The Story of the Troy Cycle

Diane Thompson, NVCC, ELI

There were two Trojan Wars: 1) when Laomedon was king of Troy, and 2) when his son Priam was king of Troy. The first occurred when Jason, Hercules and the Argonauts were seeking the Golden Fleece. They stopped off at Troy for rest and refueling, but King Laomedon refused them hospitality and forced them to leave. Some versions say that Laomedon tried to cheat Hercules out of promised pay for contracted heroic deeds. After successfully completing the Golden Fleece quest, Jason and Hercules gathered an army of Greeks, returned, and destroyed Troy to punish King Laomedon. Priam, Laomedon's son, survived and rebuilt Troy.

The underlying cause of Homer's Trojan War is told in the Cypria, of which only fragments remain. The burden of too many human beings disturbed the earth and Zeus conceived of the Trojan War to lower the population and relieve the earth. He did this by allowing Eris (Strife) to attend the wedding banquet of Peleus and Thetis, where Eris stirred up conflict between the goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite over who was the most beautiful.

The three goddesses asked Paris, a rather foolish, lady-loving son of King Priam of Troy, to judge which of them was the most beautiful. Each goddess offered her own special bribe. Paris chose Aphrodite's bribe, possession of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. Helen happened to be married to King Menelaus, one of the regional Greek kings, so Paris set off to Greece with a war party, seized her (perhaps with her cooperation), and brought her back to Troy, where they were married.

Menelaus then went to his brother Agamemnon, the High King of the Greeks, and asked for help retrieving his wife from Troy. Agamemnon assembled warriors and ships from all over Greece Divinely controlled unfavorable winds prevented the Greek fleet from sailing for Troy until Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia. The Greek army then besieged Troy for ten years.

During the ninth year of the siege, Achilles, the best of the Greek warriors, and Agamemnon quarreled bitterly over who got to keep Achilles' woman war-prize, Briseis. Feeling shamefully dishonored, Achilles withdrew his men, the Myrmidons, from the fighting, resulting in the deaths of many Greeks, including Achilles' dearest friend, Patroclus. Achilles and Agamemnon finally reconciled and Achilles reentered the battle, killing Hector, the greatest Trojan warrior, although Achilles knew that he himself would die shortly after Hector's death. The story of Achilles' wrath is told in Homer's Iliad.

In the tenth year of the siege, the Trojans were deceived by the hollow Trojan Horse (its wooden belly full of soldiers) into letting Greeks inside their walls, and Troy fell. The city was burned, many Trojans slaughtered, and the women and children taken away as slaves.

The victorious Greeks began returning home, some quickly, some less so. Helen returned to Greece and resumed her marriage with Menelaus. We meet them living comfortably together when Odysseus' son Telemachus visits their palace in the Odyssey. Agamemnon returned to his wife, Clytemnestra, who conspired with her lover, Aegisthus, to trap Agamemnon in a net and kill him. Odysseus was the last Greek warrior to return home from Troy. The Odyssey tells the story of his amazing voyage as well as his victory over the wicked suitors who were camped in his palace, devouring his supplies and intimidating his virtuous wife, Penelope.

There were also stories about Odysseus' later adventures in the Telegonia, a sequel to the Odyssey composed by Eugammon of Cyrene in the sixth century BC. The Odyssey ends with the implication that Odysseus' worst troubles are over; not so according to the Telegonia. Odysseus continues his infidelities and wanderings until Telegonus, his son by Circe, kills him.


(c) Thompson:7/10/1998; updated 08/11/2005