Meet us on:
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements."

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 21

    • Rate it:
    • 1 Favorite on Read Print
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 21
    Previous Chapter
    Chapter XXI
    The Fall of Troy. Return of the Greeks. Orestes and Electra

    The story of the Iliad ends with the death of Hector, and it is
    from the Odyssey and later poems that we learn the fate of the
    other heroes. After the death of Hector, Troy did not
    immediately fall, but receiving aid from new allies still
    continued its resistance. One of these allies was Memnon, the
    AETHIOPIAN prince, whose story we have already told. Another was
    Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons, who came with a band of female
    warriors. All the authorities attest their valor and the fearful
    effect of their war-cry. Penthesilea slew many of the bravest
    warriors, but was at last slain by Achilles. But when the hero
    bent over his fallen foe, and contemplated her beauty, youth and
    valor, he bitterly regretted his victory. Thersites, an insolent
    brawler and demagogue, ridiculed his grief, and was in
    consequence slain by the hero.

    Achilles by chance had seen Polyxena, daughter of King Priam,
    perhaps on occasion of the truce which was allowed the Trojans
    for the burial of Hector. He was captivated with her charms, and
    to win her in marriage agreed to use his influence with the
    Greeks to grant peace to Troy. While in the temple of Apollo,
    negotiating the marriage, Paris discharged at him a poisoned
    arrow, which guided by Apollo, wounded Achilles in the heel, the
    only vulnerable part about him. For Thetis, his mother, had
    dipped him when an infant in the river Styx, which made every
    part of him invulnerable except the heel by which she held him.
    (The story of the invulnerability of Achilles is not found in
    Homer, and is inconsistent with his account. For how could
    Achilles require the aid of celestial armor if he were

    The body of Achilles, so treacherously slain, was rescued by Ajax
    and Ulysses. Thetis directed the Greeks to bestow her son's
    armor on the hero who, of all survivors, should be judged most
    deserving of it. Ajax and Ulysses were the only claimants; a
    select number of the other chiefs were appointed to award the
    prize. It was awarded to Ulysses, thus placing wisdom before
    valor; whereupon Ajax slew himself. On the spot where his blood
    sank into the earth a flower sprang up, called the hyacinth,
    bearing on its leaves the first two letters of the name of Ajax,
    Ai, the Greek for "woe." Thus Ajax is a claimant with the boy
    Hyacinthus for the honor of giving birth to this flower. There
    is a species of Larkspur which represents the hyacinth of the
    poets in preserving the memory of this event, the Delphinium
    Ajacis Ajax's Larkspur.

    It was now discovered that Troy could not be taken but by the
    arrows of Hercules. They were in possession of Philoctetes, the
    friend who had been with Hercules at the last, and lighted his
    funeral pyre. Philoctetes had joined the Grecian expedition
    against Troy, but had accidentally wounded his foot with one of
    the poisoned arrows, and the smell from his wound proved so
    offensive that his companions carried him to the Isle of Lemnos
    and left him there. Diomedes was now sent to induce him to
    rejoin the army. He succeeded. Philoctetes was cured of his
    wound by Machaon, and Paris was the first victim of the fatal
    arrows. In his distress Paris bethought him of one whom in his
    prosperity he had forgotten. This was the nymph OEnone, whom he
    had married when a youth, and had abandoned for the fatal beauty
    Helen. OEnone, remembering the wrongs she had suffered, refused
    to heal the wound, and Paris went back to Troy and died. OEnone
    quickly repented, and hastened after him with remedies, but came
    too late, and in her grief hung herself.

    Tennyson has chosen OEnone as the subject of a short poem; but he
    has omitted the concluding part of the story, the return of Paris
    wounded, her cruelty and subsequent repentance.

    "__________Hither came at noon
    Mournful OENONE, wandering forlorn
    Of Paris, once her playmate on the hills.
    Her cheek had lost the rose, and round her neck
    Floated her hair, or seemed to float in rest.
    She, leaning on a fragment twined with vine,
    Sang to the stillness, till the mountain-shade
    Sloped downward to her seat from the upper cliff.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    "'O Mother Ida, many-fountain'd Ida,
    Dear Mother Ida, hearken ere I die.
    I waited underneath the dawning hills,
    Aloft the mountain lawn was dewy-dark,
    And dewy-dark aloft the mountain pine:
    Beautiful Paris, evil-hearted Paris,
    Leading a jet-black goat, white-horned, white-hooved,
    Come up from reedy Simois, all alone.

    "'O Mother Ida, hearken ere I die.
    Far off the torrent called me from the cliff:
    Far up the solitary morning smote
    The streaks of virgin snow. With downdropt eyes
    I sat alone: white-breasted like a star
    Fronting the dawn he moved; a leopard-skin
    Drooped from his shoulder, but his sunny hair
    Clustered about his temples like a God's,
    And his cheek brightened as the foambow brightens
    When the wind blows the foam, and all my heart
    Went forth to embrace him coming, ere he came.

    "'Dear Mother Ida, hearken ere I die.
    He smiled, and opening out his milk-white palm
    Disclosed a fruit of pure Hesperian gold,
    That smelt ambrosially, and while I looked
    And listened, the full-flowing river of speech
    Came down upon my heart.

    "My own OENONE,
    Beautiful-browed OENONE, my own soul,
    Behold this fruit, whose gleaming rind ingraven
    'For the most fair,' would seem award it thine
    As lovelier than whatever Oread haunt
    The knolls of Ida, loveliest in all grace
    Of movement, and the charm of married brows."

    "'Dear Mother Ida, hearken ere I die.
    He prest the blossom of his lips to mine,
    And added, "This was cast upon the board,
    When all the full-faced presence of the gods
    Hanged in the halls of Peleus; whereupon
    Rose feud, with question unto whom 'twas due;
    But light-foot Iris brought it yester-eve
    Delivering, that to me, by common voice
    Elected umpire, Her‚ comes to-day,
    Pallas and Aphrodite, claiming each
    This meed of fairest. Thou within the cave
    Beyond yon whispering tuft of oldest pine,
    May'st well behold them unbeheld, unheard
    Hear all, and see thy Paris judge of gods."'"

    There was in Troy a celebrated statue of Minerva called the
    Palladium. It was said to have fallen from heaven, and the
    belief was that the city could not be taken so long as this
    statue remained within it. Ulysses and Diomedes entered the city
    in disguise, and succeeded in obtaining the Palladium, which they
    carried off to the Grecian camp.

    But Troy still held out, and the Greeks began to despair of ever
    subduing it by force, and by advice of Ulysses resolved to resort
    to stratagem. They pretended to be making preparations to
    abandon the siege, and a portion of the ships were withdrawn, and
    lay hid behind a neighboring island. The Greeks then constructed
    an immense WOODEN HORSE, which they gave out was intended as a
    propitiatory offering to Minerva, but in fact was filled with
    armed men. The remaining Greeks then betook themselves to their
    ships and sailed away, as if for a final departure. The Trojans,
    seeing the encampment broken up and the fleet gone, concluded the
    enemy to have abandoned the siege. The gates were thrown open,
    and the whole population issued forth rejoicing at the long-
    prohibited liberty of passing freely over the scene of the late
    encampment. The great horse was the chief object of curiosity.
    All wondered what it could be for. Some recommended to take it
    into the city as a trophy; others felt afraid of it.

    While they hesitate, Laocoon, the priest of Neptune, exclaims,
    "What madness, citizens, is this! Have you not learned enough of
    Grecian fraud to be on your guard against it? For my part I fear
    the Greeks even when they offer gifts." So saying he threw his
    lance at the horse's side. It struck, and a hollow sound
    reverberated like a groan. Then perhaps the people might have
    taken his advice and destroyed the fatal horse and all its
    contents; but just at that moment a group of people appeared
    dragging forward one who seemed a prisoner and a Greek.
    Stupefied with terror he was brought before the chiefs, who
    reassured him, promising that his life should be spared on
    condition of his returning true answers to the questions asked
    him. He informed them that he was a Greek, Sinon by name, and
    that in consequence of the malice of Ulysses he had been left
    behind by his countrymen at their departure. With regard to the
    wooden horse, he told them that it was a propitiatory offering to
    Minerva, and made so huge for the express purpose of preventing
    its being carried within the city; for Calchas the prophet had
    told them that if the Trojans took possession of it, they would
    assuredly triumph over the Greeks. This language turned the tide
    of the people's feelings, and they began to think how they might
    best secure the monstrous horse and the favorable auguries
    connected with it, when suddenly a prodigy occurred which left no
    room to doubt. There appeared advancing over the sea two immense
    serpents. They came upon the land, and the crowd fled in all
    directions. The serpents advanced directly to the spot where
    Laocoon stood with his two sons. They first attacked the
    children, winding round their bodies and breathing their
    pestilential breath in their faces. The father, attempting to
    rescue them, is next seized and involved in the serpents' coils.
    He struggles to tear them away, but they overpower all his
    efforts and strangle him and the children in their poisonous
    folds. This event was regarded as a clear indication of the
    displeasure of the gods at Laocoon's irreverent treatment of the
    wooden horse, which they no longer hesitated to regard as a
    sacred object and prepared to introduce with due solemnity into
    the city. This was done with songs and triumphal acclamations,
    and the day closed with festivity. In the night the armed men
    who were enclosed in the body of the horse, being led out by the
    traitor Sinon, opened the gates of the city to their friends who
    had returned under cover of the night. The city was set on fire;
    the people, overcome with feasting and sleep, put to the sword,
    and Troy completely subdued.

    One of the most celebrated groups of statuary in existence is
    that of Laocoon and his children in the embrace of the serpents.
    "There is a cast of it in the Boston Athenaeum; the original is
    in the Vatican at Rome. The following lines are from the Childe
    Harold of Byron:

    "Now turning to the Vatican go see
    Laocoon's torture dignifying pain;
    A father's love and mortal's agony
    With as immortal's patience blending; vain
    The struggle! Vain against the coiling strain
    And gripe and deepening of the dragon's grasp
    The old man's clinch; the long envenomed chain
    Rivets the living links; the enormous asp
    Enforces pang on pang and stifles gasp on gasp."

    The comic poets will also occasionally borrow a classical
    allusion. The following is from Swift's description of a City

    "Boxed in a chair the beau impatient sits,
    While spouts run clattering o'er the roof by fits,
    And over and anon with frightful din
    The leather sounds; he trembles from within.
    So when Troy chairmen bore the wooden steed
    Pregnant with Greeks, impatient to be freed,
    (Those bully Greeks, who, as the moderns do,
    Instead of paying chairmen, run them through;)
    Laocoon struck the outside with a spear,
    And each imprisoned champion quaked with fear."

    King Priam lived to see the downfall of his kingdom, and was
    slain at last on the fatal night when the Greeks took the city.
    He had armed himself and was about to mingle with the combatants,
    but was prevailed on by Hecuba, his aged queen, to take refuge
    with herself and his daughters as a suppliant at the altar of
    Jupiter. While there, his youngest son Polites, pursued by
    Pyrrhus (Pyrrhus's exclamation, "Not such aid nor such defenders
    does the time require," has become proverbial.), the son of
    Achilles, rushed in wounded, and expired at the feet of his
    father; whereupon Priam, overcome with indignation, hurled his
    spear with feeble hand against Pyrrhus, and was forthwith slain
    by him.

    Queen Hecuba and her daughter Cassandra were carried captives to
    Greece. Cassandra had been loved by Apollo, and he gave her the
    gift of prophecy; but afterwards offended with her, he rendered
    the gift unavailing by ordaining that her predictions should
    never be believed. Polyxena, another daughter, who had been
    loved by Achilles, was demanded by the ghost of this warrior, and
    was sacrificed by the Greeks upon his tomb.

    >From Schiller's poem "Cassandra":

    "And men my prophet wail deride!
    The solemn sorrow dies in scorn;
    And lonely in the waste, I hide
    The tortured heart that would forewarn.
    Amid the happy, unregarded,
    Mock'd by their fearful joy, I trod;
    Oh, dark to me the lot awarded,
    Thou evil Pythian God!

    "Thine oracle, in vain to be,
    Oh, wherefore am I thus consigned,
    With eyes that every truth must see,
    Lone in the city of the blind?
    Cursed with the anguish of a power
    To view the fates I may not thrall,
    The hovering tempest still must lower,
    The horror must befall!

    Boots it th veil to lift, and give
    To sight the frowning fates beneath?
    For error is the life we live,
    And, oh, our knowledge is but death!
    Take back the clear and awful mirror,
    Shut from my eyes the blood-red glare;
    Thy truth is but the gift of terror,
    When mortal lips declare.

    "My blindness give to me once more,
    They gay dim senses that rejoice;
    The past's delighted songs are o'er
    For lips that speak a prophet's voice.
    To me the future thou hast granted;
    I miss the moment from the chain
    The happy present hour enchanted!
    Take back thy gift again!"
    Sir Edw. L. Bulwer's translation


    Our readers will be anxious to know the fate of Helen, the fair
    but guilty occasion of so much slaughter. On the fall of Troy
    Menelaus recovered possession of his wife, who had not ceased to
    love him, though she had yielded to the might of Venus and
    deserted him for another. After the death of Paris she aided the
    Greeks secretly on several occasions, and in particular when
    Ulysses and Diomedes entered the city in disguise to carry off
    the Palladium. She saw and recognized Ulysses, but kept the
    secret, and even assisted them in obtaining the image. Thus she
    became reconciled to her husband, and they were among the first
    to leave the shores of Troy for their native land. But having
    incurred the displeasure of the gods they were driven by storms
    from shore to shore of the Mediterranean, visiting Cyprus,
    Phoenicia and Egypt. In Egypt they were kindly treated and
    presented with rich gifts, of which Helen's share was a golden
    spindle and a basket on wheels. The basket was to hold the wool
    and spools for the queen's work.

    Dyer, in his poem of The Fleece, thus alludes to the incident:

    "_________many yet adhere
    To the ancient distaff at the bosom fixed.
    Casting the whirling spindle as they walk.
    . . . . . . . . . .
    This was of old, in no inglorious days,
    The mode of spinning, when the Egyptian prince
    A golden distaff gave that beauteous nymph,
    Too beauteous Helen; no uncourtly gift."

    Milton also alludes to a famous recipe for an invigorating
    draught, called Nepenthe, which the Egyptian queen gave to Helen:

    "Not that Nepenthes which the wife of Thone
    In Egypt gave to Jove-born Helena,
    Is of such power to stir up joy as this,
    To life so friendly or so cool to thirst."

    Menelaus and Helen at length arrived in safety at Sparta, resumed
    their royal dignity, and lived and reigned in splendor; and when
    Telemachus, the son of Ulysses, in search of his father, arrived
    at Sparta, he found Menelaus and Helen celebrating the marriage
    of their daughter Hermione to Neoptolemus, son of Achilles.

    In "the Victory Feast," Schiller thus reviews the return of the
    Greek heroes.

    "The son of Atreus, king of men,
    The muster of the hosts surveyed,
    How dwindled from the thousands, when
    Along Scamander first arrayed!
    With sorrow and the cloudy thought,
    The great king's stately look grew dim,
    Of all the hosts to Ilion brought,
    How few to Greece return with him!
    Still let the song to gladness call,
    For those who yet their home shall greet!
    For them the blooming life is sweet;
    Return is not for all!

    "Nor all who reach their native land
    May long the joy of welcome feel;
    Beside the household gods may stand
    Grim Murder, with awaiting steel
    And they who 'scape the foe, may die
    Beneath the foul, familiar glaive.
    Thus he to whom prophetic eye
    Her light the wise Minerva gave;
    'Ah! Bless'd, whose hearth, to memory true
    The goddess keeps unstained and pure;
    For woman's guile is deep and sure,
    And falsehood loves the new!'

    "The Spartan eyes his Helen's charms,
    By the best blood of Greece recaptured;
    Round that fair form his glowing arms
    (A second bridal) wreath, enraptured.
    Woe waits the work of evil birth,
    Revenge to deeds unblessed is given!
    For watchful o'er the things of earth,
    The eternal council-halls of heaven.
    Yes, ill shall never ill repay;
    Jove to the impious hands that stain
    The altar of man's heart,
    Again the doomer's doom shall weigh!"
    Sir Edw. L. Bulwer's translation


    Agamemnon, the general-in-chief of the Greeks, the brother of
    Menelaus, who had been drawn into the quarrel to avenge another's
    wrongs, was not so fortunate in the issue as his brother. During
    his absence his wife Clytemnestra had been false to him, and when
    his return was expected, she, with her paramour, AEgisthus, laid
    a plan for his destruction, and at the banquet given to celebrate
    his return, murdered him.

    The conspirators intended also to slay his son Orestes, a lad not
    yet old enough to be an object of apprehension, but from whom, if
    he should be suffered to grow up, there might be danger.
    Electra, the sister of Orestes, saved her brother's life by
    sending him secretly away to his uncle Strophius, king of Phocis.
    In the palace of Strophius, Orestes grew up with the king's son,
    Pylades, and formed with him that ardent friendship which has
    become proverbial. Electra frequently reminded her brother hy
    messengers of the duty of avenging his father's death, and when
    grown up he consulted the oracle of Delphi, which confirmed him
    in his design. He therefore repaired in disguise to Argos,
    pretending to he a messenger from Strophius, who had come to
    announce the death of Orestes, and brought the ashes of the
    deceased in a funeral urn. After visiting his father's tomb and
    sacrificing upon it, according to the rites of the ancients, he
    made himself known to his sister Electra, and soon after slew
    both AEgisthus and Clytemnestra.

    This revolting act, the slaughter of a mother by her son, though
    alleviated by the guilt of the victim and the express command of
    the gods, did not fail to awaken in the breasts of the ancients
    the same abhorrence that it does in ours. The Eumenides,
    avenging deities, seized upon Orestes, and drove him frantic from
    land to land. Pylades accompanied him in his wanderings, and
    watched over him. At length in answer to a second appeal to the
    oracle, he was directed to go to Tauris in Scythia, and to bring
    thence a statue of Diana which was believed to have fallen from
    heaven. Accordingly Orestes and Pylades went to Tauris, where
    the barbarous people were accustomed to sacrifice to the goddess
    all strangers who fell into their hands. The two friends were
    seized and carried bound to the temple to be made victims. But
    the priestess of Diana was no other than Iphigenia, the sister of
    Orestes, who, our readers will remember, was snatched away by
    Diana, at the moment when she was about to be sacrificed.
    Ascertaining from the prisoners who they were, Iphigenia
    disclosed herself to them, and the three made their escape with
    the statue of the goddess, and returned to Mycenae.

    But Orestes was not yet relieved from the vengeance of the
    Erinnyes. At length he took refuge with Minerva at Athens. The
    goddess afforded him protection, and appointed the court of
    Areopagus to decide his fate. The Erinnyes brought forward their
    accusation, and Orestes made the command of the Delphic oracle
    his excuse. When the court voted and the voices were equally
    divided, Orestes was acquitted by the command of Minerva.

    Byron, in Childe Harold, Canto IV, alludes to the story of

    "O thou who never yet of human wrong
    Left the unbalanced scale, great Nemesis!
    Thou who didst call the Furies from the abyss,
    And round Orestes bade them howl and hiss,
    For that unnatural retribution, just,
    Had it but been from hands less near, in this,
    Thy former realm, I call thee from the dust!"

    One of the most pathetic scenes in the ancient drama is that in
    which Sophocles represents the meeting of Orestes and Electra, on
    his return from Phocis. Orestes, mistaking Electra for one of
    the domestics, and desirous of keeping his arrival a secret till
    the hour of vengeance should arrive, produces the urn in which
    his ashes are supposed to rest. Electra, believing him to be
    really dead, takes the urn, and embracing it, pours forth her
    grief in language full of tenderness and despair.

    Milton, in one of his sonnets, says:

    "The repeated air
    Of sad Electra's poet had the power
    To save the Athenian walls from ruin bare."

    This alludes to the story that when, on one occasion, the city of
    Athens was at the mercy of her Spartan foes, and it was proposed
    to destroy it, the thought was rejected upon the accidental
    quotation, by some one, of a chorus of Euripides.


    After hearing so much about the city of Troy and its heroes, the
    reader will perhaps be surprised to learn that the exact site of
    that famous city is still a matter of dispute. There are some
    vestiges of tombs on the plain which most nearly answers to the
    description given by Homer and the ancient geographers, but no
    other evidence of the former existence of a great city. Byron
    thus describes the present appearance of the scene:

    "The winds are high, and Helle's tide
    Rolls darkly heaving to the main;
    And night's descending shadows hide
    That field with blood bedewed in vain,
    The desert of old Priam's pride,
    The tombs, sole relics of his reign,
    All save immortal dreams that could beguile
    The blind old man of Scio's rocky isle."
    Bride of Abydos.

    Next Chapter
    Chapter 21
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Thomas Bulfinch essay and need some advice, post your Thomas Bulfinch essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Want to read

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?