ATHENA was the great Olympian goddess of war, defence, crafts and wise counsel.
This page is the second describing Athena's role in the saga of the Trojan War. From the arrival of Penthesilea to the building of the Trojan Horse and the destruction of the Greek fleet on its return from Troy, Athena continued to play a pivotal role in the story.
The previous page, Athena Myths 2 (under construction), describes Athena's role in the first part of the Trojan War up to and including the events of the Iliad.
POSTHOMERICA: BATTLE OF PENTHESILEA
Athena drove the Amazon Penthesileia to face Akhilleus in single combat upon her arrival at Troy. The goddess was also present to oversee the day's battles.
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 1. 154 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"Slumber mist-like overveiled her [the Amazon Penthesileia's] eyes depths like sweet dew dropping round. From heavens' blue slid down the might of a deceitful dream at Pallas' [Athena's] hest, that so the warrior-maid might see it, and become a curse to Troy and to herself, when strained her soul to meet; the whirlwind of the battle. In this wise Tritogeneia [Athena], the subtle-souled, contrived: stood o'er the maiden's head that baleful dream in likeness of her father [Ares], kindling her fearlessly front to front to meet in fight fleetfoot Akhilleus. And she heard the voice, and all her heart exulted, for she weened that she should on that dawning day achieve a mighty deed in battle's deadly toil. Ah, fool, who trusted for her sorrow a dream out of the sunless land, such as beguiles full oft the travail-burdened tribes of men, whispering mocking lies in sleeping ears, and to the battle's travail lured her then!"
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 1. 382 ff :
"These [Karian allies of the Trojans] mid the storm of battle Meges [Greek leader from Doulikhion] slew, nor these alone, but whomsoe'er his lance black-shafted touched, were dead men; for his breast the glorious Tritogeneia [Athena] with courage thrilled to bring to all his foes the day of doom."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 1. 600 ff :
"Loud clashed their [Akhilleus and Aias'] glorious armour: in their souls a battle-fury like the War-god's wrath maddened; such might was breathed into these twain by Atrytone [Athena], Shaker of the Shield, as on they pressed."
POSTHOMERICA: DEATH OF AKHILLEUS
After the death of Akhilleus, Athena protected his corpse with ambrosia.
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 3. 610 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"On a couch laid they the mighty fallen, Peleus' son [Akhilleus]. Tritogeneia [Athena], the passing-wise, beheld and pitied him, and showered upon his head ambrosia, which hath virtue aye to keep taintless, men say, the flesh of warriors slain. Like softly-breathing sleeper dewy-fresh she made him: over that dead face she drew a stern frown, even as when he lay, with wrath darkening his grim face, clasping his slain friend Patroklos; and she made his frame to be more massive, like a war-god to behold. And wonder seized the Argives, as they thronged and saw the image of a living man, where all the stately length of Peleus' son lay on the couch, and seemed as though he slept."
POSTHOMERICA: MADNESS OF AIAS
In the contest between Odysseus and Aias for the arms of Akhilleus, Athena intervened in support of the former. When Aias in his jealousy then contrived to murder Odysseus she drove him mad.
Lesches or Cinaethon, The Little Iliad Fragment 1 (from Proclus, Chrestomathia 2) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"Next [in the Epic Cycle of poems] comes the Little Iliad in four books by Leskhes of Mitylene: its contents are as follows. The adjudging of the arms of Akhilleus takes place, and Odysseus, by the contriving of Athena, gains them. Aias then becomes mad and destroys the herd of the Akhaians and kills himself."
"The story runs as follows: Aias and Odysseus were quarrelling as to their achievements [in the contest for the arms of Akhilleus], says the poet of the 'Little Iliad', and Nestor advised the Hellenes to send some of their number to go to the foot of the walls and overhear what was said about the valour of the heroes named above. The eavesdroppers heard certain girls disputing, one of them saying that Aias was by far a better man than Odysseus and continuing as follows: 'For Aias took up and carried out of the strife the hero, Peleus' son: this great Odysseus cared not to do.'
To this another replied by Athena's contrivance: 'Why, what is this you say? A thing against reason and untrue! Even a woman could carry a load once a man had put it on her shoulder; but she could not fight. For she would fail with fear if she should fight.' [and Odysseus won the contest for the arms]." - The Little Iliad, Frag 3 (from Scholiast on Aristophanes, Knights 1056)
“Aias and the arms of Akhilleus. Akhilleus’ arms were set up as a reward for the best man, and Aias and Odysseus entered the competition. When Odysseus was chosen, Aias, unsteadied by his mortification, plotted an attack on the army by night. Athena inflicted insanity upon him and caused him to turn with his sword upon the cattle; in his madness he slaughtered both the cattle and their herdsman, supposing them to be Akhaians. Later he regained his senses and killed himself as well.” - Apollodorus, The Library E5.6
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 5. 520 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"[Aias (Ajax) went mad after losing the armour of Akhilleus to Odysseus and slew the sheep flocks of the Greeks believing them to be his enemies:] So cried he [in triumph], thinking that amidst the slain [his rival] Odysseus lay blood-boltered at his feet. But in that moment from his mind and eyes Athena tore away the nightmare-fiend of Madness havoc-breathing, and it passed thence swiftly to the rock-walled river Styx . . .
Then Aias saw those sheep upon the earth gasping in death; and sore amazed he stood, for he divined that by the Blessed Ones his senses had been cheated . . .
He groaned in misery, and in anguish wailed: ‘Ah me! why do the Gods abhor me so? They have wrecked my mind, have with fell madness filled, making me slaughter all these innocent sheep! Would God that on Odysseus' pestilent heart mine hands had so avenged me! . . .’ [and slew himself in shame]."
"When Achilles was killed and given burial, Telamonian Ajax demanded from the Danaans the arms of Achilles, on the grounds that he was cousin on his father’s side. Through the anger of Minerva [Athena] they were denied him by Agamemnon and Menelaus, and given to Ulysses. Ajax, harbouring rage, in madness slaughtered his flocks, and killed himself with a sword." - Hyginus, Fabulae 107
POSTHOMERICA: BATTLE OF EURYPYLOS
When the Mysian prince Eurypylos arrived at Troy as an ally of the Trojans, Athena returned to support the Greeks on the battlefield.
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 7. 150 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"By their towers screened, did the trembling Danaans abide Telephos' mighty son [Eurypylos, who had driven them back to their ships]. Yea, he had burnt the ships, and all that host had he destroyed, had not Athena at the last inspired the Argive men with courage. Ceaselessly from the high rampart hurled they at the foe with bitter-biting darts, and slew them fast."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 7. 620 ff :
"That desperate battle-travail Pallas saw [when Eurypylos laid siege to the Greek encampment], and left the halls of Heaven incense-sweet, and flew o'er mountain-crests: her hurrying feet touched not the earth, borne by the air divine in form of cloud-wreaths, swifter than the wind. She came to Troy, she stayed her feet upon Sigeion's windyness, she looked forth thence over the ringing battle of dauntless men, and gave the Akhaians glory. Akhilleus' son [Neoptolemos] beyond the rest was filled with valour and strength which win renown for men in whom they meet."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 8. 350 ff :
"So man to man dealt death . . . and Ares terribly shouted in answer, and with courage thrilled the Trojans, and with panic fear the Greeks, and shook their reeling squadrons. But one man he scared not, even Akhilleus' son [Neoptolemos]; he abode, and fought undaunted, slaying foes on foes . . . Ares at his eager mood grew wroth, and would have cast his veil of cloud away, and met him face to face in fight, but now Athena from Olympos swooped to forest-mantled Ida. Quaked the earth and Xanthos' murmuring streams; so mightily she shook them: terror-stricken were the souls of all the Nymphai, adread for Priam's town. From her immortal armour flashed around the hovering lightnings; fearful serpents breathed fire from her shield invincible; the crest of her great helmet swept the clouds. And now she was at point to close in sudden fight with Ares; but the mighty will of Zeus daunted them both, from high heaven thundering his terrors. Ares drew back from the war, for manifest to him was Zeus's wrath. To wintry Thrake he passed; his haughty heart reeked no more of the Trojans. In the plain of Troy no more stayed Pallas; she was gone to hallowed Athens. But the armies still strove in the deadly fray; and fainted now the Trojans' prowess; but all battle-fain the Argives pressed on these as they gave ground."
POSTHOMERICA: RETURN OF PHILOKTETES
The Greeks received a prophecy from prince Helenos of Troy that the city would not fall without the help of Philoktetes, who the Greeks had abandoned on the island of Lemnos. Athena assisted with the reconciliation by soothing the exile's anger and restoring him to good form.
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 9. 437 & 524 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"[The Greeks came to fetch Philoktetes back from Lemnos] Fierce memory of his wrongs awoke against these, who had left him years agone . . . but, even as upon that godlike twain [Odysseus and Diomedes] he gazed, Athena caused his bitter wrath to melt away . . . Till rose the dawn they tarried by the strand of sea-girt Lemnos, but with dayspring cast the hawsers loose, and heaved the anchor-stones out of the deep. Athena sent a breeze blowing behind the galley taper-prowed. They strained the sail with either stern-sheet taut; seaward they pointed the stout-girdered ship . . .
Philoktetes' erstwhile wasted frame was all requickened [after Podaleirios healed his wound]: - in the galley's hold he seemed to have left all cares that crushed his soul. And Atreus' sons beheld him marvelling as one re-risen from the dead: it seemed the work of hands immortal. And indeed so was it verily, as their hearts divined; for 'twas glorious Tritogeneia [Athena] that shed stature and grace upon him. Suddenly he seemed as when of old mid Argive men he stood, before calamity struck him down."
POSTHOMERICA: THEFT OF THE PALLADION
Another condition was revealed to the Greeks by the seer Helenos, that Troy would not fall as long as the Palladion (a small statue of Athena) remained ensconced in their citadel.
"Next [in the Epic Cycle] comes the 'Little Iliad' in four books by Leskhes of Mitylene: its contents are as follows ...
Odysseus carries the Palladion out of Troy with help of Diomedes." - The Little Iliad, Frag 1 (from Proclus Chrestomathia 2)
"Ilos built a city and called it Ilion [Troy]. And having prayed to Zeus that a sign might be shown to him, he beheld by day the Palladion, fallen from heaven, lying before his tent. It was three cubits in height, its feet joined together; in its right hand it held a spear aloft, and in the other hand a distaff and spindle ... Elektra [the ancestress of Troy], at the time of her violation, took refuge at the image, and Zeus threw the Palladion along with Ate into the Ilian country; and Ilos built a temple for it, and honored it. Such is the legend of the Palladion." - Apollodorus, The Library 3.12.3
“Under compulsion, Helenos told [the Greeks] how Ilion might be taken … and third [in the list of conditions], if the Palladion from Zeus were stolen, for as long as it was in Troy the polis could not be sacked …Odysseus with Diomedes went at night to the polis, and while Diomedes waited obediently, Odysseus … [disguised] as a beggar, entered the polis unrecognised. But Helene knew him, and helped him steal the Palladion … and carried it back to the ships with Diomedes in tow.” - Apollodorus, The Library E5.12-13
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 10. 382 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"Tydeus' son [Diomedes] should with Odysseus scale the great wall, and should slay Alkathous the temple-warder, and should bear away Pallas the Gracious, with her free consent, whose image was the sure defence of Troy; - yea, for not even a God, how wroth soe'er, had power to lay the City of Priamos waste while that immortal shape stood warder there. No man had carven that celestial form, but Kronos' Son [Zeus] himself had cast it down from heaven to Priamos's gold-abounding burg."
"He [Hephaestion] speaks of the Palladion which Diomedes and Odysseus went together to steal." - Ptolemy Hephaestion Bk3 (as summarized in Photius, Myriobiblon 190)
"I [Odysseus] revealed the oracle and the fate of Troy. I seized, deep in among our foes, their image of Minerva Phrygia [Athena] from her sanctuary … Without that image the Fata [Moirai or Fates] in fact refused that Troy should fall … Ulixes [Odysseus] dared to pass the sentries, trust to the dark night, and brave their savage swords and penetrate not just he walls, but Troia’s high citadel, and seize the goddess from her shrine and go back with his holy captive through the foe … I’ve removed fate's impediment: by making possible the doom of soaring Troy, I’ve sealed her doom … by the gods that I abducted from the enemy … If you’ll not give me [Odysseus] the arms [of Akhilleus], give them to her!’ He pointed to Minerva’s [Athena’s] fateful statue standing there." - Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.335
POSTHOMERICA: THE FINAL BATTLES
Athena was again present at Troy during the last few battles of the war.
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 11. 300 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"Then did the Argive might prevail at last by stern decree of Pallas; for she came into the heart of battle, hot to help the Greeks to lay waste Priamos's glorious town.
Then Aphrodite, who lamented sore for Paris slain, snatched suddenly away renowned Aeneas from the deadly strife . . . No more the Trojans now abode the edge of fight, but all disheartened backward drew. For like fierce ravening beasts the Argive men leapt on them, mad with murderous rage of war."
POSTHOMERICA: THE TROJAN HORSE
The seer Kalkhas received a sign from the gods that Troy would never be taken by force of arms. Athena then inspired Odysseus and Epeios to contrive the device of the Trojan Horse by which they might gain entry to the city. The goddess also intervened when the gods allied with the Trojans conspired to destroy the Horse.
"Next [in the Epic Cycle] comes the Little Iliad in four books by Leskhes of Mitylene: its contents are as follows . . .
The Trojans are now closely beseiged, and Epeios, by Athena's instruction, builds the wooden horse." - The Little Iliad, Frag 1 (from Proclus Chrestomathia 2)
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 12. 33 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"Laertes' son [Odysseus] discerned it of his wisdom, and he spake [in reply to Kalkhas' prophecy]: ‘Friend, in high honour held of the Heavenly Ones, If doomed it be indeed that Priamos' burg by guile must fall before the war-worn Greeks, a great Horse let us fashion, in the which our mightiest shall take ambush. Let the host burn all their tents, and sail from hence away to Tenedos; so the Trojans, from their towers gazing, shall stream forth fearless to the plain. Let some brave man, unknown of any in Troy, with a stout heart abide without the Horse, crouching beneath its shadow, who shall say: "Akhaia's lords of might, exceeding fain safe to win home, made this their offering for safe return, an image to appease the wrath of Pallas for her image stolen from Troy."’"
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 12. 84 ff :
"Fashion we [the Greeks] the Horse by Epeios' hands, who in the woodwright's craft is chiefest far of Argives, for Athena taught his lore."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 12. 106 ff :
"In that still hour [of late evening] Athena left the high mansions of the Blest, clothed her in shape of a maiden tender-fleshed, and came to ships and host [of the Greeks]. Over the head of brave Epeios stood she in his dream, and bade him build a Horse of tree: herself would labour in his labour, and herself stand by his side, to the work enkindling him. Hearing the Goddess' word, with a glad laugh leapt he from careless sleep: right well he knew the Immortal One celestial. Now his heart could hold no thought beside; his mind was fixed upon the wondrous work, and through his soul marched marshalled each device of craftsmanship.
When rose the dawn, and thrust back kindly night to Erebos, and through the firmament streamed glad glory, then Epeios told his dream to eager Argives - all he saw and heard; and hearkening joyed they with exceeding joy. Straightway to tall-tressed Ida's leafy glades the sons of Atreus sent swift messengers. These laid the axe unto the forest-pines, and hewed the great trees: to their smiting rang the echoing glens . . . and in haste they bare them down from those shagged mountain heights to Hellespont's shores.
Strained with a strenuous spirit at the work young men and mules; and all the people toiled each at his task obeying Epeios's hest.
For with the keen steel some were hewing beams, some measuring planks, and some with axes lopped branches away from trunks as yet unsawn: each wrought his several work. Epeios first fashioned the feet of that great Horse of Wood: the belly next he shaped, and over this moulded the back and the great loins behind, the throat in front, and ridged the towering neck
With waving mane: the crested head he wrought, the streaming tail, the ears, the lucent eyes - all that of lifelike horses have. So grew like a live thing that more than human work, for a God gave to a man that wondrous craft.
And in three days, by Pallas's decree, finished was all. Rejoiced thereat the host of Argos, marvelling how the wood expressed mettle, and speed of foot - yea, seemed to neigh. Godlike Epeius then uplifted hands to Pallas, and for that huge Horse he prayed: ‘Hear, great-souled Goddess: bless thine Horse and me!’
He spake: Athena rich in counsel heard, and made his work a marvel to all men which saw, or heard its fame in days to be."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 12. 167 ff :
"When imperious Zeus far from the Gods had gone to Okeanos's streams and Tethys' caves [whilst the Greeks were constructing the Wooden Horse], strife rose between the Immortals: heart with heart was set at variance. Riding on the blasts of winds, from heaven to earth they swooped: the air crashed round them. Lighting down by Xanthos' stream arrayed they stood against each other, these for the Akhaians, for the Trojans those; and all their souls were thrilled with lust of war: there gathered too the Lords of the wide Sea. These in their wrath were eager to destroy the Horse of Guile and all the ships, and those fair Ilion. But all-contriving Fate held them therefrom, and turned their hearts to strife against each other. Ares to the fray rose first, and on Athena rushed. Thereat fell each on other: clashed around their limbs the golden arms celestial as they charged. round them the wide sea thundered, the dark earth quaked 'neath immortal feet. Rang from them all far-pealing battle-shouts; that awful cry rolled up to the broad-arching heaven, and down even to Hades' fathomless abyss: trembled the Titanes there in depths of gloom. Ida's long ridges sighed, sobbed clamorous streams of ever-flowing rivers, groaned ravines far-furrowed, Argive ships, and Priam's towers. Yet men feared not, for naught they knew of all that strife, by Heaven's decree. Then her high peaks the Gods' hands wrenched from Ida's crest, and hurled against each other: but like crumbling sands shivered they fell round those invincible limbs, shattered to small dust. But the mind of Zeus, at the utmost verge of earth, was ware of all: straight left he Okeanos's stream, and to wide heaven ascended, charioted upon the winds . . . So came he to Olympos' giant ridge. His wrath shook all the firmament, as crashed from east to west his thunders; lightnings gleamed, as thick and fast his thunderbolts poured to earth, and flamed the limitless welkin. Terror fell upon the hearts of those Immortals: quaked the limbs of all - ay, deathless though they were!
Then Themis, trembling for them, swift as thought leapt down through clouds, and came with speed to them - for in the strife she only had no part and stood between the fighters, and she cried: ‘Forbear the conflict! O, when Zeus is wroth, it ill beseems that everlasting Gods should fight for men's sake, creatures of a day: else shall ye be all suddenly destroyed; for Zeus will tear up all the hills, and hurl upon you: sons nor daughters will he spare, but bury 'neath one ruin of shattered earth all. No escape shall ye find thence to light, in horror of darkness prisoned evermore.’
Dreading Zeus' menace gave they heed to her, from strife refrained, and cast away their wrath, and were made one in peace and amity. Some heavenward soared, some plunged into the sea, on earth stayed some."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 12. 405 ff :
"[The Greek Sinon deceives the Trojans over the nature of the Wooden Horse:] ‘This horse by Kalkhas' counsel fashioned they for wise Athena, to propitiate her stern wrath for that guardian image stol'n from Troy. And by Odysseus' prompting I was marked for slaughter, to be sacrificed to the sea-powers, beside the moaning waves, to win them safe return. But their intent I marked; and ere they spilt the drops of wine, and sprinkled hallowed meal upon mine head, wwiftly I fled, and, by the help of Heaven, I flung me down, clasping the Horse's feet; and they, sore loth, perforce must leave me there dreading great Zeus's daughter mighty-souled.’"
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 108 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Since the Achaeans during ten years were not able to take Troy, Epeus at Minerva's [Athena's] suggestion made a wooden horse of remarkable size, and in it were gathered [the Greek leaders] . . . On the horse they wrote: ‘The Danaans give it as a gift to Minerva [Athena],’ and moved camp to Tenedos. When the Trojans saw this, they thought the enemy had gone away; Priam ordered he horse to be brought to the citadel of Minerva [Athena], and gave a proclamation that they celebrate magnificently."
POSTHOMERICA: DEATH OF LAOKOON
When Laokoon, the Trojan priest of Poseidon, warned that the Wooden Horse was a ruse, Athena [or Poseidon, in other versions of the story] sent two deadly serpents to destroy him and his children.
Arctinus of Miltetus, The Sack of Ilium Fragment 1 (from Proclus, Chrestomathia 2) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th to 7th B.C.) :
"The Sack of Ilium, by Arktinos of Miletos with the following contents. The Trojans were suspicious of the wooden horse and standing round it debated what they ought to do. Some thought they ought to hurl it down from the rocks, others to burn it up, while others said they ought to dedicate it to Athena. At last this third opinion prevailed. Then they turned to mirth and feasting believing the war was at an end. But at this very time two Serpents appeared and destroyed Laokoon and one of his two sons, a portent which so alarmed the followers of Aeneas that they withdrew to Ida."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 12. 423 & 480 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"Laokoon wisely he spake: ‘A deadly fraud is this [the Wooden Horse],' he said, 'devised by the Akhaian chiefs!’ And cried to all straightway to burn the Horse, and know if aught within its timbers lurked. Yea, and they had obeyed him, and had 'scaped destruction; but Athena, fiercely wroth with him, the Trojans, and their city, shook earth's deep foundations 'neath Laokoon's feet. Straight terror fell on him, and trembling bowed the knees of the presumptuous: round his head horror of darkness poured; a sharp pang thrilled his eyelids; swam his eyes beneath his brows; his eyeballs, stabbed with bitter anguish, throbbed even from the roots, and rolled in frenzy of pain. Clear through his brain the bitter torment pierced even to the filmy inner veil thereof; now bloodshot were his eyes, now ghastly green; anon with rheum they ran, as pours a stream down from a rugged crag, with thawing snow made turbid. As a man distraught he seemed: all things he saw showed double, and he groaned fearfully; yet he ceased not to exhort the men of Troy, and recked not of his pain. Then did the Goddess strike him utterly blind. Stared his fixed eyeballs white from pits of blood; and all folk groaned for pity of their friend, and dread of the Prey-giver, lest he had sinned in folly against her, and his mind was thus warped to destruction yea, lest on themselves like judgment should be visited, to avenge the outrage done to hapless Sinon's flesh, whereby they hoped to wring the truth from him. So led they him in friendly wise to Troy, pitying him at the last.
Then gathered all, and o'er that huge Horse hastily cast a rope, and made it fast above; for under its feet smooth wooden rollers had Epeios laid, that, dragged by Trojan hands, it might glide on into their fortress . . . Grimly Enyo laughed, seeing the end of that dire war; Hera rejoiced on high; glad was Athena. When the Trojans came unto their city, brake they down the walls, their city's coronal, that the Horse of Death might be led in. Troy's daughters greeted it with shouts of salutation; marvelling all gazed at the mighty work where lurked their doom.
Laokoon [despite being struck blind by Athena] ceased not to exhort his countrymen to burn the Horse with fire: they would not hear, for dread of the Gods' wrath. But then a yet more hideous punishment Athena visited on his hapless sons. A cave there was, beneath a rugged cliff exceeding high, unscalable, wherein dwelt fearful monsters of the deadly brood of Typhon, in the rock-clefts of the isle Kalydna that looks Troyward from the sea. Thence stirred she up the strength of serpents twain, and summoned them to Troy. By her uproused they shook the island as with earthquake: roared the sea; the waves disparted as they came. Onward they swept with fearful-flickering tongues . . .
Swiftly they came whither the Goddess sped them: with grim jaws whetting their deadly fangs, on his hapless sons sprang they. All Trojans panic-stricken fled, seeing those fearsome Drakones in their town. No man, though ne'er so dauntless theretofore, dared tarry; ghastly dread laid hold on all shrinking in horror from the monsters. Screamed the women; yea, the mother forgat her child, fear-frenzied as she fled: all Troy became one shriek of fleers, one huddle of jostling limbs: the streets were choked with cowering fugitives. Alone was left Laokoon with his sons, for death's doom and the Goddess chained their feet. Then, even as from destruction shrank the lads, those deadly fangs had seized and ravined up the twain, outstretching to their sightless sire agonized hands: no power to help had he. Trojans far off looked on from every side weeping, all dazed. And, having now fulfilled upon the Trojans Pallas' awful hest, those monsters vanished 'neath the earth; and still stands their memorial, where into the fane they entered of Apollon in Pergamos the hallowed."
POSTHOMERICA: SHIPWRECK OF AIAS
At the sack of Troy, the Lokrian Aias, violated Kassandra in the temple of Athena. When the Greeks failed to punish him, she sent a storm to wreck their fleet and destroy Aias.
Arctinus of Miltetus, The Sack of Ilium Fragment 1 (from Proclus, Chrestomathia 2) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th to 7th B.C.) :
"The Sack of Ilium, by Arktinos of Miletos with the following contents . . . Aias the son of Ileus, while trying to drag Kassandra away by force, tears away with her the image of Athena. At this the Greeks are so enraged that they determine to stone Aias, who only escapes from the danger threatening him by taking refuge at the altar of Athena . . . Lastly the Greeks sail away and Athena plans to destroy them on the high seas."
Agias of Troezen, The Returns Fragment 1 (from Proclus, Chrestomathia 2) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th or 6th B.C.) :
"After the Sack of Ilium [in the Epic Cycle of poems] follow the Returns in five books by Agias of Troizenos. Their contents are as follows. Athena causes a quarrel between Agamemnon and Menelaus about the voyage from Troy. Agamemnon then stays on to appease the anger of Athena . . . The storm at the rocks called Kapherides is then described, with the end of Lokrian Aias."
Aeschylus, Agamemnon 634 ff (trans. Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"Chorus [of elders]: How then do you say rose the storm by the wrath of the gods upon the naval host [of the Greeks returning from Troy] and passed away?
Herald: . . . How shall I mix fair with foul in telling of the storm, not unprovoked by the gods' wrath [Athena is meant], that broke upon the Achaeans? For fire and sea, beforehand bitterest of foes, swore alliance and as proof destroyed the unhappy Argive army. In the night-time arose the mischief from the cruel swells. Beneath blasts from Thrake ship dashed against ship; and they, gored violently by the furious hurricane and rush of pelting rain, were swept out of sight by the whirling gust of an evil shepherd. But when the radiant light of the sun rose we beheld the Aegean flowering with corpses of Akhaian men and wreckage of ships."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca E5. 22 - E6. 6 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Troy is sacked . . . Lokrian Aias, when he saw Kassandra clinging to the wooden statue of Athena, raped her: for this reason the wooden image gazes up to the sky . . . As they were about to sail off after ravishing Troy, they were held back by Kalkhas, who told them that Athena was enraged at them because of the impious act of Aias. They were on the verge of slaying Aias when he ran to an altar, so they let him live. After all this they held an assembly, during which Agamemnon insisted they stay and sacrifice to Athena. So Diomedes, Nestor, and Menelaos all left at the same time. The first two had a good voyage, but Menelaos encountered a storm . . . Agamemnon left after making his sacrifice, and put in at Tenedos. Thetis came to persuade Neoptolemos to wait two days and make sacrifices, and he obeyed her. But the others left and were overtaken by storms in the region of Tenos, for Athena had begged Zeus to send a storm upon the Hellenes. Many ships sank. Athena threw a thunderbolt at the ship of Aias. As the ship fell apart, he scrambled to safety on a rock and declared that he had survived despite Athena’s designs. Then Poseidon struck the rock with his trident, splitting it in two, and Aias fell into the sea and was drowned."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 13. 458 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"The Gods, palled in dark clouds, mourned for Troy, a ruined glory save fair-tressed Tritonis [Athena] and Hera: their hearts triumphed, when they saw the burg of god-descended Priamos destroyed. Yet not the wise heart Tritogeneia [Athena] herself was wholly tearless; for within her fane outraged Kassandra was of [Aias] Oileus' son lust-maddened. But grim vengeance upon him ere long the Goddess wreaked, repaying insult with mortal sufferance. Yea, she would not look upon the infamy, but clad herself with shame and wrath as with a cloak: she turned her stern eyes [those of her statue] to the temple-roof, and groaned the holy image, and the hallowed floor quaked mightily. Yet did he not forbear his mad sin, for his soul was lust-distraught."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 14. 386 ff :
"But [the Greek seer] Kalkhas would not with that eager host launch forth; yea, he had fain withheld therefrom all the Akhaians, for his prophet-soul foreboded dread destruction looming o'er the Argives by the Rocks Kapherean. But naught they heeded him; malignant Fate deluded men's souls . . .
But now the Akhaians cast the hawsers loose from shore: in haste they heaved the anchor-stones . . . The chiefs stood on the prows, and poured into the dark sea once and again wine to the Gods, to grant them safe return. But with the winds their prayers mixed; far away vainly they floated blent with cloud and air.
Crashed round the prows the dark surge: the long waves showed shadowy hollows, far the white wake gleamed.
Now had the Argives all to the hallowed soil of Hellas won, by perils of the deep unscathed, but for Athena Daughter of Zeus the Thunderer, and her indignation's wrath. When nigh Euboia's windy heights they drew, she rose, in anger unappeasable against the Lokrian king [Aias], devising doom crushing and pitiless, and drew nigh to Zeus Lord of the Gods, and spake to him apart in wrath that in her breast would not be pent: ‘Zeus, Father, unendurable of Gods is men's presumption! They reck not of thee, of none of the Blessed reck they, forasmuch as vengeance followeth after sin no more; and ofttimes more afflicted are good men than evil, and their misery hath no end. Therefore no man regardeth justice: shame lives not with men! And I, I will not dwell hereafter in Olympus, not be named thy daughter, if I may not be avenged on the Akhaians' reckless sin! Behold, within my very temple Oileus' son [Aias] hath wrought iniquity, hath pitied not Kassandra stretching unregarded hands once and again to me; nor did he dread my might, nor reverenced in his wicked heart the Immortal, but a deed intolerable he did. Therefore let not thy spirit divine begrudge mine heart's desire, that so all men may quake before the manifest wrath of Gods.’
Answered the Sire with heart-assuaging words: ‘Child, not for the Argives' sake withstand I thee; but all mine armoury which the Kyklopes' might to win my favour wrought with tireless hands, to thy desire I give. O strong heart, hurl a ruining storm thyself on the Argive fleet.’
Then down before the aweless Maid he cast swift lightning, thunder, and deadly thunderbolt; and her heart leapt, and gladdened was her soul.
She donned the stormy Aigis flashing far, adamantine, massy, a marvel to the Gods, whereon was wrought Medousa's ghastly head, fearful: strong serpents breathing forth the blast of ravening fire were on the face thereof. Crashed on the Queen's breast all the Aigis-links, as after lightning crashes the firmament. Then grasped she her father's weapons, which no God save Zeus can lift, and wide Olympos shook. Then swept she clouds and mist together on high; night over earth was poured, haze o'er the sea. Zeus watched, and was right glad as broad heaven's floor rocked 'neath the Goddess's feet, and crashed the sky, as though invincible Zeus rushed forth to war. Then sped she Iris unto Aiolos, from heaven far-flying over misty seas, to bid him send forth all his buffering winds o'er iron-bound Kaphereus' cliffs to sweep ceaselessly, and with ruin of madding blasts to upheave the sea . . . and she told to him Athena's purpose toward the homeward-bound Akhaians. He denied her not . . . [and] bade them [the Winds] on their wings bear blackest storm to upheave the sea, and shroud Kaphereus' heights.
Swiftly upsprang they, ere their king's command was fully spoken. Mightily moaned the sea as they rushed o'er it; waves like mountain-cliffs from all sides were uprolled. The Akhaians' hearts were terror-palsied, as the uptowering surge now swung the ships up high through palling mist, now hurled them rolled as down a precipice to dark abysses. Up through yawning deeps some power resistless belched the boiling sand from the sea's floor. Tossed in despair, fear-dazed, men could not grasp the oar, nor reef the sail about the yard-arm, howsoever fain, ere the winds rent it, could not with the sheets trim the torn canvas, buffeted so were they by ruining blasts. The helmsman had no power to guide the rudder with his practised hands, for those ill winds hurled all confusedly. No hope of life was left them: blackest night, fury of tempest, wrath of deathless Gods, raged round them.
Still Poseidon heaved and swung the merciless sea, to work the heart's desire of his brother's glorious child; and she on high stormed with her lightnings, ruthless in her rage. Thundered from heaven Zeus, in purpose fixed to glorify his daughter. All the isles and mainlands round were lashed by leaping seas nigh to Euboia, where the Power divine scourged most with unrelenting stroke on stroke the Argives. Groan and shriek of perishing men rang through the ships; started great beams and snapped with ominous sound, for ever ship on ship with shivering timbers crashed. With hopeless toil men strained with oars to thrust back hulls that reeled down on their own, but with the shattered planks were hurled into the abyss, to perish there by pitiless doom; for beams of foundering ships from this, from that side battered out their lives, and crushed were all their bodies wretchedly. Some in the ships fell down, and like dead men lay there; some, in the grip of destiny, clinging to oars smooth-shaven, tried to swim; some upon planks were tossing. Roared the surge from fathomless depths: it seemed as though sea, sky, and land were blended all confusedly.
Still from Olympos thundering Atrytone [Athena] wielded her Father's power unshamed, and still the welkin shrieked around. Her ruin of wrath now upon Aias hurled she: on his ship dashed she a thunderbolt, and shivered it wide in a moment into fragments small, while earth and air yelled o'er the wreck, and whirled and plunged and fell the whole sea down thereon. They in the ship were all together flung forth: all about them swept the giant waves, round them leapt lightnings flaming through the dark. Choked with the strangling surf of hissing brine, gasping out life, they drifted o'er the sea.
But even in death those captive [Trojan] maids rejoiced, as some ill-starred ones, clasping to their breasts their babes, sank in the sea; some flung their arms round Danaans' horror-stricken heads, and dragged these down with them, so rendering to their foes requital for foul outrage down to them. And from on high the haughty Tritogeneia [Athena] Looked down on all this, and her heart was glad.
But Aias floated now on a galley's plank, now through the brine with strong hands oared his path, like some old Titan in his tireless might. Cleft was the salt sea-surge by the sinewy hands of that undaunted man: the Gods beheld and marvelled at his courage and his strength. But now the billows swung him up on high through misty air, as though to a mountain's peak, now whelmed him down, as they would bury him in ravening whirlpits: yet his stubborn hands toiled on unwearied. Aye to right and left flashed lightnings down, and quenched them in the sea; for not yet was the Child of Thunderer Zeus purposed to smite him dead, despite her wrath, ere he had drained the cup of travail and pain down to the dregs; so in the deep long time affliction wore him down, tormented sore on every side.
Grim Kers (Death Fates) stood round the man unnumbered; yet despair still kindled strength. He cried: ‘Though all the Olympians banded come in wrath, and rouse against me all the sea, I will escape them!’ But no whit did he elude the Gods' wrath; for the Shaker of Earth [Poseidon] in fierceness of his indignation marked where his hands clung to the Gyraion Rock, and in stern anger with an earthquake shook both sea and land. Around on all sides crashed Kaphereus' cliffs: beneath the Sea-king's wrath the surf-tormented beaches shrieked and roared. The broad crag rifted reeled into the sea, the rock whereto his desperate hands had clung; yet did he writhe up round its jutting spurs, while flayed his hands were, and from 'neath his nails the blood ran. Wrestling with him roared the waves, and the foam whitened all his hair and beard.
Yet had he 'scaped perchance his evil doom, had not Poseidon, wroth with his hardihood, cleaving the earth, hurled down the chasm the rock . . . so did the mountain-crag, hurled from on high, bury the Lokrian king, pinning the strong man down, a wretch crushed flat. And so on him death's black destruction came whom land and sea alike were leagued to slay.
Some few escaped, by a God or Power unseen plucked from death's hand. Athena now rejoiced her heart within, and now was racked with fears for prudent-souled Odysseus; for his weird was through Poseidon's wrath to suffer woes full many."
Strabo, Geography 13. 1. 40 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Homeros knows not of the violation of Kassandra . . . and yet he does not so much as mention any violation of her or say that the destruction of Aias in the shipwreck took place because of the wrath of Athena or any such cause; instead, he speaks of Aias as ‘hated by Athena,’ in accordance with her general hatred (for since they one and all committed sacrilege against her temple, she was angry at them all), but says that he was destroyed by Poseidon because of his boastful speech."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 26. 6 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Aias too is represented [on the carved chest of Kypselos at Olympia] dragging Kassandra from the image of Athena, and by him is also an inscription: Aias of Lokris is dragging Kassandra from Athena."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 116 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"When the Danaans were returning home after the capture of Troy and the division of spoils, the anger o the gods caused their shipwreck on the Cepharean Rocks. They sent a storm and contrary winds because the Greeks had despoiled the shrines of the gods and Locrian Ajax had dragged Cassandra from the statue of Pallas [Athena]. In this storm Locrian Ajax was struck with a thunderbolt by Minerva [Athena]. The waves dashed him against the rocks, and from this they are called the Rocks of Ajax."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 13. 410 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Ilion was burning, its fires not yet died down . . . Phoebus' [Apollon's] priestess [Kassandra] stretched her hands to heaven in vain appeal."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 14. 467 ff :
"Lofty Ilios [Troy] was burnt and Pergama had fed the flame of Greece, and Heros Narycius [Ajax] for a virgin's [Kassandra's] rape brought from the Virgin [Athena] on us all [the Greeks] the lash that he alone deserved, we were dispersed. Raped by the winds across the hostile main, we Greeks endured storms, lighning, darkness, wrath of sky and sea and, crowning tragedy, the cliffs of Caphereus . . . at that time Greece could have moved Priamus himself to tears."
- Homerica, The Little Iliad - Greek Epic BC
- Homerica, The Sack of Ilium - Greek Epic BC
- Homerica, The Returns - Greek Epic BC
- Aeschylus, Agamemnon - Greek Tragedy C5th BC
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd BC
- Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy - Greek Epic C4th AD
- Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st BC - C1st AD
- Pausanias, Guide to Greece - Greek Geography C2nd AD
- Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History - Greek Scholar C1st-2nd AD
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd AD
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st BC - C1st AD