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The mysterious white horse sits on the windy plains of Troy, abandoned by the departing Greeks. The Trojan soothsayer's warnings are ignored, and the hollow horse full of Greek warriors is towed inside the walls of the city, spelling the eventual doom of Troy. Everyone knows that story, but how exactly did the Trojan war begin?
Archeologists tell us that Greece and Turkey are historically bitter enemies and that the Trojan War really happened, but no real war could have the romance of the ancient Greek myth, recounting the story of the war.
It all began it seems with Priam, the ruler of Troy, who had a feckless son by the name of Paris. Paris' foolishness was legendary.
At any rate, there was to be a wedding in the heavens. Peleus, king of the Myrmidons--a warrior race descended from ants--was about to give his daughter in marriage. Everybody that counted was going to be there. However, Eris, the goddess of discord, didn't receive an invitation, probably because of her reputation for causing trouble. Eris vowed revenge. She cast a golden apple across the floor of the heavens. The apple said, "For the Fairest."
Instantly the major goddesses began to vie for the apple. At first Zeus was begged to decide who was fairest, but he was too cagey to take the job. He suggested an earthling be summoned to be the judge--none other than the foolish Trojan--Paris.
It was instantly clear that Paris was going to have a tough decision because the goddesses accosted him with various bribes. Athena (Latin name Minerva) promised Paris military victory over the Greeks. Hera (Juno) offered Paris rule over Europe and Asia. But Aphrodite (Venus)promised the hand of the fairest woman on earth.
Being the witless clod he was, Paris, in order to win the most beautiful woman in the world, awarded the apple to Aphrodite.
Now as fate would have it, the most beautiful woman in the world was Helen, later Helen of Troy. However, at that time, Helen was married to a principal Greek chieftain by the name of Menelaus. Furthermore, Helen was not only beautiful, she was from an unusual background. She was the daughter of Leda, who had gotten pregnant when raped by Zeus disguised as a swan.
Menelaus and Helen welcomed Paris as a guest, but tragically, Helen instantly fell for the killingly handsome Paris. Stupid as the pair were, they still saw the danger of their liaison and instantly ran off to Troy, a fortified city in what would now be western Turkey.
As soon as Menelaus got wind of what had happened, he summoned his Greek cronies who had sworn to help him protect his wife. However, among the Greeks was one of the first anti-war protestors. Odysseus had no stomach for what he saw as foolish grounds for warfare. Why fight over an unfaithful woman? Thus, when the Greek warlords came to induct him into the Greek invasion force, Odysseus pretended to be mad.
He had yoked a mule and an ox together and was planting his field with salt. However, the Greeks were not so easily fooled. One of them threw Odysseus' infant son, Telemachus, in front of the plow as Odysseus tilled the soil, muttering insanely to himself. The jig was up when Odysseus swerved with the plow in order to avoid killing his son; thus, Odysseus was recruited into the Greek army.
With Odysseus on board the Greek army was nearly complete with the exception of Achilles. Achilles' mother, the goddess Thetis, considered the war a farce and had induced Achilles to disguise himself as a girl and take refuge on the island of Scyros. Odysseus tracked Achilles to the island, then disguising himself as a merchant, Odysseus showed Achilles his wares, including gems and weapons. Dressed as a girl, Achilles betrayed himself when he showed no interest in the gems, but avidly examined the weapons.
Hence with the army now intact, the Greek fleet soon attempted to set sail, but were at once beset by pestilence and absence of wind as a result of Agamemnon having slain one of the goddess Diana's sacred deer. This could only be remedied by the sacrifice of Agamemnon's daughter, Iphigenia, at Aulis.
It was on this dreadful note that the stage was set for ten years of indecisive struggle between the Greeks and the Trojans that would only end with the Greek stratagem involving the Trojan horse and finally the city of Troy in flames.
The principal combatants on the Greek side were Menelaus, his brother Agamemnon, Achilles, Big and Little Ajax, and Odysseus. The Trojans countered with their most valiant hero, Hector, and a number of lesser figures.
The entirety of the story of the war was originally recounted in Homer's Iliad and later translated by Samuel Butler and Alexander Pope as well as having been retold more simply in many modern translations, including the easily-read mythological classic, Charles Mills Gayley's Classic Myths.