Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 144

The Greeks, however anxious to depart, dared not sail without him. They were in despair, until Ulysses, the wily, proposed a plan, and offered to carry it out.

“Ulysses, man of many arts,
Son of Laertes, reared in Ithaca,
That rugged isle, and skilled in every form
Of shrewd device and action wisely planned.”
Homer (Bryant’s tr.).
Ulysses discovers Achilles.

Arrayed in peddler’s garb, with a pack upon his shoulders, Ulysses entered Lycomedes’ palace, where he shrewdly suspected Achilles was concealed, and offered his wares for sale. The maidens selected trinkets; but one of them, closely veiled, seized a weapon concealed among the ornaments, and brandished it with such skill, that Ulysses saw through the assumed disguise, explained his presence and purpose, and by his eloquence persuaded the young Achilles to accompany him to Aulis.

The Greeks were now ready to embark; but no favorable wind came to swell the sails, which day after day hung limp and motionless against the tall masts of their vessels.

“The troops
Collected and imbodied, here we sit
Inactive, and from Aulis wish to sail
In vain.”
Euripides (Potter’s tr.).
Sacrifice of Iphigenia.

Calchas, the soothsayer of the expedition, was again consulted, to discover how they might best win the favor of the gods; and the reply given purported that no favorable wind would blow until Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon, was offered up in sacrifice to appease the everlasting gods.

Many other propitiatory methods were tried; but as they all [316] proved ineffective, Agamemnon, urged by his companions, sent for his daughter, feigning that he wished to celebrate her nuptials with Achilles before his departure.

“I wrote, I seal’d
A letter to my wife, that she should send
Her daughter, to Achilles as a bride
Euripides (Potter’s tr.).

Iphigenia came to her father secretly delighted at being the chosen bride of such a hero; but, instead of being led to the hymeneal altar, she was dragged to the place of sacrifice, where the priest, with uplifted knife, was about to end her sufferings, when Diana suddenly appeared, snatched her up in a cloud, and left in her stead a deer, which was duly sacrificed, while Iphigenia was borne in safety to Tauris, where she became a priestess in one of the goddess’s temples.

Arrival at Troy.

The gods were now propitious, and the wind slowly rose, filled the sails of the waiting vessels, and wafted them swiftly and steadily over the sea to the Trojan shores, where an army stood ready to prevent the Greek troops from disembarking. The invaders were eager to land to measure their strength against the Trojans; yet all hesitated to leave the ships, for an oracle had foretold that the first warrior who attempted to land would meet with instant death.

“‘The Delphic oracle foretold
That the first Greek who touched the Trojan strand
Should die.’”
Protesilaus and Laodamia.

Protesilaus, a brave chief, seeing his comrades’ irresolution, and animated by a spirit of self-sacrifice, sprang boldly ashore, and perished, slain by the enemy, as soon as his foot had touched the foreign soil. When the tidings of his death reached his beloved wife, Laodamia, whom he had left in Thessaly, they well-nigh broke her heart; and in her [317] despair she entreated the gods to let her die, or allow her to see her lord once more, were it but for a moment. Her appeal was so touching, that the gods could not refuse to hear it, and bade Mercury conduct her husband’s shade back to earth, to tarry with her for three hours’ time.

“‘Such grace hath crowned thy prayer,
Laodamia! that at Jove’s command
Thy husband walks the paths of upper air:
He comes to tarry with thee three hours’ space;
Accept the gift, behold him face to face!’”