Ten years the war had lasted. It had now reached an impasse. That was when the Spartans decided to “gift” the Trojans a large wooden horse.
Sparta was a famed military city in Greece. It produced the best soldiers and was ruled by Menelaus. His queen, Helen, was extremely beautiful and it was believed that no one could equal her in looks or stature. Helen’s was “the face that launched a thousand ships” and caused a 10-year-long war.
Now, in the region of Troas, in north-west Asia Minor, was another renowned city named Troy, ruled by Priam. His son Paris, who was mesmerised by Helen's beauty, abducted her and took her to Troy and from thence she came to be known as Helen of Troy. Menelaus came to know of her whereabouts and was outraged. He sent a message to Troy asking for Helen to be returned. The Trojans refused. Menelaus felt, and quite justly, that his honour, as well as that of Sparta, was at stake.
Change of tactics
He decided to declare war on Troy. Menelaus set sail to the Aegean Sea with his well-trained army and well-equipped battle ships.
It was a long-drawn war in which many fierce battles were fought and hundreds of soldiers died on both sides. The Spartans were unable to capture Troy even after ten years of fighting. The Trojans too were unable to drive back the Spartans.
Menelaus summoned Odysseus, who was not only brave but also wise. “Our men are getting weary. We must defeat Troy soon. What should we do?” he asked.
“I have an idea,” answered Odysseus. “We must build an enormous wooden horse which is hollow, moves on wheels and is fitted with a trap door. We will hide our bravest warriors inside it. Then we will collect our gear, burn the tents and sail away. This is a strategy to fool the Trojans. When our battle ships sail away, they will open the city gates, thinking that we have retreated, and drag the wooden horse into the city. At night, when they are asleep, our men will climb out of the wooden horse and open the city gates. Meanwhile, our ships will have sailed back to Troy. The Trojans will not be able to handle the surprise attack.”
“That's a splendid idea,” Menalaus remarked. So work on building the wooden horse began. Huge trees were hewn and sent to the workshop of Epeios, who was in charge of making the horse. When the construction of the horse was complete, 30 of the bravest Spartans crawled in. The trap door was shut.
At dawn, the Spartans collected their belongings, burnt their tents and sailed away in full view of the astonished Trojans. However, one Spartan named Sinon stayed back to ensure that the Trojans wheeled in the wooden horse.
The Trojans threw open the gates and marched up to look at the wooden horse. “Does it mean the Spartans have surrendered?” they wondered. “Surely, this can’t be a gift for us!” they thought. Then they spotted Sinon. They beat him up and forced him to talk.
“The Spartans were tired after fighting for 10 long years. They were homesick and longed to return to their families. Before leaving, they wanted to please Athena, the goddess of warfare. So they built this horse as an offering for her.”
“But why did they build such a huge horse?” asked the suspicious Trojans.
“Had they built a tiny horse, you would have taken it into Troy. That would displease Athena and the Spartan ships would have been wrecked,” explained Sinon. The Trojans were completely taken in. “Let us take the horse inside. Athena will be pleased with us.”
The Trojans broke down the walls beside the city gates and pulled the wooden horse through. They held a grand feast to celebrate the end of the long war. They ate and drank and made merry long into the night. Then they fell into a heavy stupor. The soldiers crawled out of the horse with Sinon's help. By now, the Spartan ships had sailed back and the soldiers came ashore. The open gates and the broken walls allowed easy access into the city. The Trojans were easily defeated.
Menelaus returned in triumph to Sparta with Helen.