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W. M. L. Hutchinson

The Builders of Troy


P OSEIDON and Apollo, who were ever fast friends, once took such displeasure at King Zeus that they plotted to drive him from his throne. But he was aware of it, and armed himself with his flaming thunderbolts, wherewith to dash the rebels down from the battlements of the sky into the Lake of Darkness under the earth. And this he would have done, had not the gentle Leto, Apollo's mother, stayed his uplifted arm, and entreated him to spare her child. Then Zeus, for love of that fair, gracious goddess, said he would not cast Poseidon and Apollo into the gloomy Under World, but they must atone for their fault by a year of penance on earth, and dwell as hired servants in the house of some mortal.

So the two gods wandered through many lands in the guise of labouring men till they came to the city of a king called Laomedon, and offered to serve him for a year. The King was content, and agreed with them for a certain wage, which he said he would pay them at the year's end. Now Apollo seemed a mere lad, and him the King sent to keep his sheep among the hills, but Poseidon appeared a strong, full-grown man, fit for the hardest toil, therefore he was set to the work of a mason. Laomedon soon saw that his new servant was a marvellous builder; no one had ever been seen in that land who could hew stones into shape so deftly, and lay them so truly in their courses. One day he called Poseidon to him, and said, "I see, churl, that you do no lack for skill, and I have a task for you that will put it to proof. This city of mine has no defences but earthen ramparts, and palisades of timber; build me a wall of hewn stones round it, and look that the work be done by the year's end."

"What men shall I have to help me, King?" said Poseidon.

"You shall have none, churl," said the King, "unless you choose to call the lad, your comrade, from the sheepfolds." And he went away laughing in his beard.

This Laomedon was a hard man, and very greedy of gain, and he had spoken thus to Poseidon with intent to defraud him of his wages, for he never dreamed that one pair of hands could build a wall round the city within a year, and he meant to send away the stranger without payment when the time came, on the pretext that his task was not performed. But Poseidon sent word to Apollo to come and help him, and day by day the wall rose higher and higher under their tireless hands, until a thick ring of massive stone encircled the city, pierced with gateways that were flanked by lofty towers. Only, at one point, there remained an opening wide enough for a man to pass through, where the wall was still unfinished. All this was done by the last day of the full year that the two gods were bound to server Laomedon, and on the morning of that day, he himself came to view the wall. Then said Poseidon, "Be pleased, O King, to pay the wages promised to me and my fellow, for the year is over, and the wall is builded." But Laomedon spied the gap in the wall, and with feigned anger he said, "Base churls that you are, you have left your task undone, and do you presume to claim wages? Begone, or I will make you rue this insolence." "Take heed to your words, Laomedon," said Apollo, "we have served you faithfully, and claim but our just due. As for yonder gap, an hour's work will suffice to close it, and that we will see to before departing." "Do you bandy speech with me, malapert boy?" cried the King. "I tell you, since the sun is risen already, the work is not   completed by the day appointed. Now, by all the gods, if you loiter here but till to-morrow, I will spoil that dainty face of yours, and crop the ears from your head." So saying, he turned and strode haughtily away. "Apollo," said Poseidon, "I have a mind to swallow up this King in an earthquake, and his city along with him, for the year of our servitude is ended, and I am free to use my power once more." "Nay," said the golden-haired god, "that must not be. I can foresee the doom that waits him, but the cup of his iniquity is not yet full. I will tell you what we may do to prepare the way of the comer who shall destroy him. If this wall were wholly built by immortal hands, the city could never be taken by an enemy, but if we cause a mortal man to fill up the gap we have left, then other mortals will be able to make a breach through his handiwork. Let us go hence, and seek some skilful builder among men, whom we may bring hither to finish the wall; so, when Laomedon sees it to-morrow, he will believe that we ourselves closed the gap." "I know of such a builder," said Poseidon. "Wait for me the while, and I will bring him to you." With that, he went quickly to the sea-beach near the city, and called up his white horses from the deep, and straightway they came to him, harnessed to his golden car. Poseidon mounted the chariot, and urged his horses onward over the sea-waves till he came to a certain island that was called Aegina. Here dwelt a wise and holy king named Aeacus, so famed for his justice that the gods themselves resorted to him for judgment when disputes arose between any of them. Aeacus was born in that island, and grew up there all alone, for in those days it was desert, but at last he prayed to Zeus that he might have folk to rule over, and Zeus turned all the ants of the island into men. And these men did not know how to plough and sow, nor the use of fire, nor how to build houses, until Aeacus taught them all these and other arts, which he had found out for himself. This King it was who first made sailing-ships, and coined silver into money, but in nothing was he more skilful than in building with stone.

When he now saw Poseidon, he greeted him as a friend, for the gods were no strangers to his house, and having heard what service was required of him, he entered the golden chariot, and they came swiftly over the sea to the city of Laomedon. Then Aeacus built up the gap in the wall, and before sunset he put the coping-stone on his masonry, which was fitted so smoothly to the rest that no eye could see where the gap had been. But, as he laid the last stone in place, the watching gods cried to him to draw back, and he stood aside to mark a strange marvel. Two huge serpents came gliding along, proudly arching their emerald necks, straight to the new-finished wall, and hurled themselves upon the battlement. It seemed their mighty spring would carry them clear over it, but their bodies struck the stone-work with a dull thud, and the monsters fell back, writhing in throes of death. Instantly a third serpent, whose head was crested with golden plumes, darted to the spot, reared its great coils aloft, and sprang over the wall, uttering no serpent's hiss, but, strange to tell, a ringing battle-cry. Straightway Apollo bounded to the wall, and laying his hand upon it, thus he spoke: "To you, Aeacus, this sign is sent by Zeus, who has you ever in his keeping. Hear now what it betokens. The three serpents are three princes of your blood who will fight against this city; two must perish beneath its wall, but the third shall break in at this very place where your own hands have raised the bulwark, and shall burn the city with fire."

"Prophet of Zeus," said Aeacus, "when shall these things come to pass?"

"In the fourth generation," answered Apollo, "for those princes are your children's children yet to be. But hear this also, although the city will not be destroyed in your lifetime, you will live to hear that it is taken in war by your own son, and in that day the wicked Laomedon shall be slain, who had dealt so treacherously with us."

While Apollo spoke, the sun went down, and twilight fell upon land and sea. Aeacus saw two chariots draw near, glimmering in the dusk, and on one of them Apollo mounted, and went northward swifter than the wind. Then said Poseidon, "Apollo goes to the land beyond the North Wind, to visit the folk who honour him above all gods, and hold high festival with now his year of servitude is past. And I too will visit the temple I love best of all that mortals have built for me, which stands between two seas, not far removed from your island of Aegina. Come, let us be going, for I will bring you home on my way thither." So the three builders departed from the wall, and in the morning Laomedon came again, and was well pleased it was finished, and the labourers he hired were gone without payment. But as for the bodies of the two serpent, they were vanished from the place before he came.


Artemis brings Apollo his car.

After this, Laomedon gathered all the people of the land into his city, bidding them dwell no more in villages, as aforetime, because he had built a stronghold where they might be safe from every enemy, and being exceedingly proud of his fair town, girdled with that many-towered wall, he commanded them henceforth to name themselves Trojans, after the name of it. For the city was called Troy.

Now Poseidon could not endure to see the evil King in such prosperity, and ere long he caused the sea to overflow his land, even to the walls of Troy, so that crops and cattle were swallowed up. Then Laomedon called the soothsayers to advise some remedy against the flood, and they all declared that the waters would not roll back from the land until a certain sea-monster was appeased with prey, which they said swam every night to the city walls. The King had sheep and goats and oxen thrown into the waters, but to no purpose, and at last the soothsayers told him nothing would satisfy the monster but the flesh of a young maiden. Thereupon the King made all the Trojan maidens draw lots, which should be thrown to the beast, and behold, the lot fell on his own daughter, Hesione. But it chanced that Heracles, on his travels about the world, came that very day to the house of Laomedon, while all were loudly bewailing the doom of the princess, and having heard the matter, he said to the King, "What reward will you give me, if I slay this monster?"

"Whatever you will," said the King, "to the half of my kingdom."

"I shall be content, " said Heracles, "if you will give me two horses of that wondrous breed which men say the gods gave to your father."

"Gladly will I give them," said the King, and immediately Heracles waded out into the flooded meadows where the monster lay wallowing, and shot him dead with arrows from his mighty bow. Then the sea-waters drew back like an ebbing tide, so that the Trojans saw the carcase of the fearful creature, with huge jaws opened wide, lying stranded on their fields, as it were the black hull of a great ship. Nevertheless, Laomedon hardened his heart to yet another deed of wickedness, and drove Heracles away with threats and revilings, when he claimed his reward. "This is your hour," said Heracles, as he went away, "but mine will come." For he was bound on an errand of the king whom he served at that time, and might not delay to fight in his own quarrel.


When Aeacus came back to his island, heavy tidings were brought to him, for it had chanced that while his three sons were playing at quoits, the eldest threw his quoit slantwise, and it struck the youngest on the head, and killed him. Now the two elder were the sons of their father's first wife, but the youngest, whose name was Phocus, was the child of their stepmother. So when the two elder princes saw that their half-brother was dead, they fled out of the island, for their father loved him the best, and they feared lest he should believe they had murdered the lad out of jealousy. These princes were called Telamon and Peleus, and the adventures that befall Peleus are known to you already. But Telamon, the eldest, was betrothed to the daughter of a kin who ruled the island called Salamis, and to that island he fled, while Peleus went to seek his fortune in distant lands. There Telamon took a solemn oath that he had slain Phocus by mischance, and the King of Salamis purified him of the blood-guilt by prayer and sacrifice, as the manner was, and promised to give him his daughter in marriage when he had mourned for his brother a year and a day. Before that time, however, the King fell sick and died, and because he had no son the folk of Salamis chose Telamon to rule over them in his stead. Thus he became King, and at the year's end he married the princess.

On his marriage day, Telamon held a great feast in his house, to which all the men of the island were bidden, both rich and poor, and while they sat at table, one of his servants told him that a stranger stood at the gate, desiring to speak with him.

"What manner of man is he," said Telamon, "and why do you not bring him into the hall?" "He seems in haste to depart, O King," said the servant, "and as for who or what he is, we know not, but he is strangely arrayed. He has no garment but a lion's-skin girt about him, and carries the hugest bow that ever man saw."

"It is the noble Heracles," cried Telamon, "my father's friend and min," and he ran to the gate to welcome him. Heracles, for he it was indeed, at first excused himself from coming in to the banquet, saying that he had come on other business than merrymaking, as might be seen from his rough garb. "You shall tell me of that when you have eaten and drunk," said Telamon, "for it is ill talking between a full man and a fasting. Come, you shall not deny me; this, you must know, is my marriage-feast, and it is lucky chance that brings me such a guest to grace it." With that, he brought Heracles into the hall, and set him in the seat of honour, and the feat went merrily on. Then, when all had their fill of good cheer, Telamon bade his cup-bearer fill a great golden cup with wine, and, taking the goblet, he gave it into the hand of Heracles, saying, "My noble guest, pour out now the accustomed libation, for you are worthier than I." And thereby he paid Heracles the highest mark of honour, since it was his own right, as lord of the feast, to pour out the first drink-offering to the gods. Now the custom of the drink-offering was that when men began carousing after a feast, their cups were filled thrice with wine, and at each filling one cup was poured out to some god with a prayer for blessing, but always the first cup of those three was offered to Zeus. Heracles took the golden goblet, and rose up, and thus he prayed as he poured the wine on the ground: "Hear me now, King of Gods, if ever prayer of mine could win your grace. Grant that a son may be born to Telamon, my friend, as brave in soul and as strong in body as the lion whose hide I wear, even that might beast I slew at Nemea, in the first of my fights with savage monsters." Even as he spoke, an eagle flew into the hall through the open doors, perched a moment on the oaken rafters, and flew forth again. "Rejoice, Telamon," cried Heracles, "for Zeus has sent his own bird in sign that he will grant my prayer. You will have the son your heart secretly longs for, and when he is born, call him, I charge you, after the eagle." Heracles said this with a rapt look, and chanting voice, like a seer when the spirit of prophecy comes over him, and forthwith he sat down. Presently Telamon asked him what that errand was that brought him to Salamis, but Heracles said, "I came to call you to a fray, and little thought to light on a wedding-feast. Let us speak of the matter to-morrow, for I will not mar these revels with talk of blood-shedding."

So, on the morrow, he told Telamon that he needed a warrior comrade to sail with him to Troy and fight against Laomedon, who had used him very evilly; and Telamon was so eager to share the adventure that he commanded a ship to be made ready, took leave of his bride, and set sail with Heracles that very day. Laomedon heard news of their landing, and went out to give them battle with all his men.

That day those two valiant comrades did wondrous feats of arms, and, with the crew of one ship, they fought the whole army of Troy, until they drove them in flight to their walls. Many were slain as they fled, but Laomedon and the greater part of his host escaped into the city, and barred the gates behind them. Then, shouting his war-cry in a voice like thunder, Telamon sprang to the wall, and, in the very spot where the serpent crossed it, he battered it down with the butt-end of his spear, and rushed through the breach, calling Heracles to follow. And Heracles came after, bending his terrible bow, and shot Laomedon through the heart in the midst of the city. When the people saw their King fall there was no more spirit in them. "Troy is taken," they cried, and implored mercy of the conquerors. Thus did vengeance overtake that treacherous King. Heracles took all the treasures of his house, and all the wealth of the city, and divided the spoil, giving a due portion to all his followers. Now three sons of Laomedon were slain in the fight, but his youngest, who was yet a child, was found hiding in the palace with his sister, the Princess Hesione, and they were brought as captives to Heracles. The princess wept and wrung her hands, crying, "Alas, great champion, will you slay this child for his father's sin?"

"Nay, princess," said Heracles, "that would be far from me. I would set him free, for my own part, but my comrades have a right to divide the captives among them by lot. Nevertheless, you shall ransom him at a price from the man to whom the lot gives him. As for yourself, I may claim you for my own prize, because I am leader." Then they drew lots for all the captives, and the little prince fell to the lot of Telamon.

"Chieftain," said Hesione, "what ransom will you take for my brother?"

"I will take the gold-embroidered veil you wear," said Telamon.

So Hesione ransomed her brother for that price, and gave him in charge to the elders of the city to be brought up. From that day the child was called Priam, which means "Bought with a price," and when he grew up he reigned as king in Troy.

But Hesione was glad when she heard she was the prize of Heracles, for she had loved him since he delivered her from being cast to the sea-monster, and she said to him, "It were hateful to me to abide here now my father is dead. Let me follow you whithersoever you are going, my lord."

"Fairest Hesione," said Heracles, "I am a wanderer on the earth, and my road lies in perilous places, where I cannot take a maiden. I will send you with Telamon to Salamis, and for my sake he will treat you well, but as for me, I am going even now on another adventure."

"I go not home without you, my comrade," cried Telamon. "Never shall it be said that I returned with spoils and captives, leaving you to face new dangers alone. Take me on your quest, whatever it may be, and let me have the glory of fighting twice at the side of Heracles." Then Heracles consented, and when Telamon had sent his ship home with Hesione and the other captives, and the booty, the two friends went eastward to the country of the Amazons. For the king whom Heracles served had bidden him fetch for his daughter the golden girdle of the Amazon Queen. Now the Amazons were a nation of women, who suffered no men to come into their country, and they were warriors all, armed with brazen bows, and riding fierce swift horses. But how Heracles, with help of Telamon, overcame them in a great battle, and took the girdle of their Queen, who fell fighting, and what else the comrades did before they came back to Salamis, belongs to another tale. Here we tell only of the building of Troy and what came of it.

A whole year was Telamon away, and when he came again to his house he found it full of mirth and gladness, because the son was born for whom Heracles prayed. Telamon remembered his friend's bidding, and called the child Ajax, which means "The Eagle" in the old speech of that land. And Ajax grew up a mighty youth, according to the prayer of Heracles, with a fearless soul that matched his stalwart body. Meanwhile King Aeacus heard of all these things in Aegina, and sent for his son Telamon, desiring to be reconciled to him before he died. When the ship he had sent returned, Aeacus went down to the harbour to meet it, and saw his son standing on the deck, holding the young Ajax in his arms, and they greeted again with tears. But Telamon would not set foot on shore till he had solemnly called the gods to witness that he was guiltless of murdering Phocus his brother.

Now while Telamon sojourned in Aegina, the time came for good King Aeacus to die, and in his last hour, he bade his son bring the child Ajax to him. And then he told the marvel he had seen at the building of Troy's wall, and how Apollo foretold from the sign of the Three Serpents that the city should twice be taken by warriors of his house, and the second time be utterly laid low. "The gods grant," he said, laying his hand on the head of Ajax, "that this my grandchild, may prove to be that Third Serpent, the conqueror." But that prayer was vain, for the fate of Ajax was otherwise ordained. He went indeed with the great host that beleaguered Troy in days to come, and of all the champions who fought in that long war, none did more valiant deeds than he, except Achilles, the son of Peleus. But those two were the two warriors sprung from Aeacus, whose doom was foreshadowed by the death of the first Two Serpents. Who, then, was the Third, the golden-crested, who sprang with a cry of victory over the new-built wall? In the tale of Peleus and Thetis, it was told how Achilles wedded the king's daughter of the isle where his mother hid him, and left her, a mourning bride, to follow the way of glory. And he, the flower of all heroes, found death and deathless fame on the battlefield of Troy, and never saw the child whom the king's daughter bore to him in Scyros. Then came a prophecy to the Greek host that the city should never be taken without help of the son of Achilles, and they sent and fetched the young prince to their camp. The comrades of his father beheld the lad with mingled joy and pain, so like he was to their lost chief, and when he led them to the fight in shining arms, and flew lion-like upon the foes, the cry went up that Achilles was come back to life. And in no long time all Apollo's word to Aeacus was fulfilled, for that golden-haired youth was the golden-crested conquering Serpent who appeared to the Builders of Troy.