The Trojan war was one of the military expeditions of great upheavals the Greeks undertook to capture lands beyond Greece.
It is an amalgamation of fact and fiction because the archaeologists have discovered that there was such an expedition. Paris, a prince of Troy, and a former guest of King Menelaus of Sparta abdicated to Troy with the most beautiful, Helen, the queen to King Menelaus.
Thus, begins the quest to avenge Troy for the insult to Greece known in history as the most significant war that popularized the mascot, the giant wooden horse.
Speculated somehow as a pursuit of vengeance against Troy, it is often associated with an ulterior motive of Greeks.
The Greeks coveted the land of Troy for its focal location on the Hellespont and disguised the war, while ultimately intending to expand Greece. Some theories also suggest that it was Zeus who planted the war to decimate the population because he thought that the Earth was already over-populated.
Whether it be a fact or a fabrication, the battles of Trojan war have been sung beautifully by the great poet Homer in his epic poem, The Iliad. While there were many catalysts in the outbreak of the great siege, I have narrowed down the top ten reasons for it:
10. Refusal to Accept Peaceful Negotiation
Helen is known as the woman who launched a thousand ships. Yes, Spartans had soon launched a thousand ships in pursuit of avenging the Trojans. With this massive fleet of ships, they arrive at the gates of Troy.
Before embarking on the calculated events, the Spartans send a peaceful message to the enemies. They knew that war on Troy could jeopardize their men and city; they decided for one last time to absolve them of their crime and negotiate peacefully.
However, their proposition is met with rejection when Troy refuses to withdraw the war. At this moment, they were at the precipice of a long, tumultuous road that only spiralled down from thereon.
The epic of Homer credits the Spartans of preaching nonviolence yet they were unstoppable. Thus, declared much talked about war ever witnessed, one of betrayal, tragedy and romance among the mortals yet immortal in its recounting as a tale.
Xenia does not refer to any event or any prominent figure in the war. In Greek, Xenos means guest and Xenia is the age-old tradition of maintaining convivial hospitality to the visitors or guests. Xenia comprises two core tenets: respect from host to guest and vice versa.
Traditionally, Greeks have accepted and practised the theory of Theoxeny, which means that occasionally guests are deities in disguise who take a skeletal form in the land of mortals to mingle with them.
And Zeus is the protector of this tradition, often referred to as Zeus Xenios, who espoused this practice as a sacred ritual of pleasing gods.
When Paris from the house of Priam of Troy visited Sparta, he violated Xenia, the custom of reverence to the host by abducting his wife, Helen, in return for the kindness shown by the host.
According to the Iliad, the Spartan King took the sheer negligence of the Trojan prince as a grave insult to him. Thus, compelling the Spartans to avenge their dishonour by their duty to Zeus. The war was a result of the severe transgression of an expressed rule or custom of Xenia.
8. Commercial Rivalry
Besides the accepted reasons for the outbreak of the war, one that is much more credible is the commercial rivalry between Sparta and Troy. You might be amused to know that the war was nothing but was a part of a strategic manoeuvre shared by many gods and kings to avail their interests.
Troy was a city in the Bronze Age that staged the Trojan war. As described by Homer, it was strong-built with high and steep walls. It was the heart of a city within a concrete periphery, impregnable for nine years.
The account of Homer lends the reader with the idea that Troy was indestructible. It perched upon a Hellenistic spot, a warring city that had defeated many barbaric attacks. It is said that Agamemnon had long since coveted the riches of Troy.
That, along with extending the borders of their regime was tempting to the Spartans. They saw this as a perfect opportunity to attack Troy to lay claim to whatever is theirs as well as Troy itself.
Consequently, Agamemnon collects Achaean men and prepares for their expeditions. Thus, the formal commencement of war churns in full swing in Sparta.
7. Wedding of Zeus and Leda
According to the mythology, Leda, the queen of Sparta, was of extraordinary beauty. Zeus was besotted and spied on her from the top of Mount Olympus for her beauty.
It compelled Zeus to disguise himself as a magnificent swan and appealed or raped Leda.
Consequently, Leda bore the children of Zeus as well as her husband, King Tyndareus. Altogether she gave birth to four kids: Helen, Clytemnestra, Pollux, and Castor, amongst whom, Helen is the child of Zeus.
Now, Helen is married to King Menelaus and is the focal character around whom this war revolves. Moreover, she, along with a few others, are the central reasons as to the outbreak of the colossal war.
6. The Prophecy
Although Zeus was married to Hera, he had many relations outside of his marriage with both immortals and mortals. Zeus was a lover of beauty. Thetis was an attractive sea nymph. Inevitably, Zeus was attracted to her and wanted to tie her in marriage.
However, he was much aware that Cronus, his father, had overthrown Uranus and fittingly, Zeus had cunningly replaced Cronus. Much later, Themis or Prometheus told him of the prophecy that he too would be overthrown by his successor, more powerful than himself.
Much to his disappointment, another forecast stated that a son born from Zeus and Thetis marriage would also birth his ultimate doom.
It seized Zeus with fear and to change the course of the prophecy, Zeus decided to alter their marriage. Thus, it renders him helpless while compounding as one of the catalysts of the great Trojan war.
5. Wedding of Thetis and Peleus
After the weight of the prophecy dawns on Zeus, he deliberately marries off Leda, the sea nymph, to an elderly mortal God, King Peleus. Their marriage consummated when Thetis gave birth to Achilles.
Step-brother to Helen, Achilles, is known as a heroic character not only in the Trojan war but throughout the Greek wars. His name is a staple for war-time heroes, especially in the Trojan war for his killing spree, relentlessly decapitating massive numbers of soldiers in ten years.
He is another central figure throughout the war for various reasons. Achilles was the sole warrior who displayed unparalleled chivalry when he defeated Hector of Troy.
Also, Achilles is held responsible for the death of thousands of Achaean soldiers for his fallout with the commander-in-chief Agamemnon and withdrawal from the waging war.
4. The Apple of Discord
The conflict rendered by the apple severely affected three Goddesses the most: Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. Each was more beautiful than the other and impatient to bag the title. As the debate avails no conclusion, Zeus intervenes.
He mentions Paris, who was a shepherd without his knowledge of being a prince of Troy. He had a reputation for delivering honest judgements. Hence, summoned to declare the chosen one, the fairest and the most beautiful one among the three.
In case you are unaware, this Paris of Troy is another central character of the Trojan war and is the reason why the siege took place in the first place.
He grew up among the shepherds, for the prophecy stated that his birth would cease the reign of Trojans forever.
Unaware of his power and position, he remains an honest shepherd for most of his life until the day of the great judgement arrives.
3. The Judgement
Bathed from the spring of Ida, the less trodden place where the shepherd resided, sprang the three goddesses, Athena, Hera and Aphrodite, resplendent with pearl-like water drops adorning their naked bodies.
It is unclear why they were naked, either because they wanted to be appealing to Paris or because he requested them. Regardless, he faced a very tricky challenge.
To ease the selection, each goddess offers him enviable rewards. Otherwise put, these attractive bribes included lasting careers, unbeatable skills, ultimate reign of Paris and the most beautiful woman as his wife.
While Athena offered him wisdom and dexterity skills of war, Hera would shower him with all political powers and control of all of Asia. Finally, Aphrodite outsmarted them and promised him Helen of Sparta, the most beautiful woman in the world and her love for Paris.
She makes him an offer he can’t refuse! Almost immediately, Paris jumps at the idea of Helen and Aphrodite is awarded the apple, the fairest of them all.
Had it not been for the wedding, the guests, Discordia, her gift, the lucrative bribes and the judgement, history would have been different. This series has not only inspired literature, prose and plot but also it has impacts in subsequent art and paintings.
Some of the greatest works of connoisseurs of art are Leda and the Swan by Michelangelo and The Judgement of Paris by Enrique Simonet.
2. The Motive of Zeus
Zeus, the God of gods, was worried about the overpopulation of Earth. He knew that the demigods, the vile offspring of gods and mortals already cluttered the world. These demigods were akin to impurity as compared to the purity of the Gods. Hence, Zeus very cleverly devised a plan to decimate the over-populous world.
The scrupulous God birthed the idea of such a plan that would manifest itself in such a way to exempt himself from taking the allegations. The conspiracy was the outbreak of a war-a strenuous, massive and a ten-year-long war that could wipe off half the population from the face of the Earth.
Believe it or not, this was the motive of Zeus behind the seemingly fateful war that toppled the two giant regimes. In fact, among the other reasons behind the war, this is the most cited one and one amongst the most immediate causes.
Their wedding was a huge gala where all the gods and goddesses descended from Heaven. Even the demigods; everyone attended except Eris, the God of discord, for well-known reasons.
Zeus had ordered Hermes to ward off Eris from the door itself. God of spite, Eris, was insulted beyond repair and tossed a golden apple into the party as a wedding gift.
The trouble lay in the inscription on the golden apple. It read, loud and clear, ‘Kallistei’ or ‘to the fairest’. Further stirring a great debate as to who the rightful deserves of the apple was. In other words, everyone in the party coveted the apple.
Makes one wonder about apples! Poisoned Snow White, keeps off doctors and here, it propels the potential of the war even further, perhaps to its peak.
1. Abduction of Helen
The trials and tribulations of Paris are over. After a few misadventures, he returns to the throne of Troy as a prince. He is eager for the love of Helen without knowing that Aphrodite neglected to confess that she was married to King Menelaus of Sparta. Thus, begins another fateful quest to abduct Helen of Sparta.
Paris chanced a visit to Sparta on the pretext of a diplomatic mission in the absence of King Menelaus of Sparta. As King Menelaus had left for Crete to bury his uncle Crateus, Paris saw this as an opportune moment in the siege of the queen.
As he ascended the gates of Sparta, Helen was struck by Cupid’s bow or by Eros, the epitome of love. As soon as she laid her eyes on him, she fell in love as promised by Aphrodite.
And so it began, the precursor to the Trojan war, the very act that sparked a sense of vengeance and one-upmanship that consumed both Troy and Sparta. Legend has it that the famous couple goes on a sailing boat first to Egypt then the fearful Paris lands at Sidon before finally reaching Troy.
Another account from the 6th-century poet Stesichorus cites that the gods had swapped Helen with a cloudy and ethereal look-alike, Nephele, while the actual Helen was already in Troy.
Whatever be the case, it was for sure that Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, the wife of King Menelaus, the queen of Sparta had been abducted and stationed at Troy and the purported war broke out to reclaim her.
You could say it was Zeus who had a foolproof plan of depopulating the Earth and was only playing along with his whims. He is guilty of several other reasons: inciting jealousy among the three contenders and summoning particularly the Paris of Troy for the judgement or of dodging his responsibilities as a god and forbidding anything against accepted norms.
You could say that it was Helen who betrayed her husband and ran off with Paris, throwing caution into thin air.
Maybe it was Aphrodite who played the pivotal role by luring Paris of a bribe that was wrong in every sense of the word.
Or perhaps it was Achilles, the outlander who is sung so emphatically by Homer. It could have been King Menelaus himself pretending not to know the whereabouts of Paris or Agamemnon and his greed.
Or, was it all destined to happen? Apart from these concrete reasons lies one, based on the establishment of fate in Greek. It is debatable for destiny might not be as solidified in Greek mythology, yet we cannot overlook it. Perhaps, it was all fore planned by the mysterious workings of fate and time. It may be that everyone, including Zeus, had merely assumed their roles in the greatest theatrical of life.
I can vouch for everything and everyone involved here to kindle the raging fire of war. It is all a convoluted tangle of events and reasons. You are free to choose any.