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The Last Days of Troy
Account of Dictys of Cnossus

According to the mysterious mythographer Dictys of Cnossos (who has left a document in which he narrates the fall of Troy with the details of an eyewitness, which he claimed to have been), Achilles was treacherously murdered during a truce in the temple of Apollo near the city by the two brothers Paris and Deiphobus 1, sons of Priam 1. Dictys says that Deiphobus 1 approached Achilles as if to confirm the agreements concerning Priam 1's daughter Polyxena 1, whom Achilles had fallen in love with, and embracing him in false friendship refused to let go, so that Paris, rushing forward with sword drawn, could deal him two deadly blows in his sides.

Joy at Troy

After committing such a crime in a sacred place, the perpetrators were seen leaving the scene by Odysseus, Ajax 1, and Diomedes 2, who arrived just in time to hear the dying man's last words of accusation against his murderers. Such was the end of Achilles; and the Trojans, seeing that their most feared enemy had departed to another world, rejoiced.


But since great deeds are reduced to ashes when achieved by low means, very soon their joy was clouded over. For there are men whose love of country knows limits, and they refuse to put up with injustice, betrayals, crimes, and the like. And when the seer Helenus 1 learned that his brother Paris had desecrated Apollo's shrine, he, loving the gods more than his country, fled from Troy. Helenus 1 then joined the enemy as a suppliant, being fetched by Odysseus and Diomedes 2 in the same temple, and brought to the Achaean camp, where he declared that he feared not death but the gods, and that other leading Trojans, such as Aeneas and Antenor 1, found Paris' outrage impossible to bear. So the death of Achilles, which prima vista seemed to be an advantage, on second analysis proved to be a flaw, because of the indignation and defection that it caused among the Trojans.

Death of Paris

Yet some could argue that Helenus 1 fled Troy, not because of Paris' crime against the god, but because he had learned, through an oracle, of Troy's imminent fall. And others have told that Helenus 1 did not desert the city, but that he was captured by the Achaeans, and forced by them to tell how Troy could fall; for there were oracles that had to be fulfilled before the city could be taken, and these were known by Helenus 1 the seer. In any case, shortly after the defection of Helenus 1, his brother Paris was challenged by Philoctetes to fight a duel with the bow; and Paris having missed, Philoctetes hit him first in one hand, then in one eye, and after piercing both his feet, he finished him off.

Sedition at Troy

It is at this moment, says Dictys, that the Trojan nobility, seeing the enemy raging around the walls and their own resources diminishing, started to plot sedition against King Priam 1 and his sons, and decided to return Helen and the stolen property to Menelaus. But when Deiphobus 1 learned about their plans, he carried the woman off and married her. Because of the pressure and the stalemate caused by this sudden wedding, the Trojan council was taken over by discord, and the king, being insulted by Aeneas, had to yield to the nobles, and accordingly charged Antenor 1 to negotiate peace with the Achaeans.

5031: Grave relief, Attica 4C BC. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen.

Antenor 1's opinion of Priam 1

The gods know if that was a good decision. For Antenor 1 was of the opinion that the two last Trojan kings, Laomedon 1 and Priam 1, were both guilty of ill-considered acts; and speaking to the Achaeans, he called Priam 1 both evil and foolish, saying that he had attacked everyone around him, killed, committed personal injuries, coveted the property of others, and finally spread like a plague his own bad example to his sons, who now violated all rules, both sacred and profane, being inspired by a father who acted with insolence and hatred. And in presenting himself to his new friends, Antenor 1 declared (so that no one would be confused) that he, although related to the king by the same line of descent, was a very different kind of person.

A charade

Those presentations made, the negotiations turned into a charade. For the Achaeans and Antenor 1 decided that Troy should be destroyed, except that Aeneas should share the spoils and his house should not be harmed. As for Antenor 1 himself, they resolved that he should receive half of Priam 1's wealth, and one of his own sons, whatever his choice, should sit on Troy's throne. And as ambassadors to the peace conference to be held at Troy, they appointed Agamemnon, Idomeneus 1, Odysseus, and Diomedes 2, sending back Antenor 1 with a false report: he was to say that the Achaeans prepared a gift for Athena, and that they would leave after receiving Helen and a certain amount of gold.

Priam 1 reviled by the Trojan council

The next day Antenor 1 pleaded, in a long speech, for peace at the Trojan council, advising to give whatever was demanded:

"Let us give even the ornaments of our temples, if otherwise we cannot save our city." (Antenor 1 to the Trojan council. Dictys 5.2).

On hearing Antenor 1, everyone showed agreement demanding that Priam 1 should bring an end to the adversity and misery they were suffering. And since rulers dislike to be told what to do, Priam 1 tore his hair and wept, declaring that not only the gods hated him but also his own people. For that reason, he said, he would leave their presence, being in any case prepared to accept whatever they decided to do. And when the king had left, the council decided to send both Antenor 1 and Aeneas to the Achaean camp in order to negotiate the exact terms of the peace treaty, and then broke up.

Helen makes her move

About midnight, says Dictys, Helen came to Antenor 1 and begged him to plead on her behalf when meeting the Achaeans; for now the time had come, also for her, to hate Troy and secure her safe return to Hellas and her lawful husband Menelaus. So when the next day the two Trojans conferred with the Achaeans, not about how to make peace, but about the best way to betray the city, they also asked forgiveness for Helen. After this meeting, Antenor 1 and Aeneas returned to the city accompanied by Odysseus and Diomedes 2, who came as ambassadors; and when these were seen in the city, the Trojans' hopes were raised; for they believed that their presence meant the end of the war, and that danger had been averted. As the desire for peace spread, bad times came upon those who had previously been too eager against the invaders. And thus Antimachus 5, who had been more eloquent than any in defeating all proposals to give back Helen to Menelaus, was banished from all of Phrygia; for the Trojans now tended to believe that he and those like him were the cause of their terrible troubles. It was also at this time that a curious and deadly accident took place, in which the children of Paris and Helen were conveniently crushed by the collapsing roof of their home.

The Palladium

It is during this visit to Troy that Odysseus and Diomedes 2 learned from Antenor 1 the oracle that declared that Troy would be destroyed if the Palladium, a wooden statue, were carried outside the city walls (see Conditions to take Troy at Trojan War). And having returned for negotiations some days later, they obtained it from Antenor 1. For the latter, being a helpful man, went to the temple of Athena, and having accosted the priestess (Theano 2, whom others call Antenor 1's wife) with both threats and promises of reward, obtained from her the Palladium which he wrapped and sent to Odysseus through faithful friends or close accomplices.

Gold consumes time and other things

In the meantime, negotiations focused, as usual, on the matter of gold, which, believed to be the measure of all things, is employed to inflame as well as to appease. For victors may abstain from destruction if a suitable amount of gold is put before their eyes in form of what they may call indemnity or compensation; but if they are not satisfied with what has been piled up, they might immediately abandon the idea of peace, to the detriment of those who are already impoverished by defeat. So when the Trojans protested on account of the Achaean demands (for gold is always too much when given, and too little when received), Diomedes 2, remembering his toils, informed them:

"We did not come from Argos to give special terms to Troy, but to fight you to the death. Therefore, if you are still desirous of war, the Achaeans are ready …" (Diomedes 2 to the Trojan council. Dictys 5.6).

… and so, after a long discussion (for gold demands a large amount of time, and a most careful investigation of details) an agreement was reached.


Since the Achaeans thought they were being assisted by success, both concerning the false negotiations and the theft of the Palladium, they decided to proceed with their gift to Athena. For this purpose they consulted the seer Helenus 1, whom they considered to be excellent on the following ground: that he was able, without having been informed, to give a detailed account of all events that had taken place so far. And indeed some believe that this is the way to test prophets and seers; since no one, they reason, can know the future who cannot tell about the past. So Helenus 1, after telling them that there was no hope left for Troy now that the Palladium was away, declared that the Achaeans should offer a WOODEN HORSE to Athena, making it so large that the Trojans would have to breach the city walls in order to take it in. Having thus been instructed by the seer, the Achaeans brought a great deal of wood, and appointed the architect Epeius 2 and Ajax 2 to supervise the work.

Ratification of the treaty

Meanwhile, the peace treaty was ratified at Troy, where the Achaean ambassadors (Diomedes 2, Odysseus, Idomeneus 1, Ajax 1, Nestor, Meriones, Thoas 2, Philoctetes, Neoptolemus, and Eumelus 1) were received with hope both by the people, who thought that their presence meant the end of their afflictions, and by the council. The ratification of the terms of peace took place the following day around the altars that were raised in the plain (so that all could see), where sacred oaths were sworn by both parties, who called on the highest gods to be their witnesses. Diomedes 2 and Odysseus were the first to swear, and after them Antenor 1, on behalf of the Trojans.

Antenor 1's greatest day

This was one of Antenor 1's greatest days, although he grounded it on treason. And since many cannot distinguish between loyalty and betrayal, being satisfied with the mere appearance of things, the Trojans too, believing him to be a wonderful peacemaker, heaped upon him the highest praises and revered him like a god, while he, together with Aeneas, monitored the Trojans, making sure that they were carrying to Athena's temple the amount of gold and silver stipulated by the treaty.

The WOODEN HORSE dragged into the city

When Epeius 2, following the instructions of Helenus 1, had completed the building of the WOODEN HORSE, which, standing on wheels, towered to an immense height, the Achaeans drew it from the camp to the walls, telling the Trojans to receive it with devotion as a sacred offering to Athena. But, as planned, the fateful device was too large to pass through the city gates; and as predicted, the Trojans started to tear down the walls, helping each other with the greatest enthusiasm in their stupid purpose, which, for being shared and common, did not look stupid at all. When the Achaeans saw the walls almost demolished, they deemed opportune to demand the gold and silver before they allowed the WOODEN HORSE to be drawn into Troy, and when the Trojans had paid they were graciously permitted to continue their work of self-destruction by finishing the demolition of the walls. And as soon they had merrily put down the part of the walls necessary to let the horse in, the happy crowd proceeded to draw it within the city, where they gave themselves to feast and joy.

Final Attack

In the meantime, the Achaean fleet, charged with the Trojan ransom of gold and silver, sailed off to Sigeum to await the darkness of night; and when Sinon, whom they had left behind, lit a beacon lamp as a signal, they returned in full armour to the city, slaughtering whomever they found, parents and children alike, in homes, streets, temples, or any other place, sacred or not. Those who were awake died without being able to reach for their arms, and those who slept never woke up. Likewise the invaders set on fire and destroyed the buildings of the city, with the sole exception of the homes of Aeneas and Antenor 1, where guards had been posted. For these traitors were never despised by the enemy, nor were they ever suspected by their own people; or else they were no traitors at all, as others say.

Death of Deiphobus 1

The sacrifice of Polyxena 1. 0828 detail: Giambattista Pittoni 1678-1767: Die Opferung der Polyxena. Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart.

The members of the Trojan royal family, seeing what was happening, fled to the temples to save their lives with varying success: Priam 1 was slaughtered by Neoptolemus at the altar of Zeus, and Cassandra was captured by Ajax 2, who dragged her off from Athena's shrine. Menelaus' forces arrived to the house where Deiphobus 1 and Helen lived, and when they had her new husband arrested, Menelaus cut him to pieces under torture, lopping off ears and nose, and all of his limbs one by one. And since at daybreak, there were still many seeking protection at the altars of the gods, the Achaeans, not yet sated with Trojan blood, decided to pull them away and slay them, who looked, says Dictys, like trembling sheep; for those who had escaped the slaughter of the previous night and had not been taken by surprise as many others, had had many hours in the temples to ponder, between panic and hope, over their miserable plight.

The booty

Such was the end of Troy, which the Achaeans burned to the ground, pillaging both temples and houses. And when they had completed their work, they proceeded to divide the booty, beginning with the captives of royal blood, whom they enslaved: Helen was restored to Menelaus; Polyxena 1 was given to Neoptolemus to be sacrificed to Achilles; Cassandra was given to Agamemnon; Aethra 2 (Theseus' mother) was given to her grandsons, Demophon 1 and Acamas 1; Andromache was apportioned by lot to Neoptolemus, and Dictys says that her two sons by Hector 1 (for he does not say, as others do, that Hector 1 had just one son, little Astyanax 2, whom the Achaeans murdered) were allowed to accompany her; and Hecabe 1 fell to Odysseus, but she, preferring death to enslavement, cursed the Achaeans in such evil ways that they finally stoned her to death, burying her at Abydos (the city in the Troad opposite the Thracian Chersonesus) at a place called Cynossema or The Grave of the Bitch (on account of her mad barking, says Dictys). On the other hand, the traitors Aeneas and Antenor 1 were honoured, and the former was even invited to sail along and promised a kingdom. The seer Helenus 1 received the sons of Hector 1 from Neoptolemus, and rewards in gold and silver from the rest of the ACHAEAN LEADERS for all his services.

Death of Ajax 1

It was at this time, says Dictys, that contention arose between Ajax 1 on one side, and Odysseus and Diomedes 2 on the other; yet not because of the armour of Achilles, as others have said, but because of the Palladium. For this great Ajax 1 saw himself (and many agreed with him) as the performer of unsurpassed deeds, and therefore (he thought), the Palladium should be his. But on the other hand, Diomedes 2 and Odysseus claimed it on the ground that they had themselves carried it off. So Ajax 1 argued that it was Antenor 1 who had carried the Palladium off, themselves having no troubles. On hearing that true fact, Diomedes 2 yielded, but not Odysseus, who was finally favored by the Atrides Agamemnon and Menelaus, on the ground of his merits in this particular case only, since no one dared to put in doubt the prowesses of Ajax 1. Yet it was known that they did so because it was through Odysseus' intercession that Helen, still loved by Menelaus, had been brought back unharmed; for had the will of Ajax 1 found its way, Helen had been dead, since he, on the verge of the sack of Troy, had proposed that she should be killed who had caused the death of so many excellent men like himself. The decision of the Atrides caused unease in the army, which split in two factions; and when the next day Ajax 1 was found dead out in the open (being later buried in Rhoeteum by Neoptolemus), Odysseus, fearing those who believed that Ajax 1 had been treacherously murdered, sailed away, leaving the Palladium behind for Diomedes 2 to keep.

New enemies

And since when an enemy disappears a new one must be produced, the army now got angry, on account of what happened to Ajax 1 (whose children were given to Teucer 1, his half brother) at the Atrides Agamemnon and Menelaus, whom they called ignoble, for being, as they asserted, not the sons of Atreus but of Plisthenes 1. And not without difficulty they were able to sail unharmed, although like outcasts. On the Trojan side, Aeneas failed in trying to drive Antenor 1 out of the country and was himself, since Antenor 1 gained control of the kingdom, forced to sail away, coming eventually, as far as Dictys tells, to the Adriatic sea. As for Antenor 1, some have said that he came to northern Italy, but Dictys affirms that he increased his power in the Troad, being loved by all those who trusted his wisdom, and ignored everything about his extraordinary transactions.

Related sections

Among the translations of Dictys' work is found that of Thomaso Porcacchi (into Italian, 1570), which also includes the work of Dares, as well as some short biographies of ancient historical personalities. More recently R. M. Frazer (Assistant Professor of Classics in the Dept. of Classical Languages at Tulane University) translated both Dares and Dictys into English; this is a fully referenced work, with introduction, bibliography, etc. (Indiana University Press, Bloomington & London, 1966).