You Gotta Know These Trojan War Heroes
- Agamemnon: The king of Mycenae, Agamemnon shares supreme command of the Greek troops with his brother, Menelaus. An epithet of his, “king of heroes,” reflects this status. As a commander, however, he often lacks good public relations skills, as shown by his feud with Achilles (book 1) and by his ill-considered strategy of suggesting that all the troops go home (book 2). Upon his return home, Agamemnon is murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus.
- Menelaus: The king of Sparta, Menelaus is the husband of Helen, the cause celebre of the war. He tries to win Helen back by fighting Paris in single combat, but Aphrodite carried Paris off when it seemed that Menelaus would win. Despite his notionally equal say in commanding the troops with his brother Agamemnon, in practice Agamemnon often dominates.
- Achilles: This “swift-footed” warrior is the greatest on the Greek side. His father is Peleus, a great warrior in his own right, and his mother is Thetis, a sea nymph. The consequences of Achilles’ rage at Agamemnon for confiscating his geras (prize of honor) are the subject of the Iliad. Achilles kills Hector, but is killed by a poisoned arrow in the heel, the only vulnerable place on his body.
- Patroclus: Achilles’ foster brother and closest friend. Although Patroclus is a formidable hero, he is valued for his kind and gentle nature. Patroclus is killed by Hector while wearing the armor of Achilles.
- Ajax: This prince of Salamis is the son of Telamon. He once fights all afternoon in single combat with Hector; since neither one can decisively wound the other, they part as friends. Ajax’s most glorious achievement is fighting the Trojans back from the ships almost singlehandedly. He commits suicide after the armor of Achilles is awarded to Odysseus rather than to himself.
- Diomedes: In his day of glory, Diomedes kills Pandarus and wounds Aeneas before taking on the gods. He stabs Aphrodite in the wrist and, with Athena as his charioteer, wounds Ares in the stomach. Along with Odysseus, he also conducts a successful night raid against King Rhesus.
- Odysseus: This son of Laertes is known for his cleverness and glib tongue. His accomplishments include a successful night raid against King Rhesus, winning the armor of Achilles, and engineering the famous Trojan Horse. His ten-year trip home to Ithaca (where his wife, Penelope, awaits) is the subject of the Odyssey.
- Nestor: The king of Pylos, he is too old to participate in the fighting of the Trojan War, but serves as an advisor. He tells tales of “the good old days” to the other heroes.
- Hector: The son of Priam and Hecuba, he is probably the noblest character on either side. A favorite of Apollo, this captain of the Trojan forces exchanges gifts with Ajax after neither can conquer the other in single combat. He kills Patroclus when Patroclus goes into battle wearing the armor of his friend, Achilles. Killed by Achilles to avenge the death of Patroclus, he is greatly mourned by all of Troy. Funeral games take place in his honor.
- Paris (sometimes called Alexander): Also the son of Priam and Hecuba, he is destined to be the ruin of his country. He fulfills this destiny by accepting a bribe when asked to judge which of three goddesses is the fairest. When he awards Aphrodite the golden apple, Aphrodite repays him by granting him the most beautiful woman in the world; unfortunately, Helen is already married to Menelaus. Known less for hand-to-hand fighting than for mastery of his bow, he kills Achilles with an arrow but dies by the poisoned arrows of Philoctetes.
- Priam: The king of Troy and son of Laomedon, he has 50 sons and 12 daughters with his wife Hecuba (presumably she does not bear them all), plus at least 42 more children with various concubines. Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles, kills him in front of his wife and daughters during the siege of Troy.
- Hecuba (or Hecabe): The wife of Priam, she suffers the loss of most of her children but survives the fall of Troy. She is later turned into a dog.
- Andromache: The wife of Hector and mother of Astyanax, she futilely warns Hector about the war, then sees both her husband and son killed by the Greeks. After the war she is made concubine to Neoptolemus, and later marries the Trojan prophet Helenus.
- Cassandra: This daughter of Priam and Hecuba has an affair with Apollo, who grants her the gift of prophecy. Unable to revoke the gift after they quarrel, Apollo curses her by preventing anyone from believing her predictions. Among her warnings is that the Trojan horse contains Greeks. After Troy falls she is given to Agamemnon, who tactlessly brings her home to his wife Clytemnestra. Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus then kill Agamemnon and Cassandra, leaving Agamemnon’s son Orestes (egged on by his sister Electra) to avenge the deaths and kill Clytemnestra and Aegisthus.
- Laocoon: Yet another son of Priam and Hecuba, this priest of Apollo shares Cassandra’s doubt about the merits of bringing the Trojan horse into the city. “Timeo danaos et dona ferentes,” he says (according to Vergil), “I fear the Greeks, even bearing gifts.” Later, while sacrificing a bull, two serpents from the sea crush both him and his two young sons. The death of Laocoon is often blamed on Athena (into whose temple the serpent disappeared) but more likely the act of Poseidon, a fierce Greek partisan.
- Aeneas: This son of Aphrodite and Anchises often takes a beating but always gets up to rejoin the battle. Knocked unconscious by a large rock thrown by Diomedes, he is evacuated by Aphrodite and Apollo. He succeeds the late Hector as Trojan troop commander and survives the fall of Troy, ultimately settling in Italy. His son Iulus founds Alba Longa, near the site of Rome. That bloodline is the basis of Julius Caesar’s claim to have descended from Venus.
This article was synthesized from contributions by Christina Skelton and Candace Benefiel.