This is a chapter of The Trojan War, by C. Witt & F. Younghusband.
The Trojans had by this time given up all hope of conquering their enemies in the open field, and they now shut themselves up in their city, keeping watch from the walls. So the war remained at a standstill, for it was in vain that the Greeks tried to entice their enemies again into the plain; neither could they gain an entrance into the city.
About this time, the priest Calchas, who understood all the signs which were from time to time vouchsafed by the gods, saw a hawk pursuing a dove. He had almost overtaken her, when she glided into a crevice of a rock where he could not follow her; he hid himself however among the foliage of a tree that was nearby and waited there. After some time, the dove came out of the hole, thinking that the hawk had gone away, but hardly had she left her place of safety than the hawk darted out from the tree, seized her by the wing, and devoured her. Calchas related what he had seen to the Greek heroes and told them it signified that they must imitate the hawk, and get possession of the city through craft.
The wise Odysseus thought much about this and at last invented a stratagem which had never been tried before and which had never occurred to anyone else. He imparted his plan to the other princes, and they all praised it except Neoptolemus and Philoctetes, who held that it was a disgrace to have recourse to craft and cunning, instead of meeting their enemies face to face in fair fight.
But Odysseus said to Neoptolemus, “All our efforts in the field have been in vain; thy father himself, with his lion-like courage and his more than mortal strength, failed to get possession of the city. By craft alone can we gain our end.”
Then the two heroes allowed themselves to be persuaded.
Now it happened that several trees had fallen in the forest and had been dragged down to the camp. There was, moreover, among the Greeks a hero named Epeus, who was a clever carpenter. Out of the planks cut from the fallen wood, this man fashioned, with marvelous skill, a gigantic horse, so large that there was room in its hollow body for more than fifty armed men, and in the under part of the body was a door made to fasten from the inside. When the horse was ready, the bravest heroes were chosen to go inside it, and they clambered up into the body by means of a ladder. Epeus was the last to enter and, when he had taken his place, he drew in the ladder after him and shut the door.
The other Greeks put out their ships to sea and prepared everything for their departure; then they set fire to their tents and made a great blaze. By the light of the flames, they set sail in the evening, intending the Trojans to suppose that they had given up the war and departed to their own homes. But they only went as far as the island of Tenedos, and there hid their ships from sight in a creek that ran far inland.
All night long the Trojans watched the burning camp, and in the morning they came out of the city to examine it; but they had taken care to arm themselves for battle, for they thought it might be a stratagem, and that the Greeks might be concealed on the shore, ready to fall upon them unexpectedly. They searched the whole place however to no purpose: everything was silent and deserted, and they thought that at last the war had really come to an end.
The huge wooden horse which remained standing on the plain astonished them beyond measure, and they could not tell what to think of it. Some suggested one thing and some another, and they were still perplexing themselves with guesses, when a man was brought forward who had just been found hidden in a thicket nearby. This man was a Greek named Sinon, who had volunteered to remain behind and deceive the Trojans according to the instructions of Odysseus. They brought him before the king, who had come out upon the plain with several of the chief men of the city, and asked him what had become of the Greeks and why they had built this great horse.
At first, neither friendly words nor threats could draw any answer from him, but at last, with much-pretended reluctance, he broke silence and said: “Base indeed must it seem on my part to betray the secret of my countrymen. But they deserve it at my hands, for, before they set sail, they laid hands on me and would have offered me as a sacrifice to the gods of the sea, had not chance enabled me to burst my bonds and escape into this thicket. Know, then, that the Greeks have abandoned the war and returned to their homes. The horse yonder has been built as an offering to the goddess Athene, that she may prosper their return, and the priest Calchas has said that with that horse is bound up your fate both now and in the future; for if you disregard it, destruction will quickly overtake you, but should you receive it into your citadel, then will good fortune abide with you, and you will gain dominion over all the country near and far.”
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When Sinon had finished speaking, there were many differing opinions among the Trojans as to how his words should be received. Some were distrustful and counseled that the mighty horse should be pierced through and through with spears and lances, or else that it should be conveyed to the top of a mountain and cast down into the valley beneath, but the crowd would not listen to any warnings and did not cease to clamor until it was decided that it should be at once conveyed to the city.
The horse was now covered with wreaths of flowers and leaves; innumerable cords were tied around its head, its legs, and its body, and joyful was he who could possess himself of one of these cords and help to drag the huge animal along, for he thought that he was taking his part in bringing about that future in which there would be no need to dread the approach of any enemy. With songs of joy they toiled at their heavy burden, and at last brought it as far as the gate of the city. Then they perceived that the gate was too low for the horse to enter; but they thought, “What need have we now of the protection of a gate?” and forthwith broke it down.
As they entered the city, however, they met with an interruption. A maiden advanced towards them, who in a loud voice commanded them to stop and listen to her. It was Cassandra, one of the daughters of the king. Apollo had gifted her with the power of looking into the future and foretelling truly what would happen, but she had since angered the god, and he had punished her by ordaining that no one should ever believe her; and thus, though she could always foretell calamities, she was never able to prevent them.
She stood now before the horse and cried, “Unhappy people, who are carrying destruction into our city! Already do I see it filled with fire and murder and blood. But as for you, ye greet your evil fate with songs of joy. Know that your meal today will be the last ye shall eat.”
But this warning made no impression upon the people; they said one to another, “We know her well, she is a mad woman,” and, taking no further notice, they continued to drag the horse onwards till they had brought it into the citadel.
Then they betook themselves to their houses and celebrated the peace which they believed had come to them with eating and drinking. The choicest wines were brought out, and in all the houses were heard the sounds of piping and flute-playing, for no such joyful day had dawned upon them during all these long ten years. So they thought; but, of a truth, destruction was waiting at their very door, ready to burst upon them.
Night came on and found the city asleep and silent; many of the citizens indeed were sleeping more heavily than was their wont, intoxicated with the wine they had drunk. Sinon had reveled with them and was greeted everywhere as their best friend, who had freed them from all care. Now he might have been seen slinking through the streets till he reached a hill near the city, where he held up in the air a burning torch as a signal to the Greeks in Tenedos that it was time for them to return. Then he went back to the place where the huge horse was standing. A very gentle call was sufficient, and the horse became full of life: the door underneath its body was thrown open, the ladder was let down, and the heroes descended one by one.
And now the stillness of the night was at an end. With a loud warcry, the heroes burst through the streets and, breaking into the houses of the sleeping Trojans, murdered them in their beds; but as for Menelaus, his first care was to hasten to the house where Helen was, and take her away to a place of safety. The Trojans, awakened by the noise, seized their weapons and rushed out of their houses, almost unclothed as they were, but they soon met with their deaths in the unequal struggle.
After a little while, the other Greeks arrived from the ships, and then was every street filled with shrieks of agony and sights of blood and horror. The Greeks set fire to the city, and the flames hideously lighted up the struggle in the streets. All the men of Troy were slain, and the women and children carried off as slaves. The old king in the citadel saw the flames bursting out all over the city, but his arm was too weak for him to seize his weapons and join in the fight; instead of that, he hid his head in his mantle in despair and awaited his fate.
Soon the Greeks pressed into the citadel, with Neoptolemus at their head, and by him was Priam slain. Few indeed were the Trojans who escaped from the city, and only one single house with its inhabitants was spared by the Greeks: it was the house of the aged Antenor, who twelve years before had received Odysseus and Menelaus when they came as ambassadors to Troy and had saved them from being outraged by the mob.
A terrible sight was that presented at sunrise by the once rich and prosperous city of Troy. The houses lay in ruins, and a thick cloud of smoke hung over the city. The plain beyond was strewed with all the riches of the citizens which had now become the property of the conquerors, and in the midst of the other spoils sat the unhappy Trojan women, clinging to one another in their misery. The day before they had been far apart in rank and position, for some were princesses, others citizens’ wives and daughters, and others beggar women; but now they were all reduced to the same condition and expected one and all the same fate, namely that they would be carried off as slaves to serve their new masters in the land of Greece.
Of the Trojan allies also, but few ever saw their homes again. There had come from the country of Lycia a noble army to the help of King Priam, and their wives and mothers were now eagerly looking for their return; but of all that great host, one only returned alive, and, when he told the women that all the rest were killed, they were so carried away with despair and misery that they took up stones and stoned him to death for bringing them such bad news.