Summary: Chapter I — The Trojan War
A father’s hands
Stained with dark streams flowing
From blood of a girl. . . .
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In her portrayal of the Trojan War, Hamilton borrows from Homer’s Iliad, Apollodorus, Greek tragedies, and Virgil's Aeneid. The war has its roots in the wedding of King Peleus and the sea- nymph Thetis. When the gods decide not to invite Eris, she is angered and introduces Discord to the banquet hall in the form of a golden apple inscribed with the words “For the Fairest.” The vain goddesses argue over who deserves the apple, and the field is narrowed down to Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite. Paris, the son of King Priam of Troy, is selected to judge. All three try to bribe Paris: Hera offers power, Athena offers success in battle, and Aphrodite offers the most beautiful woman in the world—Paris chooses Aphrodite.
Unfortunately, the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, is already married to King Menelaus of Sparta. Visiting Menelaus, Paris, with Aphrodite’s help, betrays his host’s hospitality and kidnaps Helen back to Troy. All the Greek kings have at one time courted Helen, so her mother has made them all swear to always support whomever she might choose. When Helen is abducted, the only men who resist conscription are Odysseus, who does not want to leave his home and family, and Achilles, whose mother knows he is fated to die at Troy and holds him back. In the end, however, they join the rest of the Greeks and sail united against Troy. En route, the fleet angers Artemis, who stops the winds from blowing. To appease her, the chief of the Greeks, Agamemnon, is forced to sacrifice his own daughter, Iphigenia.
The battle goes back and forth for nine years. The Trojans, led by Priam’s son, Hector, finally gain an advantage when Agamemnon kidnaps the daughter of the Trojan priest of Apollo. Achilles has warned against this, and he is justified when Apollo’s fiery arrows nearly destroy the Greek army. Calchas, a Greek prophet, convinces Agamemnon to free the girl, but Agamemnon demands a replacement in the form of Achilles’ prize female captive, Briseis. Furious, Achilles withdraws his troops from battle. Without Achilles, the Greeks seem doomed. The gods have been evenly split thus far: Aphrodite, Ares, Apollo and Artemis on the side of the Trojans; Hera, Athena, and Poseidon take the Greek side. But Thetis persuades the hitherto neutral Zeus to help the Trojans. Menelaus defeats Paris in combat, however. Aphrodite saves Paris’s life, and the armies agree to a truce. But Hera is bent on war, so she makes a Trojan named Pandarus break the truce. When the battle starts again, the great Greek warrior Diomedes nearly kills the Trojan Aeneas, whom Apollo saves. Diomedes even wounds Ares himself.
The Greeks hold their own until Zeus remembers his promise to Thetis and comes down to the battlefield. The Trojans drive the Greeks back toward their ships. That night, Agamemnon agrees to return Briseis, but when Odysseus goes to ask Achilles to accept the apology, he receives a flat refusal. The next day the Greeks lose again without Achilles and are driven even closer to their ships. But then Hera decides to seduce Zeus and give the Greeks an advantage. While the two divinities are indisposed, the great Greek warrior Ajax nearly kills Hector. Discovering the deception, Zeus angrily commands Poseidon to abandon the Greeks, and the Trojans press forward. As the Greeks near defeat, Achilles’s best friend, Patroclus, can restrain himself no longer. He convinces Achilles to lend him his armor, thinking that even if Achilles refuses to fight, he himself can help the Greeks by pretending to be Achilles and thus frightening the Trojans. Leading Achilles’ men, the Myrmidons, into battle, Patroclus fights valiantly but is killed by Hector’s spear. Achilles grieves terribly and decides to return to battle to avenge this death. Thetis, seeing she can no longer hold her son back, gives him armor made by Hephaestus himself.
The Trojans soon retreat inside their impenetrable walls through the huge Scaean gates. Only Hector remains outside, clad in Achilles’ own armor taken from Patroclus’s corpse. Hector and Achilles, the two greatest warriors of the Trojan War, finally face one another. When Hector sees that Athena stands by Achilles’ side while Apollo has left his own, he runs away from Achilles. They circle around and around the city of Troy until Athena disguises herself as Hector’s brother and makes him stop. Achilles catches up with Hector, who realizes the deception. They fight, and Achilles, aided by Athena, kills Hector with his spear. Achilles is still so filled with rage over Patroclus’s death that he drags Hector’s body over the ground, mutilating it. He takes it back to the Greek camp and leaves it beside Patroclus’s funeral pyre for dogs to devour. Such disrespect for a great warrior greatly displeases the gods, who convince Priam to visit Achilles and retrieve Hector’s body. Priam speaks to Achilles, who sees the error of his ways. The Iliad ends with Hector’s funeral.
Summary: Chapter II —The Fall of Troy
We stand at the same point of pain.
We too are slaves.
Our children are crying, calling to us with tears,
“Mother, I am all alone. . . ."
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The war itself does not end with Hector’s funeral, and Virgil continues the account. Hector is replaced by Prince Memnon of Ethiopia, a great warrior, and the Trojans have the upper hand for a time. But Achilles soon kills Memnon as well, driving the Trojans back to the Scaean gates. There, however, Paris kills Achilles with Apollo’s help: Paris shoots an arrow and the god guides it to Achilles’ heel, his one vulnerable spot. (Thetis tried to make the infant Achilles invulnerable by dunking his body in the mystical River Styx but forgot to submerge the heel by which she held him.) The Greeks decide Achilles’ divine armor should be given to either Odysseus or Ajax, the two greatest Greek warriors remaining. When Odysseus is chosen, Ajax plots revenge, but Athena makes him go crazy. Ajax massacres some cattle, then comes to his senses and, mortified, kills himself.