The Eleventh Discourse Maintaining that Troy was not Captured
I am almost certain that while all men are hard to teach, they are easy to deceive. They learn with difficulty — if they do learn anything — from the few that know, but they are deceived only too readily by the many who do not know, and not only by others but by themselves as well. For the truth is bitter and unpleasant to the unthinking, while falsehood is sweet and pleasant. They are, I fancy, like men with sore eyes — they find the light painful, while the darkness, which permits them to see nothing, is restful and agreeable. Else how would falsehood often prove mightier than the truth, if it did not win its victories through pleasure?
But though, as I have said, it is hard for men to learn, it is immensely more difficult for them to unlearn and learn over again, especially when they have been listening to falsehood for a long time, and not only they themselves, but their fathers, their grandfathers, and, generally speaking, all former generations have been deceived. For it is no easy matter to disabuse these of their opinion, no matter how clearly you show it to be wrong. I presume it is the same as when people have brought up supposititious children: it is hard to get these away from them afterwards when you tell them the truth, but if you had told them in the beginning, they would not have undertaken to rear them. So strong is this tendency that many prefer to claim bad children and to acknowledge them, to their own disadvantage, as their own, if they have originally believed them to be so, rather than good children of whom they learn long afterward.
Therefore, I should not be surprised at you, men of Ilium, if you were going to put greater faith in Homer, notwithstanding his most grievous misstatements against you, than in my present statement of the truth, and hold him to be a wise and inspired man, and to teach your children his epic from their very earliest years, though he has nothing but denunciation for your city, and untruthful at that, but should refuse to listen to me when I tell the facts as they occurred, just because I was born many years later than Homer. And yet most people say that time is the very best judge of things, but whenever they hear anything after a long lapse of time, they consider it incredible for that very reason. Now if I had the hardihood to contradict Homer before the Argives and to show the error in his poetry regarding the most important things, perhaps it would be natural for them to be angry at me and drive me from their city if they saw that I was dispelling and destroying the reputation which their city has derived from that source. You, on the other hand, should be grateful and hear me gladly, for I have been zealous in defence of your ancestors.
I wish to say at the outset that this discourse must be delivered before other audiences also, and that many will hear about it, of whom some will not comprehend it, while others will pretend to treat it lightly though they really do not, and yet others will attempt to refute its arguments, especially, I suppose, the miserable sophists. I know quite well that it will not please you, I suppose, either. For most men are so completely corrupted at heart by opinion that they would rather be notorious for the greatest calamities than suffer no ill and be unknown. Even the Argives, I believe, would not wish that the events told of Thyestes, Atreus, and the house of Pelops had happened otherwise, but would be greatly displeased if anyone disproved the myths set forth in the tragic poets by asserting that Thyestes did not defile the wife of Atreus and that the latter did not slay his brother’s sons nor cut them up and then serve their remains as a feast for Thyestes, or that Orestes did not kill his own mother. Should any man make any such assertions, they would feel aggrieved on the ground that they were being insulted. I believe, too, that the feelings of the Thebans would be exactly the same, should anyone assert that there was no truth in their tales of woe and insist that Oedipus did not kill his father or wed his mother or blind himself, or that his sons did not die before the walls, each by the other’s hand, or that the Sphinx did not come and devour the children of the city. Nay, on the contrary, they are delighted to hear that Sphinx was sent to molest them because of Hera’s anger, that Laïus was slain by his son and that Oedipus, after what he did and suffered, wandered in blindness, and that the sons of an earlier king, Amphion, who founded the city, were slain by the arrows Apollo and Artemis because they were the fairest among men. These are the themes that they can endure to hear interpreted by the flute or song in their theatres, and they offer prizes for the most pathetic interpretation of the story in words or in music; but the man who says that none of these things occurred they expel from their city. So far have the majority carried their folly, and so completely has their infatuation got the better of them. They want to be talked about as much as possible, but as to the nature of what is said, they care not a whit. Generally speaking, men are too cowardly to be willing to undergo severe suffering, since they fear death and pain, but they highly prize being mentioned as having so suffered.
But as for me, desiring neither to gain your favour nor to quarrel with Homer, much less to rob him of his fame, I shall try to show all the false statements I think he has made with regard to the events which happened here, and I shall use no other means of refuting him than his own poetry. In this I am simply defending the truth, and for Athena’s sake especially, that she may not be thought to have destroyed her own city unjustly or to have set her will against her father’s; but I speak no less in behalf of Hera and Aphrodite also. For it is passing strange that the consort of Zeus did not consider him a competent judge of her beauty unless it should be pleasing to one of the shepherds of Ida also, and that she had any contest at all with Aphrodite for the prize of beauty, she who asserted that she was the eldest of the children of Cronus, as Homer himself has expressed it in the verse,
Me as the eldest child hath Cronus the crafty begotten.
Furthermore, it is strange that she became so bitterly disposed towards Paris when she herself had entrusted the judgment to him; and yet, even in human affairs, the man who refers a dispute to arbitration does not regard the arbitrator as an enemy when the decision is not in his favour. It is strange also that Aphrodite should have bestowed a gift so scandalous, so fraught with evil and injustice, and that she was so regardless both of Helen, her own sister, and of Paris, who had decided in her favour, but rewarded the latter with such a marriage that he was destined through it to ruin himself, his parents, and his city. Furthermore, the position of Helen, in my judgment, should not be ignored either; for she, the reputed daughter of Zeus, has become through unjust report a byword for disgrace, and yet has been held as a deity among the Greeks on account of her grace. Yet, though such very serious matters are involved in the present discussion, some of the sophists will declare that I am guilty of impiety in gainsaying Homer and will seek to slander me to their wretched disciples, for whom I care less than for so many monkeys.
In the first place, they say that Homer being constrained by dire poverty, went begging throughout Greece, and yet they think such a man was unable to lie to please those whose dole he received and that he would not have recited the sort of stories that were likely to please them. Beggars of the present time, however, tell nothing but lies, we are told, and nobody would accept the evidence of any of them on any matter whatsoever or receive their praise as sincere. For every one knows that they are compelled to cajole in all they say. It has been said, further, that some gave of their bounty to Homer the beggar, and others to Homer the madman, and it is believed that the people his day held him for a madman when he told the truth rather than when he distorted it. Now on this score I certainly have no criticism to bring against Homer; for there is nothing to prevent a wise man from going begging or pretending to be mad; but I do say that, according to the opinion those men entertain of Homer and his kind, there is probably nothing trustworthy in what he said.
And, further, they do not think that falsehood was foreign to the character of Homer or that he made no use of it. Odysseus, at any rate, whom he praised most highly, he has represented as telling numerous falsehoods. He says, too, that Autolycus actually perjured himself and that he learned this from Hermes. And as regards the gods, practically every man, including his warmest admirers, admits that Homer does not speak a word of truth, and they seek to offer such excuses as this, that at such times he is not speaking his real mind but is using riddles and figures of speech. Then what is to prevent him having spoken in the same way of men also? For when a man does not frankly tell the truth about the gods, but, on the contrary, puts the matter in such a way that his readers get the wrong idea of them and without any advantage to himself either, why would he hesitate to utter any falsehood whatsoever regarding men? That he has represented the gods as suffering pain, groaning, being wounded, and almost dying; that he tells of their amours withal, of their durance vile, of their giving bonds — on these matters I do not dwell; many others have already done that. For I have no desire to impeach Homer, but only to show how the truth stands. For indeed I shall even tell in his defence what I think to be the facts. But this I do assert, that he made the freest possible use of falsehood and considered it no shame. Whether he was right in this or not, I forbear to consider now.
Omitting, then, what he has pictured concerning the gods in his poems that is shocking and unbecoming to them, I say merely this, that he did not hesitate to repeat conversations of the gods, which he says they held with one another, not only those held in open court when all the other deities were present, but also those which some had privately with one, as, for instance, when Zeus was angered at Hera for deceiving him and bringing on the defeat of the Trojans, or that previous conversation which she had with Aphrodite, in which she urged her to drug her father and lend her the love charm, to wit, the embroidered girdle — a request which she presumably made in secret. For it is unlikely even in human affairs that any outsider knows of those occasional scenes where husbands and wives fall out and abuse one another. Yet Homer has a passage in which Odysseus puts this matter properly so as not to seem a mere impostor, namely, where he tells of the debates which the gods held concerning him. For he says that he heard these debates from Calypso and that she had learned of them from someone else; but about himself Homer has made no such claim of having received his information from some god. Such utter contempt did Homer show for men, and not a whit did he care if all his statements were regarded as false. For of course he did not imagine that he would convince anyone that he knew [of his own knowledge about] the debates among the gods. He tells also of the dalliance of Zeus and Hera that occurred on Mount Idea, and what words Zeus spoke before the meeting, as though he had personally seen and heard, and apparently no obstacle was presented by the cloud in which Zeus had wrapped himself to escape being seen.
And to all this Homer has just added the finishing touch. For, not to keep us in doubt as to how he came to understand the gods, he talks to us almost as though he were acquainted with their language, tells us that it was not the same as ours, and that they do not apply the same names to the various things as we do. He draws attention to this in the case of a bird, which he says the gods call chalkis and men kymindis, and in the case of a place before Troy which men call Batieia, but the gods call the Sema Myrines. And after telling us that the river is called not Scamander but Xanthus by the gods, Homer himself proceeds to call it by this latter name in his verses, as though it were his privilege not only to mix the various dialectal forms of the Greeks freely, using now the Aeolic, now a Dorian, and now an Ionic form, but to employ even the Zeus dialect in the bargain. I have spoken in this way just as I have said, not by way of criticism, but because Homer was the boldest liar in existence and showed no less assurance and pride in his lying than in telling the truth. Thus regarded, none of my statements seems strange and incredible any longer; nay, they appear as but insignificant human falsehoods in comparison with great superhuman ones.
For when Homer undertook to describe the war between the Achaeans and the Trojans, he did not start at the very beginning, but at haphazard; and this is the regular way with practically all who distort the truth; they entangle the story and make it involved and refuse to tell anything in sequence, thus escaping detection more readily. Otherwise they are convicted by the very subject-matter. This is just what may be seen happening in courts of justice and in the case of others who lie skilfully; whereas those who wish to present each fact as it really occurred do so by reporting the first thing first, the second next, and so on in like order. This is one reason why Homer did not begin his poem in the natural way. Another is that he planned especially to do away with its beginning and its end as far as possible and to create the very opposite impression concerning them. That is why he did not dare to tell either the beginning or the end in a straightforward way and did not bind himself to say anything about them, but if he does make mention of them anywhere, it is incidental and brief, and he is evidently trying to confuse. For he was ill at ease with respect to these parts and unable to speak freely. The following device, too, is usually employed by those who wish to deceive: They mention some parts of the story and dwell upon them, but what they are particularly anxious to conceal they do not bring out clearly or when their auditor is paying attention, nor do they put it in its proper place, but where it may best escape notice. They do this, not only for the reason just mentioned, but also because lying makes them ashamed and reluctant to go on with it, especially when it is about the most important matters. And so liars do not speak aloud when they come to this part. Some of them falter and speak indistinctly, others as if they themselves did not know but spoke from hearsay. He, however, who speaks the truth, does so without fear or reserve. Now Homer was not straightforward or frank when telling of the abduction of Helen or the fall of Troy. Nay, with all that boldness which I have said he had, he nevertheless flinched and weakened because he knew he was telling the reverse of the truth and falsifying the essential part of his subject.
Or at what point of the story might Homer have more properly begun than with Paris’ wanton crime itself, which caused the war, since all the readers of his poem would then have joined in indignation and would have been eager for the outcome, and no one would have pitied the sufferings of the Trojans? For by so doing Homer would have been assured of a more sympathetic and interested audience. If, on the other hand, he wished to describe the greatest and most terrible things, all forms of suffering and calamity, and, further, to tell what everybody was yearning above all things to hear, what greater or more awe-inspiring subject could he have chosen than the capture of the city? He could not have found an event in which a greater number of people met their death or where with greater pathos men fled to the altars of their gods or fought to save their children and wives, where royal matrons and maidens were dragged away to slavery and disgrace in foreign parts, some torn from their husbands, some from their fathers, others from their brothers, and some even from the holy images, while they beheld their beloved husbands weltering in their blood and yet were unable to embrace them or to close their eyes, and beheld their helpless babes dashed cruelly to earth. Think, too, of the desecration of the sanctuaries of the gods, the plundering of stores of wealth, the whole city burnt to the very ground by the flames, the mighty cries of men, the clash of bronze, the roar of the flames as some were perishing in them and others were being hurled upon them. These things Homer makes Priam speak of as soon to come to pass, though he could perhaps have related them as actual events in any way that pleased him and with all that horror with which he was accustomed to describe other slaughters, thrilling the listener and magnifying the smallest details.
If it was his wish to tell of the death of illustrious men, how is it that he omitted the slaying of Achilles, Memnon, Antilochus, Ajax, and of Paris himself? Why did he not mention the expedition of the Amazons and that battle between Achilles and the Amazon, which is said to have been so splendid and so strange? Yet he represented the river as fighting with Achilles just for the sake of telling a marvellous tale, and also the battle between Hephaestus and the Scamander, and the mutual discomfitures, defeats, and woundings of the other gods, desiring something great and wonderful to say because he was at a loss for facts, though so many important facts were still left untouched. So from what has been said it must be acknowledged that Homer was either unintelligent and a bad judge of the facts, so that he selected the more unimportant and trivial things and left to others the greatest and most impressive, or else that he was unable, as I have said, to bolster up his falsehoods and show his poetic genius in handling those incidents whose actual nature it was his purpose to conceal.
We find this in the Odyssey also. For he tells of events in Ithaca and of the death of the suitors in his own person, but has not ventured to mention the greatest of his falsehoods — the story of Scylla, of the Cyclops, the magic charms of Circe, and further, the descent of Odysseus into the lower world. These he makes Odysseus narrate to Alcinous and his court, and there too he had Demodocus recount the story of the horse and the capture of Troy in a song of only a few lines. As it seems to me, he had made no provision for these incidents at all inasmuch as they never occurred; but as his poem grew, and he saw that men would readily believe anything, he showed his contempt for them and his desire withal to humour the Greeks and the Atreidae, by throwing everything into confusion and reversing the outcome. At the beginning he says,
O Goddess! sing the wrath of Peleus’ son,
Achilles; sing the deadly wrath that brought
Woes numberless upon the Greeks, and swept
To Hades many a valiant soul, and gave
Their limbs a prey to dogs and birds of air,
For so had Jove appointed.
In these verses he says that he will sing of the wrath of Achilles alone, and the hardships and destruction of the Achaeans, that their sufferings were many and terrible, that many perished and remained unburied, as though these were the chief incidents and worthy of poetic treatment, and that therein the purpose of Zeus was accomplished; all of which did indeed come to pass. But the subsequent shift of events, including the death of Hector, which was likely to please his hearers, he did not have in his original plan, nor the final capture of Ilium. For perhaps he had not yet planned to turn everything upside down, but later, when he wishes to state the cause of the sufferings, he drops Paris and Helen, and babbles about Chryses and that man’s daughter.
I, therefore, shall give the account as I learned it from a certain very aged priest in Onuphis, who often made merry over the Greeks as a people, claiming that they really knew nothing about most things, and using as his chief illustration of this, the fact that they believed that Troy was taken by Agamemnon and that Helen fell in love with Paris while she was living with Menelaus; and they were so thoroughly convinced of this, he said, being completely deceived by one man, that everybody actually swore to its truth.
My informant told me that all the history of earlier times was recorded in Egypt, in part in the temples, in part upon certain columns, and that some things were remembered by a few only as the columns had been destroyed, while much that had been inscribed on the columns was disbelieved on account of the ignorance and indifference of later generations. He added that these stories about Troy were included in their more recent records, since Menelaus had come to visit them and described everything just as it had occurred.
When I asked him to give this account, he hesitated at first, remarking that the Greeks are vainglorious, and that in spite of their dense ignorance they think they know everything. He maintained that no affliction more serious could befall either individual or community than when an ignoramus held himself to be most wise, since such men could never be freed from their ignorance. “And so ludicrous an effect have these men had upon you,” he continued, “that you say of another poet — Stesichorus, I believe it is — who followed Homer’s account and repeated these same stories about Helen, that he was struck blind by her as a liar and recovered his sight upon recanting. And though you tell this tale, you none the less believe that Homer’s account is true. You say, too, that Stesichorus in his palinode declared that Helen never sailed off to any place whatsoever, while certain others say that Helen was carried off by Paris but came to us here in Egypt. Yet with all this uncertainty and ignorance surrounding the matter you cannot even thus see through the deception.” This, he claimed, was due to Greek love of pleasure. Whatever they delight to hear from anyone’s lips they at once consider to be true. They give their poets full licence to tell any untruth they wish, and they declare that this is the poets’ privilege. Yet they trust them in everything they say and even quote them at times as witnesses in matters of dispute. Among the Egyptians, however, it is illegal to say anything in verse. Indeed they have no poetry at all, since they know this is but the charm with which pleasure lures the ear. “Therefore,” said he, “just as the thirsty have no need of wine, but a drink of water suffices them, so too seekers after truth have no need of verse, but it is quite enough for them to hear the unadorned truth. Poetry, however, tempts them to listen to falsehood just as wine leads to over-drinking.”
Now I shall endeavour to repeat what he told me, adding my reasons for thinking his words to be true. According to his account, Tyndareus, a wise man and a very great king, was born in Sparta. Then Leda and he had two daughters named just as we name them, Clytemnestra and Helen, and two large handsome twin sons, by far the best among the Greeks. Helen was famed for her beauty, and while yet but a little girl had many suitors and was carried off by Theseus, who was king of Athens. Whereupon her brothers straightway invaded Theseus’ country, sacked the city, and recovered their sister. They freed all the women they had captured except the mother of Theseus, whom they carried off a prisoner in retaliation; for they were a match for all Greece and could have subjugated it easily had they so wished.
I remarked that this was our account also and that, moreover, I had myself seen at Olympia in the rear chamber of the temple of Hera a memorial of that abduction upon the wooden chest dedicated by Cypselus. It represents the Dioscuri holding Helen, who is standing upon Aethra’s head pulling her hair, and there is also an inscription in ancient characters.
“Thereupon,” so he continued, “Agamemnon, who feared the sons of Tyndareus — because he knew that, though he ruled the Argives, he was a stranger and a new-comer — sought to win them over by a marriage alliance and for that reason married Clytemnestra. Helen’s hand he sought for his brother, but the Greeks to a man declared that they would not permit it, since each one of them held that she was more closely akin to himself in blood than to Menelaus, who was a descendant of Pelops. Many suitors came from outside Greece also because of Helen’s reputation for beauty and the power of her brothers and father.”
Now I thought that this last statement also was true, since the story goes that the daughter of Cleisthenes, the tyrant of Sicyon, was wooed by a man from Italy, and that Pelops, who married Hippodameia, the daughter of Oenomaüs, came from Asia, and that Theseus married one of the Amazons from the banks of the Thermodon and, as that priest maintained, Io came to Egypt as a betrothed bride and not as a heifer maddened by the gadfly.
“And,” he added, “since the great houses were accustomed, as we have seen, to make distance no barrier in forming marriage alliances with one another, it came to pass that Paris came as a suitor, trusting in the power of his father, who was the ruler of practically all Asia. Besides, Troy was not far distant, and what was especially important, the descendants of Pelops were already in power in Greece and much intercourse between the two peoples had developed. So when he arrived with a great show of wealth and a great equipage for a mere wooing — and he was strikingly handsome too — he had an interview the Tyndareus and Helen’s brothers, in which he dwelt upon Priam’s empire, the extent of his resources, and his power in general, and added that he was next in succession. Menelaus, he declared, was but a private individual, since the royal prerogative descended to the children of Agamemnon, not to him. He urged that he himself enjoyed the favour of the gods and that Aphrodite had promised him the most brilliant marriage in the world. Accordingly, he had chosen Tyndareüs’ daughter, though he might have taken someone from Asia had he desired, whether an Egyptian or an Indian princess. As for himself, he said that he was king of all other peoples from Troy to Ethiopia, for the Ethiopians were under the sway of his cousin, Memnon, who was the son of Tithonus, Priam’s brother. Many other enticements did he mention and he offered to Leda and the rest of the family gifts such as all the Greeks together could not have matched.
“He urged also that he himself was of the same stock as Helen, since Priam was descended from Zeus and he had been told that she and her brothers were also his offspring; that it did not lie with Agamemnon and Menelaus to taunt him on his origin, for they themselves were Phrygians from Mount Sipylus; Tyndareus might much better ally his family with the ruling kings of Asia than with immigrants from that country. For Laomedon too had given his daughter, Hesione, to Telamon, who came with Heracles to Troy to sue for her hand, bringing the latter along also because he was the friend and ally of Laomedon. And so Tyndareus consulted with his sons regarding these matters, and after due consideration they decided that it was not such a bad policy to ally themselves with the kings of Asia. For they saw that the house of Pelops had Clytemnestra, who was the wife of Agamemnon, and besides, if they became allied by marriage with Priam’s house, they would have control of affairs there too and nobody would stand in the way of their governing all Asia and Europe.”
Agamemnon opposed all this, but the weight of the argument was too strong for him. For Tyndareus assured him that it was quite enough for him to have become his son-in‑law and warned him that it was not at all advisable for his brother to have power equal to his own, since he might thus the more easily undermine him. Thyestes, for example, had not been loyal to Atreus. He dissuaded him most effectively, however, by urging that the other suitors from Greece would not tolerate their own rejection in his interest, neither Diomede nor Antilochus nor Achilles, but would take up arms, and so he would be in danger of making the strongest men among the Greeks his foes. It would, therefore, be better not to leave any cause for war and dissension among the Greeks. This, however, so the priest said, angered Agamemnon, but he was unable successfully to oppose Tyndareus, who was master of his own daughter; and at the same time he stood in awe of Tyndareus’ sons. Thus it was that Paris took Helen as his lawful wife after gaining the consent of her parents and brothers, and took her home with him amid great enthusiasm and rejoicing. And Priam, Hector, and all the others were delighted with the union and welcomed Helen with sacrifices and prayers.
“Then see,” continued the priest, “how foolish the opposite story is. Can you imagine it possible for anyone to have become enamoured of a woman whom he had never seen, and then, that she could have let herself be persuaded to leave husband, fatherland, and all her relatives — and that too, I believe, when she was the mother of a little daughter — and follow a man of another race? It is because this is so improbable that they got up that cock-and‑bull story about Aphrodite, which is still more preposterous. And if Paris had any thought of carrying Helen away, why was the thing permitted to happen by his father, who was no fool, but had the reputation of having great intelligence, and by his mother? What likelihood is there that Hector tolerated such a deed at the outset and then afterwards heaped abuse and reproach upon him for abducting her as Homer declares he did? Here are his words:
O luckless Paris, nobly formed,
Yet woman-follower and seducer! Thou
Shouldst never have been born, or else at best
Have died unwedded. Thy harp will not avail,
Nor all the gifts of Venus, nor thy locks,
Nor thy fair form, when thou art laid in dust.
How comes it that neither Helenus, seer though he was, nor Cassandra, the divinely inspired, nor even Antenor, reputed for his wisdom, gave a word of warning but afterwards were indignant and censured what had been done, when they could have kept Helen from their doors?
“But that you may understand the excess of absurdity and see how the lies contradict one another, I cite what is told of Heracles sacking the city a few years previously on a slight pretext, angered because Laomedon had proved himself false in not giving him the horses which he had promised.” And I recalled the verses in which Homer makes this statement:
The lion-hearted, who once came to Troy
To claim the coursers of Laomedon,
With but six ships, and warriors but a few,
He laid the city waste and made its streets
“This is another popular misstatement,” said my friend, “for how could a city that had been thus taken and reduced to a wilderness have made such a wondrous recovery in so short a time so as to become the greatest of all in Asia? And how was it that Heracles, coming with only six ships, captured it when it had long been inviolate, while the Achaeans, who came with twelve hundred ships, could not capture it? Or how did Heracles, who slew Priam’s father, his mortal enemy, suffer Priam to become king instead of appointing someone else as ruler of the country? But if it was as they say, how is that Priam and the Trojans did not dread a feud with the Greeks when they were aware that once before, and for a crime not so great, their people had lost their lives or been driven into exile? And though many recalled the capture, how is it that not one of them thought of any of these things,” cried the Egyptian, “and that not one of them stopped Paris?”
“And how in the world after coming to Greece did he become intimate with Helen, and talk to her, and finally persuade her to elope, without thinking of parents, country, husband, or daughter, or of her repute among the Greeks, nay, without fearing even her brothers, who were still living and had once before recovered her from Theseus and had not brooked her abduction? For if Menelaus was at home, how did he fail to notice what was going on, but if, on the other hand, he was away from home, how is it probable that his wife could meet and converse with a strange man and none of the others be alive to the plot, or that they should have concealed it if they knew of it; and further, that Aethra, the mother of Theseus, and she a captive, should have sailed away with her — For it was not enough that she, the daughter of Pittheus, should be a slave in Sparta, but she must deliberately follow along to Troy, and Paris conducted the affair so boldly and with such licence that it was not enough for him to abduct the wife, but he took the treasure too! — and that not a single soul should have put out after him, none of the people of Menelaus or of Tyndareus, nor Helen’s brothers, though there were ships in Laconia and, what is more, though the pair had first to get down on foot from Sparta to the coast, and the news of her abduction was probably published at once? It would have been impossible for her to go with Paris in any such way, but possible if she was given in marriage with the full consent of her kinsfolk. Thus only was it reasonable that Aethra arrived with her and that the treasures were taken along. None of these facts points to an abduction, but much rather to a marriage.
“But when, as I said, Paris married Helen and departed with her, Menelaus brooded over the failure of his suit and upbraided his brother, declaring that he had been betrayed by him. But Agamemnon was not so much concerned about him as he was fearful of Paris, who, he suspected, might interfere some time in the affairs of Greece, which concerned him now on account of his marriage with Helen. For this reason he convoked the others who had been Helen’s suitors and declared that they had one and all been outraged and Greece treated with contempt, and that the best woman among them had been given in marriage to barbarians and was gone, as though there were no one among themselves who was worthy of her. In such terms, he sought to excuse Tyndareus and urged them to forgive him as having been blinded by the gifts; but he laid the entire blame upon Paris and Priam and exhorted his countrymen to make war together upon Troy, declaring that he had great hopes of taking it if they would all join in, and of their reaping a rich harvest of booty in that event and securing dominion over the fairest of countries; for of all cities, he said, Troy was the wealthiest, and its people had been enervated by luxury. Besides, he had many relatives in Asia who belonged to the house of Pelops and would make common cause with him because they hated Priam.
“Now some of the suitors were furious on hearing these words, feeling that the occurrence was indeed a disgrace to Greece, while others expected to profit from the campaign; for the notion prevailed that Asia was a land of big things and of wealth untold. Now had it been Menelaus who had defeated them in the suit for Helen’s hand, they would not have cared themselves; nay, on the contrary, they doubtless would have rejoiced in his happiness. But as it was, they all hated Paris, each man feeling as though his own bride had been torn from him. Thus it was that the campaign began, and Agamemnon sent to demand the return of Helen on the ground that she, a Greek woman, should be married to some one of the Greeks.
“When they heard this message, the Trojans were indignant and so was Priam, but Hector in particular, since Paris had lawfully received her at her father’s hand, and Helen had consented to be his wife, and yet the Greeks dared to use such impudent language. They perceived, they said, that the Greeks were seeking a pretext for war, and that they were not the aggressors, stronger though they were, but were defending themselves from attack. This is why the Trojans held out although they were assailed a long time and suffered many hardships — not so many as Homer says, but none the less their land was being wasted and numbers of their people were perishing — because they knew that the Achaeans were in the wrong and that Paris had done nothing improper. If this had not been the case, would any of them, would any of the brothers or the father have endured it while their fellow-countrymen perished and the city was in danger of total destruction on account of Paris’ lawless act, when by the surrender of Helen they might have saved themselves? Yet according to the story, they even afterwards upon the death of Paris kept her and married her to Deïphobus, as though it were a very great boon to have her in the city and they feared she might desert them. And yet if at first it was for love of Paris that she stayed in Troy, why did she consent to stay on as the story goes, she came to love Deïphobus too? For the Trojans in all probability could have been induced to surrender her, since they were ready to do that. If she, however, had reason to fear the Achaeans, it would only have been necessary to arrive at terms of peace first. Indeed, the Achaeans would have been glad to get out of the war, since they had lost many of their best men. Enough! There was no truth in the tale of Helen’s abduction, nor were the Trojans responsible for the war, and therefore they confidently expected victory. For men fight to the last ditch when they are being wronged.
“I assure you,” the priest continued, “these things happened just as I have described them. For it is much more plausible that Tyndareus voluntarily formed a marriage alliance with the kings of Asia, that Menelaus was angered by having to give up his suit, that Agamemnon was alarmed lest the descendants of Priam should get control of Greece, hearing, as he did, that his own forefather, Pelops, who came from that same Asia, gained control of the Peloponnesus by his connection with Oenomaüs, and that the remaining leaders took part in the war, each with revenge rankling in his heart because he had not been the accepted suitor — this, I say, is much more plausible than that Paris fell in love with a woman he did not know and that his father permitted him to sail on such an enterprise, although, according to the story, Troy had but recently been taken by the Greeks and Priam’s father, Laomedon, slain; and that afterwards in spite of the war and their countless hardships the Trojans refused to surrender Helen either when Paris was living or after he died, although they had no hope for safety; much more reasonable than that Helen gave her affection to a stranger with whom she had probably never come in contact at all and shamefully abandoned her fatherland, relatives, and husband to come to a people who hated her. How incredible too that no one should have nipped all these doings in the bud, or sought to catch her while she was hurrying to the sea, and on foot too, or pursued after she had embarked, and that the mother of Theseus, an elderly woman, who certainly hated Helen, should have accompanied her on the journey. Afterwards too it is just as unlikely that on the death of Paris, whom they say Helen loved, she should have been the wife of Deïphobus — I suppose because Aphrodite had promised her to him also — and that not only she should have been unwilling to return to her husband, but that the Trojans should not have been unwilling, until their city was captured, to surrender her through compulsion. All that is improbable and indeed impossible. The same applies also to the following.
“According to Homer, all the other Greeks, in spite of the fact that they had but a secondary interest in the dispute, took part in the expedition, while Castor and Pollux, who had been most deeply injured, did not go. Homer in veiling this blunder has represented Helen as expressing her astonishment and then, made excuse for them himself by saying that they had died before this. Hence it is evident that they were still living when she was carried off. And yet did they wait ten years for Agamemnon to waste time and muster an army instead of pursuing their sister at once in the hope of taking her on the voyage if possible, or else waging war with their own force if they failed? I cannot believe that they would have proceeded at once against Theseus, a man of Greek blood and peerless in valour, a ruler also of many and a comrade of Heracles and Peirithoüs with Thessalians and Boeotians to help him, and yet would not have proceeded against Paris but would have waited ten years for the Atreidae to muster their forces. Why, perhaps we should have expect Tyndareus himself to go and to find his years no hindrance. He certainly was not older than Nestor or Phoenix either, nor was it any more fitting for them to feel resentment than for the father himself. Yet neither he nor his sons came nor did they approve of the expedition. The reason was, in fact, that they had voluntarily given Helen in marriage since they preferred Paris to the other suitors on account of the greatness of his kingdom and his manly qualities, for he was no man’s inferior in character. So neither did those men come to fight nor anyone from Lacedaemon; nay, it is also untrue that Menelaus led the Lacedaemonians and was king of Sparta while Tyndareus was yet alive. It would have been strange indeed if Nestor, neither previous to his departure nor afterwards on his return from Troy, ceded his royal power and realm to his sons because of his age, and yet Tyndareus made way for Menelaus. These considerations also certainly raise serious difficulties.
“Now when the Achaeans arrived, they were at first prevented from making a landing, and Protesilaüs with many others was slain in trying to force one. They therefore sailed across to the Chersonese after recovering their dead under truce, and there Protesilaüs was buried. After this they sailed around, effected a landing in the country, and sacked some of the towns, whereupon Paris and Hector brought all the country folk into the city, but left the small towns on the coast to their fate through inability to furnish help everywhere. The enemy then sailed back to the harbour of the Achaeans and landed under of darkness, built a wall about their ships, and dug a trench because they feared Hector and the Trojans, and made preparations as if it were they who expected a siege.
“Now while the Egyptians agree with Homer on the other points, they insist that he does not speak of the wall as having been finished, their reason being that he has represented Apollo and Poseidon as having at a later time sent the rivers against it and swept it away. The most plausible explanation of it all was merely the foundations of the wall that were inundated. Indeed, even in our day the rivers still make a marsh of the place and have deposited silt far out into the sea.
“In the years that followed, the Greeks both did and suffered damage. However, not many pitched battles were fought, since they did not dare to approach the city because of the number and courage of the inhabitants. Skirmishes and forays there were on the part of the Greeks, and it was thus that Troïlus, still a boy, perished, and Mestor and many others; for Achilles was very skilful in laying ambushes and making night attacks. In this way he almost caught and slew Aeneas upon Mount Ida and many others throughout the country, and he captured any forts that were poorly guarded. For the Achaeans had only a foothold for their camp and did not control the country. Here is a proof: Troïlus would never have ventured outside the walls for exercise, and far from the city too, nor would the Achaeans have tilled the Chersonese, as all agree they did, if they had been in control of the Troad, nor would they have gone to Lemnos for wine.
“As the Achaeans met with misfortune in the war and realized none of their expectations, while more and more allies were flocking to the Trojans, hunger and disease began to oppress them and dissension broke out among their leaders, as generally happens to the unsuccessful side, not to the victors. Even Homer acknowledges this, since he could not hide all the facts. For example, he tells how Agamemnon called an assembly of the Greeks as though intending to withdraw his army, undoubtedly because the troops were dissatisfied and wished to go home; how, too, the mob rushed to the ships, and Nestor and Odysseus barely managed to restrain them by invoking an old prophecy and declaring that their patience was required but a little while longer. Yet in an earlier passage Agamemnon affirms that the seer who made this prophecy was never a true prophet.
“So far in the order of events Homer evidently does not treat his readers so cavalierly, but adheres to the truth fairly well except in regard to the abduction; this he does not relate in his own person as having taken place, but depicts Hector as upbraiding Paris, Helen as lamenting to Priam, and Paris himself as alluding to it in his interview with Helen, although this fact should have been presented with especial clearness and the greatest care. A further exception is the account of the single combat. For since Homer cannot say that Menelaus slew Paris, he favours him with an empty honour and with a victory that is ridiculous by saying that his sword broke. Pray was it impossible for him to use Paris’ sword — when he was at any rate strong enough to drag him alive to the Achaeans, armour and all — but did he have to choke him with the strap of his helmet? The single combat between Ajax and Hector is also a pure fabrication, and its ending is very absurd. Here again Ajax conquers, but there is no finality, and the two make gifts to one another as if they were friends!
“But immediately after this Homer gives the true account, telling of the defeat and rout of the Achaeans, Hector’s mighty deeds, and the numbers of the slain, as he had promised to do, and yet with a certain reluctance and a desire to enhance Achilles’ glory. Still he calls the city ‘beloved of the gods,’ and has Zeus say frankly that of all the cities beneath the sun he had loved Ilium best, and Priam and his people. Yet afterwards when the shell fell other side up, as the expression is, he made such a complete volte-face as to destroy that most beloved of cities most miserably on account of one man’s crime, if crime there was. However, Homer cannot ignore the story of Hector’s exploits when he routed and pursued the enemy even to the ships, and all the bravest were terror-stricken at the sight of him. Now he compares him to Ares, and again he says that his strength is like that of fire and not a single one dares to confront him, while Apollo stands at his side and Zeus from above signals his approval with wind and thunder. Homer is reluctant to state these things so frankly, yet since they are true, he cannot refrain when once he has started. Then there is that dreadful night of discouragement in the camp, Agamemnon’s panic fear and lamentation, that midnight council, too, at which they deliberated on the method of flight, and that appeal to Achilles in the hope that he might find it possible after all to give them some aid.
“For the following day Homer does grant some ineffectual display of prowess to Agamemnon, and to Diomede, Odysseus, and Eurypylus, and he says that Ajax did fight stoutly, but that the Trojans straightway gained the upper hand and Hector pursued them to the Achaean rampart and the ships. In this part of his narrative he is also evidently telling the truth and what really occurred, carried away as he is by the facts themselves. But when he glorifies the Achaeans, he is terribly embarrassed, and anyone can see that he is dealing in fiction: when, for instance, he has Ajax conquer Hector twice, but both times without result, once in the single combat and once again with the stone; again when Diomede conquers Aeneas, this time too without any result beyond merely capturing his horses, a statement that could not be disproved. So not knowing what to credit the Achaeans with, he tells how Ares and Aphrodite were wounded by Diomede. In all such accounts it is clear that he is partial to the Achaeans and eager to extol them, but that, not knowing of anything to say that is true, he is led in his embarrassment to mention impossible and impious deeds — the usual experience of all who oppose the truth.
“In the case of Hector, however, he shows no such a loss for something great and splendid to say — because, I believe, he is telling of actual events. Nay, he says that all fled pell-mell, even the bravest, whose names he gives, that neither Idomeneus stood his ground, nor Agamemnon, nor the two Ajaxes, but only Nestor, and he because he was forced to do so, and that he was almost captured; but that Diomede came to his relief, put on a bold front for a short time, then straightway wheeled about and fled — because, forsooth, some thunderbolts deterred him! Finally, Homer tells how the trench was crossed, the ship-station besieged and the gates broken down by Hector, how the Achaeans were now crowded into their ships and all the war centred around the huts, how Ajax fights above on the ships and is finally dislodged by Hector and retires, while some of the ships are set on fire. For here there is no Aeneas snatched away by Aphrodite, no Ares wounded by a mortal, nor any other such incredible tales; nay, here are true events, and they resemble actual occurrences. After this defeat the men who had been so completely crushed could by no possibility have renewed the struggle or even regained courage so as to be helped at all by the trench or the rampart, or even so as to save their ships. For where now was any such strength to be found or any hero so invincible and possessed of a god’s might, that they who were already lost could have been saved by his appearance? How insignificant, for instance, was the number of Myrmidons compared with that of the entire Trojan army! — or the strength of Achilles, who was certainly not going to fight then for the first time, but had time and again in the many years preceding engaged in conflict, and yet neither slain Hector nor performed any other great exploit beyond capturing Troïlus, who was still a boy in years!
“However, on reaching this point in his narrative Homer had no further concern for the truth but carried his shamelessness to extremes. He simply turned all the events topsy-turvy and reversed them, holding his hearers in contempt because he saw how easily they were duped in other matters, and particularly about the gods. Besides, there were no other poets or authors where one could read the truth, but he was the first who applied himself to the recording of these events, though he composed his poem many generations after the actual occurrences, when those who had known the facts had passed away along with their descendants, and only an obscure and uncertain tradition survived, as is to be expected in the case of events that have occurred in the distant past. Moreover, he intended to recite his epics to the masses and the common people, at the same time overstating the achievements of the Greeks, so that even the wiser persons would not refute him. Thus it was that he went so far as to represent the opposite of what actually occurred.
“For instance, when Achilles came to their aid during the assault on the ships, of necessity for the most part and to save his own skin, there was,” so the Egyptian claimed, “a partial rout of the Trojans, who withdrew from the ships forthwith, and the fire was quenched because Achilles had fallen upon them by surprise; and, in addition to the general retreat, Hector himself withdrew beyond the trench and the narrow space about the encampment, stoutly contesting each step, however, as Homer himself admits. Then when they clashed and engaged again, Achilles and his followers fought most brilliantly and slew great numbers of the Trojans and their allies, notably Sarpedon, king of the Lycians and a reputed child of Zeus; and at the river ford there was a great slaughter of the fleeing Trojans, not fleeing in headlong confusion, however, but repeatedly turning to make a stand.
Meanwhile Hector, experienced as he was in discerning the critical moment in a fight, kept on his guard, and as long as Achilles possessed his full strength and fought with youthful vigour, avoided him, contenting himself with cheering the others on. But later he noticed that Achilles was at last growing fatigued and had lost a great measure of his original impetus because he had not spared his strength in that struggle, and that he was exhausted by his reckless plunge into the river, swollen beyond its wont, and had been wounded by Asteropaeus, the son of Paeon. Then he saw, too, that Aeneas had engaged Achilles and, after a prolonged fight, had come off in safety at the moment he desired, and that the latter, rushing in pursuit of Agenor, had not been able to overtake him — and yet it was in this very point that Achilles chiefly excelled, in that he was reckoned the swiftest of foot. And so it had become clear to Hector, a master in the art of war, that in view of all these conditions Achilles was an easy prey. Accordingly he boldly confronted him in the open plain. At first he gave way as if in open flight, but with the real purpose of testing him and, at the same time, wearying him by now making a stand and now fleeing. Then when he noted that he lagged and fell behind, he himself turned and fell upon Achilles, who was no longer able even to support his arms. He gave him battle, slew him, and, just as Homer has told it, possessed himself of his arms. He pursued the horses of Achilles too,” said the Egyptian priest, “but he did not bring them in though they too were caught. The two Ajaxes with great difficulty managed to bring back the body of Achilles to the ships; for the Trojans, now feeling relieved and believing that they were victorious, were pressing on with less energy; while Hector, after donning the emblazoned arms of Achilles, continued the slaughter and pressed on in pursuit to the sea, just as Homer admits. Night fell, however, and prevented the burning of all the ships.
“Yet in the face of these facts, Homer, finding it impossible to conceal the truth, says it was Patroclus who attacked with the Myrmidons after taking Achilles’ arms, that it was he who was slain by Hector, and that Hector in this manner won the arms. And yet when the army was beset with so great peril, when the ships were now ablaze, and danger was almost at his own doors, how was it possible for Achilles, hearing that Hector declared he had found no foeman worthy of his steel and that Zeus was helping him and showing him signs of his favour, to remain in his tent, great champion that he was, if he really desired the salvation of the Achaeans, and to send a hero much his inferior and exhort him to lay on manfully and beat back the Trojans, only not only to engage with Hector? For it was quite impossible, I imagine, for Patroclus to choose with whom he would fight when once he had set forth. But although he had such a poor opinion of Patroclus and distrusted him, did Achilles entrust his force to him, and his own weapons and horses, an insane course which no one would adopt regarding his own interests unless he wished to ruin everything? Then did he pray Zeus to bring back Patroclus with all his arms and comrades, while sending him forth so foolishly against a mightier man whose challenge to the bravest and one was willing to accept, and whom Agamemnon declared frankly even Achilles so feared that he shrank from encountering him? Consequently, after making this plan, he lost, as Homer admits, both his comrade and many other men, while he almost lost his horses too, and did lose his arms. Now Achilles would never have done such things unless he was out of his senses, and if this had been the case, Phoenix would certainly have restrained him.
“But, says Homer, Achilles did not wish to free the Achaeans from their peril speedily, not until he should receive his gifts. Besides, he had not yet given over his anger. But what was there to prevent his coming forth and then nursing his wrath as long as he wished? Homer is aware of this inconsistency and hints that he tarried in his tent on account of a certain prophecy that declared he would surely die if he went out, thus laying the charge of cowardice squarely at his door. And yet on the strength of this prophecy he might have withdrawn from the expedition after his quarrel with Agamemnon. But what is more to the point, it happens that he had heard the warning which his mother gave with reference to Patroclus, whom he declares he loves as his own soul and after whose death he would wish to live no longer. Yet when he saw him unable to lift the spear, he gave him the other things that were evidently proportionate in weight to the spear and did not fear that he would be unable to carry them. And this is just what Homer says did happen in the battle.
“But it would be a long task to show up every misstatement. To any careful observer the falsehoods are self-evident, so much so that anyone with half a mind can see that Patroclus is little more than a counterfeit that Homer has substituted for Achilles in his eagerness to conceal the truth concerning that hero.
“Then Homer had a misgiving that there might actually be some search for the tomb of Patroclus — it would naturally be, I suppose, clearly marked just as are the tombs of the other chieftains also who were slain at Troy — so, safeguarding himself against this, he says that Patroclus had no separate tomb but was buried with Achilles. Again, Nestor, who brought back the bones of Antilochus with him from Troy, did not ask to be buried with him, although Antilochus died for him, but the ashes of Achilles were mingled with those of Patroclus.
“Now it was Homer’s especial aim to throw a veil over the death of Achilles and create the impression that he did not die at Troy; but seeing the impossibility of this, since the tradition prevailed and his tomb was being pointed out, Homer, suppressing the account of his death by Hector’s hand, makes the contrary statement that the latter, who was so far superior to all other men, was slain by Achilles, adding that his corpse was dishonoured and dragged as far as the walls. Knowing, too, that there was a tomb of Hector where he was honoured by the citizens, Homer goes on to say that his body was returned by command of Zeus upon payment of a ransom, Aphrodite and Apollo having in the meanwhile cared for its preservation. But not knowing what disposition to make of Achilles — for he must have been slain by some one of the Trojans, since Homer had no idea of representing him as dying by his own hand as he did Ajax, thereby denying his slayer the glory of the deed — Homer says that Paris slew him, Paris, whom he has depicted as the most base and cowardly of the Trojans, and as having been almost captured alive by Menelaus, whom he has depicted as being always reviled as a faint-hearted spearman and a name of reproach among the Greeks; and he does this, we see, in order to steal the glory for Hector — who undoubtedly slew Achilles — thus making the hero’s end much less creditable than it really was and much more inglorious.
“Finally, he brings forth Achilles, who was in fact already slain, and has him do battle with the Trojans. But his arms are not at hand but are in Hector’s possession — for here Homer did permit one truth to escape his lips — and so he says that Thetis brought from heaven the arms made by Hephaestus, letting Achilles in this way, forsooth, rout the Trojans single-handed — a ridiculous conception, wherein Homer has ignored all the other Achaeans as though not a single man were available. And having once given himself the liberty of making this misrepresentation, he went on to distort the entire story. At this point he makes the gods fight with one another, thus virtually acknowledging his utter disregard for the truth. Moreover, he recounts Achilles’ heroic deeds in a manner very weak and unconvincing. Now the hero is fighting with a river, now threatening Apollo and pursuing him, the entire narrative at this point showing how well-nigh desperate the poet was. For when he is telling the truth, he is not so unconvincing or dull. Once when the Trojans were hard bestead to withdraw safely into the city, Homer has represented the splendid heroism with which Hector awaited Achilles outside the city walls, deaf to the prayers of father and mother. Then he circles the city in flight when he might have entered it, and Achilles is unable to catch him, though he is always represented by Homer as the swiftest of men. Meanwhile all the Achaeans were looking on as if attending a show, and none rendered Achilles any help after all they had suffered at Hector’s hands and though they so hated him that they afterwards even wounded his dead body. Then he makes Deïphobus come forth from the walls — or, rather, Athena in his guise — and deceive Hector and steal his spear from him in the duel, the poet being at his wits’ end how to despatch Hector, and dazed as it were by his falsehood, so that he actually describes the fight as if in a dream. At any rate the account of that struggle bears the closest resemblance to a nightmare.
“When he reached this point, Homer gave up, not knowing how to continue his work and being dissatisfied with his falsehoods. He merely added some sort of funeral games, a perfectly ridiculous thing, then the arrival of king Priam in the Greek camp at the tent of Achilles without the knowledge of any of the Achaeans, and the ransom of Hector. But of the help which Memnon and the Amazons brought, great and splendid episodes though they were, not a word did he venture to speak, nor of the death of Achilles, nor of the capture of Troy. Homer, methinks, did not have the heart to depict Achilles, who had long been dead, as being slain again, or the defeated and routed as victorious, or this conquering city as being sacked. Then later writers, because they were deceived and the falsehood was now generally accepted, henceforth wrote without misgiving. But the actual course of events was as I have given it.
“Now when Achilles, in his defence of the ships, had been slain by Hector, the Trojans, just as they had done before, bivouacked hard by the ships in order to keep watch on the Achaeans, who they suspected would flee during the night. But Hector, rejoicing in his success, withdrew into the city to be with his parents and wife, leaving Paris in command of the forces. He with the host of the Trojans lay down to rest, as was natural, since they were exhausted and suspected no evil and, moreover, had been completely successful. But meanwhile, after Agamemnon had taken counsel with Nestor, Odysseus, and Diomede, they quietly launched the majority of the ships, realizing that on the preceding day they had come near being destroyed, so even flight would not again be possible; and in fact a considerable part of the fleet had fallen prey to the flames, not merely the one ship of Protesilaus. Having launched their ships, therefore, they sailed off to the Chersonese, leaving behind many of their prisoners and a good deal of their other property.
“In the morning when the fact became evident, Hector was filled with angry indignation and upbraided Paris for letting the enemy escape out of his hands. The Trojans then burned the huts and plundered what had been left behind, while the Achaeans, after taking counsel from their position of safety — for Hector and his people had no fleet in hand in which to cross over to attack them — unanimously decided to withdraw, since they had lost many of their people and their bravest warriors. There was the danger, however, that the Trojans might build themselves ships and sail at once against Greece. They were therefore obliged to remain and live by plundering as at first, in the hope of making peace with Paris when he became wearied, and departing after establishing friendly relations. They did as they had decided and remained across the water.
“At this juncture Memnon came from Ethiopia to aid the Trojans, and the Amazons from Pontus, as well as other allies in great numbers when they learned that Priam and Hector were successful and that the Achaeans now were all but utterly destroyed. Some came out of friendship, others fearing the power of Troy, since it is not those who have met with defeat or are in sore straits but those who have conquered and overcome all their enemies that everyone is eager to help. The Achaeans also sent for whatever reinforcements they had at home, for no one outside of Greece any longer paid any heed whatsoever to them. Thus it was that Neoptolemus, son of Achilles, came although he was still very young, and Philoctetes, hitherto neglected because of his ailment, and other equally poor and feeble recruits from home. Upon their arrival the Achaeans having revived their strength, recrossed to Troy, and threw up another much smaller wall, not in the same place as previously along the shore, but on the higher part of it, which they seized. Some of the ships lay at anchor close to this rampart, others remained across the water. For since the Greeks had no hope of winning but wished to make terms, as I have said, they did not prosecute the war vigorously, but in a somewhat half-hearted way and with their minds set rather upon returning home.
“They resorted to ambush, therefore, and guerilla warfare for the most part; but on one occasion, when an unusually fierce struggle arose over an attempt of the Trojans to raze their stronghold, Ajax was slain by Hector, and Antilochus, while defending his father, by Memnon. But Memnon too was wounded by Antilochus and died while being carried off the field. Then too it was that the Achaeans enjoyed a period of success as never before. For not only was Memnon, who was held in great esteem, wounded mortally but the Amazon also, who flung herself upon the ships with unusual ferocity and tried to fire them, was killed by Neoptolemus, who fought from his ship with a naval pike; and Paris was slain, pierced by Philoctetes’ arrow. Thus the Trojans in turn were disheartened and wondered whether they ever would be rid of the war or any advantage would redound to them through victory. Priam too was a changed man after the death of Paris, through his deep grief for him and his fear for Hector, while the deaths of Antilochus and Ajax left the Achaeans in a much weaker condition. The result was that they sent an embassy offering to withdraw as soon as peace was made and oaths taken that the one people would not invade Asia nor the other, Argos. Thereupon Hector spoke against this, for the Trojans, he said, were far stronger and would capture the fortification by assault; but what angered him most was the death of Paris. However, upon the appeal of his father, who urged his fullness of years and the loss of his sons, and influenced by the desire of the people of the city to be relieved of the war, he consented to the cessation of hostilities, but insisted that the Achaeans pay the expenses of the war and make reparation because they had been the aggressors, had pillaged the country for many years, and had slain Paris along with many other brave warriors, not because he had done them any injury but because he had been preferred in the wooing of Helen and had won a wife from Hellas, given by those who had the right to do so. Against this, Odysseus, who was a member of the peace embassy, protested, pointing out that the achievements of the Achaeans were no less than their defeats and was for laying the blame for the war upon their enemies. Paris, he thought, had no business, when there were so many women in Asia, to go from there to Greece to sue for a wife and then return after snapping his fingers at her chieftains and triumphing through the power of his wealth. His errand, he insisted, had been no simple courtship; nay, they were not oblivious of the fact that by its means Paris was plotting against Greek interests. He therefore insisted that this be given up for the future, since both sides had suffered so much, and that too although the Atreidae were already connected with the Trojans by marriage ties and kinship through Pelops. With regard to indemnity, he had only ridicule. The Greeks, he said, had no means; nay, even the larger part of the army was serving voluntarily on account of the poverty of the mainland. This he urged to deter the Trojans from a campaign against Greece, and said that if any indemnity should be necessary for propriety’s sake, he was ready with a plan. For the Greeks would leave a very large and beautiful offering to Athena and carve upon it this inscription: “A Propitiation from the Achaeans to Athena of Ilium.” This, he explained, conferred great honour upon the Trojans and stood against the Greeks as an evidence of their defeat. He exhorted Helen also to interest herself in the peace, and she gladly lent her help, for it pained her that she was blamed for the many misfortunes of the Trojans. So hostilities were brought to an end, and a truce was made between the Trojans and the Achaeans. But here too Homer has distorted the facts though he knew what occurred. He says that the Trojans broke the truce; and Hector and Agamemnon together with the other prominent chieftains had only sworn to each other that the Achaeans would never invade Asia so long as the family of Priam was on the throne, and that the descendants of Priam would not invade the Peloponnese, Boeotia, Crete, Ithaca, Phthia, or Euboea. These were the only countries that they specified; as regards the others, the Trojans refused to give their oath, nor were the Atreidae insistent. When this compact had been sworn to, the horse, a huge structure, was completed by the Achaeans and conveyed up to the city by the Trojans, who removed a portion of the walls when the gates did not admit its passage. Hence the ridiculous story of the capture of the city by the horse. The army departed under truce in this way. Then Hector gave Helen to Deïphobus as his wife, for he was the best of the brothers next to himself. His father died as the most fortunate man in the world except for the grief he bore for the sons who had perished. Hector too died full of years at the end of a long reign after subduing most of Asia, and was buried outside the city. His kingdom he left to his son Scamandrus.”
Though this is the true account, I see clearly that no one will accept it, but that all save the thoughtful will declare it to be false. By “all” I mean you as well as the Greeks. For calumny is extremely hard to overcome, and especially when men have been deceived for a long time. But rid yourselves of your opinions and prejudices and consider how ridiculous the opposite story is. A whole army was hidden in a horse and yet not a single Trojan noticed it or even surmised it in spite of the fact that they had an unerring prophetess among them, but by their own efforts they brought the enemy within the city. Then before this, when all were defeated, one man appeared unarmed and proved able by the power of his voice to put to flight so many thousands; and after this, being without arms, he received fresh weapons from heaven and overwhelmed the victors of but the previous day and unaided chased them all from the field. Can you believe, further, that this same Achilles, so pre-eminent a hero, was slain by the most faint-hearted man in the world, as the Trojans themselves confess, that while one man was slain it was another who was stripped of his arms, and that this hero was the only one among the chieftains to be given no burial-place; that yet another, and he one of the bravest, who fought so many years, was saved from the hands of the enemy only to slay himself in a fit of anger, and that although he was looked upon as the most dignified and gentle-mannered among the allies? And finally, the poet, who set out to tell of the Trojan war, omitted the most glorious and important events and did not even give an account of the capture of the city!
The following are some of the things that he mentions in his poem:— When the Achaeans had already been worsted, and more than once, Achilles’ own force included, and he was the sole survivor, he made a great change in the situation by slaying Hector and was himself slain by Paris, who was the meanest of the Trojans, as they themselves admit, and when Patroclus was slain, it was Achilles whose body was stripped and whose arms were taken, while Patroclus was not buried. Then since there was a grave of Ajax and everyone knew that he died at Troy, he slew himself simply to deprive the man who slew him of honour! The Achaeans fled in silence from Asia after burning their huts, and their naval camp was set on fire by Hector and their rampart captured. Then they erected a votive offering to Athena and carved an inscription upon it, as is the custom for the vanquished, but none the less they captured Troy and an army of men was hidden in the wooden horse. The Trojans suspected what was afoot and purposed to burn the wooden horse or cut it to pieces, and yet did neither the one nor the other, but ate and slept, in spite of Cassandra’s forewarning too. Does not all this in reality remind one of dreams and wild fiction? In the book “Dreams” by Horus people have such experiences, imagining at one time that they are being killed and their bodies stripped of arms and that they rise to their feet again and fight unarmed, at other times imagining they are chasing somebody or holding converse with the gods or committing suicide without any cause for the act, and at times, possibly, flying offhand or walking on the sea. For this reason one might well call Homer’s poetry a kind of dream, obscure and vague at that.
The following also is worth thinking about along with what has been said above. Everybody is agreed that the stormy season had already set in when the Achaeans sailed from Asia and that for this reason the greater part of their expedition came to grief off Euboea; further, that they did not all take the same course, since a division arose in the army and between the Atreidae, some joining Agamemnon, others Menelaus, while yet others, whom Homer mentions in the Odyssey, departed by themselves. For it is reasonable to suppose that if things were going well, there would have been unanimity and the fullest obedience to the king, and that Menelaus would not have quarrelled with his brother just after receiving the great favour from him; but in defeat and failure all such things are sure to happen. Be it noted also that when an army is in fear and flight, it retires with the greatest speed from the enemy’s country and takes no chances by remaining, while a victorious army that has added to its own resources a great number of prisoners and great supplies awaits the safest moment for withdrawing, since it both controls the country itself and has a great abundance of everything, but would not, after waiting ten years, have come within a little of being wholly destroyed.
The domestic disasters also which befell those who reached their homes are not the least evidence of their discomfiture and weakness. It is certainly not the rule for attacks to be made on men who are victorious and successful. Such men are feared and admired. The unsuccessful, however, are held in contempt by outsiders and even by some of their own kinsfolk. It was undoubtedly because of his defeat that Agamemnon was despised by his wife, that Aegisthus attacked and easily overcame him, and that the Argives took the matter into their own hands and made Aegisthus king. They would not have done it had he slain an Agamemnon who had returned with all his glory and power after conquering Asia. Diomede too, who won a reputation second to no one in the war, was exiled from his home, and so was Neoptolemus, whether by Hellenes or by certain others. Then soon after they were all driven from the Peloponnese and the family of the Pelopidae came to an end because of this calamity, while the Heraclidae, hitherto a weak and despised family, came in with Dorians.
Odysseus, however, delayed voluntarily, in part because he was ashamed, and in part because he suspected the situation; and on account of this, the youth of Cephallenia set themselves to court Penelope and seize his property, while of Odysseus’ friends not one came to his aid, not even Nestor though so near. For all who had taken part in the expedition were humbled and in poor circumstances; whereas, had they conquered, they would necessarily have inspired fear in all and no one would have attacked them.
Menelaus did not return to the Peloponnesus at all but remained in Egypt. Among other proofs of his arrival there is the fact that a province was named after him; which would not have been the case had he been a wanderer and stayed for only a short period. But he married the king’s daughter and told the priests the story of the expedition, concealing nothing. One could almost say that Homer is not only well acquainted with all this account, but also that he is hinting at it when he says that Menelaus was sent by the gods after his death to the Elysian fields, where there is neither snow nor storm but sunshine and balmy air throughout the year, for such is the climate of Egypt. It seems to me that some of the later poets too have an inkling of the facts. One of the tragic poets, for instance, says that Helen immediately upon her return was the object of Orestes’ plotting and that on the appearance of her brothers she was not to be found. Now the poet would never have so represented it in his play had it been an established fact that Helen lived in Greece after the war, and as the wife of Menelaus.
This is the gloomy and weak state into which the fortune of Greece fell after the war, while that of Troy became much brighter and more glorious. On the one hand, Aeneas was sent by Hector with a large fleet and force of men and occupied Italy, the most favoured country in Europe; and, on the other, Helenus penetrated into the interior of Greece and became king of the Molossians and of Epeirus near Thessaly. And yet which was the more probable: that a vanquished people should sail to the land of their conquerors and reign among them, or that, on the contrary, the victors should sail to the land of the conquered? Furthermore, if, when Troy fell, Aeneas, Antenor, Helenus, and their people fled, why did they not betake themselves anywhere else rather than to Greece and Europe, or content themselves with occupying some place in Asia, rather than sail straight to the land of those who had driven them out? And how did they all come to rule over regions by no means small or obscure, when they might have seized Greece also? But, one says, they refrained on account of their oaths. Still, Helenus cut off no small part of it, namely, Epirus. Then Antenor acquired dominion over the Heneti and the very best land about the Adriatic, while Aeneas became master of all Italy and founded the greatest city in the world. Now it does not stand to reason that men driven into exile and crushed by calamities at home accomplished such things, but rather that they would have been satisfied to be allowed to settle anywhere, especially when one considers with what humble resources whether of men or of money they would have had to come, fleeing through the midst of the enemy, their city lying in ashes and everything lost, when it would have been hard for the young and vigorous to save even their lives, to say nothing of setting forth with wives, children, parents, and property, when, to make matters worse, their city had been taken suddenly and contrary to their expectation, and they would not have departed gradually as men are wont to do when there has been a formal agreement. Nay, what did happen was a thing that could happen.
The story goes that after the Achaeans sailed away there was a great multitude assembled in the city, and that the allies were not all inclined to depart, and that, further, Hector discovered that Aeneas would not be satisfied if he did not get some share in the royal power, as Priam had promise him, so he claimed, if he saw the war through to the end and expelled the Achaeans; so Hector sent the colonists forth, generously supplying means and despatching with Aeneas as large a force as he wished, with all goodwill. He assured Aeneas that he was fully entitled to reign and have an authority no whit inferior to his own, but that it was better for him to get another country; because it was not impossible for Aeneas to become master of all Europe, and in that event he had hopes that their descendants would be rulers of both continents as long as their race endured. Accordingly, Aeneas adopted the suggestion of Hector, partly to please him, partly because he hoped to achieve greater things. So thanks to vigour and spirit the colony became an actuality and under the guidance of fortune’s favourites was a power at once and in future times. Then Antenor, so they say, on observing Aeneas’ preparations, likewise desired to get a kingdom in Europe. So another similar expedition was fitted out. The story adds that Helenus, complaining that he was getting less than Deïphobus, petitioned his father, obtained a fleet and army, and sailed to Greece as though it were waiting for him, and occupied all the territory from which the treaties did not exclude him. And so it happened that when Diomede in exile from Argos heard of Aeneas’ expedition, he came to him, since peace and friendship existed between them, and asked for his help, after relating the misfortunes that had befallen Agamemnon and himself. Aeneas welcomed him and his little fleet of ships and gave him a small part of his army, since he had brought all the country under his sway. Later those Achaeans who had been driven out by the Dorians, not knowing in their weak condition which way to turn, made their way to Asia and to the descendants of Priam and Hector as to friends and allies, and then, with the friendly consent of these, founded Lesbos, whose inhabitants allowed them to do so through friendship, and other not inconsiderable places.
If anyone does not accept this account under the influence of the old view, let him know that he is unable to get free of error and distinguish truth from falsehood. The fact that a thing has long been accepted by foolish people is not a weighty consideration nor the fact that the falsehoods were current among those of former times. You see, in regard to many other matters also men differ and hold contrary views. In regard to the Persian War, for instance, some hold that the naval engagement off Salamis took place after the battle of Plataea, others that the affair at Plataea was the last of the events; yet a record was made immediately after the events occurred. For most people have no accurate knowledge. They merely accept rumour, even when they are contemporary with the time in question, while the second and third generations are in total ignorance and readily swallow whatever anyone says; as, for example, when people speak of the Scirite company in the Lacedaemonian army, which, as Thucydides says, never existed, or when the Athenians give the highest honours to Harmodius and Aristogeiton, under the impression that they had freed the city and slain the tyrant. But why speak of human affairs when people maintain and dare to say that Uranus was mutilated by Cronus, and the latter by Zeus? Just as soon as anyone has thought of an absurdity, as often happens, it is absurd to refuse to believe it.
But I wish to offer a defence in behalf of Homer by saying that there is nothing wrong in accepting his fictions. First, they are much less serious than the falsehoods told about the gods. Second, there was some advantage in them for the Greeks of those days, since they saved them from being alarmed in case war, as was expected, arose between them and the people of Asia. We can pardon one who, being a Greek, used every means to aid his countrymen. This is a very common device. I heard, for instance, a Mede declare that the Persians concede none of the claims made by the Greeks, but maintain that Darius despatched Datis and Artaphernes against Naxos and Eretria, and that after capturing these cities they returned to the king; that, however, while they were lying at anchor off Euboea, a few of their ships were driven on to the Attic coast — not more than twenty — and their crews had some kind of an engagement with the inhabitants of that place; that, later on, Xerxes in his expedition against Greece conquered the Lacedaemonians at Thermopylae and slew their king Leonidas, then captured and razed the city of the Athenians and sold into slavery all who did not escape; and that after these successes he laid tribute upon the Greeks and withdrew to Asia. Now it is quite clear that this is a false account, but, since it was the natural thing to do, it is quite possible that the king ordered this story to be spread among the inland tribes in order to keep them quiet. So if Homer used this same device we ought to forgive him.
Perhaps, however, some uninformed person may say, “It is not right for you to disparage the Greeks in this way.” Well, the situation has changed and there is no longer any fear of an Asiatic people ever marching against Greece. For Greece is subject to others and so is Asia. Besides, the truth is worth a great deal. And in addition to all this, had I known that my words would carry conviction, perhaps I should have decided not to speak at all. But nevertheless I maintain that I have freed the Greeks from reproaches greater and more distressing. That a man should fail in the capture of a city is nothing unusual, nor is it, either, to have made a campaign against a country which was no concern of theirs and then to have retreated after making peace; and for a man of noble spirit to fall in battle by the hand of a worthy foe, that too is no reproach. Nay, a man who is on the point of death might well meet it as Achilles is represented to have done when he said,
Would that Hector, the most brave
Of warriors reared upon the Trojan soil,
Had slain me.
But for the bravest of the Greeks to be slain by the most contemptible man among the enemy, that indeed is a great reproach; and likewise for one who was reputed to be a man of intelligence and the most temperate of the Greeks to begin by slaughtering the sheep and oxen when he meant to slay the kings and then to despatch himself, all for the sake of a suit of armour, is most shameful. Furthermore, when Astyanax, the son of a noble warrior, is so brutally slain by being hurled from the city walls, and indeed by the united decision of army and kings; when the maiden Polyxena is sacrificed at the tomb and such libations are made to the son of a goddess; when Cassandra, a consecrated maiden and priestess of Apollo, is outraged in the sanctuary of Athena while clinging to the goddess’ statue, and this is done, not by some obscure or worthless man, but by one of the most prominent leaders; when Priam, the king of Asia, in extreme old age is wounded beside the altar of Zeus, from whom he was descended, and is slaughtered upon it, and no obscure man perpetrates this deed either, but the very son of Achilles, in spite of the fact that Achilles, his father, had entertained Priam and spared his life on a former occasion; when Hecuba, the sorrow-stricken mother of so many children, is given to Odysseus to her shame and under the weight of her miseries is changed to a dog — an utterly ridiculous idea; and when the lord of the Greeks takes as his bride that holy virgin of Apollo, whom no one had dared to marry for fear of the god — an act for which he is held to have met a deserved fate — how much better for the Greeks never to have committed these excesses than to have captured Troy!