The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology

By Robin Hard | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

THE TROJAN WAR

THE ORIGIN OF THE WAR AND THE GREEK CROSSING

Zeus lays plans for a great war

The culminating event of the mythical history of Greece was the great war in which Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, and Menelaos, king of Sparta, led a great army against Troy, a rich and powerful city in the north-western corner of Asia Minor, and finally conquered it after besieging it for ten years. The conflict was provoked by the abduction of Helen, the wife of Menelaos, who was carried off to Asia by Paris, the son of Priam, king of Troy; and this episode was itself an element in a divine plan that had been devised to rid the earth of an excess of human beings. For Gaia (Earth) had complained to Zeus that she was overburdened by all the mortals who were swarming over her surface and were not only far too numerous but impious besides; and after relieving the problem to some extent by inciting the Theban Wars, Zeus had planned to cause even greater carnage by means of thunderbolts and floods. But Momos, the personification of fault-finding (see p. 26), criticized his plans and proposed a subtler course of action, suggesting that a destructive war should be provoked between Europe and Asia by indirect means. As the first two steps towards this end, she said that the goddess Thetis should be married to a mortal and that Zeus should father a daughter of surpassing beauty. So Zeus fathered Helen, and Thetis was married to Peleus at a magnificent wedding that was attended by the gods (see p. 54). During the wedding-feast, Eris, the personification of Strife (see p. 30), provoked a furious quarrel between Hera, Athena and Aphrodite by hurling an apple in front of them marked with the inscription ‘to the most beautiful’; and Zeus then instructed the divine messenger Hermes to escort the three goddesses to Mt Ida in the land of Troy to be judged for their beauty by Paris. When Aphrodite persuaded Paris to award her the victory by promising that she would help him to marry Helen, a daughter of Zeus who was the most beautiful woman in the world, the projected conflict between Greece and Asia became inevitable; for the Trojan prince would have to seize her from her legitimate husband in Greece if he were to make her his wife. This would be a hazardous action because her husband Menelaos was not only a man

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