The Trojan War
1. The Fall of Troy
2. The return of the Greek heroes (nostoi; connect with nostalgia) “nostoi”
means return, homecoming
- Troy was a city in Asia minor, and was thought to be barbaric in Homeric times
The ancestors of Menelaus and Agamemnon
• Both of these people descend from TANTALUS (associated with greed).
Tantalus offered Pelops to the Olympians to test their omniscience and to see
if they were able to recognize the type of food they were eating. He is from
the cities of Argos and Mycenae (in the Argive plain) – unrelated to Perseus
or Heracles lineage
• The story of Tantalus’ offense against the Olympians – the chopping of
PELOPS. Pelops was revived without his shoulder(Demeter ate it – she was
unaware of what she was eating do to emotional distress over Persephone
her daughter). Hepheastus replaced the shoulder with Ivory.
• Oenomaus, king in Pisa (northwest Peloponnesus) his daughter
HIPPODAMIA (do not confuse with Pirithous’ bride Hippodamia and the
wedding of the Lapiths). Oenomaus is in love with his own daughter, but she
does not accept him and so he decides that he will not let any suitor have her.
He asks all the suitors to run in a chariot race. Oenomaus is a great chariot
racer and he has the help of winged horeses which help his chariot to run
faster than anybody else. The number of suitors varies from version to
version (usually 12-14), but there are many. He beats all of the them and cuts
their heads off and hangs them up on the wall.
• Pelops had a golden winged chariot drawn by horses that never tired, gifts
from his lover Poseidon. Pelops also bribed Myrtilus, the king’s charioteer,
promising him the first night with Hippodamia.
• Pelops flees with Hippodamia, and they flee together with Myrtilus. However,
when Myrtilus tried to do what was planned, Pelops became angry and killed
him. Myrtilus curses Pelops and all of his lineage.
Pelops and Hippodamia in the chariot, South-Italian vase, c. 425 BC Pelops and Hippodamia in the chariot, South-Italian vase, c. 425 BC. Pelops and
Hippodamia. She is standing in the chariot. Pelops is looking back to the follower
• Pelops returns to Pisa and becomes king – Peloponnesus (“island of Pelops”).
Oenomaus had died.
• Pelops and Hippodamia’s sons:
– PITTHEUS (Aethra’s father),
– CHRYSIPPUS (raped by Laius when he visited Pelops from Thebes.
Pelops curses Laius.),
– THYESTES (father of AEGYSTHUS), the grandson of Tantalus
– ATREUS (father of MENELAUS and AGAMEMNON)
Succession in Mycenae
- competition between brothers over a city.
• An oracle from the Mycenaeans said that either Thyestes or Atreus should
rule over them as king.
• Thyestes or Atreus? Atreus is the older brother and he claims he should be
king. The brothers argue over the city. Atreus has the two sons,but we don't
know about the wife. Thystes was younger but he said that whoever could
produce a golden lamb skin should win.
• Aerope, is a granddaughter of Minos (King of Crete, husband of Pasiphae).
Pasiphae was not able to contain her sexual apetite. Thyestes has a problem
with food apetite. The combination of both should be interesting. Aerope is
having an affair with Atreus. She promises her help by telling him about the
secret lamb fleece which Thyestes was hiding in the palace in a trunk.
• Atreus had previously vowed to Artemis to sacrifice his finest lamb to her, a
lamb with a golden fleece appeared in his flocks but instead of offering it on
her alter, he hid the skin in a trunk. His wife, Aerope, was the only other
person that knew. • However, Aerope was having an affair with her brother in law, Thyestes and
had secretly given him the fleece. Atreus was very surprised when Thyestes
brought the very skin that he thought he had hidden.
• Atreus was suspicious. He asked for another test. He said that Zeus prefers
him and that the sun would rise in the west and set in the east the next day
and so it did. Zeus wants him to become king. Atreus became king and
banished his brother Thyestes.
• Atreus kills Thyestes’ three boys and offers them to him during a
reconciliation feast. (SAME AS TANTALUS). This was out of revenge because
he found out about his wife’s infidelity.
• Thyestes- There is an oracle which says that his own grandson (Aegisthus-
spelling from book) will avenge him.
• Thyestes’ curse; Thyestes goes to Delphi to find an answer to his problems.
Oracles tells him that his daughter will bear a son who will avenge him in the
end. Unknownligy he meets his own daughter at night, in a city that he
diddn't know was there, he rapes his own daughter, Pelopia. Pelopia who
gives birth to Aegisthus. She becomes pregnant.
• Atreus marries Pelopia (not knowing she is his neice) who gives birth to
• Aegisthus is the son of Atrues but the biological son of Thyestes.
• When Atreus asked Aegisthus to kill Thyestes, Aegisthus went to prison and
tried to kill his biological father. Thyestes recognized his own sword and
explained the situation to Aegisthus. He called Pelopia and she recognized
• When realizing the incest, Pelopia stabs herself. Aegysthus kills Atreus
(avenging his father) Thyestes becomes king in Mycenae
• Atreus’ sons take refuge in Sparta with king TYNDAREUS
• With Tyndareus’ army, they overthrow Thyestes and Agamemnon becomes
king of Mycenae
Tyndareus, king of Sparta
• Tyndareus marries LEDA (she was so beautiful that Zeus himself was
attracted to her, turned into a swan and had intercourse with her)
• Leda has intercourse with her husband close after and has 4 children. There
is a version that says that Leda gave birth to two eggs. Her four children are
divided into 2 (Polydeuces and Helen are immortal – the offspring of Zeus).
(Castor and Clytemnestra are the offspring of Leda- they are mortal.)
• Leda’s children:
– POLYDEUCES (Roman Pollux)
- Polydeuces and Castor are always together, inseparable brothers. They are called
the inseperable Dioscuri and the “sons of Zeus”, they are worshipped as gods, as the patrons of sailors. Castor will die during a cattle raid and Polydeuces asked that a
part of his immortality would be given to his brother. They shared it in such a way
that they would both be in Hades one day and then in Olympia the next day . They
were not involved in the Trojan war.
Leda and the Swan, South Italian vase, c. 330 BC
Clytemnestra marries Agammemnon .
The Oath of Tyndareus
• Helen is incredibly beautiful (most beautiful in the world), her father cannot
decide between her suitors.
• Helen’s suitors:
– Diomedes (son of Tydeus- fro the Calydonian hunt)
– Aias (Roman Ajax) son of Telamon. Ajax is a major hero. He is called
the Greater Ajax because there is a lesser one.
– Philoctetes (another Greek hero)
– Patroclus (future friend of Achilles, however at this point in the story
Achilles is much younger than Patroclus, too young to be a suitor)
– Menelaus (Agammemnon’s brother) etc etc etc
• Tyndareus’ dilemma (if he chooses one, the others will be rejected and will
avenge his choice)and Odysseus’ solution. Odysseus is a trickster””, he is the
one who beguiles, finds strategies and solutions. He is associated with
Athena. (He resembles her more than any other God- He is as clever as she is.
She is also is the protector of male heroes.) Odysseus was not as handsome
as the other suitors. He told Tyndareus that if he gives his niece Penelope, he
can offer a solution- Before Tyndareus makes a decision – all of them have to
swear an oath that if Helen is kidnapped by any of them, the rest will gather
together and find her.
• Helen was offered to Menalaus, he had the greatest dowry. They have a
• *** passage from Hesiod’s Catalogue of Women pg 545-546 The wedding of Peleus and Thetis (Achilles’ parents)
- Thetis was a Nereid of the sea.
- Prometheus told Zeus in an oracle that there is a woman on this earth (Thetis)
who is the only one who can conceive a son who will be greater than his father,
no matter who the father is. Zeus controls himself for this reason, he is afraid of
• Peleus from Aegina (island inhabited by ants-people, Myrmidons. Zeus
changed the ants into people) brother to Telamon of Salamis (father to Ajax).
Their father, Aeacus, sent them into exile because the two brothers murdered
• Zeus was supposed to marry Thetis but Prometheus told him about the
oracle that Thetis would give birth to a son that would be more powerful
than his father. To repay the Titan for warning him, Zeus allowed Heracles to
shoot the eagle that devoured Prometheus’ liver. Zeus arranged for Peleus to
• Peleus goes to Phthia, in Thessaly. Peleus arrived on the island Aegina when
there were no people on it. He asks for all the ants to be changed into people.
• Thetis, a Nereid previously desired by Zeus, is caught by Peleus and marries
him. Thetis is a shape-shifter (fire, a tree, lion, bird, snakes?). Peleus refused
to let her go, regardless of her shapeshifting. She finally changed back into a
woman and agreed to marry him. Very famous marriage. Achilles their son
will be stronger than Peleus, as predicted by the oracle.
• ***See Euripides’ description of the wedding in Iphigenia in Aulis (406 BC)
Peleus and Thetis, Attic wine cup, c. 500 BC
it is hard to portray Thetis changing shapes so the artist places a snake and lion in
the picture (but no fire and bird.)
The Judgment of Paris
• Eris “strife” comes uninvited . (Folktale, uninvited person who is upset and
ruins the wedding) to the wedding. She throws a beautiful golden apple into the middle of the party and says whichever goddess is the fairest shall take it.
Hera, Athena and Aphrodite all fight over the apple, they want to be the most
• Zeus sends them to the Trojan Prince Paris, son of Priam, who was known to
have an eye for the ladies so he can judge who is the most beautiful. This is
unique/unusual in greek myth that 3 women(goddesses) fighting over a man.
• Paris (Alexander), one of 50 sons of the Trojan king Priamus and his wife
Hecabe (Roman Hecuba). He is unrecognized son because just before his
birth Hecabe receives an oracle that her son will cause the fall of Troy. They
leave the child in mount Ida and he is discovered by shepherds and raised by
them. This is where the three goddesses show up. Hermes was the God that
presented the 3 goddesses for inspection.
• Besides just showing themselves to him, the goddesses promise him
something. Athena promises military glory, hera promises great power over
the world and Aphrodite promises the most beautiful woman in the world
(Hera). He chooses Aphrodite
The Judgment of Paris, black-figure amphora, c. 560 BC
you cannot see the third goddess, you only see two and you are not sure which ones
they are. Hermes is in the middle because he is the one who sends the message to
Paris that he is supposed to choose the most beautiful goddess. Paris seems to want
to run away from the situation but Hermes doesn’t let him.
Attic-jug, c. 470 BC Hera is all covered up- the chaste goddess of marriage.
Hermes is the god of lyre that is why Paris here is holding it.
Aphrodite is in the front, she was offered the apple
Athena was wearing the Aegis.
The Judgment of Paris, Attic red figure, 440 BC
Aphrodite has a winged eros in her hand
Hermes is here too. (caduceus)
Rubens: The Judgment of Paris, 1636, National Gallery, London (much later they were portrayed naked)
Helen had a daughter with Menalaus, Hermiona. Leaves her husband and
daughter and goes with Paris.
The Journey to Troy
• Paris went to Menalaus and Helen and was accepted according to the
conventions of xenia. Menelas was called for a funeral and Paris and Helen
eloped, violating the bonds of xenia.
• Paris was very angry and together with his brother, Agamemnon, the brother
invoked the Oath of Tyndareus. Soon from all over Greece, Helen’s former
suitors assembled. Odysseus also later joined. He was the one who had
devised this oath. However, his wife Penelope has born a son Telemachus
“far-fighter”. Odysseus was dressed like a madmam on the shore and was
plowing the earth. Palamedes was also very clever(inventor of Greek
alphabet);, he took Odysseus’ son and threw him infront of the plow. If
Odysseus were mad, he would continue to plow. He stopped and joined the
expedition. He later got revenge by setting Palamedes up so that it looked
like he wanted to betray the Greeks for gold and planted the gold in his tent.
He was stoned to death and they left him unburied (a traitor’s death)
• Calchas, the prophet of the expedition declared that the Greeks would never
take Troy without the help of Achilles, who had been too young to be a suitor
of Helen. His mother Thetis, took him to the island of Scyros and concealed
him dressed as a woman in the women’s quarters. She wanted to prevent him from joining the war. He spends his time weaving and spinning. Calchas
manages to figure out with his prophetic abilities that he is in Scyros but they
cannot distinguish him from the women. Odysseus finds a method. He
pretends to be a jeweler and they place a sword beside it. Then they scream
that the pirates are coming. Achilles grabs the sword and goes to fight the
• Leave Aulis, leave for Troy but they don’t know the way so they wander. They
then return to the same place (Mycenae- a place where heroes get lost.);
sacrifice of Iphigenia (see Euripides’ two tragedies: Iphigenia at Aulis and
Iphigenia among the Taurians)
• When they were on the boat, the wind was very strong in the opposite
direction. Calchas finally revealed that it was because Agamemnon (or
Menelaus) once boasted while killing a deer that even Artmeis could not do
so well. He would have to sacrifice his own daughter, Iphegenia.
• Iphegenia was allowed to be sacrificed by Agammemnon and Clytemnestra
killed him for this reason.
• *** pg 554 passage from Aeschylus’ Agamemnon.- talks about initial
hesitation before commitment to death.
• Iphigenia is told to come to Aulis so that she can marry Achilles. Marriage
and death come together in greek myth. She begs her father to spare her, but
he kills her. Achilles tries to defend her but at this point, Iphigenia makes her
mind up so that she can be sacrificed so that the Greek men can have victory
at Troy. She thought her life as a woman did not matter but the glory of the
Greek men did. When she said this, Achilles fell in love with her completely.
She was sacrificed.