The Trojan War

Authored by: Robin Hard

The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology

Print publication date:  June  2008
Online publication date:  October  2003

Print ISBN: 9780415186360
eBook ISBN: 9780203446331
Adobe ISBN: 9781134664061

10.4324/9780203446331.ch13

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Abstract

The culminating event of the mythical history of Greece was the great war in which Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, and Menelaos, king of Sparta, led a great army against Troy, a rich and powerful city in the north-western corner of Asia Minor, and finally conquered it after besieging it for ten years. The conflict was provoked by the abduction of Helen, the wife of Menelaos, who was carried off to Asia by Paris, the son of Priam, king of Troy; and this episode was itself an element in a divine plan that had been devised to rid the earth of an excess of human beings. For Gaia (Earth) had complained to Zeus that she was overburdened by all the mortals who were swarming over her surface and were not only far too numerous but impious besides; and after relieving the problem to some extent by inciting the Theban Wars, 0 Zeus had planned to cause even greater carnage by means of thunderbolts and floods. But Momos, the personification of fault-finding (see p. 26), criticized his plans and proposed a subtler course of action, suggesting that a destructive war should be provoked between Europe and Asia by indirect means. As the first two steps towards this end, she said that the goddess Thetis should be married to a mortal and that Zeus should father a daughter of surpassing beauty. So Zeus fathered Helen, and Thetis was married to Peleus at a magnificent wedding that was attended by the gods (see p. 54). During the wedding-feast, Eris, the personification of Strife (see p. 30), provoked a furious quarrel between Hera, Athena and Aphrodite by hurling an apple in front of them marked with the inscription ‘to the most beautiful’; and Zeus then 0 instructed the divine messenger Hermes to escort the three goddesses to Mt Ida in the land of Troy to be judged for their beauty by Paris. When Aphrodite persuaded Paris to award her the victory by promising that she would help him to marry Helen, a daughter of Zeus who was the most beautiful woman in the world, the projected conflict between Greece and Asia became inevitable; for the Trojan prince would have to seize her from her legitimate husband in Greece if he were to make her his wife. This would be a hazardous action because her husband Menelaos was not only a man of some eminence as king of Sparta, but was also the brother of Agamemnon, the most powerful ruler in Greece; and most importantly of all, the many suitors of Helen had bound themselves by oath to come to the aid of her chosen husband if she should ever be taken from him (see p. 440). It was therefore by no means difficult for Menelaos to raise a large force of allies to sail against Troy to recover his wife, so bringing the divine plan to its fulfilment. Such is the earliest surviving account of the origin of the war, as was presented in the Cypria, the first epic in the Trojan cycle.1 It was also suggested that Zeus contrived the abduction of Helen to ensure that his daughter would be famous ever afterwards for having been the cause of the mightiest war in history; or else he provoked the war simply to bring everlasting glory to the men of the heroic age.2

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