Trojαn Wαr: Tɦe Epιc Tαle ιn 17 Artworks

The marriage of Peleus, grandson of Zeus, to Thetis, daughter of the sea god Nereus, was a major event on Mount Olympus. The happy couple invited every major and minor deity to the ceremony, with the understandable exception of Eris, the goddess of discord. Furious at the slight, Eris appeared anyway, bringing with her a beautiful golden apple inscribed “To the fairest.” Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena immediately fell into a bitter argument as to which of them deserved the apple, an argument that would lead to the famous Trojan War. This is the story of the fall of Troy in 17 artworks.

1. The Judgement of Paris: The Event that Triggered the Trojan War

The Judgment of Paris by Peter Paul Rubens, 1638, via Museo Del Prado, Madrid

When none of the gods dared to make the decision, they went to Paris, prince of Troy, and asked him to judge. To better their chances, each goddess offered Paris a further reward. Hera offered great power and Athena offered wisdom and prowess in battle. But Aphrodite offered marriage to the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris chose Aphrodite. Unfortunately, that woman, Helen, was already married to Menelaus of Sparta. When Paris stole away with the lovely Helen, Menelaus raised a great army of Greeks and settled into a long siege of Troy, known today as the Trojan War.

2. Achilles Takes Insult Near the End of the Trojan War

Chryses vainly soliciting the Return of Chryseis before the Tent of Agamemnon by Jacopo Alessandro Calvi, 1760-1815, via the National Trust Collections of Britain

Homer’s great epic, the Iliad, picks up in the final year of the great Trojan War. The besieging Greeks returned from a raiding party with spoils and captured women. The brother of Menelaus, Agamemnon, brought back the beautiful Chryseis daughter of Chryses, chief priest of Apollo. After Agamemnon roughly dismissed Chryses’ pleas for his daughter’s safe return, Apollo himself brought a plague against the Greeks.

3. Agamemnon Takes Bryseis

Briseis Led from the Tent of Achilles by Jean-Baptiste-Deshays, 1761, via Musée Des Augustins, Toulouse

Pressured by his men, in particular Achilles, leader of the Myrmidons, Agamemnon reluctantly agreed to return the girl. However, he spitefully insisted on taking Achilles’ captive woman, Briseis, as compensation. Slighted and irritated, Achilles withdrew his soldiers and resolved not to join in the fight again until the Greeks came crawling back to him, acknowledging how badly they needed him. He even asked his mother to plead with Zeus to ensure it.

4. The War Rages On

Venus Rescues Paris from his Duel with Menelaus by Johann Heinrich Tischbein, 1757, via Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel

Despite Achilles remaining sulking in his tent, the Trojan War continued unabated. Both armies deployed on the plain in front of Troy. Yet before the fighting was joined, Paris, goaded on by the disgust of his older brother Hector, offered to fight Menelaus in single combat to determine the outcome of the Trojan War and save the loss of more lives. Menelaus quickly gained the upper hand and would have dispatched the young prince. However, Aphrodite interfered and spirited Paris away back to his chambers. Meanwhile, a Trojan soldier broke the truce by shooting Menelaus with an arrow, and the battle joined in earnest.

5. Diomedes Injures a Goddess!


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