and everything is set on fire.
King Priam is killed while trying to take sanctuary in a temple of Zeus.
Cassandra is raped by Ajax the Lesser in a temple of Athena, and she's
eventually taken as a sex slave of Agamemnon.
Menelaus goes to kill Helen, but is once again seduced by her feminine charms.
In the end, the great city of Troy is in ruins, and the Trojan Horse is written down
in history as one of the greatest deceptions of all time.

THE TROJAN HORSE


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Bedtime and campfire stories from way, way back in the


day
Check out this full version of the story from our main man, Thomas Bulfinch!
There was in Troy a celebrated statue of Minerva called the Palladium. It was said to
have fallen from heaven, and the belief was that the city could not be taken so long as
this statue remained within it. Ulysses and Diomed entered the city in disguise and
succeeded in obtaining the Palladium, which they carried off to the Grecian camp.
But Troy still held out, and the Greeks began to despair of ever subduing it by force, and
by advice of Ulysses resolved to resort to stratagem. They pretended to be making
preparations to abandon the siege, and a portion of the ships were withdrawn and lay
hid behind a neighboring island. The Greeks then constructed an immense wooden
horse, which they gave out was intended as a propitiatory offering to Minerva, but in fact
was filled with armed men. The remaining Greeks then betook themselves to their ships
and sailed away, as if for a final departure. The Trojans, seeing the encampment broken
up and the fleet gone, concluded the enemy to have abandoned the siege. The gates
were thrown open, and the whole population issued forth rejoicing at the long-prohibited
liberty of passing freely over the scene of the late encampment. The great horse was
the chief object of curiosity. All wondered what it could be for. Some recommended to
take it into the city as a trophy; others felt afraid of it.
While they hesitate, Laocoon, the priest of Neptune, exclaims,"What madness, citizens,
is this? Have you not learned enough of Grecian fraud to be on your guard against it?
For my part, I fear the Greeks even when they offer gifts." So saying he threw his lance
at the horse's side. It struck, and a hollow sound reverberated like a groan. Then
perhaps the people might have taken his advice and destroyed the fatal horse and all its
contents; but just at that moment a group of people appeared, dragging forward one
who seemed a prisoner and a Greek. Stupefied with terror, he was brought before the
chiefs, who reassured him, promising that his life should be spared on condition of his
returning true answers to the questions asked him. He informed them that he was a
Greek, Sinon by name, and that in consequence of the malice of Ulysses he had been
left behind by his countrymen at their departure. With regard to the wooden horse, he
told them that it was a propitiatory offering to Minerva, and made so huge for the
express purpose of preventing its being carried within the city; for Calchas the prophet
had told them that if the Trojans took possession of it they would assuredly triumph over
the Greeks. This language turned the tide of the people's feelings and they began to
think how they might best secure the monstrous horse and the favorable auguries
connected with it, when suddenly a prodigy occurred which left no room to doubt. There
appeared, advancing over the sea, two immense serpents. They came upon the land,
and the crowd fled in all directions. The serpents advanced directly to the spot where
Laocoon stood with his two sons. They first attacked the children, winding round their
bodies and breathing their pestilential breath in their faces. The father, attempting to
rescue them, is next seized and involved in the serpents' coils. He struggles to tear
them away, but they overpower all his efforts and strangle him and the children in their
poisonous folds. This event was regarded as a clear indication of the displeasure of the
gods at Laocoon's irreverent treatment of the wooden horse, which they no longer
hesitated to regard as a sacred object, and prepared to introduce with due solemnity
into the city. This was done with songs and triumphal acclamations, and the day closed
with festivity. In the night the armed men who were enclosed in the body of the horse,
being let out by the traitor Sinon, opened the gates of the city to their friends, who had
returned under cover of the night. The city was set on fire; the people, overcome with
feasting and sleep, put to the sword, and Troy completely subdued.

THEME OF LIES AND DECEIT IN


THE TROJAN HORSE
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The old Trojan Horse trick is one of the most legendary deceits of all time, so there's no
doubt that this story is going be chock full of lies. Not only is Odysseus' sneaky plan
totally deceptive, the plan also requires Sinon to tell a whole string of lies to get the
Trojans to drag the giant horse into their city. So the real question becomes this: just
how dishonorable is it of the Greeks to use this tactic? You could see them as low down
scoundrels, or you could see them as just being smarter than their enemies.

Questions About Lies and Deceit


1. Is it right or wrong of the Greeks to use the Trojan Horse stratagem? What do
you think?
2. Is it ever O.K. to lie? Why or why not?
3. What would you say is the most destructive lie told in this story?
4. List all the lies told by Sinon.
5. Is Odysseus a clever strategist, or a total war criminal? Explain your answer.
The story of the Trojan Horse is one of the most famous incidents of the Trojan War,
which is totally one of the most iconic wars in all of Western literature. So yeah, we'd
say warfare is probably a pretty big theme in this story. One thing that's interesting
about the Trojan Horse itself is that it isn't your average weapon of mass destruction.
You know, it's not like Odysseus decides to build a big flamethrower to incinerate the
walls of Troy. Instead, he comes up with a far craftier way to cause massive
devastation. In some ways, you could see the Trojan Horse a prelude to our world of
modern warfare, where the side with the best technology can often dominate its foes.

Questions About Warfare


1. When is there a good reason to go to war? Explain your answer.
2. What is the difference between honorable warfare and dishonorable warfare?
3. In what ways might the Trojan Horse stratagem similar to any tactics that we use
in modern warfare?
4. Can you think of another tactic the Greeks might have used to get past the walls
of Troy?

THE TROJAN HORSE


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Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory


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It's kind of hard to miss the major symbol in this story. One: its name is in the title. Two:
it's a giant wooden horse, which is also screaming out for attention. But what, oh what,
does it mean? Well, these days any stratagem that tricks an enemy into inviting their foe
into a previously secure location can be called a "Trojan Horse."
The name is also used for the most hated thing on Earth. "Roaches?" you guess.
"Close," we answer. In fact, "Trojans," as they're called, is another name for malware,
those awful programs that sneak onto your computer by pretending to be something
else and totally mess every thing up. So, there you go. To this day, the Trojan Horse is
synonymous with destruction caused by deception.
SETTING IN THE TROJAN
HORSE
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Troy
All the action takes place in and around the city of Troy, which is said to have been
located in modern-day Turkey. For the ancient Greeks, this was a long way from home.
The danger of whole situation is amp'd up by the fact that they were fighting their fight in
a strange and distant land.
Probably, the most important thing to know about the city in this story is that Troy has
awesome walls. These bad boys are seriously high, seriously thick, and totally
impenetrable. It's because of these awesome walls that the Greeks are forced to resort
to Odysseus' sneaky Trojan Horse plot to get inside the city.
These days, some archaeologists say that they've discovered the actual site of the
ancient city of Troy. One of the earliest excavators was a dude named Heinrich
Schliemann, who helped put the site on the map. A bunch of other guys have spent time
digging there, and today the site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Learn more about
it here.