The American Scholar

Bringing In the Horse

They opened the gates of their city and tore down part of their walls so they could bring the horse to the goddess’s temple, hoping to win her favor.

GREEK MYTHOLOGY CAN PROVIDE a rather frightening parallel to the situation in which the citizens of the United States find themselves. That situation is the decision made by the male citizens of ancient Troy to break down their city walls and bring in the wooden horse left to them as a “gift” by their enemies, the Greeks. As we all know, that was a disastrous decision. Why did the Trojans make the choices that brought their own destruction, when they could have so easily saved themselves? All they had to do was leave the horse where they found it, outside the city walls—or better still, set it on fire. But as Homer tells us, they decided to bring the horse in, drag it up to their city’s acropolis, and then sit down around it. There were three proposals: break through the wood with their swords, throw the horse down from the acropolis, or let the horse stand as an offering to the gods. Homer doesn’t say why the Trojans made the one choice that would bring about their destruction.

Other ancient Greek epics told the story in more detail, but only fragments of these narratives survive. The Roman poet Virgil, who knew Greek literature well, drew on some of those sources when he wrote about the fall of Troy in the . The narrator is Aeneas himself, the Trojan prince who escaped the burning city and eventually went to Italy. Virgil has Aeneas tell Dido and other guests at a banquet in Carthage that the Trojans went out to explore the encampment that the Greeks had deserted, and stoodhollow womb to probe its inner chambers. But as a group, the Trojans were still uncertain, divided into opposing factions.

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