the Device of the Horse of Tree
An Extract From: Tales of Troy,
Ulysses the Sacker of Cities
After Paris died, Helen was not given back to Menelaus. We
are often told that only fear of the anger of Paris had prevented the
Trojans from surrendering Helen and making peace. Now Paris could
not terrify them, yet for all that the men of the town would not part
with Helen, whether because she was so beautiful, or because they thought
it dishonourable to yield her to the Greeks, who might put her to a
cruel death. So Helen was taken by Deiphobus, the brother of Paris,
to live in his own house, and Deiphobus was at this time the best warrior
and the chief captain of the men of Troy.
Meanwhile, the Greeks made an assault against the Trojan walls and
fought long and hardily; but, being safe behind the battlements, and
shooting through loopholes, the Trojans drove them back with loss of
many of their men. It was in vain that Philoctetes shot his poisoned
arrows, they fell back from the stone walls, or stuck in the palisades
of wood above the walls, and the Greeks who tried to climb over were
speared, or crushed with heavy stones. When night fell, they retreated
to the ships and held a council, and, as usual, they asked the advice
of the prophet Calchas. It was the business of Calchas to go about
looking at birds, and taking omens from what he saw them doing, a way
of prophesying which the Romans also used, and some savages do the same
to this day. Calchas said that yesterday he had seen a hawk pursuing
a dove, which hid herself in a hole in a rocky cliff. For a long
while the hawk tried to find the hole, and follow the dove into it,
but he could not reach her. So he flew away for a short distance
and hid himself; then the dove fluttered out into the sunlight, and
the hawk swooped on her and killed her.
The Greeks, said Calchas, ought to learn a lesson from the hawk,
and take Troy by cunning, as by force they could do nothing. Then
Ulysses stood up and described a trick which it is not easy to understand.
The Greeks, he said, ought to make an enormous hollow horse of wood,
and place the bravest men in the horse. Then all the rest of the
Greeks should embark in their ships and sail to the Isle of Tenedos,
and lie hidden behind the island. The Trojans would then come
out of the city, like the dove out of her hole in the rock, and would
wander about the Greek camp, and wonder why the great horse of tree
had been made, and why it had been left behind. Lest they should
set fire to the horse, when they would soon have found out the warriors
hidden in it, a cunning Greek, whom the Trojans did not know by sight,
should be left in the camp or near it. He would tell the Trojans
that the Greeks had given up all hope and gone home, and he was to say
that they feared the Goddess Pallas was angry with them, because they
had stolen her image that fell from heaven, and was called the Luck
of Troy. To soothe Pallas and prevent her from sending great storms
against the ships, the Trojans (so the man was to say) had built this
wooden horse as an offering to the Goddess. The Trojans, believing
this story, would drag the horse into Troy, and, in the night, the princes
would come out, set fire to the city, and open the gates to the army,
which would return from Tenedos as soon as darkness came on.
The prophet was much pleased with the plan of Ulysses, and, as two
birds happened to fly away on the right hand, he declared that the stratagem
would certainly be lucky. Neoptolemus, on the other hand, voted
for taking Troy, without any trick, by sheer hard fighting. Ulysses
replied that if Achilles could not do that, it could not be done at
all, and that Epeius, a famous carpenter, had better set about making
the horse at once.
Next day half the army, with axes in their hands, were sent to cut
down trees on Mount Ida, and thousands of planks were cut from the trees
by Epeius and his workmen, and in three days he had finished the horse.
Ulysses then asked the best of the Greeks to come forward and go inside
the machine; while one, whom the Greeks did not know by sight, should
volunteer to stay behind in the camp and deceive the Trojans.
Then a young man called Sinon stood up and said that he would risk himself
and take the chance that the Trojans might disbelieve him, and burn
him alive. Certainly, none of the Greeks did anything more courageous,
yet Sinon had not been considered brave.
Had he fought in the front ranks, the Trojans would have known him;
but there were many brave fighters who would not have dared to do what
Then old Nestor was the first that volunteered to go into the horse;
but Neoptolemus said that, brave as he was, he was too old, and that
he must depart with the army to Tenedos. Neoptolemus himself would
go into the horse, for he would rather die than turn his back on Troy.
So Neoptolemus armed himself and climbed into the horse, as did Menelaus,
Ulysses, Diomede, Thrasymedes (Nestor’s son), Idomeneus, Philoctetes,
Meriones, and all the best men except Agamemnon, while Epeius himself
entered last of all. Agamemnon was not allowed by the other Greeks
to share their adventure, as he was to command the army when they returned
from Tenedos. They meanwhile launched their ships and sailed away.
But first Menelaus had led Ulysses apart, and told him that if they
took Troy (and now they must either take it or die at the hands of the
Trojans), he would owe to Ulysses the glory. When they came back
to Greece, he wished to give Ulysses one of his own cities, that they
might always be near each other. Ulysses smiled and shook his
head; he could not leave Ithaca, his own rough island kingdom.
“But if we both live through the night that is coming,”
he said, “I may ask you for one gift, and giving it will make
you none the poorer.” Then Menelaus swore by the splendour
of Zeus that Ulysses could ask him for no gift that he would not gladly
give; so they embraced, and both armed themselves and went up into the
horse. With them were all the chiefs except Nestor, whom they
would not allow to come, and Agamemnon, who, as chief general, had to
command the army. They swathed themselves and their arms in soft
silks, that they might not ring and clash, when the Trojans, if they
were so foolish, dragged the horse up into their town, and there they
sat in the dark waiting. Meanwhile, the army burned their huts
and launched their ships, and with oars and sails made their way to
the back of the isle of Tenedos.