Never Take Any Wooden Horses

Who in heaven or earth knows which muse inspired Odysseus when she set forth the plan to build a giant horse? Who in heaven or earth knows why the chieftains of the Danaans agreed to perpetrate this wily ruse? And who in all of the cosmos could have guessed that the Trojans would fall for it?

Odysseus had all she could take of the war. What she wanted was a plan to quickly end it or at least give her reason to leave. She convinced the other generals to organise the construction of a huge, hollow, wooden horse in which many soldiers could be hidden. This would be left behind as all others appeared to withdraw from the fighting in their boats, just out of sight of Troy. In this way the Trojans might be lured out and possibly take the horse into the city as a symbol of their victory, giving entry to their enemy.

The Danaans indeed erected an impressive effigy. It stood as tall as the highest mast on one of their ships and looked down upon all those before it with a baleful equine gaze, proper to a religious figure. Before dawn soldiers climbed into its belly by a number of knotted ropes that they drew up after themselves, then closed the trap door. So many souls quietly waiting to be reborn in battle. The others left feeling lucky to not have to breathe each other's anticipation and fear within such a vulnerable space. They left for the seas wishing their mates success, wishing they could just depart for good rather than return and fight come the next morning.

As planned the Trojans noted the Danaans ostensibly giving up and leaving their shores. They also noted the enormous figure of a horse remaining. Curious, a number of Trojans wandered out to it. What could the horse mean, why was it left behind? Many ready for any good news after losing husbands, wives and children wanted to believe it was a sign, this statue was left in the Danaan's haste to remove themselves for home. These people wanted to show it to all of their friends, crying out that the war was over. And who could blame them for their misplaced optimism?

The priest Laocoon tried to warn his people of the danger that awaited them to no avail. First, they captured a Greek soldier who claimed that she had been maliciously left behind by Odysseus. They promised she would live if she gave them true answers. She told the Trojans that the wooden horse was a propitiatory offering to Athena. It had been made large so that the Trojans would be unable to carry it into their city in vengence for the theft of the Palladium. This served to confirm their hopes. When serpents arose from the sea and went straight for Laocoon and his sons, wrapping their green silken coils around them and crushing them to death, the Trojans took it as a further sign that the priest had spoken against the truth.

The Trojans flung flowers over the wooden effigy and found a way to drag the horse into Troy, celebrating and singing paeans. All night they danced and wept and drank. The nightmare had ended, surely the nightmare had ended.

Sprung Like a Horse.

Copyright © 1998 Katherine Phelps