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You Did What?Mad Plans and Incredible Mistakes
By Bill Fawcett
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2004 Bill Fawcett
All right reserved.
You Kidnapped Whom?
It takes a lot of effort to make a series of mistakes so great that not only do they destroy your entire civilization but also become the stuff that makes one of the great epics of all times.
The Terrible Choices of the Trojan War
Troy, the Bronze Age
Brian M. Thomsen
Some of the greatest stories in history have their basis in a combination of actual events and legends, where the blurring of the line between the two creates a sense of truly epic storytelling and of heroes larger than life who are nonetheless men (centaurs and gods excluded, of course).
The factual history is unclear. Still, it took some pigheaded stupidity and shortsighted self-indulgence to effectively destroy the leading city of its day.
We know that indeed there was a city named Troy (also known as Ilium), believed to be located on a hill now called Hisarlik in the northwest reaches of Anatolia. However, this might not have been the location of the Troy as depicted in the chronicles of the Trojan War. Archaeological research has chosen a better candidate -- namely, Troy VI, which was destroyed in 1270 -- given the following facts: there are records that show it was in contact with Greece during the hypothetical period of the conflict, Greece was a flourishing yet warlike civilization at the time, and it included as part of its realm Mycenae and other locales actually mentioned in the Homeric records (which is also mentioned in various contemporary corroborating Hittite records).
Thus, when it comes to the facts, we know that there was a city of Troy (which may or may not have been located where we thought it was) and that sometime during the classical age a war took place there, possibly over a dispute concerning control of trade through the Dardanelles.
But of course there is much more to the story. A lyrical chronicle of this great war based in mythology and reportage has been passed down by the great blind bard Homer in his epic ballads The Iliad and The Odyssey.
According to Homer, the Trojan War broke out when the Prince of Troy, Paris, abducted the wife of Menelaus of Sparta, the so-called Helen of Troy, whose face could launch a thousand ships.
Bad Idea #1: Never make off with the wife of a guy who has the pull to call on an entire army to get her back.
Menelaus persuaded his brother Agamemnon to amass an army against Troy to bring his wife back. This army included such great heroes as wily Odysseus, Nestor, and Achilles, whose inclusion as part of the martial force leads us to ...
Bad Idea #2: Be careful what you choose; you will have to live (even after death) with the consequences.
According to legend and myth, the gods had offered Achilles (he of the legendary heel) a choice -- he could live a long but ordinary life or he could live a short but heroic-unto-legend-worthy life. He chose the latter, and indeed acquitted himself exceptionally during the siege of Troy, and as a result died quite heroically in battle. It is accurate to note that he eventually had second thoughts on this choice as revealed in a passage of The Odyssey, where he is encountered in the Land of the Dead and pretty much admits his regrets.
Meanwhile, back at the war ...
The battle rages for nine years as the Trojans had more than a few heroes of their own (such as Hector and his sons). Moreover, the city itself was well fortified with an enclosing wall that proved to be impenetrable from forces on the outside. As a result, after much hooting and hollering and laying to waste of the surrounding area, when all was said and done the Trojans and Helen were still safe and snug behind their city wall.
Moreover, they had gotten cocky.
Bad Idea #3: Watch whose advice you choose to ignore.
According to the myths the prophetess Cassandra was blessed with clairvoyant foresight and cursed with an aura that made those around her disbelieve anything she had to say.
Cassandra warned Hector and the Trojans that a plot to defeat Troy was afoot, and if it went forward, Troy would indeed fall.
They ignored her ... and the expected disastrous results occurred.
The Greeks realized that they were getting nowhere so wily Odysseus decided that it was time to change tactics.
So one day the Trojans looked out on the enemy Greek camp, and lo and behold it was abandoned.
The Greeks had seemingly sailed away ... but they had left something behind.
Bad Idea #4: Didn't the Trojans know to "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts"?
The Greeks had left behind a large wooden horse as a token of their esteem for so many years of good fighting; or, as said by sniveling Sinon, their left-behind spokesperson, "You won. We lost. Take this horse as the prize."
The Trojans dragged the horse into the city of Troy, inside her protective walls, which had so successfully withstood the Greeks.
Sure enough, night fell, a commando force dropped out of the horse and opened the gates from inside to allow in the now returned Greek armies.
The Greeks won.
But the story wasn't over yet.
Bad Idea #5: The gods hate a braggart so try not to piss them off.
Odysseus was quite pleased with himself that his plan had worked, and like the Trojans before him became too cocky -- which is why it took him so long to get home (the delays of which are detailed in The Odyssey).
The gods had taken sides during the war and in some cases fought side by side with the mortal warriors.
Most of them did not appreciate having been bested by a mere mortal, even if he was Athena's favorite.
As to other victorious Greeks coming home from their victory ...
Excerpted from You Did What? by Bill Fawcett Copyright © 2004 by Bill Fawcett. Excerpted by permission.
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