Troy, the minstrel sang, was the greatest of the Cities of men. It had been built when the gods walked the earth.Its walls were so strong and so high that enemies could not break nor climb them. Troy had high towers and great gates. In its citadels there were strong men well armed, and in its treasuries there were stores of gold and silver. The King of Troy was Priam. He was old then, but he had sons that were good Captains. The best of them all was Hector.
Hector, the minstrel sang, was a match for any warrior the nations could send against Troy. Because he was noble and generous as well as brave, the people were devoted to him. Hector, Priam’s son, was commander of the City.
But Priam had another son who was not a Captain. His name was Paris. When Paris was a baby, an oracle told King Priam that he would bring disaster to Troy. Then King Priam had the child sent away from the City. Paris was brought up amongst country people, and when he was a youth he herded sheep.
Each of the three goddesses who was there wished to be known as the fairest and each claimed the golden apple—Aphrodite who inspired love, Athene who gave wisdom and Hera who was the wife of Zeus, the greatest of the gods. But no one at the wedding would judge between the goddesses and say which was the fairest. Then the shepherd Paris came by and the guests asked him to give judgment.
Hera said to Paris, ‘Award the apple to me and I will give you a great kingship.’ Athene said, ‘Award the golden apple to me and I will make you the wisest of men.’ Aphrodite came to him and whispered, ‘Paris, dear Paris, let me be called the fairest and I will make you beautiful, and the fairest woman in the world will be your wife.’ Paris looked at Aphrodite and in his eyes she was the fairest. He gave the golden apple to her and ever since she was his friend. But Hera and Athene departed from the company in a rage.
The minstrel sang how Paris went back to his father’s City and was made a prince of Troy. Through help from Aphrodite he was the most beautiful of youths. Then Paris left the City again. Sent by his father he went to Tyre. And coming back to Troy from Tyre he went through Greece.
Now the fairest woman in the world was in Greece. She was Helen, and was married to King Menelaus. Paris saw her and loved her for her beauty. Aphrodite caused Helen to fall in love with Paris. He took her from the house of Menelaus and brought her into Troy.
King Menelaus sent to a message to Troy demanding that his wife be given back to him. But the people of Troy, thinking no King in the world could defeat them, and wanting to boast that the fairest woman in the world was in their city, were not willing to give Menelaus back his wife. Priam and his son, Hector, knew that a wrong had been done, and knew that Helen and all that she had brought with her should be given back. But in the council there were vain men who went against the word of Priam and Hector, declaring that they would not give up Helen, the fairest woman in all the world for some little King of Greece.
Then the minstrel sang of Agamemnon. He was King of rich Mycenæ, and his name was so high and his deeds were so famous that all the Kings of Greece looked up to him. Agamemnon, seeing Menelaus, his brother, defied by the Trojans, vowed to destroy Troy. He spoke to the Kings and Princes of Greece, saying that if they all united their strength they would be able to take the great city of Troy and avenge Menelaus and win great glory and riches for themselves.
The Kings and Princes of Greece supported Agamemnon and were eager to make war on Troy. They vowed to take the City. Then Agamemnon sent messages to the heroes whose lands were far away, to Odysseus, and to Achilles, who was the son of Peleus and Thetis, telling them also to enter the war.
In two years the ships of all the Kings and Princes were gathered in Aulis and the Greeks, with their leaders, Agamemnon, Aias, Diomedes, Nestor, Idomeneus, Achilles and Odysseus, sailed for the coast of Troy. One hero after another defeated the cities and nations that were the allies of the Trojans, but they did not take Troy. The minstrel sang to Telemachus and his fellow voyagers how year after year went by, and how the armies of the Greeks still remained between their ships and the walls of the City, and how in the ninth year there a plague came that killed more men than the Trojans did.
So the ship went on through the dark water, very swiftly, with the goddess Athene, disguised as old Mentor, guiding it, and with the youths listening to the song that Phemius the minstrel sang.