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Trojan Horse

Trojan Horse
Trojan Horse, originally uploaded by voyageAnatolia.

The Trojan Horse was a tale from the Trojan War, as told in Virgil's Latin epic poem The Aeneid. The events in this story from the Bronze Age took place after Homer's Iliad, and before Homer's Odyssey. It was the stratagem that allowed the Greeks finally to enter the city of Troy and end the conflict. In the best-known version, after a fruitless 10-year siege of Troy the Greeks built a huge figure of a horse inside which a select force of men hid. The Greeks pretended to sail away, and the Trojans pulled the Horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night the Greek force crept out of the Horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greek army entered and destroyed the city of Troy, decisively ending the war.

The priest Laocoön guessed the plot and warned the Trojans, in Virgil's famous line "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes" (I fear Greeks even those bearing gifts), but the god Poseidon sent two sea serpents to strangle him, and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus, before he could be believed. King Priam's daughter Cassandra, the soothsayer of Troy, insisted that the horse would be the downfall of the city and its royal family but she too was ignored, hence their doom and loss of the war.


What a thing was this, too, which that mighty man wrought and endured in the carven horse, where in all we chiefs of the Argives were sitting, bearing to the Trojans death and fate! 4.271 ff

But come now,change thy theme, and sing of the building of the horse of wood, which Epeius made with Athena's help, the horse which once Odysseus led up into the citadel as a thing of guile, when he had filled it with the men who sacked Ilion . 8.487 ff (This incident is mentioned in the Odyssey, translation: Samuel Butler)

The most detailed and most familiar version is in Virgil's Aeneid, Book 2 (translation: John Dryden).

By destiny compell'd, and in despair,
The Greeks grew weary of the tedious war,
And by Minerva's aid a fabric rear'd,
Which like a steed of monstrous height appear'd:
The sides were plank'd with pine; they feign'd it made
For their return, and this the vow they paid.
Thus they pretend, but in the hollow side
Selected numbers of their soldiers hide:
With inward arms the dire machine they load,
And iron bowels stuff the dark abode.

[...] Laocoön, follow'd by a num'rous crowd,
Ran from the fort, and cried, from far, aloud:
‘O wretched countrymen! What fury reigns?
What more than madness has possess'd your brains?
Think you the Grecians from your coasts are gone?
And are Ulysses' arts no better known?
This hollow fabric either must inclose,
Within its blind recess, our secret foes;
Or 't is an engine rais'd above the town,
T' o'erlook the walls, and then to batter down.
Somewhat is sure design' d, by fraud or force:
Trust not their presents, nor admit the horse.’

Fact or fiction

According to Homer, Troy stood overlooking the Hellespont - a channel of water that separates Asia Minor and Europe. In the 1870s, Heinrich Schliemann set out to find it.

Following Homer's description, he started to dig at Hisarlik in Turkey and uncovered the ruins of several cities, built one on top of the other. Several of the cities had been destroyed violently, but is not clear which, if any, was the Troy of Homer's poetry.

Book II of Virgil's Aeneid covers the siege of Troy, and includes these lines spoken by Laocoön:

Equo ne credite, Teucri. Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes: Do not trust the horse, Trojans! Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks, even bringing gifts. This is the origin of the modern adage "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts."

Pausanias, who lived in the 2nd century AD, wrote on his book Description of Greece:

That the work of Epeius was a contrivance to make a breach in the Trojan wall is known to everybody who does not attribute utter silliness to the Phrygians (1,XXIII,8)

where by Phrygians he means the Trojans. There has been some modern speculation that the Trojan Horse may have been a battering ram resembling, to some extent, a horse, and that the description of the use of this device was then transformed into a myth by later oral historians who were not present at the battle and were unaware of that meaning of the name. Assyrians at the time used siege machines with animal names; it is possible that the Trojan Horse was such. It has also been suggested that the Trojan Horse actually represents an earthquake that occurred between the wars that could have weakened Troy's walls and left them open for attack. Structural damage on Troy VI—its location being the same as that represented in Homer's Iliad and the artifacts found there suggesting it was a place of great trade and power—shows signs that there was indeed an earthquake. Generally, though, Troy VIIa is believed to be Homer's Troy.

The deity Poseidon had a triple function as a god of the sea, of horses and of earthquakes.

The Trojan horse may also refer to the Trojan cavalry led by Hector. The enemy could have disguised themselves as this cavalry unit and were let back into Troy without question. This interpretation of the Trojan Horse is the one used by author David Gemmell in the third part of his Troy trilogy, Troy: Fall of Kings.

Men in the horse

According to the Little Iliad, 30 soldiers hid in the Trojan horse's belly and 2 spies in its mouth. Odysseus (leader), Agamemnon (king of Mycenae), Acamas, Agapenor, Ajax the Lesser, Amphimachus, Antiklos, Antiphates, Cyanippus, Demophon, Diomedes, Echion, Epeius, Eumelus, Euryalus, Eurydamas, Eurymachus, Eurypylus, Ialmenus, Idomeneus, Iphidamas, Leonteus, Machaon, Meges, Menelaus, Menestheus, Meriones, Neoptolemus, Peneleus, Philoctetes. [Wikipedia]

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