Little Bits of History

Greeks Bearing Gifts

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 24, 2010

Trojan horse

April 24, 1184 BC: This is given as the traditional date for the Greeks bearing gifts to Troy. According to mythology, Helen [daughter of the current king of Sparta and wed to Menelaus – the next king of Sparta] is either kidnapped and forced to wed Paris of Troy, or else she elopes willingly with him. Either way, the Greeks were unhappy with the situation and vowed to get Helen back to Greece.

After fighting for ten years with no apparent winner, the Greeks got a brainstorm for a ruse. They built a huge wooden horse. Forty soldiers were secreted inside. Or perhaps there were thirty hidden in the belly and two spies in the horse’s mouth. Or maybe Apollodorus was correct at fifty men or maybe Tzertzes was correct with 23. Today we settle on forty men hidden. The citizens of Troy were convinced that it was a gift from the beaten Greeks. The rest of the Greek army hid as the Trojans brought the “gift” inside the city walls.

After ten years of war, the seeming victors celebrated long and hard. They were thus impaired and didn’t hear the hidden soldiers emerge, kill the guards, and open the city gates to the rest of the Greek army. Every Trojan male was killed, including infants. Every female was enslaved. The city was ransacked, the riches hauled away and the remains of the city were reduced to rubble.

The epic poems Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer and The Aeneid by Virgil saved these mythic stories for us. In ancient times this was all considered to be a true story, today it is considered to simply be a myth. Archeologists have tried to locate Troy. Homer placed the city overlooking the Hellespont, today called the Dardanelles. The strait separates Asia Minor and Europe. In the 1870s Heinrich Schliemann, an archaeologist as well as the man who hunted for the historically accurate sites mentioned in the ancient Greek texts, came to the area to dig. He found several ancient cities, one built on top of the other. Several of the cities were obviously destroyed by violence. It was not clear if any of these was the actual place called Troy.

“Always remember to pillage before you burn.” – unknown

“I should like to know who has been carried off, except poor dear me — I have been more ravished myself than anybody since the Trojan war.” – Lord Byron

“Motherhood is the strangest thing, it can be like being one’s own Trojan horse.” – Rebecca West

“Hell to ships, hell to men, hell to cities – of Helen of Troy.” – Aeschylus

Also on this day, the Soyuz 1 crashed to Earth.