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

Page: 145

With an inarticulate cry of joy, Laodamia beheld the beloved countenance of Protesilaus once more, and from his own lips heard the detailed account of his early death. The three hours passed all too quickly in delicious intercourse; and when Mercury reappeared to lead him back to Hades, the loving wife, unable to endure a second parting, died of grief.

The same grave, it is said, was the resting place of this united pair, and kind-hearted nymphs planted elm trees over their remains. These trees grew “until they were high enough to command a view of Troy, and then withered away, while fresh branches sprang from the roots.”

“Upon the side
Of Hellespont (such faith was entertained)
A knot of spiry trees for ages grew
From out the tomb of him for whom she died;
And ever, when such stature they had gained
That Ilium’s walls were subject to their view,
The trees’ tall summits withered at the sight;
A constant interchange of growth and blight!”

Hostilities had now begun, and the war between the conflicting hosts was waged with equal courage and skill. During nine long years of uninterrupted strife, the Greeks’ efforts to enter Troy, or Ilium, as it was also called, were vain, as were also the [318] Trojans’ attempts to force the foe to leave their shores. This memorable struggle is the theme of many poems. The oldest and most renowned of all, the Iliad, begins with the story of the tenth and last year’s events.

Chryseis and Briseis.

Among a number of captives taken in a skirmish by the Hellenic troops, were two beautiful maidens, Chryseis, daughter of Chryses, priest of Apollo, and Briseis. The prisoners were, as usual, allotted to various chiefs, and Agamemnon received the priest’s daughter as reward for his bravery, while Achilles triumphantly led to his tent the equally fair Briseis.

When Chryses heard that his child had fallen into the hands of the enemy, he hastened to Agamemnon’s tent to offer a rich ransom for her recovery; but the aged father’s entreaties were all unheeded, and he was dismissed with many heartless taunts. Exasperated by this cruel treatment, he raised his hands to heaven, and implored Apollo to avenge the insults he had received by sending down upon the Greeks all manner of evil. This prayer was no sooner heard than answered, by the sun god’s sending a terrible plague to decimate the enemy’s troops.

“The aged man indignantly withdrew;
And Phœbus—for the priest was dear to him—
Granted his prayer, and sent among the Greeks
A deadly shaft. The people of the camp
Were perishing in heaps.”
Homer (Bryant’s tr.).

The Greeks, in terror, now consulted an oracle to know why this calamity had come upon them, and how they might check the progress of the deadly disease which was so rapidly reducing their forces. They were told that the plague would never cease until Agamemnon surrendered his captive, and thus disarmed Apollo’s wrath, which had been kindled by his rude refusal to comply with the aged priest’s request.