Trojan horse

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Relief pithos , known as the Pithos of Mykonos
(or "Mykonos Vase"), with the earliest known depiction of the Trojan horse (670 BC)

In Greek mythology, the Trojan horse was a wooden horse at the gates of Troy , in whose belly Greek soldiers were hidden. At night after the horse had been pulled into the city, the soldiers opened the city gates of Troy from the inside and let their army in. With this ruse the Greeks of Myth , known as Achaeans , won the Trojan War .

In the Greek tradition the horse is called Δούρειος Ἵππος Doúreios Híppos (in the Homeric Ionian dialect ), so "wooden horse".

Metaphorically , a “Trojan horse” is a harmless-looking object that an attacker uses as a camouflage in order to be let into a safe, protected area. In IT , for example, the Trojan horse is a term for such a malicious program .


After the Greeks had fought unsuccessfully for the walls of Troy in the Trojan War for ten years, the seer Kalchas called a gathering of the most distinguished heroes and advised them not to conquer Troy by force but with the help of a ruse. In other sources Odysseus or his prisoner Helenos are named as the originator of the ruse.

The Greeks then built a large wooden horse inside which Greek soldiers could hide. The horse was created from the wood of a dogwood by the Greek hero Epeios , to whom the goddess Pallas Athene appeared in a dream , who had instructed him to make the mighty steed out of beams, promising her assistance to complete the work more quickly. Later authors further elaborated the description of the horse, naming the wood known today as Abies equi-trojani ("fir of the Trojan horse") as the type of tree for the body . They made the horse's eyes of obsidian and amber, the teeth of ivory and the mane of real horsehair, the hooves would have shone like polished marble. With Athene's help and the support of the Atrids , he managed to complete his perfect work of art within three days. The horse bore the inscription "The Greeks made this sacrifice of thanks to the goddess Athena for a safe journey home".

The fighters now mounted the horse and the army faked the trigger. Sinon , a heroic Greek who had volunteered especially for this purpose, led the Trojans to believe that it was a gift from the Greeks to the goddess Athena. The horse will bring them harm if they destroy it. The Greeks built it so big that it wouldn't fit through the city gates. If the Trojans got into their city, they would be under the protection of Athena. The priest Laocoon warned the Trojans about the ominous Danaer gift : “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes” (Latin: I fear the Danaer, even if they bring presents). Even Cassandra , the daughter of King Priam , warned insistently, the horse will bring the downfall of Troy.

In the city, the warnings of Laocoon and Kassandra went unheeded. The horse was drawn into the city and placed in front of the Temple of Athena. During the night the soldiers crawled out of the horse's stomach and opened the city gates. The Greeks, who had returned in the night, invaded the city and destroyed it. This resulted in numerous outrages that would later make the Greeks difficult on their journey home, such as the Odyssey or the myths about Ajax tell the Lokrians .


A historical description of a conquest of Troy at the end of the Bronze Age is not known, but a real background to the myth is conceivable. The myth known today has been passed on in various ways: initially only orally, especially through rhapsodes , but also through later written arrangements and quotations in other works. The written sources include parts of the Epic Cycle ( Ἰλίου πέρσις Iliou persis , "Fall of Ilion") and Homer's Odyssey, as well as several revisions such as the Aeneid of Virgil ( Canto 2), the Posthomerica by Quintus of Smyrna or the Iliou halōsis ( Ἰλίου ἅλωσις ) from Triphiodoros . The details vary in the different treatments.

Mention of the events in the Odyssey (translation by Johann Heinrich Voß ):

“So he also faced that danger, with boldness and equanimity, In the timbered horse in which we princes of the Greeks all sat, bringing death and destruction to Ilion” ( 4th Canto, verse 271 ff. )
"Now go on and sing the invention of the wooden horse, which Epeios built with the help of Pallas Athena, And the noble Odysseus introduced into the castle to deceive" ( 8th song, verse 493 ff. )

There are only three known classical representations of the Trojan horse. The oldest is the well-preserved relief on the "Mykonos Vase", a relief pith (see picture above). It is in the 7th century BC. Dated a few centuries after the alleged time of the war, around the time of written tradition by Homer.

Whether there really was a Trojan horse cannot be said with certainty, at least not as Virgil describes it in an appealing and at the same time hauntingly beautiful tradition. It is believed that even in antiquity, history was understood as a fairy tale from distant times.

Technical explanations

There are various speculations in modern science as to what else the Trojan horse might have been. So there is the thesis of a battering ram , which to a certain extent resembled a horse, and that the description of the use of this device was then transformed into the myth by later oral tradition - not aware of the meaning of the name. At that time, the Assyrians used siege machines with animal names.

The possibility has also been suggested that an earthquake did indeed damage the walls during the war. Poseidon served a threefold role as god of the sea, horses and earthquakes.

A more subtle interpretation is that a very early term for ship was “wooden horse”. The ancient civilization of the Greek Navy used the boat like a horse. Thus the horse is Poseidon's beast and Homer described the ships as the horses of the sea. In addition, the terms with which the men are placed in the horse are similar to those used to describe the embarkation of the men on a ship.

The heroes in the horse

The heroes hidden in the horse can be seen as an elite group of the Greeks. It consisted of the best volunteer fighters, especially leaders. Their number fluctuates in the various arrangements: According to the library of Apollodorus there were 50 men, after Triphiodoros and - following him with the same list of names - Tzetzes there were 23. Quintus of Smyrna gives 30 names, but he says there were more fighters. The following list contains the 40 names that are mentioned by Virgil, Hyginus , in the library of Apollodorus, by Quintus of Smyrna and Triphiodoros in different combinations:

Antiklos is said to have died in the horse. Infatuated by Helena, he was about to answer; Odysseus tried to silence him and suffocated him. Echion also died prematurely when he jumped from the horse.

Continuing effect

Henri-Paul Motte : The Trojan Horse. History painting from 1874.

The war ruse of the Trojan horse was varied in 1590 when the city of Breda was conquered as part of the Eighty Years War , when the Dutch general Moritz von Orange managed to sail a peat ship , in which soldiers were hidden, into the city under siege. The myth continues to have an impact throughout the history of ideas and has been taken up again and again in the most varied of arts, for example in:

  • Paul Nizan : Le Cheval de Troie Roman, 1935; German 1979
  • In the parodic film The Knights of the Coconut by Monty Python (1975) Arthur and his knights want to take a French castle with a wooden "hare", but they forget to hide in the hare.
  • King fall , 2008 ( Fall of Kings , 2007), the last book of Troy Trilogy by David Gemmell . However, the term is not used here for a wooden horse. Gemmell calls Troy the “Trojan horse”. With him, Odysseus' ruse consists in having his own riders ride to Troy in the disguise of this cavalry, whereupon the Trojans open the gates for them.
  • Troy (film) (2004)

Web links

Commons : Trojan horse  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Pausanias 3:13 , 5.
  2. Homer, Odyssey 8, 492-495; Library of Apollodor Epitome 5, 14.
  3. Barry Strauss: The Trojan War. Myth and Truth. Theiss, Stuttgart 2008, p. 157.
  4. Libraries of Apollodor Epitome 5, 14.
  5. Did the Trojan horse exist? ( Memento of May 13, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) (Question 9 of the FAQ of the Troia project)
  6. Michael Wood in his book "In search of the Trojan war" ISBN 978-0-520-21599-3 (ran on BBC-TV as a series)
  7. Earthquakes toppled ancient cities: 11/12/97
  8. Greek Mythology II - Heroes. Part C: Heroic Poetry - The Trojan Cycle . - Ludwig Preller
  9. See Nic Fields, Donato Spedaliere, Sarah S. Spedalier: Troy C. 1700-1250 BC. Osprey Publishing, Oxford 2004, pp. 51-52.
  10. Homer, Odyssey 4, 708.
  11. Michael John Anderson: The Fall of Troy in Early Greek Poetry and Art. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1997, pp. 22-23.
  13. Libraries of Apollodor Epitome 5, 14 ff.
  14. Triphiodoros, Iliou Halosis 152-183.
  15. Tzetzes, Posthomerica 641-650.
  16. Quintus of Smyrna, Posthomerica 12, 314-335.
  17. ^ Virgil, Aeneis 2, 259-264.
  18. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 108.
  19. Homer, Odyssey 4, 265-289.
  20. ↑ Taken over from the Library of Apollodor Epitome 5, 19 ff .; Triphiodoros, Iliou Halosis 476-483 (only here it is expressly stated that Antiklos suffocated because Odysseus closed his mouth); Ovid , Ibis 569 f.
  21. Libraries of Apollodor Epitome 5, 20.