This series has eight easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Background Involves Gods.
While we know that there was a Troy and that there was a war, we know little else. That most distinguished of historians, George Grote looks to the importance of the myths of that war to the developing Greek culture. He summarizes the story from that standpoint. This is why History Moments gives this story the category of “Literature” instead of military history and locates the region of interest in “Balkans” rather than Asia Minor.
This selection is from History of Greece by George Grote published in 1846. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
George Grote was the go-to authority on all things Classical Greece in the nineteenth century.
Time: 1184 BC
We now arrive at the capital and culminating point of the Grecian epic — the two sieges and captures of Troy, with the destinies of the dispersed heroes, Trojan as well as Grecian, after the second and most celebrated capture and destruction of the city.
It would require a large volume to convey any tolerable idea of the vast extent and expansion of this interesting fable, first handled by so many poets, epic, lyric, and tragic, with their endless additions, transformations, and contradictions, — then purged and recast by historical inquirers, who, under color of setting aside the exaggerations of the poets, introduced a new vein of prosaic invention, — lastly, moralized and allegorized by philosophers. In the present brief outline of the general field of Grecian legend, or of that which the Greeks believed to be their antiquities, the Trojan war can be regarded as only one among a large number of incidents upon which Hecatæus and Herodotus looked back as constituting their fore-time. Taken as a special legendary event, it is, indeed, of wider and larger interest than any other, but it is a mistake to single it out from the rest as if it rested upon a different and more trustworthy basis. I must, therefore, confine myself to an abridged narrative of the current and leading facts; and amid the numerous contradictory statements which are to be found respecting every one of them, I know no better ground of preference than comparative antiquity, though even the oldest tales which we possess — those contained in the Iliad — evidently presuppose others of prior date.
The primitive ancestor of the Trojan line of kings is Dardanus, son of Zeus, founder and eponymus of Dardania: in the account of later authors, Dardanus was called the son of Zeus by Electra, daughter of Atlas, and was further said to have come from Samothrace, or from Arcadia, or from Italy; but of this Homer mentions nothing. The first Dardanian town founded by him was in a lofty position on the descent of Mount Ida; for he was not yet strong enough to establish himself on the plain. But his son Erichthonius, by the favor of Zeus, became the wealthiest of mankind. His flocks and herds having multiplied, he had in his pastures three thousand mares, the offspring of some of whom, by Boreas, produced horses of preternatural swiftness. Tros, the son of Erichthonius, and the eponym of the Trojans, had three sons — Ilus, Assaracus, and the beautiful Ganymedes, whom Zeus stole away to become his cup-bearer in Olympus, giving to his father Tros, as the price of the youth, a team of immortal horses.
From Ilus and Assaracus the Trojan and Dardanian lines diverge; the former passing from Ilus to Laomedon, Priam, and Hector; the latter from Assaracus to Capys, Anchises, and Æneas. Ilus founded in the plain of Troy the holy city of Ilium; Assaracus and his descendants remained sovereigns of Dardania.
It was under the proud Laomedon, son of Ilus, that Poseidon and Apollo underwent, by command of Zeus, a temporary servitude; the former building the walls of the town, the latter tending the flocks and herds. When their task was completed and the penal period had expired, they claimed the stipulated reward; but Laomedon angrily repudiated their demand, and even threatened to cut off their ears, to tie them hand and foot, and to sell them in some distant island as slaves. He was punished for this treachery by a sea-monster, whom Poseidon sent to ravage his fields and to destroy his subjects. Laomedon publicly offered the immortal horses given by Zeus to his father Tros, as a reward to any one who would destroy the monster. But an oracle declared that a virgin of noble blood must be surrendered to him, and the lot fell upon Hesione, daughter of Laomedon himself. Heracles, arriving at this critical moment, killed the monster by the aid of a fort built for him by Athene and the Trojans, so as to rescue both the exposed maiden and the people; but Laomedon, by a second act of perfidy, gave him mortal horses in place of the matchless animals which had been promised. Thus defrauded of his due, Heracles equipped six ships, attacked and captured Troy, and killed Laomedon, giving Hesione to his friend and auxiliary Telamon, to whom she bore the celebrated archer Teucros. A painful sense of this expedition was preserved among the inhabitants of the historical town of Ilium, who offered no worship to Heracles.
Among all the sons of Laomedon, Priam was the only one who had remonstrated against the refusal of the well-earned guerdon of Heracles; for which the hero recompensed him by placing him on the throne. Many and distinguished were his sons and daughters, as well by his wife Hecuba, daughter of Cisseus, as by other women. Among the sons were Hector, Paris, Deiphobus, Helenus, Troilus, Polites, Polydorus; among the daughters, Laodice, Creusa, Polyxena, and Cassandra.
The birth of Paris was preceded by formidable presage; for Hecuba dreamed that she was delivered of a firebrand, and Priam, on consulting the soothsayers, was informed that the son about to be born would prove fatal to him. Accordingly he directed the child to be exposed on Mount Ida; but the inauspicious kindness of the gods preserved him; and he grew up amid the flocks and herds, active and beautiful, fair of hair and symmetrical in person, and the special favorite of Aphrodite.
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