THE WOODEN HORSE
BY F. STORR
Thrice three years had passed, and it seemed to
the Greek leaders that they were no nearer the
capture of Troy than when they had first landed in the
Troad, a gallant company, fired with hope and the promise
of an easy victory. Since then the tide of battle had
ebbed and flowed with alternate fortunes. Many a Trojan
chieftain had fallen, but no breach had been made in the
walls, and they seemed to have gained no painful inch.
There was mutiny in the Grecian host, and they clamored
to be led home again.
But the crafty Ulysses summoned the mutineers to an
assembly, and addressed them in honeyed words: "My
friends," he said, "we have all endured hardships, I no
less than you. Have patience yet a while. Have we
labored for nothing these nine weary years? Will ye
leave your quarry when it is at the last gasp? Know ye
not the prophecy of Calchas, that in the tenth year, and
not before, Troy was destined to fall? Trust to me, for
to me the gods have revealed a cunning stratagem
whereby of a surety ye shall take and sack the city."
Thus Ulysses persuaded them to stay on, for not only
was he the most persuasive of orators, but none had
ever known his wisdom at fault.
Nor had they long to wait for the fulfilment of his
promise. The very next day came an order that all should
strike their tents and embark forthwith. Before night-fall
the whole host had gathered on the shore; the
beached ships had been hauled down, and away they
sailed. Westward they sailed, but not to Greece. No
sooner were they to the leeward of a small rocky island
in the offing then they tacked, and came to anchor in a
sandy cove well hidden from the mainland by jutting
Great was the rejoicing in Troy town at their departure.
The gates were flung wide open, and the townsfolk,
so long pent up within the walls, streamed out as
for a holiday, to visit the battlefield and view the spots
where so many famous forays and single combats had
taken place. But of all the sights that attracted the
crowd, the most popular was a strange object that no one
had observed before. It was a Wooden Horse on rollers,
in build and shape not unlike one of those toys that children
love to drag about by a string; but this horse was
huge as a mountain, and ribbed with solid beams of fir.
Long and eagerly they debated for what purpose it had
been built, and why the Greeks had left it behind them.
Some were for burning it as an uncanny thing that could
bode them no good. Others cried: "'Tis a votive offering
to Minerva; let us drag it within the walls and set
it up in the citadel as a memorial of our deliverance."
While this dispute was hotly raging, Laoco÷n, in his
priestly robes, rushed into the throng. "Fools," he cried,
"will ye let yourselves be cheated? Are ye so slow of
heart as not to detect Greek subtlety or the guile of
Ulysses? The Greeks, I tell you, have not gone, and
either this Horse is an engine of war to overtop our
battlements, or Greek warriors are hidden in its womb."
And as he spoke he hurled a mighty spear against the
Horse, and the cavernous depths reverberated with the
shock, and from within there came a rattle as of clashing
arms. But the multitude heeded not the warning, for fate
had sealed their ears.
While this was going on outside the walls, there was
scarcely less excitement in the city. Certain shepherds
had surprised a young Greek, and were dragging their
captive before King Priam, with a hooting and jeering
crowd at their heels. "Woe is me!" cried the youth as
he came into the king's presence; "have I escaped from
the Greeks, my bitter foes who sought my life, only to
fall among Trojans from whom I can expect no mercy?"
But the king bade him fear nothing, and tell his tale.
It was an artful tale concocted for him by Ulysses, how
to the Greeks, desirous of sailing home and detained by
contrary winds, an oracle had come—
"To speed you here a virgin maid was slain,
Blood must be spilt to speed you home again"—
how he had been pointed out by Calchas as the destined
victim, and had escaped even as he was being led in bonds
to the altar.
His tattered dress and bleeding wrists bore out this
plausible tale. The king ordered his captors to free him
from his manacles, and assuring the prisoner that he need
fear nothing, begged him to tell them what was the
design of the Greeks in building and leaving behind them
the Wooden Horse.
Sinon (for that was the name that the pretended deserter
took) first invoked on his head the direst curses if
he failed to reveal to his deliverers the whole truth, and
then repeated the lesson in which his cunning master
Ulysses had drilled him. "You must know," he said,
"that all the hopes of Greece lay in the favor and protection
of their patron goddess, Minerva. But the wrath
of the goddess was kindled against the host, for the son of
Tydeus, at the prompting of Ulysses—that godless knave
who sticks at no crime—had invaded her shrine, slain
her custodians, and snatched therefrom the Palladium,
the sacred image of the goddess, deeming it a charm that
would bring them certain victory. And the goddess
showed by visible signs her displeasure. In each encounter
our forces were routed; around the carven image
now set up in the camp lightnings played, and thrice
amid the lightning and thunder the goddess herself was
seen with spear at rest and flashing targe. And Calchas,
of whom we sought counsel in our terror, bade us sail
back to Argos, and when in her great temple we had
shriven us, with happier auspices renew the fray; but
first in her honor we must erect a Wooden Horse, so huge
that it could not pass your gates or be brought within
your walls. Moreover, Calchas told us that if any man
were rash enough to lay sacrilegious hands on the votive
Horse, he would straightway be smitten by the vengeful
And lo! even as he spoke a strange portent was seen to
confirm his words. Laoco÷n, the high priest of Neptune—he
who had hurled his spear at the Wooden Horse—was
sacrificing to the sea god a mighty bull at the altar,
when far away in the offing two leviathans of the deep
were seen approaching from Tenedos. They looked like
battleships as they plowed the waves, but as they drew
nearer you could mark the blood-beclotted mane and
ravenous jaws of the sea-serpent, while behind lay floating
many a rood coil upon coil like some huge boa-constrictor's.
The crowd fled in terror, but the sea-serpents passed
through the midst and made straight for the altar of
Neptune. First they coiled themselves round the two
sons of Laoco÷n, who were ministering to their father as
he sacrificed, and squeezed the life out of the miserable
boys. Then, as Laoco÷n rushed to release his sons and
sought to pierce the scaly monsters with his sacrificial
knife, they wound their folds twice about his middle
and twice about his neck, and high above his head they
towered with blood-shot eyes and triple-forked tongues.
And Laoco÷n, like the bull he had immolated at the
altar, bellowed aloud in his dying agony. But the sea-serpents
slowly unwound themselves and glided out of
sight beneath the pediment of Diana's statue.
This seemed to all a sign from heaven to confirm what
Sinon had told them. No more doubt was possible, and
a universal clamor arose: "To the Horse! to the Horse!"
Out rushed the crowd; ropes were fastened to its neck
and legs, and soon half the city was tugging at them
might and main, while the sappers made a breach in the
walls to let it in, and by help of levers and pulleys it
mounted the steep escarpment, and as it passed down the
street a joyous troop of boys and girls followed, struggling
to take hold of the taut ropes and chanting snatches
of pŠans and songs of victory.
Thus did the gods send on the Trojans a strong delusion
that they should believe a lying tale; and what ten
long campaigns and a thousand brass-beaked ships, what
all the might of Agamemnon, king of men, and the
prowess of Achilles, goddess-born, had failed to accomplish,
was brought to pass by the guile and craft of one