THE SACK OF TROY
BY F. STORR
The Wooden Horse was set up in the citadel, and
after a night of feasting and carousal, the Trojan
warriors had all retired to rest from their labors, and
deep slumber sealed their weary eyes, for now they feared
no nightly alarms, no réveillé before break of day.
But with night-fall the Greek fleet at Tenedos had
loosed their moorings, and were making full sail for the
When all slept the traitor Sinon slipped out from the
turret of the palace where the king had assigned him a
lodging, and crouching in the shadow climbed the hill of
the citadel. There stood the Wooden Horse, weird and
ghostly in the moonlight, not a sentinel to guard it.
Leaning on the parapet he watched the white sails of the
fleet as it sped landward, and soon he saw the preconcerted
signal—a flaming torch at the masthead of the
admiral ship. Then by the ropes still left hanging from
the Horse's neck, he swarmed up and opened a secret
panel in the side. One by one the mailed warriors let
themselves down: first Ulysses, the arch-plotter, then
Neoptolemus, Achilles' son, Menelaus, Epeos, the architect
of the Horse, and other chieftains too many to name.
They made straight for the city gates, and despatching
the sentinels before any had time to give the alarm, let
in the serried battalions who were waiting outside.
Like the rest of the Trojan warriors Æneas slept, but
his sleep was disturbed by a vision of the night. At his
bedside stood a ghostly form. His visage was marred,
his locks and beard were clotted with gouts of blood, his
breast was slashed and scarred, and his feet were pierced
and livid with the marks of cords. Yet, though thus defaced
and maimed, Æneas knew at once the godlike
Hector, and cried to him, "Light of Troy, our country's
hope and stay, thou com'st much looked for. Where hast
thou tarried this long, long while? Why is thy visage
thus marred? What mean those hideous scars?"
The ghost answered nothing but gazed down on Æneas
with sad, lack-luster eyes. Only as it vanished it spoke.
"Fly, goddess-born; save thyself from the flames. The
foe is within the gates. Troy topples to its fall. Could
faith and courage have availed, this right hand had saved
it. To thee Troy now commends her household gods.
Take them with thee in thy flight, and with them to guide
and guard thee found beyond the seas a new and mightier
The ghost had vanished; but when Æneas woke he
found at his bedside the household gods and the fillets of
Vesta and her fire that is never quenched.
From without there came a confused sound of hurrying
feet, the tramp of armed men, the clash of arms, and
mingled shouts and groans. He climbed to the roof to
see what it all meant. Volumes of smoke like a mountain
torrent were rolling over the city, and from the murk
there leapt tongues of flame. In desperate haste he
donned his arms and went forth, bewildered and not
knowing which way to turn. At his threshold he met
Panthus, high priest of Apollo and custodian of the citadel,
and asked him what was happening.
"All is over," cried the priest; "the gods have deserted
us; Greece has triumphed; Troy is no more—a name, a
city of the past."
Horror-stricken but undeterred, Æneas hurried on to
where the fray seemed the hottest, and gathering round
him some score of trusty comrades, he thus addressed
them: "Friends and brothers in arms, all is not lost; let
us take courage from despair, and at worst die like men
with our breasts to the foe."
They all rushed into the mellay, and at first fortune
favored the brave. Androgeus, the captain of a picked
corps of Greeks, hailed them; and mistaking them in the
darkness for fellow-countrymen, twitted them on their
tardiness, and bade them hurry on to share in the loot.
Too late he perceived his mistake. Before they had time
to unsheath a sword or unbuckle a shield, Æneas and his
comrades were on them and not one escaped.
Flushed with their first success, Corœbus, one of the
forlorn hope, cried: "Hark ye, comrades, I have bethought
me of a glorious stratagem; let us exchange
arms and scutcheons with our dead foemen. All is fair
in war." No sooner said than done; and great was the
havoc they wrought at the first by this disguise, but in the
end it cost them dear.
As they passed by the temple of Minerva they were
arrested by a piteous spectacle. Cassandra, the prophetic
maid, was being dragged from the altar by the rude soldiery,
her hair disheveled, her arms pinioned, and her eyes
upturned to heaven. Corœbus' high spirit could not
brook the sight, and he hurled himself on the ruffians, the
rest following his lead. Though outnumbered they held,
and more than held, their own, till from the pinnacles of
the temple a whole battery of rocks and missiles rained
down on their devoted heads. Their disguise had too well
deceived the defenders of the temple, and soon the assailants
were reinforced by the main body of the Greeks, with
Ajax and the two Atridæ at their head, who soon penetrated
their disguise. Corœbus was the first to fall; then
Ripeus, the justest ruler in all Troy; nor did his gray
hairs and the fillet of Apollo that he wore save Panthus
from the common fate.
Æneas, with two wounded comrades, all that was left
of that devoted band, made his way to the palace of
Priam, where it looked as if the whole Greek force had
gathered. Part were working battering-rams against the
solid masonry, others planting scaling ladders against
the walls, up which the boldest, with shields held high
above their heads, were already swarming, while the
garrison hurled down on them stones, tiles, whatever
came to hand; even the gilded beams of the royal
At the rear of the palace was a postern gate leading
to a covered passage that connected the house of Hector
and Andromache with the palace. By this Æneas entered
and climbed to a watch-tower that commanded the whole
city, the plain with the Greek encampments, and beyond,
the sea, now studded with ships. At his bidding the
guards set to work, and soon, with axes and crow-bars,
they had loosened the foundations of the turret. It
tottered, it toppled, and fell with a mighty crash, burying
hundreds of the besiegers beneath its ruins. But what
were they among so many?
At the main entrance of the palace stood Neoptolemus
in his glittering armor, like a snake who has lost its
winter weeds, and snatching a double-headed ax from
a common soldier, he battered in the panels and wrenched
the massive door from its brass hinges. Through the long
corridors and gilded ante-chambers, like a river that has
burst its dam, the flood of armed Greeks swept on, and
from the inner chambers there came a long-drawn wail of
women's voices that shivered to the golden stars. On
came Neoptolemus, sweeping before him the feeble palace
guards. The cedarn doors gave way like match-wood,
and there, huddled on the floor or clinging to the pillars
of the tapestried chamber, he beheld, like sheep led to
the slaughter, the queen and the princesses, the fifty
daughters and fifty daughters-in-law of King Priam.
But where was Priam the while?
In the center of the palace was a court open to the sky,
and in the center of the court was a great altar over-shadowed
by an immemorial bay-tree. Hither Hecuba
and her kinswomen had fled for refuge when the rabble
of soldiers burst in on them, and in the court she espied
her aged husband girt in armor that ill-fitted his shrunken
limbs, and she called to him, "What madness hath seized
thee thus to rush to certain death? Hector himself could
not save us now; what can thy feeble arms avail?
Take sanctuary with us. Either this altar shall protect
us or here we shall all perish together!"
The feeble old king yielded to his wife's entreaties, but
hardly had he reached the altar when he beheld Polites,
the child of his old age, whom he loved most now Hector
was dead, limping towards them like a wounded hare, and
close behind him in hot pursuit Neoptolemus with outstretched
lance; and a moment after the son fell transfixed
at his father's feet. "Wretch," he cried, beside
himself with righteous wrath, "more fell than dire
Achilles! He gave me back my son's corpse, but thou
hast stained my gray hairs and god's altar with a son's
blood." He spake, and hurled at Neoptolemus with
nerveless arm a spear that scarce had force to pierce the
outmost fold of the targe.
With a scornful laugh Neoptolemus turned on him,
and dragged him by his long white beard from the altar.
"Die, old dotard," he cried, "and in the shades be sure
thou tell my sire Achilles what a degenerate son is his."
So saying, he drove his sword to the old king's heart.
"Such was the end of Priam, such his fate,
To see in death his house all desolate,
And Troy, whom erst a hundred states obeyed,
A heap of blackened stones in ruin laid.
A headless corpse washed by the salt sea tide,
Not e'en a stone to show where Priam died."