Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton
Introduction to Classical Mythology
Of old the Hellenic race was marked off from the barbarian as
more keen-witted and more free from nonsense.
Herodotus I: 60.
Greek and Roman mythology is quite generally supposed to show us the
way the human race thought and felt untold ages ago. Through it,
according to this view, we can retrace the path from civilized man who
lives so far from nature, to man who lived in close companionship with
nature; and the real interest of the myths is that they lead us back to
a time when the world was young and people had a connection with the
earth, with trees and seas and flowers and hills, unlike anything we
ourselves can feel. When the stories were being shaped, we are given to
understand, little distinction had as yet been made between the real and
the unreal. The imagination was vividly alive and not checked by the
reason, so that anyone in the woods might see through the tress a
fleeing nymph, or bending over a clear pool to drink behold in the
depths a naiad's face.
The prospect of traveling back to this delightful state of things is
held out by nearly every writer who touches upon classical mythology,
above all by the poets. In that infinitely remote time primitive man
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
And we for a moment can catch, through the myths he made, a glimpse
of that strangely and beautifully animated world.
But a very brief consideration of the ways of uncivilized peoples
everywhere and in all ages is enough to prick that romantic bubble.
Nothing is clearer than the fact that primitive man, whether in New
Guinea today or eons ago in the prehistoric wilderness, is not and never
has been a creature who peoples his world with bright fancies and lovely
visions. Horrors lurked in the primeval forest, not nymphs and naiads.
Terror lived there, with its close attendant, Magic, and its most common
defense, Human Sacrifice. Mankind's chief hope of escaping the wrath of
whatever divinities were then abroad lay i some magical rite, senseless
but powerful, or in some offering made at the cost of pain and grief.
THE MYTHOLOGY OF THE GREEKS
This dark picture is worlds apart from the stories of classical
mythology. The study of the way early man looked at his surroundings
does not get much help from the Greeks. How briefly the anthropologists
treat the Greek myths is noteworthy.
Of course the Greeks too had their roots in the primeval slime. Of
course they too once lived a savage life, ugly and brutal. But what the
myths show is how high they had risen above the ancient filth and
fierceness by the time we have any knowledge of them. Only a few traces
of that time are to be found in the stories.
We do not know when these stories were first told in their present
shape; but whenever it was, primitive life had been left far behind. The
myths as we have them are the creation of great poets. The first written
record of Greece is the Iliad. Greek mythology begins with Homer,
generally believed to be not earlier than a thousand years before
Christ. The Iliad is, or contains, the oldest Greek literature; and it
is written in a rich and subtle and beautiful language which must have
had behind it centuries when men were striving to express themselves
with clarity and beauty, and indisputable proof of civilization. The
tales of Greek mythology do not throw any clear light upon what early
mankind was like. They do throw an abundance of light upon what early
Greeks were like--a matter, it would seem, of more importance to us, who
are their descendants intellectually, artistically, and politically,
too. Nothing we learn about them is alien to ourselves.
People often speak of "the Greek miracle." What the phrase tries to
express is the new birth of the world with the awakening of Greece. "Old
things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." Something
like that happened in Greece.
The Greeks, unlike the Egyptians, made their gods in their own
images. Illustration of gods by Steele Savage.
Why it happened, or when, we have no idea at all. We know only that
in the earliest Greek poets a new point of view dawned, never dreamed of
in the world before them, but never to leave the world after them. With
the coming forward of Greece, mankind became the center of the universe,
the most important thing in it. This was a revolution in thought. Human
beings had counted for little heretofore. In Greece man first realized
what mankind was.
The Greeks made their gods in their own image. That had not entered
the mind of man before. Until then, gods had no semblance of reality.
They were unlike all living things. In Egypt, a towering colossus,
immobile, beyond the power of imagination to endow with movement, as
fixed in the stone as the tremendous temple columns, a representation of
the human shape deliberately made inhuman. Or a rigid figure, a woman
with a cat's head suggesting inflexible, inhuman cruelty. Or a monstrous
mysterious sphinx, aloof from all that lives. In Mesopotamia,
bas-reliefs of bestial shapes unlike any beast ever known, men with
birds' heads and lions with bulls' heads and both with eagles' sings,
creations of artists who were intent upon producing something never seen
except in their own minds, the very consummation of unreality.
These and their like were what the pre-Greek world worshiped. One
need only place beside them in imagination any Greek stature of a god,
so normal and natural with all ts beauty, to perceive what a new idea
had come into the world. With its coming, the universe became rational.
Saint Paul said the invisible must be understood by the visible. That
was not a Hebrew idea, it was Greek. In Greece alone in the ancient
world people were preoccupied with the visible they were finding the
satisfaction of their desires in what was actually in the world around
them. The sculptor watched the athletes contending in the games nd he
felt that nothing he could imagine would be as beautiful as those strong
young bodies. So he made his statue of Apollo. The storyteller found
Hermes among the people he passed in the street. He saw the god "like a
young man at the age when youth is loveliest," as Homer says. Greek
artists and poets realized how splendid a man could be, straight and
swift and strong. He was the fulfillment of their search for beauty. The
had no wish to create some fantasy shaped in their own minds. All the
art and all the thought of Greece centered in human beings.
Human gods naturally made heaven a pleasantly familiar place. The
Greeks felt at home in it. They knew just what the divine inhabitants
did there, what they ate and drank and where they banqueted and how they
amused themselves. Of course they were to be feared; they were very
powerful and very dangerous when angry. Still, with proper care a man
could be quite fairly at ease with them. He was even perfectly free to
laugh at them. Zeus, trying to hide his love affairs from his wife and
invariably shown up, was a capital figure of fun. The Greeks enjoyed him
and liked him all the better for it. Hera was that stock character of
comedy, the typical jealous wife, and her ingenious tricks to discomfit
her husband and punish her rival, afar from displeasing the Greeks,
entertained them as much as Hera's modern counterpart does us today.
Such stories made for a friendly feeling. Laughter in the presence of an
Egyptian sphinx or an Assyrian bird-beast was inconceivable; but it was
perfectly natural in Olympus, and it made the gods companionable.
On earth, too, the deities were exceedingly and humanly attractive.
In the form of lovely youths and maidens they peopled the woodland, the
forest,the rivers, the sea, in harmony with fair earth and the bright
That is the miracle of Greek mythology--a humanized world, men freed
from the paralyzing fear of an omnipotent Unknown. The terrifying
incomprehensibilities which were worshiped elsewhere, and the fearsome
spirits with which earth, air and sea swarmed, were banned from Greece.
It may seem odd to say that the men who made the myths disliked the
irrational and had a love for facts; but it is true, no matter how
wildly fantastic some of the stories are. Anyone who reads them with
attention discovers that even the most nonsensical take place in a world
which is essentially rational and matter-of-fact. Hercules, whose life
was one long combat against preposterous monsters, is always said to
have had his home in the city of Thebes. The exact spot where Aphrodite
was born of the foam could be visited by any ancient tourist it was just
offshore from the island of Cythera. The winged steed Pegasus, after
skimming the air all day, went every night to the comfortable sable in
Corinth. A familiar local habitation gave reality to all the mythical
beings. If the mixture seems childish, consider how reassuring and how
sensible the solid background is as compared with the Genie who comes
from nowhere when Aladdin rubs the lamp and, his task accomplished,
returns to nowhere.
The terrifying irrational has no place in classical mythology. Magic,
so powerful in the world before and after Greece, is almost
non-existent. There are no men and only two women with dreadful,
supernatural powers. The demoniac wizards and the hideous old witches
who haunted Europe and America, too, up to quite recent years, play no
part at all in the stories. Circe and Medea are the only witches and
they are young and of surpassing beauty--delightful, not horrible.
Astrology, which has flourished from the days of ancient Babylon down to
today, is completely absent from classical Greece. There are many
stories about the stars, but not a trace of the idea that they influence
men's lives. Astronomy is what the Greek mind finally made out of the
stars. Not a single story has a magical priest who is terribly to be
feared because he knows ways of winning over the odds or alienating
them. The priest is rarely seen and is never of importance. In the
Odyssey when a priest and a poet fall on their knees before Odysseus,
praying him to spare their lives, the hero kills the priest without a
thought, but saves the poet. Homer says that he felt awe to slay a man
who had been taught his divine art by the gods. Not the priest, but the
poet, had influence with heaven--and no one was ever afraid of a poet.
Ghosts, too, which have played so large and so fearsome a part in other
lands, never appear on earth in any Greek story. The Greeks were not
afraid of the dead--"the piteous dead," the Odyssey calls them.
The world of Greek mythology was not a place of terror for the human
spirit. It is true that the gods were disconcertingly incalculable. One
could never tell where Zeus's thunderbolt would strike. Nevertheless,
the whole divine company, with a very few and for the most part not
important exceptions, were entrancingly beautiful with a human beauty,
and nothing humanly beautiful is really terrifying. The early Greek
mythologists transformed a world full of fear into a world full of
This bright picture has its dark spots. The change came about slowly
and was never quite completed. The gods-become-human were for a long
time a very slight improvement upon their worshipers. They were
incomparably lovelier and more powerful, and they were of course
immortal but they often acted in a way no decent man or woman would. In
the Iliad Hector is nobler by far than any of the heavenly beings, and
Andromache infinitely to be preferred to Athena or Aphrodite. Hera from
first to last is a goddess on a very low level of humanity. Almost every
one of the radiant divinities could act cruelly or contemptibly. A very
limited sense of right and wrong prevailed in Homer's heaven, and for a
long time after.
Other dark spots too stand out. There are traces of a time when there
were beast-gods. The satyrs are goat-men and the centaurs are half man,
half horse. Hera is often called "cow-faced," as if the adjective had
somehow stuck to her through all her changes from a divine cow to the
very human queen of heaven. There are also stories which point back
clearly to a time when there was human sacrifice. but what is
astonishing is not that bits of savage believe were left here and there.
The strange thing is that they are so few.
Of course the mythical monster is present in any number of shapes,
Gorgons and hydras and chimaeras dire, but they are there only to give
the hero his meed of glory. What could a hero do in a world without
them? They are always overcome by him. The great hero of mythology,
Hercules, might be an allegory of Greece herself. He fought the monsters
and freed the earth from them just as Greece freed the earth from the
monstrous idea of the unhuman supreme over the human.
Greek mythology is largely made up of stories about gods and
goddesses, but it must not be read as a kind of Greek Bible, and account
of Greek religion. According to the most modern idea, a real myth has
nothing to do with religion. It is an explanation of something in
nature; how, for instance, any and everything in the universe came into
existence: men, animals, this or that tree or flower, the sun, the moon,
the stars, storms, eruptions, earthquakes, all that is and all that
happens. Thunder and lightning are caused when Zeus hurls his
thunderbolt. A volcano erupts because a terrible creature is imprisoned
in the mountain and every now and then struggles to get free. The
Dipper, the constellation called also the Great Bear, does not set blow
the horizon because a goddess once was angry at it and decreed that it
should never sink into the sea. Myths are early science, the result of
men's first trying to explain what they saw around them. But there are
many so-called myths which explain nothing at all. These tales are pure
entertainment, the sort of thing people would tell each other on a long
winter's evening. The story of Pygmalion and Galatea is an example; it
has no conceivable connection with any event in nature. Neither has the
Quest of the Golden Fleece, nor Orpheus and Eurydice, nor many another.
This fact is now generally accepted; and we do not have to try to find
in every mythological heroine the moon or the dawn and in every hero's
life a sun myth. The stories are early literature as well as early
But religion is there, too. In the background, to be sure, but
nevertheless plain to see. From Homer through the tragedians and even
later, there is a deepening realization of what human beings need nd
what they must have in their gods.
Zeus the Thunderer was, it seems certain, once a rain-god. He was
supreme even over the sun because rocky Greece needed rain more than
sunshine and the Go of Gods would be the one who could give the precious
water of life to his worshipers. But Homer's Zeus is not a fact of
nature. He is a person living in a world where civilization had made an
entry, and of course he has a standard of right and wrong. It is not
very high, certainly, and seems chiefly applicable to others, not to
himself; but he does punish men who lie and break their oaths; he is
angered by any ill treatment of the dead; and he pities and helps old
Priam when he goes as a suppliant to Achilles. In the Odyssey, he has
reached a higher level. The swineherd there says that the needy and the
stranger are from Zeus and he who fails to help them sins against Zeus
himself. Hesiod, not much later than the Odyssey if at all, says of a
man who does evil to the suppliant and the stranger, or who wrongs
orphan children, "with that man Zeus is angry."
Then Justice became Zeus's companion. That was a new idea. The
buccaneering chieftains in the Iliad did not want justice. They wanted
to be able to take whatever they chose because they were strong and they
wanted a god who was on the side of the strong. But Hesiod, who was a
peasant living in a poor man's world, knew that the poor must have a
just god. He wrote, "Fishes and beasts and fowls of the air devour one
another. But to man, Zeus has given justice. Beside Zeus on his throne
Justice has her seat." These passages show that the great and bitter
needs of the helpless were reaching up to heaven and changing the god of
the strong into the protector of the weak.
So, back of the stories of an amorous Zeus and a cowardly Zeus and a
ridiculous Zeus, we can catch sight of another Zeus coming into being,
as men grow continually more conscious of what life demanded of them and
what human beings needed in the god they worshiped. Gradually this Zeus
displaced the others, until he occupied the whole scene. At last he
became, in the words of Dio Chrystostom, who wrote during the second
century A.D.: "Our Zeus, the giver of every good gift, the common father
and saviour and guardian of mankind."
The Odyssey speaks of "the divine for which all men long," and
hundreds of years later Aristotle wrote, "Excellence, much and hundreds
of years later Aristotle wrote, "Excellence, much labored for by the
race of mortals." The Greeks from the earliest mythologists on had a
perception of the divine and the excellent. Their longing for them was
great enough to make them never give up laboring to see them clearly,
until at last, the thunder and lightning were changed into the Universal
Most of the books about the stories of classical mythology depend
chiefly upon th Latin poet Ovid, who wrote during the reign of Augustus.
Ovid is a compendium of mythology. No ancient writer can compare with
him in this respect. He told almost all the stories and he told them at
great length. Occasionally stories familiar to us through literature and
art have come down to us only in his pages. In this book I have avoided
using him as far as possible. Undoubtedly he was a good poet and a good
storyteller and able to appreciate the myths enough to realize what
excellent material they offered him; but he was really farther away from
them in his point of view than we are today. They were sheer nonsense to
him. He wrote,
I prate of ancient poets' monstrous lies,
Ne'er seen or now or then by human eyes.
He says in effect to his reader, "Never mind how silly they are. I
will dress them up so prettily for you that you will like them." And he
does, often very prettily indeed, but in his hands the stories which
were factual truth and solemn truth to the early Greek poets Hesiod and
Pindar, and vehicles of deep religious truth to the Greek
tragedians,become idle tales, sometimes witty and diverting, often
sentimental and distressingly rhetorical. The Greek mythologists are not
rhetoricians and are notably fee from sentimentality.
The list of the chief writers through whom the myths have come down
to us is not long. Homer heads it, of course. The Iliad and the Odyssey
are, or rather contain, the oldest Greek writings we have. There is no
way to date accurately any part of them. Scholars differ widely, and
will no doubt continue to do so. As unobjectionable a date as any is
1000 B.C.--at any rate for the Iliad, the older of the two poems.
In all that follows, here and in the rest of the book, the date given
is to be understood as before Christ, unless it is otherwise stated.
The second writer on the list is sometimes places in the ninth
century, sometimes in the eighth. Hesiod was a poor farmer whose life
was hard and bitter. There cannot be a greater contrast than that
between his poem, the Works and Days, which tries to show men how to
live a god life in a harsh world, and the courtly splendor of the Iliad
an the Odyssey. But Hesiod has much to say about the gods, and a second
poem, usually ascribed to him, the Theogony, is entirely concerned with
mythology. If Hesiod did write it, then a humble peasant, living on a
lonely farm far from cities, was the first man in Greece to wonder how
everything had happened, the world, the sky, the gods, mankind, and to
think out an explanation. Homer never wondered about anything. The
Theogony is an account of the creation of the universe and the
generations of the gods, and it is very important for mythology.
Next in order come the Homeric Hymns, poems written to honor various
gods. They cannot be definitely dated, but the earliest are considered
by most scholars to belong to the end of the eighth century or the
beginning of the seventh. The last one of importance--there are
thirty-three in all--belongs to the fifth-century or possibly
Pindar, the greatest lyric poet of Greece, began to write toward the
end of the sixth century. He wrote Odes in honor of the victors in the
games at the great national festivals of Greece, and in every one of his
poems myths are told or alluded to. Pindar is quite as important for
mythology as Hesiod.
Aeschylus, the oldest of the three tragic poets, was a contemporary
of Pindar's. The other two, Sophocles and Euripides, were a little
younger. Euripides, the youngest, died at the end of the fifth century.
Except for Aeschylus' Persians, written to celebrate the victory of the
Greeks over the Persians at Salamis, all the plays have mythological
subjects. With Homer, they are the most important source of our
knowledge of the myths.
The great writer of comedy, Aristophanes, who lived in the last part
of the fifth century and the beginning of the fourth, refers often to
the myths, as do also two great prose writers, Herodotus, the first
historian of Europe, who was a contemporary of Euripides, and Plato, the
philosopher, who lived less than a generation later.
The Alexandrian poets lived around 250 B.C. They were so called
because, when they wrote, the center of Greek literature had moved from
Greece to Alexandria in Egypt. Apollonius of Rhodes told at length the
Quest of the Golden Fleece, and in connection with the story a number of
other myths. He and three other Alexandrians, who also wrote about
mythology, the pastoral poets Theocritus, Bion and Moschus, have lost
the simplicity of Hesiod's and Pindar's belief in the gods, and are far
removed from the depth and gravity of the tragic poets' view of
religion; but they are not frivolous like Ovid.
Two late writers, Apuleius, a Latin, and Lucian, a Greek, both of the
second century A.D., make an important contribution. The famous story of
Cupid and Psyche is told only by Apuleius, who writes very much like
Ovid. Lucian writes like no one except himself. He satirized th gods. In
his time they had become a joking matter. Nevertheless, he gives by the
way a good deal of information about them.
Apollodorus, also a Greek, is, next to Ovid, the most voluminous
ancient writer on mythology, but, unlike Ovid, he is very matter-of-fact
and very dull. His date has been differently set all the way from the
first century B.C. to the ninth century A.D. The English scholar, Sir
J.G. Frazer, thinks he probably wrote in either the first or the second
century of our era.
The Greek Pausanias, an ardent traveler, the author of the firs
guidebook every written, has a good deal to say about the mythological
events reported to have happened in the places he visited. He lived as
late as the second century A.D., but he does not question any of the
stories. He writes about them with complete seriousness.
Of the Roman writers, Virgil stands far ahead. He did not believe in
the myths any more than Ovid did, whose contemporary he was, but he
found human nature in them and he brought mythological personages to
life as no one had done since the Greek tragedians.
Other Roman poets wrote of the myths. Catullus tells several of the
stories, and Horace alludes to them often, but neither is important for
mythology. To all Romans the stories were infinitely remote, mere
shadows. The best guides to a knowledge of Greek mythology are the Greek
writers, who believed in what they wrote.
Part One: The Gods, the Creation, and the Earliest
1 The Gods
Strange clouded fragments of an ancient glory,
Late lingerers of the company divine,
They breathe of that far world wherefrom they come,
Lost halls of heaven and Olympian air.
The Greeks did not believe that the gods created the universe. It was
the other way about: the universe created the gods. Before there were
gods heaven and earth had been formed. They were the first parents. The
Titans were their children, and the gos were their grandchildren.
THE TITANS AND THE TWELVE GREAT OLYMPIANS
The Titans, often called the Elder Gods, were for untold ages supreme
in the universe. They were of enormous size and of incredible strength.
There were many of them, but only a few appear in the stories of
mythology. The most important was CRONUS, in Latin SATURN. He rules over
the other Titans until his son Zeus dethroned him and seized power for
himself. The Romans said that when Jupiter, their name for Zeus,
ascending the throne, Saturn fled to Italy and brought in the Golden
Age, a time of perfect peace and happiness, which lasted as long as he
The other notable Titans were OCEAN, the river that was supposed to
encircle the earth; his wife TETHYS HYPERION, the father of the sun, the
moon and the dawn; MNEMOSYNE, which means Memory; THEMIS, usually
translated by Justice; and IAPETUS, important because of his sos, ATLAS,
who bore the world on his shoulders, and PROMETHEUS, who was the savior
of mankind. These alone among the older gods were not banished with the
coming of Zeus, but they took a lower place.
The twelve great Olympians were supreme among the gods who succeeded
to the Titans. They were called the Olympians because Olympus was their
home. What Olympus was, however, is not easy to say. There is no doubt
that at first it was held to be a mountain top, and generally identified
with Greece's highest mountain, Mt. Olympus in Thessaly, in the
northeast of Greece. But even in th earliest Greek poem, the Iliad, this
idea is beginning to give way to the idea of an Olympus in some
mysterious region far above all the mountains of the earth. In one
passage of the Iliad Zeus talks to the gods from "the topmost peak of
many-ridged Olympus," clearly a mountain. But only a little further on
he says that if he willed he could hang earth and sea from a pinnacle of
Olympus, clearly no longer a mountain. Even so, it is not heaven. Homer
makes Poseidon say that he rules the sea, Hades the dead, Zeus the
heavens, but Olympus is common to all three.
Wherever it was, the entrance to it was a great gate of clouds kept
by the Seasons. Within were the god' dwellings, where they lived and
slept and feasted on ambrosia and nectar and listened to Apollo's lyre.
It was an abode of perfect blessedness. No wind, Homer says, ever shakes
the untroubled peace of Olympus; no rain ever falls there or snow; but
the cloudless firmament stretches around it on all sides and the white
glory of sunshine is diffused upon its walls.
The twelve Olympians made up a divine family:--
(1) ZEUS (JUPITER), the chief; his two brothers next, (2) POSEIDON
(NEPTUNE), and (3) HADES, also called PLUTO; (4) HESTIA (VESTA), their
sister; (5) HERA (JUNO), Zeus's wife, and (6) ARES (MARS), their son;
Zeus's children (7) ATHENA (MINERVA), (8) APOLLO, (9) APHRODITE (VENUS),
(10) HERMES (MERCURY), and (11) ARTEMIS (DIANA) and Hera's son (12)
HEPHAESTUS (VULCAN), sometimes said to be the son of Zeus too.
Zeus and his brothers drew lots for their share of the universe. The
sea fell to Poseidon, and he underworld to Hades. Zeus became the
supreme ruler. He was Lord of the Sky, the Rain-god and the
Cloud-gatherer, who wielded the awful thunderbolt. His power was greater
than that of all the other divinities together. In the Iliad he tells
his family, "I am mightiest of all. Make trial that you may know. Fasten
a rope of gold to heaven and lay hold, every god and goddess. You could
not drag down Zeus. But if I wished to drag you down, then I would. The
rope I would bind to a pinnacle of Olympus and all would hang in air,
yes, the very earth and the sea too."
Nevertheless he was not omnipotent or omniscient, either. He could be
opposed and deceived. Poseidon dupes him in the Iliad and so does Hera.
Sometimes, too, the mysterious power, Fate, is spoken of as stronger
than he. Homer makes Hera ask him scornfully if he proposes to deliver
from death a man Fate has doomed.
He is represented as falling in love with one woman after another and
descending to all manner of tricks to hid his infidelity from his wife.
The explanation why such action were ascribed to the most majestic of
gods is, the scholars say, that the Zeus of song and story has been made
by combining many gods. When his worship spread to a town where there
was already a divine ruler the two were slowly fused into one. The wife
of the early god was then transferred to Zeus. The result, however, was
unfortunate and the later Greeks did not like these endless love
Still, even in the earliest records Zeus had grandeur. In the Iliad
Agamemnon prays: "Zeus, most glorious, most great, God of the
storm-cloud, thou that dwellest in the heavens." He demanded, too, not
only sacrifices from men, but right action. The Greek Army at Troy is
told "Father Zeus never helps liars or those who break their oaths." The
two ideas of him, the low and the high, persisted side by side for a
His breastplate was the aegis, awful to behold; his bird was the
eagle, his tree the oak. His oracle was Dodona in the land of oak trees.
The god's will was revealed by the rustling of the oak leaves which the
She was Zeus's wife and sister. The Titans Ocean and Tethys brought
her up. She was the protector of marriage, and married women were her
peculiar care. There is very little that is attractive in the portrait
the poets draw of her. She is called, indeed, in an early poem,
Golden-throned Hera, among immortals the queen.
Chief among them in beauty, the glorious lady
All the blessed in high Olympus revere,
Honor even as Zeus, the lord of the thunder.
But when any account of her gets down to details, it shows her
chiefly engaged in punishing the many women Zeus fell in love with, even
when they yielded only because he coerced or tricked them. It made no
difference to Hera how reluctant any of them were or how innocent the
goddess treated them all alike. Her implacable anger followed them and
their children too. She never forgot an injury. The Trojan War would
have ended in an honorable peace, laving both sides unconquered, if it
had not been for her hatred of a Trojan who had judged another goddess
lovelier than she. The wrong of her slighted beauty remained with her
until Troy fell in ruins.
In one important story, the Quest of the Golden Fleece, she is the
gracious protector of heroes and the inspirer of heroic deeds, but not
in any other. Nevertheless she was venerated in every home. She was the
goddess married women turned to for help. Ilityia (or Eileithyia), who
helped women in childbirth, was her daughter.
The cow and the peacock were sacred to hr. Argos was her favorite
He was the ruler of the sea, Zeus's brother and second only to him in
eminence. The Greeks on both sides of the Aegean were seamen and the God
of the Sea was all-important to them. His wife was Amphitrite, a
granddaughter of the Titan, Ocean. Poseidon had a splendid palace
beneath the sea, but he was oftener to be found in Olympus.
Besides being Lord of the Sea he gave the first horse to man, and he
was honored as much for the one as for the other.
Lord Poseidon, from you this pride is ours,
The strong horses, the young horses, and also the rule of the deep.
Storm and calm were under his control:--
He commanded and the storm wind rose
And the surges of the sea.
But when he drove in his golden car over the waters, the thunder of
the waves sank into stillness, and tranquil peace followed his
He was commonly called "Earth-shaker" and was always shown carrying
his trident, a three-pronged spear, with which he would shake and
shatter whatever he pleased.
He had some connection with bulls as well as with horses, but the
bull was connected with many other gods too.
He was the third brother among Olympians, who drew for his share the
underworld and the rule of the dead. He was called Pluto, the God of
Wealth, of the precious metals hidden in the earth. The Romans as well
as the Greeks called him by his name, but often they translated it into
Dis, the Latin word for rich. He had a far-famed cap or helmet which
made whoever wore it invisible. It was rare that he left his dark realm
to visit Olympus or the earth, nor was he urged to do so. He was not a
welcome visitor. He was unpitying, inexorable, but just; a terrible, not
an evil god.
His wife was Persephone (Proserpine) whom he carried away from the
earth and made Queen of the Lower World.
He was King of the Dead--not Death himself, whom the Greeks called
Thanatos and the Romans, Orcus.
PALLA ATHENA (MINERVA)
She was the daughter of Zeus alone. No mother bore her. Full-grown
and in full armor, she sprang from his head. In the earliest account of
her, the Iliad, she is a fierce and ruthless battle-goddess, but
elsewhere she is warlike only to defend the State and the home from
outside enemies. She was pre-eminently the goddess of the City, the
protector of civilized life, of handicrafts and agriculture; the
inventor of the bridle, who first tamed horses for men to use.
She was Zeus's favorite child. He trusted her to carry the awful
aegis, his buckler, and his devastating weapon, the thunderbolt.
The word oftenest used to describe her is "gray-eyed," or as it is
sometimes translated, "flashing-eyed." Of the three virgin goddesses she
was the chief and was called the Maiden, Parthenos, and her temple the
Parthenon. In later poetry she is the embodiment of wisdom, reason,
Athens was her special city; the olive created by her was her tree;
the owl her bird.
The son of Zeus and Leto (Latona), born in the little island of
Delos. He has been called "the most Greek of all the gods." He is a
beautiful figure in Greek poetry, the master musician who delights
Olympus as he plays on his golden lyre; the lord too of the silver bow,
the Archer-god, far-shooting; the Healer, as well, who first taught men
the healing art. Even more than of these good and lovely endowments, he
is the God of Light, in whom is no darkness at all, and so he is the God
of Truth. No false word ever falls from his lips.
O Phoebus, from your throne of truth,
From your dwelling-place at the heart of the world,
You speak to men.
By Zeus's decree no lie comes there,
No shadow to darken the word of truth.
Zeus sealed by an everlasting right
Apollo's honour, that all may trust
With unshaken faith when he speaks.
Delphi under towering Parnassus, where Apollo's oracle was, plays in
important part in mythology. Castalia was its sacred spring; Cephissus
its river. It was held to be the center of the world, so many pilgrims
came to it, from foreign countries as well as Greece. No other shrine
rivaled it. The answers to the questions asked by the anxious seekers
for Truth were delivered by a priestess, who went into a trance before
she spoke. The trance was supposed to be caused by a vapor rising from a
deep cleft in the rock over which her seat was placed, a three-legged
stool, the tripod.
Apollo was called Delian from Delos, the island of his birth, and
Pythian from his killing of a serpent, Python, which once lived in the
caves of Parnassus. It was a frightful monster and the contest was
severe, but in the end the god's unerring arrows won the victory.
Another name often given him was "the Lycian," variously explained as
meaning Wolf-god, God of Light, and God of Lycia. In the Iliad he is
called "the Smithian," the Mouse-god, but whether because he protected
mice or destroyed them no one knows. Often, he was the Sun-god, too. His
name Phoebus means "brilliant" or "shining." Accurately, however, the
Sun-god was Helios, child of the Titan Hyperion.
Apollo at Delphi was purely a beneficent power, a direct link between
gods and men, guiding men to know the divine will, showing them how to
make peace with the gods; the purifier, too, able to cleanse even those
stained with the blood of their kindred. Nevertheless, there are a few
tales told of him which show him pitiless and cruel. Two ideas were
fighting in him as in all the gods: a primitive, crude idea and one that
was beautiful and poetic. In him only a little of the primitive is left.
The laurel was his tree. Many creatures were sacred to him, chief
among them the dolphin and the crow.
Also called Cynthia, from her birthplace, Mount Cynthus in Delos.
Apollo's twin sister, daughter of Zeus and Leto. She was one of the
three maiden goddesses of Olympus:--
Golden Aphrodite who stirs with love all creation,
Cannot bend nor ensnare three hearts: the pure maiden Vesta,
Gray-eyed Athena who cares but for war and the arts of the craftsmen,
Artemis, lover of woods and the wild chase over the mountain.
She was the Lady of Wild Things. Huntsman-in-chief to the gods, an
odd office for a woman. Like a good huntsman, she was careful to
preserve the young; she was "the protectress of dewy youth" everywhere.
Nevertheless, with one of those startling contradictions so common in
mythology, she kept the Greek Fleet from sailing to Troy until they
sacrificed a maiden to her. In many another story, too, she is fierce
and revengeful. On the other hand, when women died a swift and painless
death, they were held to have been slain by her silver arrows.
As Phoebus was the Sun, she was the Moon, called Phoebe and Selene
(Luna in Latin). Neither name originally belonged to her. Phoebe was a
Titan, one of the older gods. So too was Selene--a moon-goddess, indeed,
but not connected with Apollo. She was the sister of Helios, the sun-god
with whom Apollo was confused.
In later poets, Artemis is identified with Hecate. She is "the
goddess with three forms," Selene in the sky., Artemis on earth, Hecate
in the lower world and in the world above when it is wrapped in
darkness. Hecate was the Goddess of the Dark of the Moon, the black
nights when the moon is hidden. She was associated with deeds of
darkness, the Goddess of the Crossways, which were held to be ghostly
places of evil magic. An awful divinity.
Hecate of hell,
Mighty to shatter every stubborn thing.
Hark! Hark! her hounds are baying through the town.
Where three roads meet, there she is standing.
It is a strange transformation from the lovely Huntress flashing
through the forest, from the Moon making all beautiful with her light,
from the pure Maiden-Goddess for whom
Whoso is chaste of spirit utterly
May gather leaves and fruits and flowers.
The unchaste forever.
In her is shown most vividly the uncertainty between good and evil
which is apparent in every one of the divinities.
The cypress was sacred to her; and all wild animals, but especially
The Goddess of Love and Beauty, who beguiled all, gods and men alike;
the laughter-loving goddess, who laughed sweetly or mockingly at those
her wiles had conquered; the irresistible goddess who stole away even
the wits of the wise.
She is the daughter of Zeus and Dione in the Iliad, but in the later
poems she is said to have sprung from the foam of the sea, and her name
was explained as meaning "the foam -risen." Aphros is foam in Greek.
This sea-birth took place near Cythera, from where she was wafted to
Cyprus. Both islands were ever after sacred to her, and she was called
Cytherea or the Cyprian as often by her proper name.
One of the Homeric Hymns, calling her "Beautiful, golden goddess,"
says of her:--
The breath of the west wind bore her
Over the sounding sea,
Up from the delicate foam,
To wave-ringed Cyprus, her isle.
And the Hours golden-wreathed
Welcomed her joyously.
They clad her in raiment immortal,
And brought her to the gods.
Wonder seized them all as they saw
The Romans wrote of her in the same way. With her, beauty comes. The
winds flee before her and the storm clouds; sweet flowers embroider the
earth; the waves of the sea laugh; she moves in radiant light. Without
her there is no joy nor loveliness anywhere. This is the picture the
poets like best to paint of her.
But she had another side too. It was natural that she should cut a
poor figure in the Iliad, where the battle of heroes is the theme. She
is a soft, weak creature there, whom a mortal need not fear to attack.
In later poems she is usually shown as treacherous and malicious,
exerting a deadly and destructive power over men.
In most of the stories she is the wife of Hephaestus (Vulcan), the
lame and ugly god of the forge.
The myrtle was her tree; the dove her bird--sometimes, too, the
sparrow and the swan.
Zeus was his father and Maia, daughter of Atlas, his mother. Because
of a very popular statue his appearance is more familiar to us than that
of any other god. He was graceful and swift of motion. On his feet were
winged sandals; wings were on his low-crowned hat, too, and on his magic
wand, the Caduceus. He was Zeus's Messenger, who "flies as fleet as
thought to do his bidding."
Of all the gods he was the shrewdest and most cunning; in fact he was
the Master Thief, who started upon his career before he was a day old.
The babe was born at the break of day,
And ere the night fell he had stolen away
Zeus made him give them back, and he won Apollo's forgiveness by
presenting him with the lyre which he had just invented, making it out
of a tortoise's shell. Perhaps there was some connection between the
very early short story of him and the fact that he was God of Commerce
and the Market, protector of traders.
In odd contrast to this idea of him, he was also the solemn guide of
the dead, the Divine Herald who led the souls down to their last home.
He appears oftener in the tales of mythology than any other god.
The God of War, son of Zeus and Hera, both of whom, Homer says,
detested him. Indeed, he is hateful throughout the Iliad, poem of war
though it is. Occasionally the heroes "rejoice in the delight of Ares'
battle," but far oftener in having escaped "the fury of the ruthless
god." Homer calls him murderous, bloodstained, the incarnate curse of
mortals; and, strangely, a coward, too, who bellows with pain and runs
away when he is wounded. Yet he has a train of attendants on the
battlefield which should inspire anyone with confidence. His sister is
there, Eris, which means Discord, and Strife, her son. The Goddess of
War, Enyo,--in Latin Bellona,--walks beside him, and with her are Terror
and Trembling and Panic. As they move, the voice of groaning arises
behind them and the earth streams with blood.
The Romans liked Mars better than the Greeks liked Ares. He never was
to them the mean whining deity of the Iliad, but magnificent in shining
armor, redoubtable, invincible. The warriors of the great Latin heroic
poem, the Aeneid, far from rejoicing to escape from him, rejoice when
they see that they are to fall "on Mars' field of renown." They "rush on
glorious death" and find it "sweet to die in battle."
Ares figures little in mythology. In one story he is the lover of
Aphrodite and held up to contempt of the Olympians by Aphrodite's
husband, Hephaestus; but for the most part he is little more than a
symbol of war. He is not a distinct personality, like Hermes or Hera or
He had no cities where he was worshiped. The Greeks said vaguely that
he came from Thrace, home of a rude, fierce people in the northeast of
Appropriately, his bird was the vulture. The dog was wronged by being
chosen as his animal.
HEPHAESTUS (VULCAN AND MULCIBER)
The God of Fire, sometimes said to be the son of Zeus and Hera,
sometimes Hera alone, who bore him in retaliation for Zeus's having
brought forth Athena. Among the perfectly beautiful immortals he only
was ugly. He was lame as well. In one place in the Iliad he says that
his shameless mother, when she saw that he was born deformed, cast him
out of heaven; in another place he declares Zeus did this, angry with
him for trying to defend Hera. This second story is the better known,
because of Milton's familiar lines: Mulciber was
Thrown by angry Jove
Sheer o'er the crystal battlements; from morn
To noon he fell, from noon to dewy eve,
A summer's day, and with the setting sun
Dropt from the zenith like a falling star,
On Lemnos, the Aegean isle.
These events, however, were supposed to have taken place in the
far-distant past. in Homer he is no danger of being driven from Olympus;
he is highly honored there, the workman of the immortals, their armorer
and smith, who makes their dwellings and their furnishing as well as
their weapons. In his workshop he has handmaidens he has forged out of
gold who can move and who help him in his work.
In the later poets his forge is often said to be under this or that
volcano, and to cause eruptions.
His wife is one of the three Graces in the Iliad, called Aglaia in
Hesiod; in the Odyssey she is Aphrodite.
He was a kindly, peace-loving god, popular on earth as in heaven.
With Athena, he was important in the life of the city. The two were
patrons of handicrafts, the arts which along with agriculture are the
support of civilization; he the protector of the smiths as she of the
weavers. When children were formally admitted to the city organization,
the god of the ceremony was Hephaestus.
THE GRACES were three: Aglaia (Splendor), Euphrosyne (Mirth) and
Thalia (Good Cheer).
They were the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, a child of the Titan,
Ocean. Except in a story Homer and Hesiod tell, that Aglaia married
Hephaestus, they are not treated as separate personalities, but always
together, a triple incarnation of grace and beauty. The gods delighted
in them when they danced enchantingly to Apollo's lyre, and the man they
visited was happy. They "Give life its bloom." Together with their
companions, the Muses, they were "queens of song," and no banquet
without them could please.
THE MUSES were nine in number, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne,
At first, like the Graces, they were not distinguished from each other.
"They are all," Hesiod says, "of one mind, their hearts are set upon
song and their spirit is free from care. He is happy whom the Muses
love. For though a man has sorrow and grief in his soul, yet when the
servant of the Muses signs, at once he forgets his dark thoughts and
remembers not his troubles. Such is the holy gift of the Muses to men."
In later times each had her own special field. Clio was Muse of
history, Urania of astronomy, Melpomene of tragedy, Thalia of comedy,
Terpsichore of the dance, Calliope of epic poetry, Erato of love-poetry,
Polyhymnia of songs to the gods, Euterpe of lyric poetry.
Hesiod lived near Helicon, one of the Muses' mountains--the others
were Pierus in Pieria, where they were born, Parnassus and, of course,
Olympus. One day the Nine appeared to him and they told him, "We know
how to speak false things that seem true, but we know, when we will, to
utter true things." They were companions of Apollo, the God of Truth, as
well as of the Graces. Pindar calls the lyre theirs as well as Apollo's,
"the golden lyre to which the step, the dancer's step, listens, owned
alike by Apollo and the violet-wreathed Muses." The man they inspired
was sacred far beyond any priest.
As the idea of Zeus became loftier, two august forms sat beside him
in Olympus. THEMIS, which means the Right, or Divine Justice, and DIKE,
which is Human Justice. But they never became real personalities. The
same was true of two personified emotions esteemed highest of all
feelings in Homer and Hesiod: NEMESIS, usually translated as Righteous
Anger, and AIDOS, a difficult word to translate, but in common use among
Greeks. It means reverence and the shame that holds men back from
wrongdoing, but it also means the feeling a prosperous man should have
in the presence of unfortunate--not compassion, but a sense that the
difference between him and those poor wretches is not deserved.
It does not seem, however, that either Nemesis or Aidos had their
home with the gods. Hesiod says that only when men have finally become
completely wicked will Nemeisis and Aidos, their beautiful faces veiled
in white raiment, leave the wide-wayed earth and depart to the company
of the immortals.
From time to time a few mortals were translated to Olympus, but once
they had been brought to heaven they vanished from literature. Their
stories will be told later.
THE GODS OF THE WATERS
POSEIDON (Neptune), was the Lord and ruler of the Sea (the
Mediterranean) and the Friendly Sea (the Euxine, now the Black Sea).
Underground rivers, too, were his.
OCEAN, a Titan, was Lord of the river Ocean, a great river
encircling the earth. His wife, also a Titan, was Tethys. The Oceanids,
the nymphs of this great river, were their daughters. The gods of all
the rivers on earth were their sons.
PONTUS, which means the Deep Sea, was a son of Mother Earth
and the father of NEREUS, a sea-god far more important than he himself
NEREUS was called the Old Man of the Sea (the
Mediterranean)--"A trusty god and gentle," Hesiod says, "who thinks just
and kindly thoughts and never lies." His wife was Doris, a daughter of
Ocean. They had fifty lovely daughters, the nymphs of the Sea, called
NEREIDS from their father's name, one of whom, THETIS, was the mother of
Achilles. Poseidon's wife, AMPHITRITE, was another.
TRITON was the trumpeter of the Sea. His trumpet was a great
shell. He was the son of Poseidon and Amphitrite.
PROTEUS was sometimes said to be Poseidon's son, sometimes his
attendant. He had the power both of foretelling the future and of
changing his shape at will.
THE NAIADS were also water nymphs. They dwelt in brooks and
springs and fountains.
LEUCOTHEA and her son PALAEMON, once mortals, became
divinities of the sea, ad did also GLAUCUS, but all three were
The kingdom of the dead was ruled by one of the twelve great
Olympians, Hades or Pluto, and his Queen, Persephone. It is often called
by his name, Hades. It lies, the Iliad says, beneath the secret places
of the earth. In the Odyssey, the way to it leads over the edge of the
world across Ocean. In later poets there are various entrances to it
from the earth through caverns and beside deep lakes.
Tartarus and Erebus are sometimes two divisions of the underworld,
Tartarus the deeper of the two, the prison of the Sons of Earth; Erebus
where the dead pass as soon as they die. Often, however, there is no
distinction between the two, and either is used, especially Tartarus, as
a name for the entire region.
In Homer the underworld is vague, a shadowy place inhabited by
shadows. Nothing is real there. The ghosts' existence, if it can be
called that, is like a miserable dream. The later poets define the world
of the dead more and more clearly as the place where the wicked are
punished and the good rewarded. In the Roman poet Virgil this idea is
presented in great detail as in no Greek poet. All the torments of the
one class and the joys of the other are described at length. Virgil too
is the only poet who gives clearly the geography of the underworld. The
path down it leads to where Acheron, the river of woe, pours into
Cocytus, the river of lamentation. An aged boatman named Charon ferries
the souls of the dead across the water to the farther bank, where stands
the adamantine gate to Tartarus (the name Virgil prefers). Charon will
receive into his boat only the souls of those upon whose lips the
passage of money was placed when they died and who were duly buried.
On guard before the gate sits CERBERUS, the three-headed,
dragon-tailed dog, who permits all spirits to enter, but none to return.
On his arrival each one is brought before three judges, Rhadamanthus,
Minos, and Aeacus, who pass sentence and send the wicked to everlasting
torment and the good to a place of blessedness called the Elysian
Three other rivers, beside Acheron and Cocytus, separate the
underworld from the world above; Phlegethon, the river of fire; Styx,
the river of the unbreakable oath by which the gods swear; and Lethe,
the river of forgetfulness.
Somewhere in this vast region is Pluto's palace, but beyond saying
that it is many-gated and crowded with innumerable guests, no writer
describes it. Around it are wide wastes, wan and cold, and meadows of
asphodel, presumably strange, pallid, ghostly flowers. We do not know
anything more about it. The poets did not care to linger in that
THE ERINYES (the FURIES), are placed by Virgil in the
underworld, where they punish evildoers. The Greek poets thought of them
chiefly as pursuing sinners on earth. They were inexorable, but just.
Heraclitus says, "Not even the sun will transgress his orbit but the
Erinyes, the ministers of justice, overtake him." They were usually
represented as three: Tisiphone, Megaera, and Alecto.
SLEEP, and DEATH, his brother, dwelt in the lower world.
Dreams too ascended from there to men. They passed through two gates,
one of horn through which true dreams went, one of ivory for false
THE LESSER GODS OF THE EARTH
Earth herself was called the All-Mother, but she was not really a
divinity. She was never separated from the actual earth and personified.
The Goddess of the Corn, DEMETER (CERES), a daughter of Cronus and Rhea,
and the God of the Vine, DIONYSUS, also called BACCHUS, were the supreme
deities of the earth and of great importance in Greek and Roman
PAN was the chief. He was Hermes' son; a noisy, merry god, the
Homeric Hymn in his honor calls him; but he was part animal too, with a
goat's horns, and goat's hoofs instead of feet. He was goatherds' god,
and the shepherds' god, and also the gay companion of the woodland
nymphs when they danced. All the wild places were his home, thickets and
forests and mountains, but best of all he loved Arcady, where he was
born. He was a wonderful musician. Upon his pipes of reed he played
melodies as sweet as the nightingale's song. He was always in love with
one nymph or another, but always rejected because of his ugliness.
Sounds heard in a wilderness at night by the trembling traveler were
supposed to be made by him, so that it is easy to see how the expression
"panic" fear arose.
SILENUS was sometimes said to be Pan's son; sometimes his
brother, a son of Hermes. He was a jovial fat old man who usually rode
an ass because he was too drunk to walk. He is associated with Bacchus
as well as with Pan; he taught him when the Wine-god was young, and,as
is shown by his perpetual drunkenness, after being his tutor he became
his devoted follower. Besides these gods of the earth there was a very
famous old and very popular pair of brothers, CASTOR and POLLUX (Polydeuces),
who in most accounts were said to live half of their time on earth and
half in heaven.
They were the sons of LEDA, an are usually represented as being gods,
the special protectors of sailors,
Saviors of swift-going ships when the storm winds rage
Over the ruthless sea.
They were also powerful to save in battle. They were especially
honored in Rome, where they were worshiped as
The great Twin Brethren to whom all Dorians pray.
But the accounts of them are contradictory. Sometimes Pollus alone is
held to be divine, and Castor a mortal who won a kind of half-and-half
immortality merely because of his brother's love.
LEDA was the wife of King Tyndareus of Sparta, and the usual story is
that she bore two mortal children to him, Castor and Clytemnestra,
Agamemnon's wife; and to Zeus, who visited her in the from of a swan,
two others who were immortal, Pollux and Helen, the heroine of Troy.
Nevertheless, both brothers, Castor and Pollux, were often called "sons
of Zeus"; indeed, the Greek name they are best known by, the Dioscouri,
means "the striplings of Zeus." On the other hand, they were also called
"sons of Tyndareus," the Tyndaridae.
They are always represented as living just before the Trojan War, at
the sme time as Theseus and Jason and Atalanta. They took part in the
Calydonian boar-hunt; they went on the Quest of the Golden Fleece; and
they rescued Helen when Theseus carried her off. But in all the stories
they play an unimportant part except in the account of Castor's death,
when Pollux proved his brotherly devotion.
The two went, we are not told why, to the land of some cattle owners,
Idas and Lynceus. Ther, Pindar says, Idas, made angry in some way about
his oxen, stabbed and killed Castor. Other writers say the cause of the
dispute was the two daughters of the king of the country, Leucippus.
Pollux stabbed Lynceus, and Zeus struck Idas ith his thunderbolt. But
Castor was dead and Pollux was inconsolable. He prayed to die also, and
Zeus in pity allowed him to share his life with his brother, to live,
Half of they time beneath the earth and half
Within the golden homes of heaven.
According to this version the two were never separated again. One day
they dwelt in Hades, the next in Olympus, always together.
The late Greek writer Lucian gives another version, in which their
dwelling places are heaven and earth; and when Pollux goes to one,
Castor goes to the other, so that they are never with each other. In
Lucian's little satire, Apollo asks Hermes: "I say, why do we never see
Castor and Pollux at the same time?"
"Well," Hermes replies, "they are so fond of each other that when
fate decreed one of them must die and only be immortal, they decided to
share immortality between them."
"Not very wise, Hermes. What proper employment can they engage in,
that way? I foretell the future; Aesculapius cures diseases; you are a
good messenger--but these two--are they to idle away their whole time?"
"No, surely. They're in Poseidon's service. Their business is to save
any ship in distress."
"Ah, now you say something. I'm delighted they're in such a good
Two stars were supposed to be theirs: the Gemini, the Twins.
They were always represented as riding splendid snow-white horses,
but Homer distinguishes Castor above Pollux for horsemanship. He calls
Castor, tamer of horses, Polydeuces, good as a boxer.
THE SILENI were creatures part man and part horse. They walked
on two legs, not four, but they often had horses' hoofs instead of feet,
sometimes horses' ears, and always horses' tails. There are no stories
about them, but they are often seen on Greek vases.
THE SATYRS, like Pan, were goat-men, and like him they had
their home in the wild places of the earth.
In contrast to these unhuman, ugly gods the goddesses of the woodland
were all lovely maiden forms, the OREADS, nymphs of the mountains, and
the DRYADS, sometimes called HAMADRYADS, nymphs of trees, whose life was
in each case bound up with that of her tree.
AEOLUS, King of the Winds, also lived on the earth. An island,
Aeolia, was his home. Accurately he was only regent of the Winds,
viceroy of the gods. The four chief Winds were BOREAS, the North Wind,
in Latin AQUILO; ZEPHYR, the West Wind, which had a second Latin name,
FAVONIUS; NOTUS, the South Wind, also called in Latin AUSTER; and the
East Wind, EURUS, the sam in both Greek and Latin.
There were some beings, neither human nor divine, who had their home
on earth. Prominent among them were:--
THE CENTAURS. They were half man, half horse, and for the most
part they were savage creatures, more like beasts than men. One of them,
however, CHIRON, was known everywhere for his goodness and his wisdom.
THE GORGONS were also earth-dwellers. There were three, and
two of them were immortal. They were dragonlike creatures with wings,
whose look turned men to stone. Phorcys, son of the Sea and the Earth,
was their father.
THE GRAIAE were their sisters, three gray women who had but
one eye between them. They lived on the farther bank of Ocean.
THE SIRENS lived on an island in the Sea. They had enchanting
voices and their singing lured sailors to their death. It was not known
what they looked like, for no one who saw them ever returned.
Very important but assigned to no abode whether in heaven or on the
earth were THE FATES, Moirae in Greek, Parcae in Latin, who, Hesiod
says, give to men at birth evil and good to have. They were tree, Clotho,
the Spinner, who spun the thread of life; Lachesis, the Disposer of
Lots, who assigned to each man his destiny; Atropos, she who could not
be turned, who carried "the abhorred shears" and cut the thread at
The Heroes of the Trojan War
The Trojan War
This story, of course, is taken almost entirely from Homer. The
Iliad, however, begins after the Greeks have reached Troy, when Apollo
sends the pestilence upon them. It does not mention the sacrificed of
Iphigenia, and makes only a dubious allusion to the judgment of Paris. I
have taken Iphigenia's story from a play by fifth-century tragic poet
Aeschylus, the Agamemnon, and the Judgment of Paris from the Trojan
Woman, a play by his contemporary Euripides, adding a few details, such
as the tale of Oenone, from the prose-writer Apollodorus, who wrote
probably in the first or second century A.D. He is usually very
uninteresting, but in treating the events leading up to the Iliad he was
apparently inspired by touching so great a subject and he is less dull
than in almost any other part of the book.
More than a thousand years before Christ, near the eastern end of the
Mediterranean was a great city very rich and powerful, second to none on
earth. The name of it was Troy and even today no city is more famous.
The cause of this long-lasting fame was a war told of in one of the
world's greatest poems, the Iliad, and the cause of the war went back to
a dispute between three jealous goddesses.
THE JUDGMENT OF PARIS
The evil goddess of Discord, Eris, was naturally not popular in
Olympus, and when the gods gave a banquet they were at to leave her out.
Resenting this deeply, she determined to make trouble--and she succeeded
very well indeed. At an important marriage, that of King Peleus and the
sea nymph Thetis, to which she alone of all the divinities was not
invited, she threw into the banqueting hall a golden apple marked For
the Fairest. Of course all the goddesses wanted it, but in the end the
choice was narrowed down to three: Aphrodite, Hera an Pallas Athena.
They asked Zeus to judge between them, but very wisely he refused to
have anything to do with the matter. He told them to go to Mount Ida,
near Troy, where the young prince Paris, also called Alexander, was
keeping his father's sheep. He was an excellent judge of beauty, Zeus
told them. Paris, though a royal prince, was doing shepherd's work
because his father Priam, the King of Troy, had been warned that this
prince would some day be the ruin of his country, and so had sent him
away. At the moment Paris was living with a lovely nymph named Oenone.
His amazement can be imagined when there appeared before him the
wondrous forms of the three great goddesses. He was not asked, however,
to gaze at the radiant divinities and choose which of them seemed to him
the fairest, but only to consider the bribes each offered and choose
which seemed to him best worth taking. Nevertheless, the choice was not
easy. What men care for most was set before him. Hera promised to make
him Lord of Europe and Asia; Athena, that he would lead the Trojans to
victory against the Greeks and lay Greece in ruins; Aphrodite, that the
fairest woman in all the world should be his. Paris, a weakling and
something of a coward, too, as later events showed, chose the last. He
gave Aphrodite the golden apple.
That was the Judgment of Paris, famed everywhere as the real reason
why the Trojan War was fought.
THE TROJAN WAR
The fairest woman in the world was Helen, the daughter of Zeus and
Leda and the sister of Castor and Pollux. Such was the report of her
beauty that not a young prince in Greece but wanted to marry her. When
her suitors assembled in her home to make a formal proposal for her hand
they were so many and from such powerful families that her reputed
father, King Tyndareus, her mother's husband, was afraid to select one
among them, fearing that the others would unite against him. He
therefore exacted first a solemn oath from all that they would champion
the cause of Helen's husband, whoever he might be, if any wrong was done
to him through his marriage. It was, after all, to each man's advantage
to take the oath, since each was hoping he would be the person chosen,
so they all bound themselves to punish to the uttermost anyone who
carried or tried to carry Helen away. Then Tyndareus chose Menelaus, the
brother of Agamemnon, and made him King of Sparta as well.
So matters stood when Paris gave the golden apple to Aphrodite. The
Goddess of Love and Beauty knew very well where the most beautiful woman
on earth was to be found. She led the young shepherd, with never a
thought of Oenone left forlorn, straight to Sparta, where Menelaus and
Helen received him graciously as their guest. The ties between guest and
host were strong. Each was bound to help and never harm he other. But
Paris broke that sacred bond. Menelaus trusting completely to it left
Paris in his home and went off to Crete. Then,
Paris who coming
Entered a friend's kind dwelling,
Shamed the hand there that gave him food,
Stealing away a woman.
Menelaus got back to find Helen gone, and he called upon all Greece
to help him. The chieftains responded, as they were bound to do. They
came eager for the great enterprise, to cross the sea and lay mighty
Troy in ashes. Two, however, of the first rank, were missing: Odysseus,
King of the Island of Ithaca, and Achilles, the son of Peleus and the
sea nymph Thetis. Odysseus, who was one of th shrewdest and most
sensible men in Greece, did not want to leave his house and family to
embark on a romantic adventure overseas for the sake of a faithless
woman. He pretended, therefore, that he had gone mad, and when a
messenger from the Greek Army arrived, the King was plowing a field and
sowing it with salt instead of seed. But the messenger was shrewd too.
He seized Odysseus' little son and put him directly in the way of the
plow. Instantly the father turned the plow aside, thus proving that he
had all his wits about him. However reluctant, he had to join the Army.
Achilles was kept back by his mother. The sea nymph knew that if he
went to Troy he was fated to die there. She sent him to the court of
Lycomedes, the king who had treacherously killed Theseus, and made him
wear women's clothes and hide among the maidens. Odysseus was dispatched
by the chieftains to find him out. Disguised as a pedlar he went to the
court where the lad was said to be, with gay ornaments in his pack such
as women love, and also some fine weapons. While the girls flocked
around the trinkets, Achilles fingered the swords and daggers. Odysseus
knew him then, and he had no trouble at all in making him disregard what
his mother had said and go to the Greek camp with him.
So the great fleet made ready. A thousand ships carried the Greek
host. They met at Aulis, place of strong winds and dangerous tides,
impossible to ail from as long as the north wind blew. And it kept on
blowing, day after day.
It broke men's heart,
Spared not ship nor cable.
The time dragged,
Doubling itself in passing.
The Army was desperate. At last the soothsayer, Calchas, declared
that the gods had spoken to him: Artemis was angry. One of her beloved
wild creatures, a hare, had been slain by the Greeks, together with her
young, and the only way to calm the wind and ensure a safe voyage to
Troy was to appease her by sacrificing to her a royal maiden, Iphigenia,
the eldest daughter of the Commander in Chief, Agamemnon. This was
terrible to all, but to her father hardly bearable.
If I must slay
The joy of my house, my daughter.
A father's hands
Stained with dark streams flowing
From blood of a girl
Slaughtered before the altar.
Nevertheless he yielded. His reputation with the Army was at stake,
and his ambition to conquer Troy and exalt Greece.
He dared the deed,
Slaying his child to help a war.
He sent home for her, writing to his wife that he had arranged a
great marriage for her, to Achilles, who had already shown himself the
best and greatest of all chieftains. But when she came to her wedding
she was carried to the altar to be killed.
And all her prayers--cries of Father, Father,
Her maiden life,
These they held as nothing.
The savage warriors, battle-mad.
She died and the north wind ceased to blow and the Greek ships sailed
out over a quiet sea, but the evil price they had paid was bound some
day to bring evil down upon them.
When they reached the mouth of the Simois, one of the rivers of Troy,
the first man to leap ashore was Protesilaus. It was a brave deed, for
the oracle had said that he who landed first would be the first to die.
therefore when he had fallen by a Trojan spear the Greeks paid him
honors as though he were divine and the gods, too, greatly distinguished
him. They had Hermes bring him up from the dead to see once again his
deeply mourning wife, Laodamia. She would not give him up a second time,
however. When he went back to the underworld she went with him; she
The thousand ships carried a great host of fighting men and the Greek
Army was very strong, but the Trojan City was strong, too. Priam, the
King, and his Queen, Hecuba, had many brave sons to lead the attack and
to defend the walls, one above all, Hector, than whom no man anywhere
was nobler or more brave, and only one a greater warrior, the champion
of the Greeks, Achilles. Each knew that he would die before Troy was
taken. Achilles had been told by his mother: "Very brief is your lot.
Would that you could be free now from tears and troubles, for you shall
not long endure, my child, short-lived beyond all men and to be pitied."
No divinity had told Hector, but he was equally sure. "I know well in my
heart and in my soul," he said to his wife Andromache, "the day shall
come when holy Troy will be laid low and Priam and Priam's people." Both
heroes fought under the shadow of certain death.
For nine years victory wavered, now to this side, now to that.
Neither was ever able to gain any decided advantage. Then a quarrel
flared up between two Greeks, Achilles and Agamemnon, and for a time it
turned the tide in favor of the Trojans. Again, a woman was the reason,
Chryseis, daughter of Apollo's priest, whom the Greeks had carried off
and given to Agamemnon. Her father came to beg for her release, but
Agamemnon would not let her go. Then the priest prayed to the mighty god
he served and Phoebus Apollo heard him. From his sun-chariot he shot
fiery arrows down upon the Greek Army, and men sickened and died so that
the funeral pyres were burning continually.
At last Achilles called an assembly of the chieftains. He told them
they could not hold out against both the pestilence and the Trojans, and
that they must either find a way to appease Apollo or else sail home.
Then he prophet Calchas stood up and said he knew why the god was angry,
but that he was afraid to speak unless Achilles would guarantee his
safety. "I do so," Achilles answered, "even if you accuse Agamemnon
himself." Every man there understood what that meant; they knew how
Apollo's priest had been treated. When Calchas declared that Chryseis
must be given back to her father, he had all the chiefs behind him and
Agamemnon, greatly angered, was obliged to agree. "But if I lose her who
was my prise of honor," he told Achilles, "I will have another in her
Therefore when Chryseis had been returned to her father, Agamemnon
sent two of his squires to Achilles' tent to take his prize of honor
away from him, the maiden Briseis. Most unwillingly they went and stood
before the hero in heavy silence. But he knowing their errand told them
it was not they who were wronging him. Let them take the girl without
fear for themselves, but hear him first while he swore before gods and
men that Agamemnon would pay dearly for the deed.
That night Achilles' mother, silver-footed Thetis the sea nymph, came
to him. She was as angry as he. She told him to have nothing more to do
with the Greeks, and with that she went up to heaven and asked Zeus to
give success to the Trojans. Zeus was very reluctant. The war by now had
reached Olympus--the gods were ranged against each other. Aphrodite, of
course, was on the side of Paris. Equally, of course, Hera and Athena
were against him. Ares, God of War, always took sides with Aphrodite;
while Poseidon, Lord of the Sea, favored the Greeks, a sea people,
always great sailors. Apollo cared for Hector and for his sake helped
the Trojans, and Artemis, as his sister, did so too. Zeus liked the
Trojans best, on the whole, but he wanted to be neutral because Hera was
so disagreeable whenever he opposed her openly. However, he could not
resist Thetis. He had a hard time with Hera, who guessed, as she usually
did, what he was about. He was driven finally into telling her that he
would lay hands upon her if she did not stop talking. Hera kept silence
then, but her thoughts were busy as to how she might help the Greeks and
The plan Zeus made was simple. He knew that the Greeks without
Achilles were inferior to the Trojans, and he sent a lying dream to
Agamemnon promising him victory if he attacked. While Achilles stayed in
his tent a fierce battle followed, the hardest yet fought. Up on the
wall of troy the old King Priam nd the other old men, wise in the ways
of war, sat watching the contest. To them came Helen, the cause of all
that agony and death, yet as they looked at her, they could not feel any
blame. "Men must fight for such as she," they said to each other. "For
her face was like to that of an immortal spirit." She stayed by them,
telling them the names of this and that Greek hero, until to their
astonishment he battle ceased. The armies drew back on either side and
in the space between, Paris and Menelaus faced each other. It was
evident that the sensible decision had been reached to let the two most
concerned fight it out alone.
Paris struck first, but Menelaus caught the swift spear on his
shield, then hurled his own. It rent Paris' tunic, but did not wound
him. Menelaus drew his sword, his only weapon now, but as he did so it
fell from his hand broken. Undaunted though unarmed he leaped upon Paris
and seizing him by his helmet's crest swung him off his feet. He would
have dragged him to the Greeks victoriously if it had not been for
Aphrodite. She tore away the strap that kept the helmet on so that it
came away in Menelaus' hand. Paris himself, who had not fought at all
except to throw his spear, she caught up in a cloud and took back to
Furiously Menelaus went through the Trojan ranks seeking Paris, and
not a man there but would have helped him for they all hated Pris, but
he was gone, no one knew how or where. So Agamemnon spoke to both
armies, declaring that Menelaus was victor and bidding the Trojans give
Helen back. This was just, and the Trojans would have agreed if Athena,
at Hera's prompting, had not interfered. Hera was determined that the
war should not end until Troy was ruined. Athena, sweeping down to the
battlefield, persuaded the foolish heart of Pandarus, a Trojan, to break
the truce and shoot an arrow at Menelaus. he did so and wounded him,
only slightly, but the Greeks in rage at the treachery turned upon the
Trojans and the battle was on again. Terror and Destruction and Strife,
whose fury never slackens, all friends of the murderous War-god, were
there to urge men on to slaughter each other. Then the voice of groanig
was heard and the voice of triumph from slayer and from slain and the
earth streamed with blood.
On the Greek side, with Achilles gone, the two greatest champions
were Ajax and Diomedes. They fought gloriously that day and many a
Trojan lay on his face in the dust before them. The best and bravest
next to Hector, the Prince Aeneas, came near to death at Diomedes'
hands. he was of more than royal blood; his mother was Aphrodite
herself, and when Diomedes wounded him she hastened down to the
battlefield to save him. She lifted him in her soft arms, but Diomedes,
knowing she was a coward goddess, not one of those who like Athena are
masters where warriors fight, leaped toward her and wounded her hand.
Crying out she let Aeneas fall, and weeping for pain made her way to
Olympus, where Zeus smiling to see the laughter-loving goddess in tears
bade her stay away from battle and remember hers were the works of love
and not of war. But although his mother failed him Aeneas was not
killed. Apollo enveloped him in a cloud and carried him to sacred
Pergamos, the holy place of Troy, where Artemis healed him of his wound.
But Diomedes raged on, working havoc in the Trojan ranks until he
came face to face with Hector. There to his dismay he saw Ares too. The
bloodstained murderous god of war was fighting for Hector. At the sight
Diomedes shuddered and cried to the Greeks to fall back, slowly,
however, and with their faces toward the Trojans. Then Hera was angry.
She urged her horses to Olympus and asked Zeus if she might drive that
bane of men, Ares, from the battlefield. Zeus who loved him no more than
Hera did even though he was their son, willingly gave her leave. She
hastened down to stand beside Diomedes and urge him to smite the
terrible god and have no fear. At that, joy filled the hero's heart. He
rushed at Ares and hurled his spear at him. Athena drove it home, and it
entered Ares' body. The War-god bellowed as loud as ten thousand cry in
battle, and at the awful sound trembling seized the whole host, Greeks
and Trojans alike.
Ares, really a bully at heart and unable to bear what he brought upon
unnumbered multitudes of men, fled up to Zeus in Olympus and complained
bitterly of Athena's violence. But Zeus looked at him sternly and told
him he was as intolerable as his mother, and bade him cease his whining.
With Ares gone, however, the Trojans were forced to fall back. At this
crisis a brother of Hector's, wise in discerning the will of the gods,
urged Hector to go with all speed to the city and tell the Queen, his
mother, to offer to Athena the most beautiful robe she owned and pray
her to have mercy. Hector felt the wisdom of the advice and sped through
the gates of the palace, where his mother did all as he said. She took a
robe so precious that it shone like a star, and laying it on the
goddess's knees she besought her: "Lady Athena, spare th city and the
wives of the Trojans and the little children." But Pallas Athena denied
As Hector went back to the battle he turned aside to see once more,
perhaps for the last time, the wife he tenderly loved, Andromache, and
his son Astyanax. He met her on the wall where she had gone in terror to
watch the fighting when she heard the Trojans were in retreat. With her
was a handmaid carrying the little boy. Hector smiled and looked at them
silently, but Andromache took his hand in hers and wept. "My dear lord,"
she said, "you who are father and mother and brother unto me as well as
husband, stay here with us. Do not make me a widow and your child an
orphan." He refused her gently. He could not be a coward, he said. It
was fr him to fight always in the forefront of the battle. Yet she could
know that he never forgot what her anguish would be when he died. That
was the thought that troubled him above all else, more than his many
other cares. He turned to leave her, but first he held out his arms to
his son. Terrified the little by shrank back, afraid of the helmet and
its fierce nodding crest. Hector laughed and took the shining helmet
from his head. Then holding the child in his arms he caressed him and
prayed: "O Zeus, in after years may men say of this my son when he
returns from battle, 'Far greater is he than his father was.'"
So he laid the boy in his wife's arms and she took him, smiling, yet
with tears. And Hector pitied her and touched her tenderly with his hand
and spoke to her: "Dear one, be not so sorrowful. That which is fated
must come to pass, but against my fate no man can kill me." Then taking
up his helmet he left her and she went to her house, often looking back
at him and weeping bitterly.
Once again on the battlefield he was eager for the fight, and better
fortune for a time lay before him. Zeus had by now remembered his
promise to Thetis to avenge Achilles' wrong. He ordered all the other
immortals to stay in Olympus; he himself went down to earth to help the
Trojans. Then it went hard with the Greeks. Their great champion was far
away. Achilles sat alone in his tent, brooding over his wrongs. The
great Trojan champion had never before shown himself so brilliant and so
brave. Hector seemed irresistible. Tamer of horses, the Trojans always
called him, and he drove his car through the Greek ranks as if the same
spirit animated steeds and driver. His glancing helm was everywhere and
one gallant warrior after another fell beneath his terrible bronze
spear. When evening ended the battle, the Trojans had driven the Greeks
back almost to their ships.
There was rejoicing in Troy that night, but grief and despair in the
Greek camp. Agamemnon himself was all for giving up and sailing back to
Greece. Nestor, however, who was the oldest among the chieftains and
therefore the wisest, wiser even than the shrewd Odysseus, spoke out
boldly and told Agamemnon that if he had not angered Achilles they would
not have been defeated. "Try to find some way of appeasing him," he
said, "instead of going home disgraced." All applauded the advice and
Agamemnon confessed that he had acted like a fool. He would send Briseis
back, he promised them, and with her many other splendid gifts, and he
begged Odysseus to take his offer to Achilles.
Odysseus and the two chieftains chosen to accompany him found the
hero with his friend Patroclus, who of all men on earth was dearest to
him. Achilles welcomed them courteously and set food and drink before
them, but when they told him why they had come and all the rich gifts
that would be his if he would yield, they received an absolute refusal.
Not all the treasures of Egypt could buy him, he told them. He was
sailing home and they would be wise to do the same.
But all rejected that counsel when Odysseus brought back the answer.
The next day they went into battle with the desperate courage of brave
men cornered. Again they were driven back, until they stood fighting on
the beach where their ships were drawn up. But help was at hand. Hera
had laid her plans. She saw Zeus sitting on Mount Ida watching the
Trojans conquer, and she thought how she detested him. But she knew well
that she could get the better of him only in one way. She must go to him
looking s lovely that he could not resist her. When he took her in his
arms she would pour sweet sleep upon him and he would forget the
Trojans. So she did. She went to her chamber and used every art she knew
to make herself beautiful beyond compare. Last of all she borrowed
Aphrodite's girdle wherein were all her enchantments, and with this
added charm she appeared before Zeus. As he saw her, love overcame his
heart so that he thought no more of his promise to Thetis.
At once the battle turned in favor of the Greeks. Ajax hurled Hector
to he ground, although before he could wound him Aeneas lifted him and
bore him away. With Hector gone, the Greeks were able to drive the
Trojans far back from the ships and Troy might have been sacked that
very day if Zeus had not awakened. He leaped up and saw the Trojans in
flight nd Hector lying gasping on the plain. All was clear to him and he
turned fiercely to Hera. This was her doing, he said, her crafty,
crooked ways. He was half-minded to give her then and there a beating.
When it came to that kind of fighting Hera knew she was helpless. She
promptly denied that she had had anything to do with the Trojans'
defeat. It was all Poseidon, she said, and indeed the Sea-god had been
helping the Greeks contrary to Zeus' orders, but only because she had
begged him. However, Zeus was glad enough of an excuse not to lay his
hands on her. He sent her back to Olympus and summoned Iris, the rainbow
messenger, to carry his command to Poseidon to withdraw from the field.
Sullenly the Sea-god obeyed and once more the tide of battle turned
against the Greeks.
Apollo had revived the fainting Hector and breathed into him
surpassing power. Before th two, the god and the hero, the Greeks were
like a flock of frightened sheep driven by mountain lions. They fled in
confusion to the ships, and the wall they had built to defend them went
down like a sand wall children heap up on the shore and then scatter in
their play. The Trojans were almost near enough to set the ships on
fire. The Greeks, hopeless, thought only of dying bravely.
Patroclus, Achilles' beloved friend, saw the rout with horror. Not
even for Achilles' sake could he stay longer away from the battle. "You
can keep your wrath while your contrymen go dow in ruin," he cried to
Achilles. "I cannt. Give me your armor. If they think I am you, the
Trojans may pause and he worn-out Greeks have a breathing space. You and
I are fresh. We might yet drive back the enemy. But if you will sit
nursing your anger, at least let me have the armor." As he spoke one of
the Greek ships burst into flame. "That way they can cut off the Army's
retreat," Achilles said. "Go. Take my armor, my men too, and defend the
ships. I cannot go. I am a man dishonored. For my own ships, if the
battle comes near them, I will fight. I will not fight for men who have
So Patroclus put on the splendid armor all the Trojans knew and
feared, and led the Myrmidons, Achilles' men, to the battle. At the
first onset of this new band of warriors the Trojans wavered; they
thought Achilles led them on. And indeed for a time Patroclus fought as
gloriously as that great hero himself could have dne. But at last he met
Hector face to face and his doom was sealed as surely as a boar is
doomed when he faces a lion. Hector's spear gave him a mortal wound and
his soul fled from his body down to the house of Hades. Then Hector
stripped is armor from him and casting his own aside, put it on. It
seemed as though he had taken on, too, Achilles' strength, and no man of
the Greeks could stand before him.
Evening came that puts an end to battle. Achilles sat by his tent
waiting for Patroclus to return. But instead he saw old Nestor's son
running toward him, fleet-footed Antilochus. He was weeping hot tears as
he ran. "Bitter tidings," he cried out. "Patroclus is falln and Hector
has his armor." Grief took hold of Achilles, so black that those around
him feared for his life. Down in he sea caves his mother knew his sorrow
and came up to try to comfort him. "I will no longer live among men," he
told her, "if I do not make Hector pay with his death or Patroclus
dead." Then Thetis weeping bade him remember that he himself was fated
to die straightway after Hector. "So may I do," Achilles answered, "I
who did not help my comrade in his sore need. I will kill the destroyer
of him I loved; then I will accept death when it comes."
Thetis did not attempt to hold him back. "Only wait until morning,"
she said, "and you will not go unarmed to battle. I will bring you arms
fashioned by the divine armorer, the god Hephaestus himself."
Marvelous arms they were when Thetis brought them, worthy of their
maker, such as no man on earth had ever borne. The Myrmidons gazed at
them with awe and a flame of fierce joy blazed in Achilles' eyes as he
put them on. Then at last he left the tent in which he had sat so long,
and went down to where the Greeks wre gathered, a wretched company,
Diomedes grievously wounded, Odsseus, Agamemnon, and many another. He
felt shame before them and he told them he saw his own exceeding folly
in allowing the loss of a mere girl to make him forget everything else.
But that was over; he was ready to lead them as before. Let them prepare
at once for the battle. The chieftains applauded joyfully, but Odysseus
spoke for all when he said they must first take their fill of food and
wine, for fasting men made poor fighters. "Our comrades lie dead on the
field and you call to food," Achilles answered scornfully. "Down my
throat shall go neither bite nor sup until my dear comrade is avenged."
And to himself he said, "O dearest of friends, for want of you I cannot
eat, I cannot drink."
When the others had satisfied their hunger he led the attack. This
was the last fight between the two great champions, as all the immortals
knew. Tey also knew how it would turn out. Father Zeus hung his golden
balances and set in one the lot of Hector's death and in the other that
of Achilles. Hector's lot sank down. It was appointed that he should
Nevertheless, the victory was long in doubt. The Trojans under Hector
fought as brave men fight before the walls of their home. Even the
greatriver of Troy, which the gods call Xanthus and men scamander, took
part and strove to drown Achilles as he crossed its water. In vain, for
nothing could check him as he rushed on slaughtering all in his path and
seeking everywhere for Hector. The gods by now were fighting, too, as
hotly as the men, and Zeus sittig apart in Olympus laughd pleasantly to
himself when he saw god matched against god: Athena felling Ares to the
ground; Hera seizing the bow of Artemis from her shoulders and boxing
her ears with it this way and that; Poseidon provoking Apollo with
taunting words to strike him first. The Sun-god refused the challenge.
He knew it was of no use now to fight for Hector.
By this time the gates, the great Scaean gates of Troy, had been
flung wide, for the Trojans at last were in full flight and were
crowding into the town. Only Hector stood immovable before the wall.
From the gates of old Priam, his father, and his mother Hecuba cred to
him to come within and save himself, but he did not heed. He was thinkng,
"I led the Trojans. Their defeat is my fault. Then am I to spare myself?
And yet--what if I were to lay down shield and spear and go tell
Achilles that we will give Helen back and half of Troy's treasures with
her? Useless. He would but kill me unarmed as if I were a woman. Better
to join battle with him now even if I die."
On came Achilles, glorious as the sun when he rises. Beside him was
Athena, but Hector was alone. Apollo had left him to his fate. As the
pair drew near he turned and fled. Three times around the wall of Troy
pursued and pursuer ran with flying feet. It was Athena who made Hector
halt. She appeared beside him in the shape of his brother, Deiphobus,
and with this ally as he thought, Hector faced Achilles. Hecried out to
him, "If I kill you I will give back your body to your friends and do
you do the same to me." But Achilles answered, "Madman. There are no
convenants between sheep and wolves, nor between you and me." So saying
he hurled his spear. It missed its aim, but Athena brought it back. Then
Hector struck with a true am; the spear hit the center of Achilles'
shield. But to what god? That armor was magical and could not be
pierced. He turned quickly to Deiphobus to get his spear, but he was not
there. Then Hector knew the truth. Athena had tricked him and there was
no way of escape. The gods have summoned me to death," he thought. "At
least I will not die without a struggle, but in some great deed of arms
which men yet to be born will tell each other." Hedrew his sword, his
only weapon now, and reushed upon his enemy. But Achilles had a spear,
the one Athena had recovered for him. Before Hector could approach, he
who know well hat armor taken by Hector from the dead Patroclus aimed at
an opening in it near the throat, and drove the spearpoint in. Hector
fell, dying at last. With his last breath he prayed, "Give back my body
to my father and my mother." "No prayers from you to me, you dog,"
Achilles answered. "I would that I could make myself devour raw your
flesh for the evil you have brought upon me." Then Hector's soul flew
forth from his body and was gone to Hades, bewailing his fate, leaving
vigor and youth behind.
Achilles stripped the bloody armor from the corpse while the Greeks
ran up to wonder how tall he was as he lay there and how noble to look
upon. But Achilles' mind was on other matters. He pierced the feet of
the dead man and fastened them ith thongs to the back of his chariot,
letting the head trail. Then he lashed his horses and round the walls of
Troy he dragged all that was left of glorious Hector.
At last when his fierce soul was satisfied with vengeance he stood
beside the body of Patroclus and said, "Hear me even in the house of
Hades. I have dragged Hector behind my chariot and I will give him to
the dogd to devour beside your funeral pyre."
Up in Olympus there was dissension. This abuse of the dead displeased
all the immortals except Hera and Athena and Poseion. Especially it
displeased Zeus. He sent Iris to Priam, to order him to go without fear
to Achilles to redeem Hector's body, bearing a rich ransom. She was to
tell him that violent as Achilles was, he was not really evil, but one
who would treat properly a suppliant.
Then the aged King heaped a car with splendid treasures, the best in
Troy, and went over the plain to the Greek camp. Hermes met him, looking
like a Grek youth and offering himself as a guide to Achilles' tent. So
accompanied the old man passed the guards and came into the presence of
the man who had kille and maltreated his son. He clased his knees and
kissed his hands and awe and so did all the others there, looking
strangely upon one another. "Remember, Ahilles," Priam said, "your own
father, of like years with me and like me wretched for want of a son.
Yet I am by far more to be pitied who have braved what no man on earth
ever did before, to stretch out my hand to the slayer of my son."
Grief stirred within Achilles' heart as he listened. Gently he raised
the old man. "Sit by me here," he said, "and let our sorrow lie quiet in
our hearts. Evil is all me's lot, but yet we must keep courage." Then he
bade his servants wash and annoint Hector's body and cover it with a sot
robe, s that Priam should not see it, frightfully mangled as it was, and
be unable to keep back his wrath. He feared for his own self-control if
Priam vexed him. "How many days do you desire to make his funeral?" he
asked. "For so long I will keep the Greeks back from battle." Then Priam
brought Hector home, mourned in Troy as never another. Even Helen wept.
"The other Trojans upbraid me," she said, "but always I had comfort from
you through the gentleness of your spirit and your gentle words. You
only were my friend."
Nine days they lamented him; then they laid him on a lofty pyre and
set fire to it. When all was burned they quenched the flame with wine
and gathered the bones into a golden urn, shrouding them in soft purple.
They set the urn in a hollow grave and piled great stones over it.
This was the funeral of Hector, tamer of horses.
And with it the Iliad ends.
THE FALL OF TROY
The greater part of this story comes from Virgil. The capture of Troy
is the subject of the second book of the Aeneid, and it is one of the
best, if not the best, story Virgil ever told--concise, pointed, vivid.
The beginning and the end of my account are not in Virgil. I have taken
the story of Philoctetes and the death of Ajax from two plays of the
fifth-century tragic poet Sophocles. The end, the tal of what happened
to the Trojan women when Troy fell, comes from a play by Sophocles
fellow playwright, Euripides. It is a curious contrast to the martial
spirit of the Aeneid. To Virgil as to all Roman poets, war was the
noblest and most glorious of human activities. Four hundred years before
Virgil a Greek poet looked at it differently. What was the end of that
far-famed war? Euripides seemed to ask. Just this, a ruined town, a dead
baby, a few wretched women.
With Hector dead, Achilles knew, as his mother had told him, that his
own death was near. One more great feat of arms he did before his
fighting ended forever. Prince Memnon of Ethiopia, the son of the
Goddess of Dawn, came to the assistance of Troy with a large army and
for a time, even though Hector was gone, the Greeks were hard-pressed
and lost many a gallant warrior, including swift-footed Antilochus, old
Nestor's son. Finally, Achilles killed Memnon in a glorious combat, the
Greek hero' last battle. Then he himself fell beside the Scaean gates.
He had driven the Trojans before him up to the wall of Troy. There Paris
shot an arrow at him and Apollo guided it so that it struck his foot in
the one spot where he could be wounded, his heel. His mother Thetis when
he was born had intended to make him invulnerable by dipping him into
the River Styx, but she was careless and did not see to it that the
water covered the part of the foot by which she was holding him. He
died, and Ajax carried his body out of the battle while Odysseus held
the Trojans back. It is said that after he had been burned on the
funeral pyre his bones were placed in the same urn that held those of
his friend Patroclus.
His arms, those marvelous arms Thet is had brought him from
Hephaestus, caused the death of Ajax. It was decidd in full assembly
that the heroes who best deserved them were Ajax and Odysseus. A secret
vote was then taken between the two, and Odysseus got the arms. Such a
decision was a very serious matter in those days. It was not only that
the man who won was honored; the man who was defeated was held to be
dishonored. Ajax saw himself as disgraced and in a fit of furious anger
he determined to kill Agamemnon and Menelaus. He believed and with
reason that they had turned the vote against him. At nightfall he went
to find them and he had reached their quarters when Athena struck him
with madness. He thought the flocks and herds of the Greeks were the
Army, and rushed to kill them, believing that he was slaying now this
chieftain, now that. Finally he dragged to his tent a huge ram whih to
his distracted mind was Odysseus, bound him to the tent-pole and beat
him savagely. Then his frenzy left him. He regained his reason and saw
that his disgrace in not winning the arms had been but a shadow as
compared with the shame his own deeds had drawn down upon him. His rage,
his folly, his madness, would be apparent to everyone. The slaughtered
animals were lying all over the field. "The poor cattle," he said to
himself, "killed to no purpose by my hand! And I stand here alone,
hateful to men and to gods. In such a state only a coward clings to
life. A man if he canot live nobly ccan die nobly." He drew his sword
and killed himself. The Greeks would not burn his body; they buried him.
They held that a suicide should not be honored with a funeral pyre and
His death following so soon upon Achilles' dismayed the Greeks.
Victory seemed as far off as ever. Their prophet Calchas told them that
he had no messge from the gods for them, but that there was a man among
he Trojans who knew the future, the prophet Helenus. If they captured
him they could learn from what they should do. Odysseus succeeded in
making him a prisoner, and he told the Greeks Troy would not fall until
some one fought against the Troujans with the bow and arrows of
Hercules. These had been given when Hercules died to Prince Philoctetes,
the man who had fired his funeral pyre and who later had joined the
Greek host when they sailed to Troy. On the voyage the Greeks stopped at
an island to offer a sacrifice and Philoctetes was bitten by a serpent,
a most frightful wound. It would not heal; it was impossibl to carry him
to Troy as he was; the Army could not wait. They left him finally at
Lemnos, then an uninhabited island although once the heroes of the Quest
of the Golden Fleece had found plenty of women there.
It was cruel to desert the helpless sufferer, but they were desperate
to get to Troy, nd with his bow and arrows he would at least never lack
for food. When Helenus spoke, however, the Greeks knew well that it
would be hard to persuade him whom they had so wronged, to give his
precious weapons to them. So they sent Odysseus, the master of crafty
cunning, to get them by trickery. Some say that Diomedes went with him
and others Neoptolemus, also called Pyrrhus, the young son of Achilles.
They succeeded in stealing the bow and arrows, but when it came to
leaving the poor wretch alone there deprived of them, they could not do
it. In the end they persuaded him to go with them. Back at Troy the wise
physician of the Greeks healed him, and when at last he went joyfully
once again into battle the first man he wounded with his arrows was
Paris. As he fell Paris begged to be carried to Oenone, the nymph he had
lived with on Mount Ida before the three goddesses came to him. She had
told him that she knew a magic drug to cure any ailment. They took him
to her and he asked her for his life, but she refused. His desertion of
her, his long forgetfulness, could not be forgiven in a moment because
of his need. She watched him die; then she went away and killed herself.
Troy did not fall because Paris was dead. He was, indeed, no great
loss. At last the Greeks learned that there was a most sacred image of
Pallas Athena in the city, called the Palladium, and that as long as the
Trojans had it Troy could not be taken. Accordingly, the two greatest of
the chieftains left alive by then, Odysseus and Diomedes, determined to
try to steal it. Diomedes was the one who bore the image off. In a dark
night he climbed the wall with Odysseus' help, found the Palladium and
took it to the camp. With this great encouragement the Greeks determined
to wait no longer, but devise some way to put an end to the endless war.
They saw clearly by now that unless they could get their Army into
the city and take the Trojans by surprise, they would never conquer.
Almost ten years had passed since they had first laid siege to the town,
and it seemed as strong as ever. The walls stood uninjured. They had
never suffered a real attack. The fighting had taken place, for the most
part, at a distance from them. The Greeks must find a secret way of
entering the city, or accept defeat. The result of this new
determination and new vision was the stratagem of the wooden horse. It
was, as anyone would guess, the creation of Odysseus' wily mind.
He had a skillful worker in wood make a huge wooden horse which was
hollow and so big that it could hold a number of men. Then he
persuaded--and had a great deal of difficulty in doing so--certain of
the chieftains to hide inside it, along with himself, of course. They
were all terror-stricken except Achilles' son Neoptolemus, and indeed
what they faced was no slight danger. The idea was that all the other
Greeks should strike camp, and apparently putout to sea, but they would
really hide beyond the nearest island where they could not be seen by
the Trojans. Whatever happened they would be safe; they could sail home
if anything went wrong. But in that case the men inside the wooden horse
would surely die.
Odysseus, as ca be readily believed, had not overlooked this fact.
His plan was to leave a single Greek behind in the deserted camp, primed
with a tale calculated to make the Trojans draw the horse into the
city--and without investigating it. Then, when night was darkest,
theGreeks inside were to leave their wooden prison and open the city
gates to the Army, whch by that time would have sailed back, and be
waiting before the wall.
A night came when the plan was carried out. Then the last day of Troy
dawned. On the wall the Trojan watchers saw with astonishment two
sights, each as startling as the other. In front of the Scaean gates
stood an enormous figure of a horse, such a thing as no one had ever
seen, an apparition so strange that it was vaguely terrifying, even
though there was no sound or movement coming from it. No sound or
movement anywhere, indeed. The noisy Greek camp was hushed; nothing was
stirring there. And the ships were gone. Only one conclusion seemed
possible: The Greeks had given up. They had sailed for Greece; they had
accepted defeat. All Troy exulted. Her long warfare was over; her
sufferings lay behind her.
The people flocked to the abandoned Greek camp to see the sights:
here Achilles had sulked so long; there Agamemnon's tent had stood; this
was the quarters of the trickster, Odysseus. What rapture to see the
places empty, nothing in them now to fear. At last they drifted back to
where that monstrosity, the wooden horse, stood, and they gathered
around it, puzzled what to do with it. Then the Greek who had been left
behind in the camp discovered himself to them. His name was sinon, and
he was a most plausible speaker. He was seized and dragged to Priam,
weeping and protesting that he no longer wished to be a Greek. The story
he told was one of Odysseus' masterpieces. Pallas Athena had been
exceedingly angry, Sinon said, at the theft of the Palladium, and the
Greeks in terror had sent to the oracle to ask how they could appease
her. The oracle answered: "With blood and with a maiden slain you clamed
the winds when first you came to Troy. With blood must your return be
sought. With a Greek life make expiation." He himself, Sinon, told Priam,
was the wretched victim chosen to be sacrificed. All was ready for the
awful rite, which was to be carried out just before the Greeks'
departure, but in the night he had managed to escape and hidden in a
swamp had watched the ships sail away.
It was a good tale and the Trojans never questioned it. They pitied
Sinon and assured him that he should henceforth live as one of
themselves. So it befell that by false cunning and pretended tears those
were conquered whom great Diomedes had never overcome, nor savage
Achilles, nor ten yers of arfare, nor a thousand ships. For Sinon did
not forget the second part of the story. The wooden horse had been made,
he said, as a votive offering to Athena, and the reason for its immense
size was to discourage the Trojans from taking it into the city. What
the Greeks hoped for was that the Trojans would destroy it and o draw
down upon them Athena's anger. Placed in the city, it would turn her
favor to them and away from the Greeks. The story was clever enough to
have had by itself, in all probability, the desired effect; but
Poseidon, the most bitter of all the gods against Troy, contrived an
addition which made the issue certain. The priest Laocoon, when the
horse was first discovered, had been urgent with the Trojans to destroy
it. "I fear the Greeks even when they bear gifts," he said. Cassandra,
Priam's daughter, had echoed his warning, but no one ever listened to
her and she had gone back to the palace before Sinon appeared. Laocoon
and his two sons heard his story with suspicion, the only doubters
there. As Sinon finished, suddenl over the sea came two fearful serpents
swimming to the land. Once there they glided straight to Laocoon. They
wrapped their huge coils around him and the two lads and they crushed
the life out of them. Then they disappeared within Athena's temple.
There could be no further hesitation. To the horrified spectator
Laocoon had been punished for opposing the entry of the horse which most
certainly no one else would do now. All the people cried,
"Bring the carven image in.
Bear it to Athena,
Fit gift for the child of Zeus."
Who of the young but hurried forth?
Who of the old would stay at home?
With song and rejoicing they brought death in,
Treachery and destruction.
They dragged the horse through the gate and up to the temple of
Athena. Then, rejoicing in their good fortune, believing the war had
eneded and Athena's favor restored to them, they went to their houses in
peace as they had not for ten years.
In the middle of the night the door in the horse opened. They stole
to the gates and threw them wide, and int the sleeping town marched the
Greek Army. What they had first to do could be carried out silently.
Fires were started in buildings throughout the city. By the time the
Trojans were awake, before they realized what had happened, while they
were struggling into their armor, Troy was burning. They rushed out to
the street one by one in confusion. Bands of soldies were waiting there
to strike each man down before he could join himself to others. It was
not fighting, it was butchery. Very many died without ever a chance of
dealing a blow in return. In the more distant parts of the town the
Trojans were able to gather together here andthere and then it was the
Greeks who suffered. They were borne down by desperae men who wanted
only to kill before they were killed. They knew that the one safety for
the conquered was to hope for no safety. This spirit often turned the
victors into the vanquished. The quickest-witted Trojans tore off their
own armor and put on that of the dead Greeks, and many and many a Greek
thinking he was joining friends discovered too late that they were
enemies and paid for his error with his life.
On top of the houses they tore up the roofs and hurled the beams down
upon the Greeks. An entire tower standing on the roof of Priam's palace
was lifted from its foundation and toppled over. Exulting the defenders
saw it fall and annihilate a great band who were forcing the palace
doors. But the success brought only a short respite. Others rushed up
carrying a huge beam. Over the debris of the tower and the crushed
bodies they battered the doors with it. It crashed through and the
Greeks were in the plalace before the Trojans could leave the roof. In
the inner courtyard around the altar were the women and children and one
man, the old King. Achilles had spared Priam, but Achilles' son struck
him down before the eyes of his wife and daughters.
By now the end was near. They contest from the first had been
unequal. Too many Trojans had been slaughtered in the first surprise.
The Greeks could not be beaten back anywhere. Slowly the defense ceased.
Before morning all the leaders were dead, except one. Aphrodite's son
Aeneas along among the Trojan chiefs escaped. He fought the Greeks as
long as he could find a living Trojan to stand with him, but as the
slaughter spread and death came near he thought of his home, the
helpless people he had left there. He could do nothing more for Troy,
but perhaps something could be done for them. He hurried to the, his old
father, his little son, his wife, and as he went his mother Aphrodite
appeared to him, urging him and and keeping him safe from the flames and
from the Greeks. Even with the goddess's help he could not save his
wife. When they left the house she got separated from him and was
killed. But the other two he brought away, through the enemy, past the
city gates, out into the country, his father on his shoulders, his song
clinging to his hand. No one but a divinity could have saed them, and
Aphrodite was the only one of the gods that day who helped a Trojan.
She helped Helen too. She go her out of the city and took her to
Menelaus. He received her gladly, and as he sailed for Greece she was
When morning came what had been the proudest city in Asia was a fiery
ruin. All that was left of Troy was a band of helpless captive women,
whose husbands were dead, whose children had been taken from them. They
were waiting for their masters to carry them overseas to slavery.
Chief amog the captives was the old Queen, Hecuba, and her
daughter-in-law, Hector's wife Andromache. For Hecuba all was ended.
Crouched on the ground, she saw the Greek ships getting read and she
watched the city burn. Troy is no longer, she told herself, and I--who
am I? A slave men drive like cattle. An old gray woman that has no home.
What sorrow is there that is not mine?
Country lost and husband and children.
Glory of all my house brought low.
And the women around her answered:--
We stand at the same point of pain.
We too are slaves.
Our children are crying, call to us with tears,
"Mother, I am all alone.
To the dark ships they drive me,
And I cannot see you, Mother."
One woman still had her child. Andromache held in her arms her son
Astyanax, the little boy who had once shrunk back from his father's
high-crested helmet. "He is so young," she thought. "They will let me
take him with me." But from the greek camp a herald came to her and
spoke faltering words. He told her that she must not hate him for the
news he brought to her against his will. Her son . . . She broke in,
Not that he does not go with me?
The boy must die--be thrown
Down from the towering all of Troy.
Now--Now--let it be done. Endure
Like a brave woman. Think. You are alone.
One woman and a slave and no help anywhere.
She knew what he said was true. There was no help. She said good-by
to her child.
Weeping, my little one? There, there.
You cannot know what waits for you.
--How will it be? Falling down--down--all broken--
And none to pity.
Kiss me. Never again. Come closer, closer.
Your mother who bore you--put your arms around my neck.
Now kiss me, lips to lips.
The soldiers carried him away. Just before they threw him from the
wall they had killed on Achilles' grave a young girl, Hecuba's daughter
Polyxena. With the death of Hector's son, Troy's last sacrifice was
accomplished. The women waiting for the ships watched the end.
Troy has perished, the great city.
Only the red flame now lives there.
The dust is rising, spreading out like a great wing of smoke,
And all is hidden.
We now are gone, one here, one there.
And Troy is gone forever.
Farwell, dear city.
Farewell, my country, where my children lived.
There below, the Greek ships wait.