I. ONCE UPON A TIME.
Once upon a time, there lived in a city of Asia Minor, not far from Mount Ida, as old Homer tells us in his grand and beautiful poem, a king who had fifty sons and many daughters. How large his family was, indeed, we cannot say, for the storytellers of the olden time were not very careful to set down the actual and exact truth, their chief object being to give the people something to interest them. That they succeeded well in this respect we know, because the story of this old king and his great family of sons and daughters has been told and retold thousands of times since it was first related, and that was so long ago that the bard himself has sometimes been said never to have lived at all. Still; somebody must have existed who told the wondrous story, and it has always been attributed to a blind poet, to whom the name Homer has been given.
The place in which the old king and his great family lived was Ilium, though it is better known as Troja or Troy, because that is the name that the Roman people used for it in later times. One of the sons of Priam, for that was the name of this king, was Paris, who, though very handsome, was a wayward and troublesome youth. He once journeyed to Greece to find a wife, and there fell in love with a beautiful daughter of Jupiter, named Helen. She was already married to Menelaus, the Prince of Lacedæmonia (brother of another famous hero, Agamemnon), who had most hospitably entertained young Paris, but this did not interfere with his carrying her off to Troy. The wedding journey was made by the roundabout way of Phoenicia and Egypt, but at last the couple reached home with a large amount of treasure taken from the hospitable Menelaus.
This wild adventure led to a war of ten years between the Greeks and King Priam, for the rescue of the beautiful Helen. Menelaus and some of his countrymen at last contrived to conceal themselves in a hollow wooden horse, in which they were taken into Troy. Once inside, it was an easy task to open the gates and let the whole army in also. The city was then taken and burned. Menelaus was naturally one of the first to hasten from the smoking ruins, though he was almost the last to reach his home. He lived afterwards for years in peace, health, and happiness with the beautiful wife who had cost him so much suffering and so many trials to regain.
Among the relatives of King Priam was one Anchises, a descendant of Jupiter, who was very old at the time of the war. He had a valiant son, however, who fought well in the struggle, and the story of his deeds was ever afterwards treasured up among the most precious narratives of all time. This son was named Æneas, and he was not only a descendant of Jupiter, but also a son of the beautiful goddess Venus. He did not take an active part in the war at its beginning, but in the course of time he and Hector, who was one of the sons of the king, became the most prominent among the defenders of Troy. After the destruction of the city, he went out of it, carrying on his shoulders his aged father, Anchises, and leading by the hand his young son, Ascanius, or Iulus, as he was also called. He bore in his hands his household gods, called the Penates, and began his now celebrated wanderings over the earth. He found a resting-place at last on the farther coast of the Italian peninsula, and there one day he marvellously disappeared in a battle on the banks of the little brook Numicius, where a monument was erected to his memory as "The Father and the Native God." According to the best accounts, the war of Troy took place nearly twelve hundred years before Christ, and that is some three thousand years ago now. It was before the time of the prophet Eli, of whom we read in the Bible, and long before the ancient days of Samuel and Saul and David and Solomon, who seem so very far removed from our times. There had been long lines of kings and princes in China and India before that time, however, and in the hoary land of Egypt as many as twenty dynasties of sovereigns had reigned and passed away, and a certain sort of civilization had flourished for two or three thousand years, so that the great world was not so young at that time as one might at first think If only there had been books and newspapers in those olden days, what revelations they would make to us now! They would tell us exactly where Troy was, which some of the learned think we do not know, and we might, by their help, separate fact from fiction in the immortal poems and stories that are now our only source of information. It is not for us to say that that would be any better for us than to know merely what we do, for poetry is elevating and entertaining, and stirs the heart; and who could make poetry out of the columns of a newspaper, even though it were as old as the times of the Pharaohs? Let us, then, be thankful for what we have, and take the beginnings of history in the mixed form of truth and fiction, following the lead of learned historians who are and long have been trying to trace the true clue of fact in the labyrinth of poetic story with which it is involved.