XIII. THE CHILDHOOD OF PARIS.
In those days, Pri´am and Hec´u-ba were King and Queen of Troy (or Il´i-um),—a beautiful city near the coast of Asia Minor, almost opposite Athens. They were the parents of a large family of sons and daughters; and among the sons were Hec´tor and Par´is, young men of remarkable strength and beauty.
Paris had had a very adventurous life. When he was but a little babe, his mother dreamed that she saw a flaming brand in the cradle, in the place where the child lay. This brand seemed to set fire to the cradle and all the palace; and the queen, awaking with a start, was overjoyed to find that it was nothing but a dream.
Men in those days believed that dreams were sent by the gods to warn them of coming events, and so Hecuba was very anxious to know what the burning brand meant. She told her husband all about it, and they finally decided to ask an oracle to explain the dream.
A few days later the messenger they had sent to the oracle came home, and Hecuba shed many tears when he brought word that the child Paris was destined to bring destruction upon his native city.
To escape this calamity, Priam ordered that Paris should be carried out of the city, and that he should be left in a forest, where the wild beasts would eat him up, or where he would be sure to die from hunger and cold.
Poor little Paris was therefore lifted out of his comfortable cradle, and left alone in the woods, where he cried so hard that a passing hunter heard him. This man was so sorry for the poor child, that he carried him home to his wife, who brought the little stranger up with her own children.
As he lived with hunters, Paris soon learned their ways; and he became so active that when he was quite grown up he went to Troy to take part in the athletic games, which were often held there in honor of the gods. He was so strong that he easily won all the prizes, although Hector and the other young princes were also striving for them.
When Paris went up to receive the crown of wild olive leaves which was the victor’s prize, every one noticed his likeness to the royal family; and his sister Cas-san´dra, who was able to foretell future events, said that he was the son of Priam and Hecuba, and that he would bring great misfortunes upon Troy.
The king and queen paid no heed to these words, but gladly welcomed Paris home, and lavished all kinds of gifts upon him to make up for their cruelty and long neglect.
Paris was so fond of change and adventure, that he soon grew tired of court life, and asked Priam for a ship, so that he might sail off to Greece.
This request was readily granted, and Paris went away. The young prince sailed from island to island, and came at last to the southern part of the Peloponnesus, where the descendants of Hercules had founded the city of Sparta. Here he was warmly welcomed by King Men-e-la´us; but this king was obliged to leave home shortly after the arrival of Paris, and he bade Helen, his wife, the most beautiful woman in the world, do all she could to entertain the noble stranger.
Helen was so kind to Paris that he soon fell in love with her. His greatest wish was to have her as his wife: so he began to tell her that Ve´nus, the goddess of love, had promised him that he should marry the most beautiful woman in the world.
Talking thus day after day, the handsome young Paris finally persuaded Helen to leave her husband and home. She got on board of his vessel, and went with him to Troy as his wife. Of course, this wrongdoing could not bring happiness; and not only were they duly punished, but, as you will soon see, the crime of Paris brought suffering and death to his friends as well.
When Menelaus came home and found that his guest had run away with his wife, he was very angry, and vowed that he would not rest until he had punished Paris and won back the beautiful Helen.
He therefore made ready for war, and sent word to his friends and relatives to come and help him, telling them to meet him at Au´lis, a seaport, where they would find swift-sailing vessels to carry them across the sea to Troy.
XIV. THE MUSTER OF THE TROOPS.
When the neighboring kings and chiefs received Menelaus’ message, they were delighted; for fighting was their only occupation, and they enjoyed the din of battle more than anything else. They began to collect their soldiers, polish their arms, and man their vessels. Then, inviting all who wished to join them, they started out for Aulis, where they formed a huge army.
Each of the parties was led by its own king or chief. Some of these chiefs were very brave, and their names are still well known. The leading ones among them were Nes´tor, the wisest man of his day, to whom every one came for good advice; and U-lys´ses, the crafty or sly king, who was so clever that he could easily outwit all men.
There were also A´jax, the strongest man of his time; Thersander, the new king of Thebes, who came with the Epigoni; and Ag-a-mem´non, King of Mycenæ, Menelaus’ brother, who was chosen chief of the whole army.
The Greeks never began any undertaking without consulting the oracles to find out how it would end. Agamemnon, therefore, consulted one of these soothsayers, who said that Troy would never be taken unless A-chil´les fought with the Greeks.
When they heard this answer, the chiefs immediately asked who Achilles was, and they soon learned all about him. He was a young prince of whom it had been foretold at the time of his birth that he would be the greatest warrior of his age, and that he would die young. His mother, who loved him dearly, shed many tears when she heard these words, and made up her mind to do all she could to prevent this prophecy from coming true.
She first carried Achilles, when but a baby, to the river Styx, for it was said that those who bathed in its waters could never be wounded.
Afraid to let go of her child for fear he might drown, but anxious to make sure that the waters should touch every part of him, the mother plunged him into the rushing tide, holding him fast by one heel.
This she held so tight that the waters never even wet it; and it was only long after, when too late to remedy it, that an oracle told her that Achilles could be wounded in his heel, which the waters of the Styx had not touched. As soon as this good mother heard the first news of the coming war, her heart was troubled; for she knew that Achilles, who was now a young man, would want to join the army, and she was afraid of losing him.
To prevent his hearing anything about the war, she persuaded him to visit the King of Scyros. There, under pretext of a joke, he was induced to put on girl’s clothes, and to pretend that he was a woman.
The Greeks, after hearing the oracle’s words, sent messengers for Achilles; but they could not find him, as he had left home, and no one would tell them where he had gone. As it was of no use to set out without him, according to the oracle’s answer, which they thoroughly believed, the army lingered at Aulis in despair.
Ulysses, seeing that they would never start unless Achilles were found, now offered to go and get him. Disguised as a peddler, with a pack upon his back, he went first to Achilles’ home, where the chattering maids told him all he wished to know, and thence he went to the Island of Scyros.
Achilles was so well disguised that Ulysses could not tell him from the king’s daughters and their maids: so he made use of a trick to find him out. Among the trinkets in his pack, he put a sword of fine workmanship, and, entering the palace, spread out his wares before the admiring maidens. They all gathered about him; but, while the real girls went into raptures over his ornaments, Achilles grasped the sword, drew it from the scabbard, carefully tested the blade, and swung it with a strong arm.
Of course, Ulysses then easily saw that he was not a girl, and, slipping up to him, managed to whisper news of the coming war, and won his promise to join the army at Aulis in a few days.
XV. THE SACRIFICE OF IPHIGENIA.
True to his promise, Achilles soon came to Aulis with his well-trained soldiers, the Myr´mi-dons, and with him came his friend Pa-tro´clus. All were now eager to start, and ready to embark; but unfortunately there was no favorable wind to fill their sails and waft them over to Asia Minor.
Day after day they waited, and offered sacrifices to the gods, but all in vain. At last they again consulted the oracle, who said that the wind would not blow until Iph-i-ge-ni´a, Agamemnon’s daughter, were offered up in sacrifice to Di-an´a, goddess of the moon and the chase, whom this king had once offended.
Agamemnon at first said that he would not sacrifice his daughter, but finally his companions persuaded him to do so. Just as the priest was about to kill the maiden on the altar, however, the goddess Diana came, and carried her off unharmed, leaving a deer to be sacrificed in her stead.
The deer was killed, the wind rose, the sails filled, and the Greek fleet soon came within sight of the high walls and towers of Troy. There, contrary to their expectations, the Greeks found the people ready to fight them; but, after many days’ struggle, they saw that they had made no great advance.
On the wide plain which stretched out between the city and the sea, the Greek and Tro´jan armies fought many a battle; and sometimes one party, and sometimes the other, had the victory. The men on both sides had been trained to handle their weapons with great skill, and there were many fights in which the Greek heroes met the bravest Trojans.
Nine years passed thus in continual warfare, but even then the Greeks were as far from taking the town as on the first day; and the Trojans, in spite of all their courage, had not been able to drive their enemies away.
XVI. THE WRATH OF ACHILLES.
In all their battles, the booty won by the Greeks from the enemy had been divided among the chiefs and soldiers, and on one occasion female slaves were given to Agamemnon and Achilles. These girls were not born slaves, but were captives of war reduced to slavery, as was then the custom; for, while the men and boys were always killed, the women and girls were forced to be the servants of the victors.
Now, it happened that the slave given to Agamemnon was the daughter of a priest of A-pol´lo. He was very sorry when he heard she had fallen into the hands of the Greeks, and sent a message to Agamemnon, offering to give him a large sum of money if he would only set her free.
Agamemnon would not accept the money, and sent a rude message to the priest, who, in anger, asked Apollo to avenge this insult by sending a plague upon the Greeks. The god heard and granted this prayer, and soon all the soldiers in the Greek camp were suffering from a terrible disease, of which many of them died.
As no remedy could relieve the sufferers, the Greek leaders consulted an oracle, to find out how the plague might be stopped. Then they learned that Apollo was angry with Agamemnon because he had refused to give up his slave, and that the Greeks would continue to suffer until he made up his mind to give her back to her father.
Thus forced to give her up to save his men from further suffering and even from death, Agamemnon angrily said he would take Achilles’ slave instead, and he had her brought to wait upon him in his tent.
Achilles, who wanted to save the Greeks from the plague, allowed the maiden to depart, warning Agamemnon, however, that he would no longer fight for a chief who could be so selfish and unjust. As soon as the girl had gone, therefore, he laid aside his fine armor; and although he heard the call for battle, and the din of fighting, he staid quietly within his tent.
While Achilles sat thus sulking day after day, his companions were bravely fighting. In spite of their bravery, however, the Trojans were gaining the advantage; for, now that Achilles was no longer there to fill their hearts with terror, they fought with new courage.
The Greeks, missing the bright young leader who always led them into the midst of the fray, were gradually driven back by the Trojans, who pressed eagerly forward, and even began to set fire to some of the Greek ships.
Achilles’ friend, Patroclus, who was fighting at the head of the Greeks, now saw that the Trojans, unless they were checked, would soon destroy the whole army, and he rushed into Achilles’ tent to beg him to come and help them once more.
His entreaties were vain. Achilles refused to move a step; but he consented at last to let Patroclus wear his armor, and, thus disguised, make a last attempt to rally the Greeks and drive back the Trojans.
Patroclus started out, and, when the Trojans saw the well-known armor, they shrank back in terror, for they greatly feared Achilles. They soon saw their mistake, however; and Hector, rushing forward, killed Patroclus, tore the armor off his body, and retired to put it on in honor of his victory.
Then a terrible struggle took place between the Trojans and the Greeks for the possession of Patroclus’ body. The news of his friend’s death had quickly been carried to Achilles, and had roused him from his indifferent state. Springing upon the wall that stretched before the camp, he gave a mighty shout, at the sound of which the Trojans fled, while Ajax and Ulysses brought back the body of Patroclus.