You are likely familiar with the Trojan War and the stories that eventually became the Odyssey and the Iliad, as many of us had to read these stories in school. What you might not know is that many intricacies and details are surrounding the Trojan War and how it started.
The Trojan War is arguably one of the most interesting events in Greek literature and Homer’s Iliad describes 52 days that occurred during the last year of the Trojan War. While some of the accounted events of the Trojan War itself were mythical, it is likely based on a real war that took place in the 12th century BCE.
We put together some background about the Trojan War, how it began, and what the result was which we think you never knew during high school.
Abductions and Discord: The True Story of How the War Started
According to numerous accounts, and most famously accounted by Homer in the Iliad, the Trojan War began after the abduction of Queen Helen of Sparta by Paris, the Trojan prince.
She was taken as a prize for selecting Aphrodite as the most beautiful goddess in a competition against Athena and Hera. The way this beauty contest began was during the wedding of Thetis and Peleus, who invited all the Gods and Goddesses to their wedding, except Eris, who was the Goddess of discord.
Eris was furious that she was not invited to the wedding and threw an apple that said “For the Fairest” into the ceremony, which abruptly brought it to a halt. This apple is largely known in Greek mythology as the “apple of discord” because it disrupted the wedding ceremony and the events that followed were tragic.
As all the goddesses were present at the ceremony, they immediately began to battle over who would get to keep this coveted apple and become the fairest goddess. The three most beautiful were Hera, wife of Zeus, Athena, goddess of heroism, and Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty.
Battle of the Fairest: Claiming the Throne
As they could not decide who should claim the apple and continued to fight, they asked that Zeus to choose who should be the rightful owner of the apple. Zeus did not care about the matter and simply wanted them to stop fighting, so he told Prince Paris to decide who would win the golden apple and be declared the fairest.
In a desperate attempt to claim the apple, each of the goddesses bribed Paris with different offerings. Athena offered to make him a powerful leader who was capable of fighting. Hera offered to make him rich and powerful and provide him with a kingdom he could rule as his own.
Aphrodite told him she could ensure he would marry the most beautiful and coveted woman on Earth, who was Helen of Sparta at the time. She was also already married to King Menelaus. After giving his decision and choosing Aphrodite’s bribe to marry Helen, Prince Paris traveled to Greece to claim Helen as his wife.
As Aphrodite promised, upon meeting Prince Paris, Helen fell in love with Paris and agreed to be with him in marriage. Therefore, some accounts are blurry that describe it as an abduction because technically Helen willingly left to be with Paris and eloped with him.
There was technically no abduction that took place but some re-telling accounts still choose to word it as an abduction. Once the “abduction” occurred, Helen’s husband Menelaus was frantic and convinced his brother Agamemnon to go on a mission to find her, along with an army of men.
Power and Wrath: The Battle Begins
Some of the men in his army included: Achilles, Odysseus, Nestor, and Ajax, as well as thousands of other men who were prepared to fight. The exact number of men who showed up to fight is not known, but it was described by Homer as “many men as the leaves and flowers that come in the springtime”.
These men prepared for battle and traveled to Asia Minor to start a battle at Troy and find Helen. The battle at Troy began and for ten years the soldiers fought while attempting to destroy everything in sight. The primary leader in charge of the men was Agamemnon, who led the Spartan forces and was a warrior king.
Despite their efforts over the years and constant battling, the city of Troy remained intact and the men were on the verge of giving up and going home. According to Greek mythology, the walls of Troy were built by Poseidon and Apollo and created walls that were indestructible and indomitable.
As a last resort, they built a large, hollow wooden horse that concealed a small group of the men waiting to fight. They presented the horse as a form of the peace offering and to signify that the Trojans had won the war. The remaining men acted as if they were going to sail home, leaving behind the horse and convinced the Trojans to bring the horse into the city.
The Shackling Destruction of Troy
When night fell, the Greeks came back, released the men from the horse and destroyed all of Troy. Homer’s story states that the Greeks were assisted in their battle by some of the Olympian gods, including Athena, Poseidon, Hera, Hephaistos, and Thetis.
These gods played favorites and protected those they sided with by helped to deflect spears from hitting them and shielding them from battle. Some Greek gods took the side of the Trojans and assisted them in their fight against the Greeks.
These gods included: Apollo, Aphrodite, Ares, and Leto and they worked to protect the Trojans during the length of the battle. Scientific Accounts Regarding the Trojan War: It All Became Known Today
After the Trojan War ended, Agamemnon took home a Trojan princess named Cassandra as his second wife, but the first wife he originally had was not pleased with this and went on to murder both.
In another account, Achilles was also recruited to the Trojan War efforts through some trickery as he was hiding on an island with some princesses dressed as a woman, but Odysseus blew a horn to make him think they were under attack and he revealed who he was.
Accounts of what happened when the wooden horse was opened sometimes fail to explain the total massacre that occurred in Troy. Most of the Trojan royalty was killed, including Priam and many babies.
The Trojan princesses were divvied up by the men as spoils, raped, and one of them was sacrificed. Helen was returned to Menelaus and according to some accounts, she was okay with it and knew she had very little choice when it came to her fate.
It is also possible that since she was in a god-like trance by Aphrodite, the trance was broken after a certain period and she once again fell in love with her previous husband. As a final interesting note and story related to the Trojan War, after the war ended, Odysseus began his 10-year journey home and the start of what became the story of the Odyssey.
Continuing Research: Is It Still Worth It?
There are many re-tellings of the Trojan War and what events led up to it, but there will likely always be arguments regarding what is closest to the truth. Homer chose to take real-life events that occurred and dressed them up by lacing them with elements of Greek mythology to help make the events appear more poetic.
It would also be interesting to learn more about what happened in the years before the final days of the war, as many accounts do not discuss what happened in those years. It is hard to imagine a war that is taking place for 10 years and little to no progress is made, but this is what accounts state happened during this time.
Regardless of what is real and what is fantasy, one thing is certain: The Trojan War was a fascinating and thrilling event that had many different side stories, characters, and drama. This makes for a great premise for many spinoff stories, television shows, movies, and discussions regarding what happened and the aftermath.
What are your thoughts on the Trojan War?
When she's not at her desk absorbing all the latest news and producing fresh content for her audience Carmina loves to spend time at coffe shops and dancing at local music festivals.