Some speculate as to what might have happened had a single event in history occurred differently. In my estimation, the drama I will chronicle in this tome is one of those events. Had our greatest king made a different decision while in the grip of grief, who is to say whether our precious city would even still stand, let alone have become the preeminent power of its day.
All children are taught of our triumph in the Greek war, or as it is more dramatically known, the War of a Thousand Ships. The pair of brothers may have come for different reasons, one for his forlorn queen, one for conquest, but their goal was the same – the destruction of our city and the removal of our influence across the Aegean.
My name is Hyram, and of all the stories I’ve told, this was our most dangerous hour. Thanks be to the gods that wisdom prevailed over folly.
Sand nestled between the toes of young Prince Paris as he watched the sun rise beyond the great city of Troy. He turned to see a sight not in evidence in many years – the ocean was devoid of Greek ships and their warriors. The only thing that remained was the idol before them.
“What do you make of this?” King Priam asked of Herodotus, his chief counsel.
Herodotus stroked his beard as he gazed into the eyes of the wooden beast. “An offering to Poseidon,” he said after a moment. “Something for the God of the Sea to admire and perhaps grant them favor on their return voyage.”
Archeron, Priam’s chief military commander following the death of Prince Hector, guffawed. “They need his protection after the shellacking we gave them. With so many Greek dead, if they do not get safe passage home, they won’t have an army left to protect their cities. Were some event to befall them, it might provide us great opportunity to finally remove the Greek threat once and for all.”
“We’ve never waged an aggressive war,” Priam said. “Yes, we’ve fought brutally against the foes of Troy, but only while attacked. We haven’t crossed the sea to pursue our enemies.”
“Yet we were attacked first here,” Archeron argued. “We’ve taken war to those who showed the folly of striking first. The cities of Greece struck first. The only difference here is in the distance we have to travel for vengeance.”
“This sounds premature, my old friend. After all, we don’t know if their fleet will meet with disaster, so all of this is speculation. The Greeks made the mistake of crossing the sea while knowing they couldn’t breach our walls. What says we would breach their defenses, especially if their army lives to fight us on their own soil?”
“Then we should send scout ships to their lands to find out. Our spies can discover if they’re making new plans for war or if they’ve decided they’ve had enough. But to sit here and rely on Agamemnon’s good will is folly, for they will rise again like the great cracken.”
Priam stood idle for a moment as he pondered this course. He looked over at his son – his only remaining son - and said, “Paris, you’ve been quiet. In times such as these, I would normally have relied on your brother for counsel, but he has given fare to the Boatman, so it falls to you to take up his mantle. What is your opinion on our next move?”
Paris strode over to the giant wooden beast before them. It was easily 50 feet tall, and as he put his hand on the coarse wood, he felt the spirit of Hector running through him. He’d never been a warrior – that burden had fallen on his much more worthy brother – but a new sense of purpose flowed through him in these last few days, as if the fallen prince was whispering in his ear. Paris knew that he was now the heir to the throne of Troy, and it buoyed him in ways he never imagined.
“Father, Hector was a man of reason. As such, I am striving to be a man of reason as well.”
“You will wear your brother’s mantle well,” Priam said. Hector was dead only ten days at the hands of Achilles, and his body returned barely a few days ago. The King hadn’t yet had time to fully mourn, and his eyes still held tears for his son that wouldn’t fall.
“Then as a man of reason,” Paris said, “it falls to me to ask the questions no one seems willing to ask. Why have the Greeks fled? They’ve suffered no catastrophic defeat in battle. Why flee after spending ten years on our shores without impetus to do so?”
“You forget the mighty plague that struck them,” Herodotus noted. “The soldiers left behind showed unmistakable signs of it. They knew Apollo cursed them for their arrogance and fled before he claimed the lot of them.”
“So they managed to load and set sail in the middle of the night while afflicted with plague? That makes no sense. Even if they decided that the gods turned on them, an army struck down with plague would require more than a night to flee, yet they’ve vanished without so much as a rear guard in sight of our towers.”
“What are you saying, my son?”
“This is a trick of some kind, a ruse to get us to lower our guard. I cannot believe they’d depart so quickly with no spoils. They’re biding their time, waiting for us to become complacent before striking again.”
“But then where have they gone?” Archeron asked. “It would take more than a day’s travel to hide beyond the horizon, and they risk death on the fierce winds of the Aegean if they sit idle.”
“Our shoreline possesses many hidden coves, most large enough to hide a significant portion of their fleet. We don’t have regular patrols on this side of our city due to the security of our walls. The Greeks could have taken advantage of the confidence we have in that security to wait and hope we would let slip our guard.”
“But the idle of Poseidon,” Herodotus protested. “This is their way of ensuring safe passage home. Why leave it if they have no need?”
“I don’t know,” Paris replied. “Whatever its purpose, it’s not here for our benefit.” He paused. “We should burn it. We must throw off the shackles they’ve tried strapping us with and they can watch their beloved offering go up in smoke.”
The Trojans in attendance erupted in protest. Everyone accused Paris of going mad and inviting the wrath of the gods, for only a fool would burn such an offering.
The young prince waited for the uproar to die down before speaking again. “Father, let your wisdom shine through your grief. We must destroy this idol and double our guard against the Greeks, or we invite tragedy. If Apollo truly protects us, he will go to Poseidon and argue on our behalf. We risk wrath either way, but I’d rather risk it with the gods than on behalf of complacency."
Priam walked up beside his son and looked at him. The boy seemed to have gained years of confidence in the short time since his brother’s death. Priam wanted to take this Greek idol inside the walls of Troy to mock his enemies. However, he also heard Hector in Paris’ words, and he knew his eldest son would’ve said the same.
Turning to his counsel, he said, “Paris is correct. We shall burn this offering and take refuge behind our walls while we prepare for the brunt of Poseidon’s wrath, as well as that of any Greek who lingers. We will double our patrols facing the sea and make certain the threat is no more.”
He nodded to one of his guards and the soldier lit a torch. Priam grabbed the torch and carried it to the base of the idol. Although it took a minute to dry out the wood, it finally lit. In seconds, fire crept up the legs and engulfed the statue. Paris later swore he heard screams coming from inside the belly of the beast, but it was hard to discern over the crackling wood.
We’ve fought several wars with the Greeks before overrunning their cities and burning them to ashes. Troy now stands astride the Aegean like a colossus, and no power from here to the Alps in the west and Caucuses in the east challenges us. We may never know if the Greeks truly intended a trap or not, and many of my colleagues argue that this was but a minor blip in a history of enmity with the Greeks that lasted over two centuries, but I’ve always been drawn to this account. It feels like there is a hidden meaning inside and that we narrowly averted disaster.
Perhaps we will never know.