Although the Iliad ends with the death of Hector, there is still more to the story. In this week's reading Edith Hamilton recounts the story of the Fall of Troy, a city besieged for more than ten years. She draws on Virgil's Aeneid for this part. Although I am sure there is more to the Aeneid, I always wondered just what it was about (another book that is in my reading pile that I hope to get to some day). The story of the fall of Troy occurs in the second book of the Aeneid, which Hamilton calls Virgil's best--"concise, pointed, vivid". And like her other retellings she draws on several other sources to fill things out.
With the death of Hector, Achilles knows his own end is not far behind. His death was foretold, which is why Thetis, Achilles' mother, tried to hide him away and keep him safe (he was hidden in a court far from Athens, dressed as a girl, if you might recall). It's Paris (who will die an ignominious death himself in the end) who strikes the fatal blow. Although there are several stories that explain Achilles' vulnerable heels, I like best the one Hamilton uses. Thetis dipped her son in to the River Styx to protect him, but she held him by the heels and forgot to dip them in as well. Paris had a little help, however, as Apollo guided the arrow that Paris let loose, striking Achilles. He was burned on a funeral pyre and then his ashes were mingled with those of his beloved friend Patroclus in the same urn.
By now things are getting a little old. Years have passed, many great men have been killed and everyone is getting tired. The Greeks just want to find a way to put an end to the war. They discover there was a great statue called the Palladium, an image of Pallas Athena, in Troy. As long as this statue is in their possession the city will not fall to the Greeks. Odysseus and Diomedes are the last great chieftains left. Diomedes sneaks over the wall into Troy under cover of the night and makes off with the statue. Now there is nothing left protecting the city. They devise a plan to surprise the Trojans and enter the city to finally conquer it. And it involves a great wooden horse.
I suspect you already know the rest of the story, but there were a few details that were new to me. The Greeks pretend to abandon their camp, return to their boats and sail back to Greece, thereby accepting defeat. One lone Greek will remain to act as a lure for the Trojans to open their gates. When they do he tells them that he was left behind, meant to be a sacrifice to appease Athena for the theft of the Palladium, but he escaped. The wooden horse is an offering to Athena, the size meant to discourage the Trojans from bringing it into the city (and avoid yet more of Athena's anger). Of course they're tricked into opening their gates and pulling in the horse from which will spring a number of Greeks, and into the city will pour the rest from the ships which were just hidden out of sight. When the Greeks finish there will be nothing left of Troy--the "proudest city in Asia" will be a fiery ruin.
If I didn't already know this somewhere in the back of my mind, to Virgil and the Roman poets, war was the "noblest and most glorious of human activities". And to follow--how one dies decides who one will be buried and remembered. The Greeks believed that suicides should not be honored with a funeral pyre and urn-burial. They were simply buried in the ground.
Next week is the Adventures of Odysseus and to follow will be the Adventures of Aeneas. They are both lengthy chapters. I've still got a few sections left to read beyond those, but I think I've got most of the major stories behind me now. I'm enjoying reading Edith Hamilton, but I hope to finish the book well before the end of the year and then will see just where my reading of the Myths takes me next.