The Trojan War
Prologue to Homer's Iliad
In Greek mythology the Trojan War was a conflict in which Greek warriors sailed the Aegean to what is now Turkey and besieged the citadel of Troy for ten years.
While the war--and indeed the city of Troy--were once suspected to be no more than myth, that suspicion was largely laid to rest in the late nineteenth century when Heinrich Schliemann excavated the ruins of the citadel.
In the Iliad the course of the Trojan War is influenced by the pantheon of immortal Olympian gods headed by Zeus, some of whom align with one side or the other.
According to Greek mythology, these divine rivalries are mainly rooted in "The Judgment of Paris," although that is barely mentioned in the poem itself.
Before the war a wedding occurred in which a sea goddess, Thetis, married a mortal, Peleus.
All deities were invited to the wedding celebration except the goddess Eris (Strife). Resentful, she cast among the celebrants a golden apple bearing an inscription that it was a prize for the fairest goddess. Three goddesses competed for the apple: Hera, Athena and Aphrodite.
Zeus declared that the contest should be judged by Paris, a son of Troy's king Priam. After the wedding celebration the contestants presented themselves to Paris and each offered him an incentive to choose her. Hera offered Paris political dominion over Asia, Athena offered military success, and Aphrodite offered the most beautiful mortal woman. Paris chose Aphrodite.
Thetis bore Peleus a son, Achilles, destined to be the mightiest of warriors, and the fastest running. Thetis dipped her baby in river Styx as a means of making him impervious to weapons--except for the heel that she held while dipping him. Styx's water did not touch there.
In due course Aphrodite fulfilled her pledge to Paris by guiding him across the Aegean to Sparta where he was cordially hosted by the city's monarch, Menelaus, married to Helen, a daughter of Zeus and the world's most beautiful mortal woman. Paris seduced Helen, and she sailed to Troy with him and considerable wealth.
Menelaus and his ally Odysseus traveled to Troy, where they unsuccessfully sought to recover Helen by diplomatic means.
After diplomacy failed, Menelaus promoted a military expedition to recover Helen and avenge Paris' abuse of hospitality. Supporters, including Odysseus and Pylos' king Nestor, traveled the area to recruit forces. Eventually, allies joined the expedition from all over Greece and neighboring islands, as well as Crete, Rhodes, and other Aegean islands off southwest Asia Minor.
By the time the army sailed for Troy, Achilles had grown to manhood, and he commanded fifty shiploads of Myrmidon warriors from Peleus' kingdom in Phthia.
Menelaus' brother Agamemnon, king in Mycenae, served as the army's commander-in-chief, a post he received because he contributed more men than any other leader.
Faced with the Greek invasion, Troy assembled allied fighters from throughout western Asia Minor, including the area north of the Hellespont (Dardanelles).
Hera and Athena nursed a grudge against Troy because of the affront they felt when Troy's prince Paris rejected them in favor of Aphrodite. The two goddesses therefore supported Greece during the Trojan War and were determined to see Troy fall. Aphrodite, on the other hand, rewarded Paris' choice by siding with Troy.
Poseidon hated the Trojans independently of the Judgment of Paris. Trojan King Priam's father, Laomedon, agreed to pay Poseidon and Apollo for constructing a wall around Troy. They did so, but Laomedon refused to pay them. Poseidon therefore sided with the Greeks.
Apollo, on the other hand, sided with the Trojans for reasons not well understood, but apparently unrelated to the Judgment of Paris. In Book 1 of the Iliad he is offended when Agamemnon slights his priest, and Homer's epic contains no hint of other grounds for Apollo's steadfast support of Troy in the Trojan War.
View Trojan War images.
See a fascinating, extensive treatment of the Trojan War in its Bronze Age, Mycenaean context.
Text Copyright 2009 Herbert Jordan