The Judgement of Paris by Peter Paul Reubens
Portrayal of the sacrifice of Iphegenia
Achilles and Ajax playing a game
The Mykonos Vase (c. 675 BC), the oldest representation of the Trojan Horse.
Sacrifice of Polyxena
The war between the kingdom of Troy and the Greeks was the result of an argument between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, as triggered by Eris, the goddess of strife and discord. At the wedding of Thetis and the king Peleus (Achilles’ parents), Eris was angry that she among the gods was not allowed to attend and so she threw a golden apple directed “to the fairest” inside. The three goddesses fought for it, but none of the gods wanted to choose sides. So, Zeus sent them to Paris, a prince of Troy unaware of his pedigree, but he couldn’t decide and so each goddess promised him something in return. He chose Aphrodite in order to receive the love of the most beautiful woman, Helen. Paris went to her palace and she left with him and abandoned her husband, Menelaus, the Spartan king. His brother, Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae, led the troops against Troy. Due to Helen’s beauty, her suitors promised to defend her marriage regardless of who she chose, and they came forward to honor it to reclaim her from Troy.
After a false start in which the Greeks were scattered by the winds, when they all met again at Aulis, the winds stopped as a result of Agamemnon’s snub of Artemis. He had to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, and myth relates that she either was killed or Artemis replaced her with a deer at the last second.
The war lasted for ten years, though there isn’t much information on the first nine. The Greeks attacked Trojan allies, especially Achilles and Ajax, who really messed things up around Troy; during this time Achilles captured Briseis, the widowed queen of Lyrnessus. The Illiad covers the last years, beginning with Agamemnon demanding Briseis after being forced to return Chryseis as demanded by Apollo. Achilles, displeased, promised never to fight again and thus the Greeks lost their best warrior. He allowed his best friend, Patroclus, to fight in his stead with his armor, and he was killed by Hector who then looted the corpse. Angry, Achilles fought again with weapons from Hephaestus as obtained by Thetis. He killed Hector in retribution and refused to return the body until King Priam came to ask. The final tableau of The Illiad is Hector’s funeral, but that was not the end of the war.
Next, the Amazons arrived to fight for Priam, including queen Penthesilea – wrought with grief over accidentally killing her sister Hippolyte – who sought an honorable death. While the myth varies, most sources show Achilles as falling in love with her beauty after killing her. On his way into the city, the gods realized how many of their children had been slain by his hand and Apollo helped Paris to shoot an arrow into his heel, which killed him. It was determined that Odysseus, not Ajax, should receive his arms, and thus Ajax ended up committing suicide. Due to a prophecy stating that Troy needed Heracles’ bow to win, Odysseus and Diomedes went to get it and its owner, Philoctetes, who killed Paris. Next, Helen was betrothed to his brother, Deiphobus. Odysseus brought Neoptolemus, Achilles’ son, his arms, to Troy.
The end of the war finally came with the Trojan Horse, a hollow horse supposedly dedicated to Athena for their return home, but in actuality was filled with soldiers. Interestingly, historical Assyrians used siege machines covered in horse hide and thus the Trojan Horse may have been one of those that was later mythicized. The Trojans, believing the Achaeans to be gone, brought it inside and ignored Cassandra’s protest. Thus, during a celebration, the soldiers emerged and massacred the citizens. During the Sack of Troy, Neoptolemus killed Priam at the altar of Zeus, sacrificed Polyxena on Achilles’ grave – while not in the early myth, later myths have Polyxena and Achilles falling in love and she must be sacrificed as demanded by Achilles’ ghost after his ambush –, and got Andromache, Hector’s wife, as a prize. Menelaus killed Deiphobus but was convinced to spare Helen. Ajax the Lesser raped Cassandra at Athena’s altar, who was then given to Agamemnon. Odysseus was given Queen Hecuba as a prison of war. As the women were assigned, the Greeks threw Andromache and Hector’s infant Astyanax from the walls of Troy to end the royal line.
While some gods fought with the Greeks, they were unhappy with the sacrilegious acts and thus they decided most soldiers would not make it home or would be faced with troubles, the most well-known of which are the troubles of the House of Atreus – in which Agamemnon and Cassandra are killed by his wife, Clytemnestra and her lover, who were then killed by their children, Orestes and Electra –, and the Odyssey – which recount Odysseus’ ten year return to Ithaca.
He was the son of the sea-nymph (or Nereid) Thetis and Peleus. Thetis was desired by Zeus and Poseidon until Prometheus told them she would bear a son greater than his father, and thus they married her to Peleus. As suggested by Statius in the 1st century AD, Thetis tried to make Achilles immortal by dipping him in the river Styx except for his left heel, where she held him, and attempted to burn the mortality out of him, but there are no references of this invulnerability before him. He was prophesied to either gain eternal glory on the battlefield or die of old age after a dull life. On Skyros, he had a son with the princess Deidamia while in disguise as a woman, but Odysseus discovers the ruse and enlists him for Troy. His death has one of two stories: first, that he was shot while scaling the walls by a divinely guided arrow, and second, that he was killed while Priam is overseeing the marriage between him and Polyxena. Both cases deny Paris any valor. Historical pilgrimages and heroic cults – which venerated dead men and called upon them as protectors – to Achilles did exist, despite the negative interpretation of him by Greek tragedians and especially Romans.
She was the daughter of Leda and Zeus (in the shape of the swan, though other accounts have her as the daughter of Nemesis, who shapeshifted into a bird to avoid Zeus and the egg came to Leda) and considered the most beautiful woman of the world. Her beauty always led to problems, including an abduction by Theseus when she was quite young, although she was rescued by her brothers. Due to all her suitors, her human father, Tyndareus, made them all promise to provide whoever her husband would be with military aid if needed. Her involvement with the war is very complicated due to multiple portrayals of her feelings and her youth and place as a woman in a man’s world. Varying accounts have her either abducted or a willing traveler. Few authors – including Euripides and Herodotus – don’t think Helen ever went to Troy and instead remained in Egypt while a doppleganger made of clouds went with Paris, although most think she was there. Homer notes that Helen was always upset by what had happen and that she was especially sorrowful for what happened to Hector. In the Odyssey, she attempts to convince the men inside to come out of the horse and prevent the sack, but to no avail. She either returned to Sparta or ascended to Mount Olympus.
Also known as Alexander, he is a son of Priam and Hecuba, the rulers of Troy. Right before he was born, Hecuba had a dream interpreted as meaning that the downfall of Troy would be the result of the boy and he must be killed. However, neither of his parents could do it and they left him on Mount Ida, where he was fed by a bear and then raised by Priam’s herdsman. One of his hobbies was to have his adopted father’s bulls fight each other. When he offered a crown to the winner, Ares took him up on it and Paris’ honestly made him a strong contender for the judgement, in which he deemed Aphrodite the most beautiful. Homer considers him to be a coward. After he is mortally wounded by Philocetes, he goes to see his first wife, the nymph Oenone, and asks to heal him – he either goes by himself or Helen takes him – where he dies.
The first-born child of Priam and Hecuba, he was the heir to Troy. He committed the first causality of the war when he killed Protesilaus, the first Greek who landed, as prophesized. He also dueled with Ajax, but they were evenly matched and exchanged items - Hector’s sword, which Ajax used to commit suicide, and Ajax’s girdle, which was used to drag Hector around the walls. Despite his wife’s, Andromache’s, protestations, he must fight and thus leaves the gate of Troy, where he kills Patroclus, Achilles’ best friend, and strips his armor. Achilles fights on behalf of his friend and kills him, despite his brave attempt. In his death throes, he asks for an honorable funeral, but is denied, although Hector reminds Achilles he will die soon. After twelve days, the gods intervene and Priam is able to reclaim his body and bury it.
Achilles and Patroclus
Helen by Anotonio Canova
Statue of Paris (2nd century CE)
Hector, Andromache, and Astyanax