Scáthach “the Shadow”

7368221_origScáthach (pronounced: scou’-ha, or skah ‘ – thakh) (Scottish Gaelic: Sgàthach an Eilean Sgitheanach), or Sgathaich, is a figure in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. She is a legendary Scottish warrior woman and martial arts teacher who trains the legendary Ulster hero Cú Chulainn (Koo-hull-un or “coo-CHOOL-in) in the arts of combat. She is called “the Shadow” and “Warrior Maid” and is the rival and sister of Aífe or Aoife (ee-fa or AY-fah), both daughters of Árd-Greimne of Lethra.

Texts describe her homeland as Scotland; she resided in an impregnable castle known as Dún Scáith, or “Dun Sgathaich” (Fortress of Shadows), on an island (thought to be the Isle of Skye), the gate of which was guarded by her daughter Uathach (OO-ha). At this fortress Scáthach trained numerous Celtic heroes in the arts of pole vaulting (useful in the assault of forts), underwater fighting, and combat with a barbed harpoon of her own invention, the gáe bolg. A number of other heroes of Celtic mythology also owed their prowess to the training of Scáthach. Scathach did not train women because of a Celtic belief which stated that only women could teach men effective battle skills, and only men could teach them to women”

It was her job to look over the battlefield after a war for the souls of the dead to lead them on the Death Journey. Although she had a preference for warriors, she would also make sure to collect any wandering soul that had gotten lost on the path. As such, it was said that she is helpful when mourning for the death of a loved one, as she leads the dead through the dangers found on the path to the Land of Eternal Youth. If she collected any wrong-doer on her journey, she would leave them on an island where they would pay for their crimes and learn their lessons. Scáthach’s instruction of the young hero Cú Chulainn notably appears in Tochmarc Emire (The Wooing of Emer), an early Irish foretale to the great epic Táin Bó Cúailnge. Cú Chulainn is honour-bound to perform a number of tasks before he is found worthy to marry his beloved Emer, daughter of the chieftain Forgall Monach.

The tale survives in two versions: a short version written mainly in Old Irish and a later, expanded version of the Middle Irish period. In both versions, Cú Chulainn is sent to Alpae, a term literally meaning “the Alps”, but apparently used to refer to Scotland. Cú Chulainn is sent there with Lóegaire (loygh-EE-re) and Conchobor, and in the later version also with Conall Cernach, to receive training from the warrior Domnall (whose hideous daughter falls in love with the hero and when refused, promises revenge). After some time, Domnall assigns them to the care of Scáthach for further training.

Cú Chulainn and his companion Ferdiad travel to Dún Scáith, where Scáthach teaches them feats of arms, and gives Cú Chulainn her deadly spear, the Gáe Bulg. Cú Chulainn begins an affair with Scáthach’s daughter Uathach, but accidentally breaks her fingers. She screams, calling her lover Cochar Croibhe to the room. Despite Uathach’s protests, he challenges Cú Chulainn to a duel, and Cú Chulainn dispatches him easily. To make it up to Uathach and Scáthach, Cú Chulainn assumes Cochar’s duties, and becomes Uathach’s lover. Scáthach eventually promises her daughter to him, without requiring the traditional bride price. Scáthach also grants Cú Chulainn the “friendship of her thighs” when his training is almost complete. When her rival, the warrior woman Aífe, sister to Scathach, threatens her territory, Cú Chulainn defeats her in battle and forces her to make peace. Aífe also sleeps with Cú Chulainn, producing his son Connla, whom Cú Chulainn kills years later realizing their relation too late.



St George and the Dragon (Raphael)
St George and the Dragon (Raphael)

The dragon is a legendary creature, typically with serpentine or reptilian traits, that features in the myths of many cultures. There are two distinct cultural traditions of dragons: the European dragon, derived from European folk traditions and ultimately related to Greek and Middle Eastern mythologies, and the Chinese dragon, with counterparts in Japan (namely the Japanese dragon), Korea and other East Asian countries. The two traditions may have evolved separately, but have influenced each other to a certain extent, particularly with the cross-cultural contact of recent centuries. The English word “dragon” derives from Greek (drákōn), meaning “dragon, serpent of huge size, water-snake”.

The association of the serpent with a monstrous opponent overcome by a heroic deity has its roots in the mythology of the Ancient Near East, including Canaanite (Hebrew, Ugaritic), Hittite and Mesopotamian. Humbaba, the fire-breathing dragon fanged beast first described in the Epic of Gilgameshis sometimes described as a dragon with Gilgamesh playing the part of dragon-slayer. The legless serpent (Chaoskampf) motif entered Greek mythology and ultimately Christian mythology, although the serpent motif may already be part of prehistoric Indo-European mythology as well, based on comparative evidence of Indic and Germanic material.

Dragons occur in many legends around the world, but different cultures have varying stories about monsters that have been grouped together under the dragon label. Some dragons are said to breathe fire or to be poisonous, such as in the Old English poem Beowulf. They are commonly portrayed as serpentine or reptilian, hatching from eggsand possessing typically scaly or feathered bodies. They are sometimes portrayed as hoarding treasure. Some myths portray them with a row of dorsal spines. European dragons are more often winged, while Chinese dragons resemble large snakes. Dragons can have a variable number of legs: none, two, four, or more when it comes to early European literature.

Dragons are often held to have major spiritual significance in various religions and cultures around the world. In many Asian cultures dragons were, and in some cultures still are, revered as representative of the primal forces of nature, religion and the universe. They are associated with wisdom—often said to be wiser than humans and longevity. They are commonly said to possess some form of magic or other supernatural power, and are often associated with wells, rain, and rivers. In some cultures, they are also said to be capable of human speech. In some traditions dragons are said to have taught humans to talk.

Chinatown Chinese New Year celebration. Photo credit: Choo Yut Shing
Chinatown Chinese New Year celebration.
Photo credit: Choo Yut Shing

There are also stories about a hero slaying a dragon. For example, the Greek God Apollo, and the early Christian narratives about Michael the Archangel and Saint George.

It has been speculated that accounts of spitting cobras may be the origin of the myths of fire-breathing dragons. Nile crocodiles in ancient times occasionally were found in Southern Europe, having swum across the Mediterranean. Such wayward crocodiles may have inspired dragon myths.Skeletons of whales, as well as dinosaur and mammalian fossils may have been occasionally mistaken for the bones of dragons and other mythological creatures; for example, a discovery in 300 BC in Wucheng, Sichuan, China, was labeled as such by Chang Qu
In Australia, stories of such creatures may have referred to the land crocodiles, Quinkanasp., a terrestrial crocodile which grew to 5 to possibly 7 metres long, or the monitor lizard Varanus priscus (formerly Megalania prisca) a giant carnivorous goanna that might have grown to 7 metres (23 ft), and weighed up to 1,940 kilograms (4,280 lb), or rainbow serpents (possibly Wonambi naracoortensis) that were part of the extinct megafauna of Australia. Today the Komodo monitor lizard Varanus komodoensis is known in English as the Komodo dragon.

Today dragons and dragon motifs are featured in many works of modern literature, television, and movies. They are particularly popular within the fantasy genre.


Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

Tombstone in 1881(Google images )
Tombstone in 1881(Google images )

“Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything. In a gun fight… You need to take your time in a hurry.”

Words couldn’t have been truer than those spoken by Wyatt Earp. A total of thirty shots were fired in thirty seconds in the most famous shootout in the history of the American Old West. I will of course follow this article up with more about Wyatt’s vendetta, and biographies of the key players, but for now I will concentrate on the infamous gunfight itself.

Tombstone, Arizona is located near the Mexican border. The Earps arrived on December 1, 1879, when the small town was mostly composed of tents as living quarters, a few saloons and other buildings, and the mines. Virgil Earp had been hired as Deputy U.S. Marshal for eastern Pima County, with his offices in Tombstone, only days before his arrival. In June 1881 he was also appointed as Tombstone’s town marshal. The Earps were not universally liked by the townspeople but they tended to protect the interests of the town’s business owners and residents. Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan was generally sympathetic to the interests of the rural ranchers and Cowboys. (the term “cowboy” generally meant an outlaw) Legitimate cowmen were referred to as cattle herders or ranchers. The Cowboys (supposedly led by Johnny Ringo) viewed the Earps as badge-toting tyrants who ruthlessly enforced the business interests of the town especially their own. The Cochise County Cowboys were not a gang but a loosely organized band of friends who committed crimes.

The long feud between Cowboys Billy Claiborne, Ike and Billy Clanton, and Tom and Frank McLaury, and opposing lawmen: town Marshal Virgil Earp, Assistant Town Marshal Morgan Earp, and temporary deputy marshals Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday finally came to a head after weeks of death threats by Ike Clanton (he reportedly drank a lot). An argument between Ike and Holliday reportedly started in the Alhambra Saloon. Morgan escorted Holliday out onto the street and Ike, who had been drinking steadily, followed them. Virgil arrived a few minutes later and threatened to arrest both Holliday and Ike Clanton if they did not stop arguing. Ike and Wyatt talked again a few minutes later, and Ike threatened to confront Holliday in the morning. Ike told Wyatt that the fighting talk had been going on for a long time and that he intended to put an end to it. Ike told Wyatt, “I will be ready for you in the morning.” Wyatt walked over to the Oriental Saloon and Ike followed him. Ike sat down to have another drink, his revolver in plain sight, and told Wyatt “You must not think I won’t be after you all in the morning.” Wyatt took Holliday back to his boarding house to sleep off his drinking, then went home and to bed. Virgil played cards with Ike Clanton, Tom McLaury, Sheriff Behan and a fifth unknown man, until morning.

At about dawn on October 26, the card game broke up and Behan and Virgil Earp went home to bed. Shortly after 8:00 am barkeeper E. F. Boyle spoke to Ike, who had been drinking all night, in front of the telegraph office. Boyle encouraged him to get some sleep, but Ike insisted he would not go to bed. Boyle later testified he noticed Ike was armed and covered his gun for him, recalling that Ike told him “‘As soon as the Earps and Doc Holliday showed themselves on the street, the ball would open—that they would have to fight’… I went down to Wyatt Earp’s house and told him what Ike said. Ike’s own testimony said that he remembered neither meeting Boyle nor making any such statements that day.

Later in the morning, Ike picked up his rifle and revolver from the West End Corral, where he had stabled his wagon and team and deposited his weapons after entering town. (When entering the town you had to deposit your weapons) By noon that day, Ike was drinking and once-again armed and told others he was looking for Holliday or an Earp. At about 1:00 pm, Virgil and Morgan Earp surprised Ike on 4th Street where Virgil pistol-whipped him from behind. Disarming him, the Earps took Ike to appear before Judge Wallace for violating the city’s ordinance against carrying firearms in the city. While Wyatt waited with Clanton, Virgil went to find Judge Wallace so the court hearing could be held. Ike was fined $25 plus court costs and after paying the fine left unarmed. He reportedly was able to pick up his weapons at the gun drop off location.

Annotated 1886 fire map of Tombstone indicating the actual shootout location (in green) and the O.K. Corral (in yellow) on the other side of the block. ( Google images )
Annotated 1886 fire map of Tombstone indicating the actual shootout location (in green) and the O.K. Corral (in yellow) on the other side of the block. ( Google images )

As Ike was released, Tom McLaury (who arrived in town the day before) ran into Wyatt, who demanded, “Are you heeled or not?”, McLaury said he was not armed. Wyatt testified that he saw a revolver in plain sight on the right hip of Tom’s pants. As an unpaid deputy marshal for Virgil, Wyatt carried a pistol in his waistband, as was the custom of that time. Witnesses reported that Wyatt drew his revolver from his coat pocket and pistol whipped Tom McLaury with it twice, leaving him prostrate and bleeding on the street. Saloon-keeper Andrew Mehan testified at the Spicer Hearing afterward that he saw McLaury deposit a revolver at the Capital Saloon sometime between 1-2:00 pm, after the confrontation with Wyatt, which Mehan also witnessed.
Wyatt said in his deposition afterward that he had been temporarily acting as city marshal for Virgil the week before while Virgil was in Tucson for the Pete Spence and Frank Stilwell trial. Wyatt said that he still considered himself a deputy city marshal, which Virgil later confirmed. Since Wyatt was an off-duty officer, he could not legally search or arrest Tom for carrying a revolver within the city limits. Wyatt, a non-drinker, testified at the Spicer hearing that he went to Haffords and bought a cigar and went outside to watch the Cowboys. At the time of the gunfight about two hours later, Wyatt could not know if Tom was still armed.

It was early afternoon by the time Ike and Tom had seen doctors for their head wounds. The day was chilly, with snow still on the ground in some places. Both Tom and Ike had spent the night gambling, drinking heavily, and without sleep. Now they were both out and about with head wounds, and Ike was still drunk. Around 1:30–2:00 pm, Ike’s 19-year-old younger brother Billy Clanton and Tom’s older brother Frank McLaury arrived in town. Both Frank and Billy were armed with a revolver and a rifle, as was the custom for riders in the country outside Tombstone. They had come to back up their brothers after they heard Ike and Tom had been stirring up trouble.They learned immediately after of their brothers’ beatings by the Earps within the previous two hours. The incidents had generated a lot of talk in town. Angrily, Frank said he would not drink, and he and Billy left the saloon immediately to seek Tom. By law, both Frank and Billy should have left their firearms at the Grand Hotel. Instead, they remained fully armed.

Sheriff Behan later testified that he first learned of the trouble while he was getting a shave at the barbershop after 1:30 pm, which is when he had risen after the late-night card game. Behan stated he immediately went to locate the Cowboys. At about 2:30 pm he saw Ike, Frank, Tom, and Billy gathered off Fremont street. Behan attempted to persuade Frank McLaury to give up his weapons, but Frank insisted that he would only give up his guns after City Marshal Virgil Earp and his brothers were disarmed.

A miner named Ruben F. Coleman told Virgil that the Cowboys had left the Dunbar and Dexter Stable for the O.K. Corral and were still armed, and Virgil decided they had to disarm them. (The actual gunfight did not happen by the O.K Corral) Virgil picked up his 10-gauge or 12-gauge, short, double-barreled shotgun from the Wells Fargo office around the corner on Allen Street. It was a cold and windy day in Tombstone, and Virgil was wearing a long overcoat. To avoid alarming Tombstone’s public, Virgil hid the shotgun under his overcoat when he returned to Hafford’s Saloon. He gave the shotgun to Doc Holliday who hid it under his overcoat. He took Holliday’s walking-stick in return. From Spangenberg’s, the Cowboys moved to the O.K. Corral where witnesses overheard them threatening to kill the Earps. For unknown reasons the Cowboys then walked out the back of the O.K. Corral and then west, stopping in an the narrow, empty lot next to C. S. Fly’s boarding house.
Virgil was told by several citizens that the McLaurys and the Clantons had gathered on Fremont Street and were armed. He decided he had to act. Several members of the citizen’s vigilance committee offered to support him with arms, but Virgil said no. He had during the prior month appointed Morgan as a Special Policeman. He had also appointed Wyatt as a Special Policemen while Virgil had been in Prescott on business. He had also called on Doc Holliday that morning for help with disarming the Clantons and McLaurys.

The Earps carried their usual revolvers in their coat pockets or in their waistbands. Wyatt was carrying a .44 caliber 1869 American model Smith & Wesson. Holliday was wearing a nickel-plated pistol in a holster, but this was concealed by his long coat, as was the shotgun. The Earps and Holliday walked west, down the south side of Fremont Street past the rear entrance to the O.K. Corral, but out of visual range of the Cowboys’ last reported location. The Earps then saw the Cowboys and Sheriff Behan, who left the group and came toward them, though he looked nervously backward several times. Virgil testified later that Behan told them, “For God’s sake, don’t go down there or they will murder you!” Wyatt said Behan told him and Morgan, “I have disarmed them.” Behan testified afterward that he’d only said he’d gone down to the Cowboys “for the purpose of disarming them,” not that he’d actually disarmed them.

Graves of Tom McLaury, Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton at Boot Hill (Google images )
Graves of Tom McLaury, Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton at Boot Hill (Google images )

When Behan said he had disarmed them, Virgil attempted to avoid a fight. “I had a walking stick in my left hand and my hand was on my six-shooter in my waist pants, and when he said he had disarmed them, I shoved it clean around to my left hip and changed my walking stick to my right hand.” Wyatt said I “took my pistol, which I had in my hand, under my coat, and put it in my overcoat pocket.” The Earps walked down Fremont street and came into full view of the Cowboys. Wyatt testified he saw “Frank McLaury, Tom McLaury, and Billy Clanton standing in a row against the east side of the building on the opposite side of the vacant space west of Fly’s photograph gallery. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne and a man I don’t know (Wes Fuller) were standing in the vacant space about halfway between the photograph gallery and the next building west.”

Virgil testified that he immediately commanded the Cowboys to “Throw up your hands, I want your guns!” Wyatt said Virgil told the Cowboys, “Throw up your hands; I have come to disarm you!” Virgil and Wyatt both testified they saw Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton draw and cock their six-shooters. Virgil yelled: “Hold! I don’t mean that!” or “Hold on, I don’t want that!” The single-action revolvers carried by both groups had to be cocked before firing. Who started shooting first is not certain; accounts by both participants and eyewitnesses are contradictory but at 3:00 p.m. the gunfight commenced. No one actually knows which side actually drew their guns first but its believed that Virgil Earp pulled out his revolver and shot Billy Clanton in the chest at point-blank range, while Doc Holliday killed Tom McLaury with a blast from his double-barreled shotgun. Wyatt Earp shot Frank McLaury in the stomach, and the wounded man staggered out into the street but managed to pull his gun and return fire.

When the gun smoke cleared Billy Clanton and both McLaury brothers were killed. Ike Clanton, who had repeatedly threatened to kill the Earps, claimed he was unarmed and ran from the fight along with Billy Claiborne. Virgil, Morgan, and Doc Holliday were wounded, but Wyatt Earp was unharmed.
The bodies of the three dead Cowboys were displayed in a window at Ritter and Reams undertakers with a sign: “Murdered in the Streets of Tombstone.” The Tombstone Nugget proclaimed:

“The 26th of October, 1881, will always be marked as one of the crimson days in the annals of Tombstone, a day when blood flowed as water, and human life was held as a shuttle cock, a day to be remembered as witnessing the bloodiest and deadliest street fight that has ever occurred in this place, or probably in the Territory.”

The funerals for Billy Clanton (age 19), Tom McLaury (age 28) and his older brother Frank (age 33) were attended by around 300 people who had joined in the procession to Boot Hill and as many as two thousand watched from the sidewalks. Both McLaureys were buried in the same grave, and Billy Clanton was buried nearby. Ike Clanton filed murder charges against the Earps and Doc Holliday. The lawmen were eventually exonerated by local Justice of the Peace Wells Spicer after a 30-day preliminary hearing, and then by a local grand jury famously known as the Spicer Hearings on November 30. Spicer did not condone all of the Earps’ actions and criticized Virgil Earp’s use of Wyatt and Holliday as deputies, but he concluded that no laws were broken. He said the evidence indicated that the Earps and Holliday acted within the law and that Holliday and Wyatt had been properly deputized by Virgil.

Unfortunately, that was not the end of the conflict, December 28, 1881, Virgil Earp was ambushed and maimed in a murder attempt by the outlaw Cowboys. On March 18, 1882, Cowboys fired from a dark alley through the glass door of a saloon and shot Morgan Earp, killing him. The suspects in both incidents furnished alibis supplied by fellow Cowboys and were not indicted. Wyatt Earp, newly appointed as Deputy U.S. Marshal in the territory, took matters into his own hands in a personal vendetta. He was pursued by county Sheriff Johnny Behan (his county posse composed mostly of Cowboys), who had received a Tucson warrant for Wyatt’s shooting of Frank Stilwell. Behan’s posse never caught up with the much smaller federal posse. The Earps especially Wyatt left Tombstone under a cloud of suspicion not as heroes as many fictionalized accounts would have you believe.


The Trojan War

The Trojan War is probably one of the most widely known wars of all time but most of what we know about the Trojan War is based on myth. We have probably all read or at least heard of Homer’s Iliad. The Iliad tells a part of the last year of the siege of Troy. The Trojan War is mentioned in the old epic poems in the Epic Cycle, also known as the Cyclic Epics: the Cypria, Aethiopis, Little Iliad, Iliou Persis, Nostoi, and Telegony. Though these poems survive only in fragments, t […]

Detail from The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy by DomenicoTiepolo (1773), inspired by Virgil’s Aeneid (Google images)

The Trojan War is probably one of the most widely known wars of all time but most of what we know about the Trojan War is based on myth. We have probably all read or at least heard of Homer’s Iliad. The Iliad tells a part of the last year of the siege of Troy. The Trojan War is mentioned in the old epic poems in the Epic Cycle, also known as the Cyclic Epics: the Cypria, Aethiopis, Little Iliad, Iliou Persis, Nostoi, and Telegony. Though these poems survive only in fragments, their content is known from a summary included in Proclus’ Chrestomathy. Episodes from the war provided material for Greek tragedy and other works of Greek literature, and for Roman poets including Virgil and Ovid.

It all begins with a golden apple or its true name the “Apple of Discord” and starts with the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, a sea-goddess. Zeus hosted a banquet on Mount Olympus to celebrate the wedding. Everyone was invited except for Eris, the goddess of discord, the outraged goddess stormed into the wedding banquet and threw a golden apple onto the table. According to Eris, The apple belonged to whomever was the fairest goddess. Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite each reached for the apple because they each thought themselves the most beautiful. They quarrelled bitterly over it, and none of the other gods would venture an opinion favouring one, for fear of earning the enmity of the other two. Eventually, Zeus ordered Hermes to lead the three goddesses to Paris, a prince of Troy, who, unaware of his ancestry, was being raised as a shepherd in Mount Ida, because of a prophecy that he would be the downfall of Troy.

Paris was a child of Priam and Hecuba. Just before his birth, his mother dreamed that she gave birth to a flaming torch. This dream was interpreted by the seer Aesacus as a foretelling of the downfall of Troy, and he declared that the child would be the ruin of his homeland. On the day of Paris’s birth it was announced by Aesacus that the child born of a royal Trojan that day would have to be killed to spare the kingdom because of the prophecy. Paris was spared by Priam and Hecuba, despite the urging of the priestess of Apollo. Priam asked his chief herdsman, Agelaus, to remove the child and kill him. The herdsman, unable to use a weapon against the infant, left him exposed on Mount Ida, hoping he would perish there, he was, however, suckled by a she-bear. Returning after nine days, Agelaus was astonished to find the child still alive, and brought him home in a backpack to rear as his own. He returned to Priam bearing a dog’s tongue as evidence of the deed’s completion. Paris grew up to be one of the most intelligent and handsome men known in the land.

Triumphant Achilles dragging Hector’s body around Troy, from a panoramic fresco of the Achilleion ( Google images )

Hermes escorted the three goddesses to the spring of Mount Ida where they bathed and then approached Paris as he herded his cattle. Having been given permission by Zeus to set any conditions he saw fit, Paris required that the goddesses undress before him He was unable to decide between them, so the goddesses began to offer bribes. Athena offered Paris wisdom, skill in battle, and the abilities of the greatest warriors; Hera offered him power and control of all of Asia; and Aphrodite offered him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. Of course Paris awarded the apple to Aphrodite, infuriating the Hera and Athena. The two goddesses bitter with Paris would eventually help Sparta win the war. Paris, eager for his new bride to be, prepared to set off for Sparta to capture Helen. Twin prophets Cassandra and Helenus (also children of King Priam and Hecuba) tried to persuade him against such action, as did his mother, Hecuba. But Paris would not listen and he set off for Sparta anyway.

Helen was a daughter of Tyndareus, King of Sparta and her mother was Leda. Helen was a renowned beauty and had scores of suitors, and her father was unwilling to choose one for fear the others would retaliate violently. Odysseus of Ithaca, proposed a plan to solve the dilemma. In exchange for Tyndareus’ support of his own suit towards Penelope. He suggested that Tyndareus require all of Helen’s suitors to promise that they would defend the marriage of Helen, regardless of whom she chose. The suitors duly swore the required oath on the severed pieces of a horse, most were not happy agreeing to the oath but did it anyway. Tyndareus than chose Menelaus as a political choice. He had wealth and power. He had humbly not petitioned for her himself, but instead sent his brother Agamemnon on his behalf. He had promised Aphrodite a hecatomb, a sacrifice of 100 oxen, if he won Helen, but forgot about it and earned her wrath. Menelaus inherited Tyndareus’ throne of Sparta with Helen as his queen and Agamemnon married Helen’s sister Clytemnestra and took back the throne of Mycenae.

When Paris entered Sparta, Menelaus treated him as a royal guest. However, when Menelaus left Sparta to go bury his uncle, Crateus in Crete , Paris abducted Helen, who was shot with an arrow from Eros, otherwise known as Cupid, and fell in love with Paris when she saw him, as promised by Aphrodite and he also carried off much of Menelaus’ wealth. The couple returned to Troy and were married. Menelaus was of course justifiably outraged to find that Paris had taken Helen. He called upon all of Helen’s old suitors, because of the long ago oath that they had all taken.

The Burning of Troy (1759/62), oil painting by Johann Georg Trautmann ( Google images )

Many of the suitors did not wish to go to war. Odysseus pretended to be insane but this trick was uncovered by Palamedes. He travelled the region with Pylos’ king, Nestor, to recruit forces. He also attempted to resolve the conflict through diplomatic means but was unsuccessful. Achilles, though not one of the previous suitors, was sought after because the seer Calchas had stated that Troy would not be taken unless Achilles would fight. Probably one of the most interesting stories is of Cinyras, king of Paphos, in Cyprus, he did not wish to go to war, but promised Agamemnon fifty ships for the Greek fleet. True to his word, Cinyras did send fifty ships. The first ship was commanded by his son. The other forty-nine, however, were toy clay ships, with tiny clay sailors. They dissembled soon after being placed in the ocean

The Greek fleet assembled, under the command of Agamemnon. He either killed one of Diana’s (Greek: Artemis) sacred stags or made a careless boast and Diana was outraged, so she calmed the seas so that the fleet could not take off. The seer Calchas proclaimed that Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia, must be sacrificed before the fleet could set sail. This was done, and the Greek ships set off in search of Troy.

The Trojans were also defended well with Hector, Paris’s brother, and a Trojan prince and the greatest warrior for Troy in the Trojan War. He was the first-born son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba. He was known for his was courage and courtly nature. He was married to Andromache, with whom he had an infant son, Scamandrius. Hector was to meet his untimely end in a fight with Achilles.

Achilles was the son of the Nereid Thetis and King Peleus. He was probably considered Sparta’s greatest warrior. Agamemnon had taken a woman named Chryseis as his slave and her father Chryses, a priest of Apollo, begged Agamemnon to return her to him. Agamemnon refused and angered Apollo. Achilles intervened and Agamemnon consented to Achilles, but then commands that Briseis (Achilles slave) be brought to him to replace Chryseis. Achilles is thought to have been in love with Briseis and he refused to fight or lead his troops alongside the other Greek forces. The Trojans, led by Hector, pushed the Greek army back toward the beaches and assaulted the Greek ships. With the Greek forces on the verge of absolute destruction, Patroclus, a close friend of Achilles, led the Myrmidons into battle wearing Achilles’ armor, though Achilles remained at his camp. Patroclus succeeded in pushing the Trojans back from the beaches, but was killed by Hector before he could lead a proper assault on the city of Troy. This enraged Achilles and he ended his strike against Agamemnon and took the field killing many men in his rage. He then sought out Hector and when he found him, he chased Hector around the wall of Troy three times before Hector decided he wanted to go down fighting, and charged at Achilles with his only his sword, but missed.

Accepting his fate, Hector begged Achilles, not to spare his life, but to treat his body with respect after killing him. Achilles told Hector it was hopeless to expect that of him, declaring that “my rage, my fury would drive me now to hack your flesh away and eat you raw – such agonies you have caused me.” Achilles then killed Hector and dragged his corpse by its heels behind his chariot. Hector’s father, Priam, went to Achilles’ tent to plead with Achilles for the return of Hector’s body so that he could be buried. Achilles relented and promised a truce for the duration of the funeral.
Still seeking to gain entrance into Troy, Odysseus ordered a large wooden horse to be built. Its insides were to be hollow so that soldiers could hide within it. It took three days to build the horse and was built by the artist Epeius, a number of the Greek warriors, along with Odysseus, climbed inside. The rest of the Greek fleet sailed away, so as to deceive the Trojans. One man, Sinon, was left behind. When the Trojans came to marvel at the huge creation, Sinon pretended to be angry with the Greeks, stating that they had deserted him. He assured the Trojans that the wooden horse was safe and would bring luck to the Trojans. Only two people, Laocoon and Cassandra, spoke out against the horse, but they were ignored. The Trojans celebrated what they thought was their victory, and dragged the wooden horse into Troy. That night, after most of Troy was asleep or in a drunken stupor, Sinon let the Greek warriors out from the horse, and they slaughtered the Trojans. Neoptolemus first killed Priam’s son Polites in front of him as he sought sanctuary on the altar of Zeus. Priam tried throwing a spear at Neoptolemus but it harmlessly hit his shield. Neoptolemus then dragged Priam to the altar and killed him and Cassandra was pulled from the statue of Athena and raped by Ajax.

Achilles was killed by Paris with a poisoned arrow, with the help of Apollo, the arrow entered the only vulnerable part of Achilles’ body: his heel. Achilles was thought to have no known weaknesses but Polyxena, daughter of Priam, found out and told Paris. This is where we get the term “Achilles heel” In the arms of Odysseus, Achilles died a painful death. Protecting the remains of his friend, Ajax prevented Paris from desecrating Achilles body, and returned it back to the Achaean camp for a proper burial.

Paris was later killed by Philoctetes, Achilles son, using the enormous bow of Heracles. Helen made her way to Mount Ida where she begged Paris’s first wife, the nymph Oenone, to heal him. Still bitter that Paris had spurned her for his birthright in the city and then forgotten her for Helen, Oenone refused. Helen returned alone to Troy, where Paris died later the same day.

Helenus was captured by Odysseus and angry with his brother Deiphobus, who was slain by Odysseus, for taking Helen for himself after Paris’s death informed Odysseus that Sparta could win if they stole the Palladium (Pallas Athena), a wooden statue of Athena. With Diomedes help they supposedly later had Aeneas take it to the future site of Rome.

The Achaeans entered the city and killed the sleeping population. A great massacre followed. The Trojans desperately fought back, despite being disorganized and leaderless. With the fighting at its height, some donned fallen enemies’ attire and launched surprise counterattacks in the chaotic street fighting. Other defenders hurled down roof tiles and anything else heavy down on the rampaging attackers. The outlook was grim though, and eventually the remaining defenders were destroyed along with the whole city being burned and the spoils divided.

Antenor, who had given hospitality to Menelaus and Odysseus when they asked for the return of Helen, was spared, along with his family. Aeneas took his father on his back and fled the city. Cassandra was awarded to Agamemnon. Neoptolemus got Andromache, wife of Hector, and Odysseus was given Hecuba, Priam’s wife. The Achaeans threw Hector’s infant son Astyanax down from the walls of Troy, either out of cruelty and hate or to end the royal line, and the possibility of a son’s revenge. They also sacrificed the Trojan princess Polyxena because she has betrayed Achilles. Helen returned to Sparta with Menelaus, who forgave her after setting eyes on her beauty once again. It took Odysseus 10 years to return home and his story is best known in Homer’s Odyssey. But that story is for another time.

There might be some truth that the Trojan War happened but many scholars agree that the Trojan War is based on a historical core of a Greek expedition against the city of Troy, but few would argue that the Homeric poems faithfully represent the actual events of the war.


“Detail from The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy by DomenicoTiepolo (1773), inspired by Virgil’s Aeneid (Google images)”