HEROES OF THE TROJAN WAR
The early kings of Mycenæ were descendants of Jupiter. One of these, named Agamemnon, was the most powerful king in Greece in his day, and hence he was called the "King of Men." During his reign occurred the famous Trojan War, which is supposed to have taken place about 1200 years before Christ. All the most famous heroes in Greece took part in it. The story of the events that brought it on is full of interest.
A wonderful wedding took place in Greece. Peleus, the brave king of Thessaly, married the beautiful sea-nymph, Thetis. The wedding feast was held on Mount Pelion near the home of the gods, and to show their love for Thetis all the gods came down from Olympus. Apollo shot sunbeams through the quivering oak leaves and the floor of the forest was dappled with golden light. Nymphs had hung garlands of snow-white roses from tree to tree. Wild vines were covered with blossoms and the air was filled with their fragrance.
But while the Muses were singing their sweetest songs, a golden apple suddenly fell among the gods and goddesses. It had been thrown by the goddess of discord, who was angry because she had not been asked to the wedding.
Mercury, who of course was among the guests, picked up the apple and read to the wedding party the words written upon it, "Let the most beautiful have me."
Juno, Minerva, and Venus each claimed that the apple was hers, and the quarrel of the goddesses ended only when Jupiter said to them:
"Go with Mercury over the sea to Mount Ida, and let Paris, the shepherd, decide the matter."
At once the goddesses, led by Mercury, sped through the air to Mount Ida to find Paris.
Paris was a son of Priam, the king of a rich and powerful city called Troy, which was opposite Greece on the shore of the Ægean Sea. His mother dreamed that he would one day set Troy on fire, and so, as soon as he was born, King Priam ordered one of his shepherds to carry the infant to snow-capped Mount Ida, near Troy, and there leave it to die of cold and hunger.
Five days after leaving the child, the shepherd found it still alive. This made him think that the gods did not wish it to die; so he carried it home to his wife, who brought it up as her own child.
Paris thought himself only a shepherd's boy and tended King Priam's herds while they grazed on the slopes of Mount Ida.
On the date of the wedding upon Mount Pelion, as he sat watching the flock, Mercury and his three companions suddenly appeared before him. The goddesses were all so lovely that when they asked Paris to say which was the most beautiful he was greatly perplexed. Each tried to persuade him to decide in her favor. Juno promised to make him the greatest of kings; Minerva said that she would make him the wisest of men; and Venus declared that she would give him the most beautiful woman in the world as his wife. He awarded the apple to Venus, but by doing so he greatly offended Minerva and Juno.
PARIS GIVES THE APPLE TO VENUS
Not long after this Paris went to Troy and took part in some games that were held at the court of Priam. These games were wrestling, boxing and running races; and the unknown shepherd carried off many prizes. It was soon found out who he really was and Priam heartily welcomed him home.
Meantime, Venus had not forgotten her promise. She advised Paris to sail to Greece, where he would find the most beautiful woman in the world. This was Helen, the wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta.
Paris went to Sparta and with the help of Venus won the heart of Helen and took her away with him to Troy.
HELEN OF TROY
When Menelaus found that his wife had been stolen he sent a message to the kings of all the states of Greece and asked them to help him to regain Helen and punish Paris. Now thirty or more of the kings had wished to marry Helen before she had chosen a husband, and all had sworn to aid the one chosen if any one should ever try to take her away from her husband. So as soon as they received the message of Menelaus, in accord with their oath these kings began to make ready for war against the Trojans.
Meanwhile Agamemnon, who was a brother of Menelaus, was already busily preparing for war. His woodsmen were cutting yew trees from which to make bows and gathering reeds for arrows. His smiths were making swords and spear-heads and javelins. In his shipyards hundreds of men were building ships. The roads were alive with countrymen bringing in loads of wheat, barley, bacon, and olives to store in the vessels.
At last one hundred black ships were ready and Agamemnon set sail. A place named Aulis had been selected where the Greeks were to meet. Twelve hundred ships assembled there, and Agamemnon was chosen commander-in-chief.
Just as the ships were about to start for Troy a terrible storm came up. Agamemnon felt sure that one of the gods must be angry with the Greeks and so he consulted a wonderful soothsayer named Calchas.
"Diana is angry, great King," said Calchas, "but not with the Greeks. Thou only hast offended her. Thou hast slain a deer in the forest and boasted that thou hast greater skill in the chase than Diana herself. Never, O King," he added, "can the storm be lulled until thou hast offered thy daughter Iphigenia as a sacrifice on the altar of Diana."
Agamemnon was heart-broken, but he felt that the will of Diana must be done. So he sent a messenger to the mother of Iphigenia to say that Achilles, a Greek prince, wished to marry the girl and that she must come to Aulis at once. This was only a device to get Iphigenia to Aulis.
However, when she reached Aulis and heard the truth from her father, the girl behaved nobly. "My father," she said, "if my death will help the Greeks, I am ready to die."
THE SACRIFICE OF IPHIGENIA
Her words sent a thrill through all the host and ninety thousand brave men sorrowed. Achilles and Ajax, sternest of warriors, wept, and Agamemnon was wild with grief.
While the girl was lying upon the altar and the priestess of Diana was standing near, the goddess, watching from Olympus, was moved to pity; and, just as the father had lifted his swords to slay the girl, a cloud as bright as shining snow appeared above him. Diana stepped from the cloud, lifted the girl from the altar, and carried her through the air to one of her temples, where she made her a priestess. On the altar lay a white fawn which was sacrificed instead of Iphigenia.
And now the fairest winds blew, the sails of the Grecian ships were set, the fleet sailed swiftly to Troy, and the siege of that city began.