XXII THE WOODEN HORSE

                                     XXII

 

Telemachus and his copanion Peisistratus stayed in the house of King Menelaus for many days. On the evening before he departed Menelaus told him about the famous deeds of his father, Odysseus. ‘Achilles was dead,’ said Menelaus, ‘and his glorious armour was offered as a prize for the warrior the Greeks thought the most of. Two men wanted the prize—Odysseus and his friend Aias. The armour of Achilles was given to Odysseus, but he was not glad of the prize, because as a result of his getting it, the proud spirit of great Aias was wounded.’

‘It was right that Odysseus was given Achilles’ armour, for no warrior in the army had done better than him. But Odysseus was going to do still greater things for us. He knew that only one man could use a bow better than Paris who had shot Achilles with an arrow, and who after that had killed many of our chiefs. That man was Philoctetes. He had come with Agamemnon’s army to Troy. But Philoctetes had been bitten by a water-snake, and his wound was so terrible that none of our warriors could bear to be near him. He was left on the Island of Lemnos and the army forgot him. But Odysseus remembered, and he took a ship to Lemnos and brought Philoctetes back. With his great bow and with the arrows of Hercules, Philoctetes shot at Paris on the wall of Troy and killed him with an arrow.’

‘Then Odysseus came up with the plan by which we took Priam’s city at last. He made us build a great Wooden Horse. We built it and left it upon the plain of Troy and the Trojans were very curious about it. Odysseus had advised us to take our ships down to the water and to burn our stores and make it seem in every way that we were going to depart from Troy in weariness. We did this, and the Trojans saw the great army sail away from their City. But they did not know that a company of the best of our warriors was inside the Wooden Horse, nor did they know that we had left a spy behind to make a signal for our return.’

‘The Trojans wondered why the great Wooden Horse had been left behind. And there were some who considered that it had been left there as an offering to the goddess, Pallas Athene, and they thought it should be brought inside the city. Others were wiser and wanted to leave the Wooden Horse alone. But those who thought that it should be brought inside won and, as the Horse was too great to bring through the gate, they knocked down part of the wall so that they could bring it through. The Wooden Horse was brought through the walls and left on the streets of the city and the darkness of the night fell.’

‘ Helen, my wife, came down to where the Wooden Horse was, and, suspecting there were armed men within, she walked around it three times, calling to every captain of the Greeks who might be inside in his own wife’s voice. When the sound of a voice that had not been heard for so many years was heard each of the captains wanted to answer. But Odysseus put his hands across the mouth of each and so prevented them from being discovered.’

‘We had left a spy hidden between the beach and the city. When the Wooden Horse had been brought within the walls and night had fallen, the spy lit a great fire that was signal to the ships that had sailed away. They returned with the army before the sunrise. Then we who were in the Wooden Horse broke through the boards and came out on the City with our spears and swords in our hands. We killed the guards at the gates and made a barrier of the Wooden Horse and fought around it. The warriors from the ships came through the wall where it was broken down, and we swept through the streets and came to the fortress of the King. We took Priam’s City and all its treasures, and I won back my own wife, the lovely Helen.’

‘But after we had taken and destroyed King Priam’s City, we had many troubles. Some of us sailed away, and some of us remained on the shore to make sacrifice to the gods. We separated, and death came to many of us. I saw Nestor at Lesbos, but I have never seen any of our other friends since. Agamemnon, my own brother, returned to his own land. But it would have been happier for him if he had died on the plain of Troy, and if we had left a great tombstone above him! He was killed in his own house by the man who had married the wife he had left behind. When the Ancient One of the Sea told me of my brother’s doom I sat down upon the sand and wept, and I did not want to live anymore or to see the light of the sun.’

‘And about your father, Telemachus, I have told you what I know and what I was told by the Ancient One of the Sea—how he is on an Island where the nymph Calypso holds him against his will. But I do not know where that Island is. Odysseus is there, and he cannot return to his own country, seeing that he has no ship and no companions to help him to make his way across the sea. But Odysseus was always very clever. Also the goddess, Pallas Athene is very fond of him. For these reasons,