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Literature Study GuidesMythologyPart 4 Chapter 2 Summary

Mythology | Study Guide

Edith Hamilton

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Mythology | Part 4, Chapter 2 : The Fall of Troy | Summary



Achilles knows he is fated to die in Troy after he kills Hector. Near the city gates Paris shoots an arrow, guided by Apollo, into Achilles's heel. This is his one vulnerable spot, so it kills him. Thetis dipped the infant Achilles in the River Styx to make him invulnerable, but the water did not cover the foot she used to hold him.

Agamemnon and Menelaus give Achilles's arms to Odysseus, which greatly offends Ajax. He swears to kill Agamemnon and Menelaus, but Athena strikes him with a madness that makes him kill the army's cattle instead. When he returns to his senses, Ajax is so ashamed he kills himself.

The situation looks bleak for the Greeks, and Odysseus captures the Trojan prophet Helenus who tells Odysseus they need Hercules's bow and arrows to defeat the Trojans. These Herculean arms belong to a soldier named Philoctetes, left behind on an island during the voyage from Greece because he had a snakebite that would not heal. Odysseus and a few others go to the island to get Philoctetes. Back at the camp, a physician heals the snakebite, and Philoctetes wounds Paris in battle. Paris asks to be taken to his old lover Oenone, who can heal him. She refuses and watches Paris die, then kills herself.

The siege of Troy continues, so Odysseus hatches a plan to infiltrate the city. He commissions a large wooden horse in which he and some of the Greeks hide. The rest of the army boards their ships and appear to leave while the Trojans discover the wooden horse outside their gates. A soldier named Sinon tells Priam how he was marked for sacrifice to appease Athena and ensure safe passage back to Greece. He tells the Trojans he escaped, and the horse is meant as an alternate offering to Athena. The Trojans take the horse into the city in an attempt to curry Athena's favor, even though a priest named Laocoön and Priam's daughter Cassandra warn against it.

At night, the Greeks hiding in the horse open the gates for the rest of the Greek army. They lay waste to the city, killing citizens and destroying buildings. Achilles's son Neoptolemus (also called Pyrrhus) kills Priam. Aeneas escapes with Aphrodite's help, and Helen returns to Menelaus. Most of the other women, including Hector's wife, Andromache, are taken as slaves. Hector's son Astyanax is taken from his mother and thrown from the city walls.


Even though Achilles makes amends for desecrating Hector's body, he understands that his own fate is sealed. He is destined to die in the Trojan War, which is why his mother takes so many pains to try to protect him. As so many mythological characters learn the hard way, there is no avoiding fate. Achilles dies in a sadly anticlimactic way, shot in the heel by Paris's arrow. Achilles's great legacy in the modern world is having the tendon in the human heel named for him. That the vain and shallow Paris—who is almost universally disliked for causing all this destruction—brings down the mighty Achilles seems like adding insult to injury. However, as Paris is Hector's brother, it is sensible that Paris avenges Hector. Notably, Paris needs Apollo's help to get the job done; he lacks the skill to aim his arrow at such a small and precise target.

The twists of irony and fate are not lost in Paris's story. When Philoctetes wounds him with Hercules's arrow, Paris does not ask for Helen as he is dying. Instead, he wants to see the nymph he loved before Helen, Oenone. The decision may be purely self-serving, as Oenone knows how to save Paris's life. However, the request also indicates that Paris still has feelings for Oenone, which renders his relationship with Helen and the ensuing war completely pointless. Paris is undone by his betrayal of Oenone when she refuses to forgive and forget the way he left her, a fitting end to his part in the story.

The Trojan War ends not with a show of force but a show of extreme cleverness. Once the strong men of the Greek army—Ajax and Achilles—are out of commission, leadership falls to Odysseus and Diomedes. Odysseus devises the plan to introduce the Trojan Horse into the city, allowing a small group of soldiers to open the city gates and initiate a sneak attack. With the war at a stalemate for a decade and both sides weakened in equal measure at this point, the sneak attack is the only way to bring the war to a swift conclusion. The dishonor in this nighttime raid lies not in its sneakiness but in its extreme brutality. Edith Hamilton writes, "it was not fighting, it was butchery." Citizens are killed in their beds. No one is spared. The old King Priam is murdered in front of his family, then his wife and daughters are taken as slaves. Even Hector's son, still small enough for his mother to carry in her arms, is thrown from the city walls. Buildings are burned and towers torn asunder. The absolute destruction is necessary because it prevents survivors from amassing armies later and seeking revenge against the Greeks, but such rampant devastation will not go unpunished.

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