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1185 - 1200 BC - The Trojan War

The Iliad and the Odyssey, written by Homer c. 750 BC
The Aeneid, written by Virgil c. 19 BC
The story also comes from various other sources, including plays by Aeschylus

Click here for a list of characters in the story, as well as some notable quotes and some links.

The following summary is adapted from a summary found at (authors unknown)

Helen of Sparta / Helen of Troy

Helen was the most beautiful young woman in the world. She lived in Sparta with her mother and her father (the king and queen, although she was rumored to be one of the daughters of Zeus), and her half-sister, Clytemnestra (kly-tem-NEST-ra). All the young men wanted to marry her. Her father was afraid that if he said she could marry one of the suitors (the men who wanted to marry her), all the other suitors would fight him, and there would be a big war.

So Helen's father had an idea. He got all the suitors together in one place and made them all swear to protect Helen and her marriage, whichever one of them got to marry her. They all agreed. Then the king (Helen's father) had the suitors all compete in athletic games to find the best person to marry his daughter. The suitor who won was a king named Menelaus. He married Helen and assumed the throne as the new king of Sparta. Helen's sister Clytemnestra married Menelaus’ older brother Agamemnon (ag-a-MEM-non), king of Mycenae.

The Apple of Discord

The Trojan War has its roots in the marriage between Peleus and Thetis, a sea-goddess. Peleus and Thetis had not invited Eris, the goddess of discord (lack of harmony; disagreement), to their marriage. The outraged goddess stormed into the wedding banquet and threw a golden apple onto the table. Eris stated that the apple would belong to whoever was “the fairest” (most beautiful).

Hera (wife of Zeus and queen of the gods), Athena (goddess of wisdom and war), and Aphrodite (goddess of love) each reached for the apple and argued about which of them was the fairest. Zeus (king of the gods) proclaimed that a prince from the city of Troy, named Paris (who was thought to be the most handsome man alive), would act as the judge.

Hermes (the messenger god) went to Troy to summon Paris, and Paris agreed to act as the judge. The three goddesses each tried to bribe Paris. Hera promised him power, Athena promised him wealth, and Aphrodite promised him the most beautiful woman in the world.

Paris chose Aphrodite, and she promised him that Helen, wife of Menelaus (king of Sparta), would be his wife. Paris then prepared to set off for Sparta to capture Helen. Twin prophets Cassandra and Helenus tried to persuade him against such action, as did his mother, Hecuba. But Paris would not listen and he set off for Sparta.

Menelaus and Helen welcomed Paris kindly, and gave him dinner and let him stay the night in their house. But during the night Paris convinced Helen to run away with him (Aphrodite used her powers to persuade Helen to go with Paris). Paris took Helen back to Troy with him and married her, even though she was already married to Menelaus. To make matters worse, Paris also carried off much of Menelaus' wealth.

Greek Preparations for War

Needless to say, Menelaus was outraged to find that Paris had taken Helen. Menelaus left his palace at Sparta and quickly went to visit his older brother Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae. Menelaus reminded Agamemnon (who was one of Helen’s suitors) about the oath that all the suitors swore when they were fighting over who would marry Helen. Menelaus insisted that his brother call together all the Greek armies from all the different cities and go fight the Trojans to get Helen back. Agamemnon objected, stating that he had only meant that he would defend Menelaus against the other suitors, but Menelaus still said he had to get Helen back or Agamemnon’s oath would be broken.

Menelaus then called upon the rest of Helen's former suitors. Many of the suitors did not wish to go to war. King Odysseus (oh-DISS-ee-us) of Ithaca pretended to be insane, but this trick was uncovered. One of the most interesting stories is of Cinyras, king of Paphos, in Cyprus, who had been a suitor of Helen. He did not wish to go to war, but promised Agamemnon fifty ships for the Greek fleet. True to his word, Cinyras did send fifty ships. The first ship was commanded by his son. The other forty-nine, however, were toy clay ships, with tiny clay sailors. They broke apart soon after being placed in the ocean.

Achilles (uh-KILL-eez), though not one of the suitors, was sought after because he was considered to be the greatest fighter in the world. Furthermore, the seer (prophet) Calchas had stated that Troy would not be taken unless Achilles would fight.

Agamemnon, convinced by his brother Menelaus to join the fight as commander-in-chief, called all the Greek armies together at a port called Aulis (OW-liss). There they prepared to sail to Troy. But when they were ready to sail, a strong wind blew in the wrong direction (toward the land), and the Greeks could not leave the port. They asked the prophet Calchas if he knew what was wrong. Calchas told Agamemnon that the goddess Artemis was sending the wind to punish Agamemnon. The reason why is unclear. Perhaps Agamemnon killed one of Artemis’ sacred deer or perhaps he made a careless boast. Either way, Artemis was outraged and created the wind to punish Agamemnon. According to Calchas, the only way to put Artemis in a better mood, and get a more favorable wind so the Greeks could sail to Troy to retrieve Helen, was for Agamemnon to sacrifice his oldest daughter, Iphigenia (if-a-jen-I-ah).

Naturally Agamemnon was horrified. Kill his own daughter? He told his brother Menelaus that he couldn't do it. But Menelaus again reminded Agamemnon that he would be breaking his oath to save Helen. In the end Agamemnon reluctantly agreed to sacrifice Iphigenia. He got her mother (his wife), Clytemnestra, to bring Iphigenia to Aulis by telling Clytemnestra that Iphigenia was going to marry the famous young hero Achilles. But when Iphigenia got there, Agamemnon tied her up, put her on an altar, and killed her. This sacrifice pleased Artemis, the wind changed, and the Greek ships sailed across the Aegean Sea toward Troy.

During the voyage, a Greek soldier named Philoctetes was bitten by a snake at one of the island ports the crew visited, and his wound became infected and had a horrendous smell. Because the smell stunk up the whole ship, the Greeks decided to leave Philoctetes at Lemnos. Marooning him at Lemnos would prove to be a mistake because Philoctetes possessed the bow and arrows of Hercules, which the Greeks would later need during the war.

Finding Troy

Finding the city of Troy proved difficult, however, and the Greek fleet at first landed in Mysia. According to the great historian Herodotus, the Greeks were under the impression that Helen had been taken by the Teuthranians (Teucrians), and though the Teuthranians denied kidnapping Helen, the Greeks attacked their city anyway. The Greeks ultimately won the battle, but suffered heavy casualties at the hands of Telephus, king of the Teuthranians; and, at the end, the Greeks were still without Helen. King Telephus, in the course of the war, was wounded by Achilles. Unable to find Troy, and with no where else to turn, the Greeks returned home.

The Trojan War might not have happened had not King Telephus gone to Greece in the hopes of having his wound cured. Telephus had been told by an oracle (predictor of the future) that only the person who wounded him (in this case, Achilles) could cure him. Achilles agreed to cure King Telephus; and out of gratitude, Telephus told the Greeks how to get to Troy.

Odysseus, known for his excellent speaking ability, and Menelaus were sent as ambassadors to the palace of Priam (king of Troy and father of Paris). They demanded that Helen and the stolen treasure be returned. King Priam refused, and Odysseus and Menelaus returned to the Greek ships with the announcement that war was unavoidable.

The War Begins

Homer's Iliad begins in the middle of the Trojan War, around the year 1250 BC, just at the end of the Bronze Age in Ancient Greece.  The Greeks believed that the Trojan War lasted for ten years; and this story happens in the tenth year of the war, when both sides were really sick of being at war, and the Greeks were sick of being away from home.

The first Greek to leap onto Trojan soil from the ships was Protesilaus. He also became the first to die as he was struck down by Hector, the son of King Priam, brother of Paris, and the lead soldier and hero of the Trojans. Protesilaus' wife Laodamia was so distraught with grief that Hermes brought Protesilaus back to life for a few hours. But when he had to return to the realm of Hades (the god of the underworld), his wife Laodamia killed herself.

The first nine years of the war consisted of both war in Troy and war against the neighboring regions. The Greeks realized that Troy was being supplied by its neighboring kingdoms, so Greeks were sent to defeat these areas.

Then in the tenth year, a dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon nearly threw the balance in favor of the Trojans. The Greeks had won a battle and were splitting up the booty (the stuff they had captured). Along with plenty of treasure, Achilles also claimed a woman named Briseis (brih-SAY-iss) to be his war-bride (a slave girl forced to marry a victorious warrior). Agamemnon took a woman named Chryseis, a daughter of Apollo's priest, as his war-bride. Chryseis’ father heard of her abduction and begged for her return, but Agamemnon refused to release her. Upon hearing about this, the god Apollo shot fiery arrows at the Greek Army, killing many Greeks.

Text Box:  Achilles bandaging the wounded Patroclus Then the prophet Calchas said that the only way to keep Apollo from killing more Greeks was to return Chryseis. Achilles wanted to keep Apollo happy, so he pressured Agamemnon to return her. At this point, Agamemnon agreed, but not before taking Achilles' war-bride, Briseis. Agamemnon claimed that his powerful position as king of Mycenae and commander-in-chief of the Greek army gave him the right to do whatever he wanted. Achilles was not pleased.

When Briseis was taken by Agamemnon, Achilles was so angry at this insult that he refused to fight for the Greeks anymore and just sat in his tent and sulked. Without their best fighter, Achilles, the Greeks started losing battles. 

Finally Achilles' best friend (and perhaps cousin) Patroclus thought of an idea. Because Achilles refused to fight, causing the Greeks to have very low morale, Patroclus put on Achilles' famous armor and went out to fight, pretending to be Achilles. Having Achilles back boosted the confidence of the Greek army, while completely depressing the Trojan. The Greeks won a big victory. Unfortunately, however, despite wearing the powerful armor of Achilles, Hector killed Patroclus during the battle.

When Achilles heard that Patroclus was dead, he was ashamed of himself for abandoning his fellow soldiers and wanted to avenge Patroclus’ death. So, Achilles went to Hephaestus (the blacksmith god) to get new armor, and then he rejoined the battle. Now the Greeks really started to win. In an attempt to turn the tide, Hector (the hero of the Trojan army), decided to take on Achilles himself.

Achilles and Hector fought a climactic battle. Aided by his new armor, Achilles defeated the mighty Hector. To avenge the death of Patroclus, Achilles dismembered Hector’s body as a sign of disrespect. Homer’s Iliad ends as Achilles returns the mangled body of Hector to King Priam of Troy, Hector’s father.

Now that he had killed Hector, Achilles knew that his own death was near because of a prophecy. Although Achilles was nearly invincible, he did have one weakness. When he was born, Achilles was dipped into the River Styx by his mother, the goddess Thetis, making him nearly invincible. Achilles was vulnerable only in one place, his heel, because when Thetis dipped him into the river, she held him by his heel and forgot to wet it in the Styx, leaving it vulnerable. Paris, wanting to avenge the death of his brother Hector, shot an arrow at Achilles. The god Apollo, who still held a grudge against Agamemnon for taking Chryseis as his war-bride and for Achilles’ desecration of one of Apollo’s temples, guided the arrow shot by Paris into the heel of Achilles, killing him. It is said that Achilles caused his own death because of his hubris (overconfidence and self-love).

After the death of Achilles, both Odysseus and Ajax (a mighty Greek warrior) wanted the armor of Achilles. The Greeks decided that Odysseus would receive the armor, causing Ajax to go mad and kill a flock of sheep. As he regained his sanity, he realized what he had done and he killed himself.

Helenus, a prophet, had been captured by Odysseus. Helenus told the Greeks that Troy would not fall unless:

  • Pyrrhus, Achilles' son, fought in the war,
  • The bow and arrows of Hercules were used by the Greeks against the Trojans,
  • The remains of Pelops, a famous hero, were brought to Troy, and
  • The Palladium, a statue of Athena, was stolen from Troy.

The remains of Pelops were obtained, and Odysseus sneaked though the Trojan defenses to steal the Palladium. Phoenix persuaded Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, to join the war. Philoctetes had the bow and arrows of Hercules, but had been left by the Greek fleet at Lemnos because of his smelly snake bite wound. When Philoctetes was rescued from Lemnos, he was bitter at having been abandoned, but was finally persuaded to rejoin the Greeks. He killed Paris with Hercules' arrows.

The Trojan Horse

The economy of Troy was virtually destroyed, but in order to defeat the city of Troy itself, the Greeks had to get into the city. Odysseus (some say with the aid of the goddess Athena) thought of a plan to make a hollow horse with soldiers inside. The rest of the Greeks were to sail behind the nearest island, making it appear like they had given up. Only one Greek, Sinon, would remain behind to tell the Trojans that the horse was an offering to Athena and it needed to be inside the walls of Troy.

The artist Epeius designed and built the horse, and a number of the Greek warriors, along with Odysseus, climbed inside. The rest of the Greek fleet sailed away, according to plan, so as to deceive the Trojans.

When the Trojans came to marvel at the huge creation, Sinon pretended to be angry with the Greeks, stating that they had deserted him. He assured the Trojans that the wooden horse was an offering to Athena, was safe, and would bring luck to the Trojans.

Only two people, Laocoön and Cassandra, spoke out against the horse, but they were ignored. Laocoön tried to remind the Trojans of the treachery and deceit of the Greeks. As he finished his speech, two serpents crushed Laocoön to death. The Trojans thought this was a sign from the gods and quickly dragged the horse into the city.

The Trojans, thinking they had won, partied through the night. That night, after most of Troy was asleep in a drunken stupor, Sinon released the Greeks within the horse and they let in the soldiers who had just sailed back. The Greeks ransacked Troy. By the time the Trojans were awake, Troy was already burning. The Greek army slaughtered the Trojans. By morning, Troy, once the proudest city in Asia, was in ruins. King Priam was killed as he huddled by Zeus' altar and Cassandra was pulled from the statue of Athena and raped. The Greeks had finally won.

After the War

After the war, Polyxena, daughter of Priam and sister of Paris and Hector, was sacrificed at the tomb of Achilles. Astyanax, son of Hector, was also sacrificed, signifying the end of the war. Aeneas, a Trojan prince, managed to escape the destruction of Troy, and Virgil's Aeneid tells of his journey from Troy. Menelaus, who had been determined to kill Helen for leaving him, was so taken by Helen's beauty and seductiveness that he allowed her to live. The surviving Trojan women were divided among the Greek men as war-brides along with the other plunder. The Greeks then set sail for home, which, for some, proved as difficult and took as much time as the Trojan War.


Agamemnon is the first of a cycle of three plays written by the Greek playwright Aeschylus. When the play begins, King Text Box:   (From left to right)  Clytemnestra, Aegisthus, Agamemnon, Electra, and CassandraAgamemnon (brother of Menelaus and commander-in-chief of the Greek army) was still away at the Trojan War. His wife Clytemnestra and his young children, Orestes (a boy) and Electra (a girl) were at home in Mycenae. But Clytemnestra became very angry at Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia. She became lovers with Agamemnon's cousin Aegisthus, and allowed Aegisthus to rule the kingdom while Agamemnon was away, instead of keeping it safe for her husband.

When Agamemnon returned home, he acted very arrogantly. He refused to pay the gods the respect that they deserved for his victory. For instance, he walked on a red carpet to the door of his house, even though this should have been sacred to the gods. This is hubris, and the gods punished him for it. As soon as Agamemnon entered his house, Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus murdered him. Cassandra, a Trojan priestess whom Agamemnon had brought home as his slave, was also murdered.


The Odyssey was written down by the Greek poet Homer and is the story of King Odysseus' return home from the Trojan War to his kingdom of Ithaca, a small island on the western side of Greece.

Odysseus had a lot of trouble getting home, because the gods were angry at him and he did not respect their power. First he sailed from Troy with many ships, filled with the men from Ithaca who had followed him to war and all of the plunder they had taken from Troy. But he ran into trouble with the one-eyed Cyclops on the first island he stopped at on the way home, and continued to have trouble, especially with the god Poseidon, the rest of the way. Finally the goddess Athena helped him to get home.

Even after he got home, he had more trouble. He found that his house had been taken over by suitors who wanted to marry his wife, Penelope, thinking that Odysseus must be dead because he had been away so long. But with the help of his son Telemachus (tell-EM-ah-cuss), Odysseus killed all the suitors and the slaves who had helped them, and finally went back to ruling the kingdom of Ithaca with his wife Penelope.

Click here for a list of characters in the story, as well as some notable quotes and some links. •• Freewalt Family •• Search •• Terms of Use

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