Study Guide

The Trojan Horse Summary

How It (Supposedly) Went Down

Brief Summary

To break the stalemate of the long and bloody Trojan War, wily Odysseus comes up with a sneaky plan. Most of the Greeks will pretend to sail away, while a few hide inside of a giant wooden horse. Despite the arguments of the priest Laocoön and the seer Cassandra, the Trojans drag the horse inside the city thanks to the lies of a Greek named Sinon. That night, Odysseus and the rest of the Greeks inside the horse sneak out, open the gates for their buddies, and finally lay waste to the city of Troy.

Detailed Summary

  • The brutal and bloody Trojan War has been going on for ten loooooooooong years. (Notice the ten O's in that word. We take pride in our work here at Shmoop.)
  • Tons of people have died.
  • It's depressing. 
  • The great Trojan hero Hector got skewered by Achilles.
  • Achilles died after being shot in the heel by Paris, who started the whole thing by stealing Helen from Menelaus
  • Paris, himself, has been killed by the Greek hero, Philoctetes. 
  • So, basically, death is everywhere, and everybody's getting pretty darn sick of this awful war.
  • Still, though, both the Trojans and the Greeks are too stubborn to call it quits.
  • King Priam of Troy won't give Helen back to her husband, Menelaus.
  • And Greek commander King Agamemnon won't leave until his brother Menelaus' (and all of Greece's) honor is satisfied. 
  • The Greek armies have totally decimated the lands around Troy and kicked all the Trojan allies' butts.
  • They'd totally be winning in weren't for these pesky walls of Troy, which are super tall, super thick, and basically impenetrable. 
  • Stalemate...
  • Ugh...
  • What to do?
  • One day, a light bulb goes off in the brain of wily Odysseus
  • Odysseus, who's known for being crafty, goes to Agamemnon and the rest of the Greek commanders with a sneaky plan. 
  • He's like, "O.K. guys, what we need to do is build this really massive wooden horse."
  • "I don't get how that helps," says some dumb Greek.
  • "Shut your pie-hole and let me finish," says Odysseus.
  • Continuing on, Odysseus tells them, "Most of us will pretend like we've given up and sail our fleet over behind the island of Tenedos."
  • "Greeks never run away," shouts the same dumb Greek.
  • "I said 'pretend,' idiot. Now can it!" says Odysseus. "About thirty of us will hide inside the horse. The Trojans will think it's some kind of gift and haul it into their city. Then when they're all asleep, we'll sneak out, open the gates for everybody else, and totally kill everybody in the city."
  • The Greeks think this is a pretty sweet plan, and they all get busy putting it into motion.
  • They commission an artist named Epeius to oversee the building of the giant wooden horse, and he does a bang-up job.
  • Odysseus and a bunch of other dudes climb into the horse, while everybody else sails away and hides.
  • The only Greek left outside of the horse is Sinon, whom Odysseus appoints to help sell the deception. 
  • Eventually, the Trojans peek over their walls and are deliriously happy to see that the Greeks are gone.
  • They come out of the city to check out the lay of the land, and they see the big crazy horse.
  • The Trojans start debating about whether they should take it inside the city, or just destroy it. 
  • A priest named Laocoön is totally for destroying it, famously saying that he's "afraid of Greeks, even those bearing gifts." 
  • The priest takes a spear and hits it against the horse.
  • A big booming echo resounds from the horse, and everybody knows it's hollow.
  • The Trojans are just about ready to go with Laocoön's advice and destroy the thing, when some Trojan soldiers bring in Sinon.
  • The Greek soldier tells the Trojans that Odysseus was trying to offer him as human sacrifice, so he ran away and hid in the marsh.
  • Sinon tells them he totally hates his fellow countrymen, and begs the Trojans to have mercy on him.
  • "Al lright," say the Trojans. "But what's up with this big crazy horse?"
  • Sinon tells them that the Greeks made it as an offering to Athena, who was really mad at Odysseus for stealing her statue from her temple in Troy.
  • They made it super big, because their seer Calchas declared if the Trojans were able to haul it into their city, then all the Greeks would be destroyed. 
  • He also says that if the Trojans destroy the thing, then the Trojans will be destroyed. 
  • Laocoön is still majorly suspicious and tells his fellow Trojans not to listen to Sinon. 
  • Just then the god Poseidon sends two giant sea serpents who gobble up Laocoön and his two sons. (Wow, we didn't see that one coming.)
  • The Trojans are all like, "Well, looks like the gods don't like Laocoön very much. We'd better do the opposite of what he says and haul this big old horse into the city."
  • "Smart move," says Sinon. "You'll destroy those awful Greeks yet" (wink, wink).
  • So, the Trojans spend all day dragging the massive horse into Troy.
  • Before it enters, the seer, Princess Cassandra, warns them that the horse will cause the downfall of the entire city. 
  • She's been cursed by Apollo to never be believed, though, so the Trojans don't pay any attention to her. 
  • That night the city of Troy throws an epic rager to celebrate the end of the war.
  • About the time everybody passes out drunk, Odysseus and the other Greeks inside the horse make their move.
  • Before long, the gates of Troy are open and the city is full of brutal Greek soldiers.
  • The Greeks are totally merciless. 
  • Men are killed, women are raped, babies are flung from the city walls (not even kidding), and everything is set on fire. 
  • King Priam is killed while trying to take sanctuary in a temple of Zeus
  • Cassandra is raped by Ajax the Lesser in a temple of Athena, and she's eventually taken as a sex slave of Agamemnon. 
  • Menelaus goes to kill Helen, but is once again seduced by her feminine charms. 
  • In the end, the great city of Troy is in ruins, and the Trojan Horse is written down in history as one of the greatest deceptions of all time.