An Unsung Hero or Traitor?

King Arthur had twelve of them. Even Alexander the Great had a small group he consulted during his widespread occupation of Asia Minor all the way through to Egypt. They have many names: advisors, counsellors, gerousia, a council of elders. One of the Elders of Troy during the tenth year of the war even suggested giving Helen back to the Greeks to cease the fighting. His wise counsel was ignored and as they say “the rest is history”.

Destruction of Troy (1634) Francisco Collantes Prado Museum Wikipedia

Destruction of Troy (1634)
Francisco Collantes
Prado Museum
Wikipedia

Antenor was considered as one of the wisest of the Trojan Elders and was King Priam’s counsellor during the war. In Book 3, there is a scene where King Priam and the elders convene on a tower by the Scaean gate to take stock of the fighting when Helen arrives. It is clear from the narrative the elders both desired and abhorred Helen.

‘All the same, and lovely as she is, let her sail home and not stay here, a scourge to us and our children after us.’
Lines 158-161

In a number of scenes the importance of Antenor is highlighted by Homer. Why would the bard give such significance to this character? Although the elder comes across as one dimensional, he epitomises the “voice of reason”, a character ploy set in stories to place doubt in the listeners’ mind. Is the death of so many really over one woman? It is a great strategy to add excitement to the plot and questions the veracity of the king’s decision to keep fighting.

The Sacking of Troy Relief on pithos 675-650 BCE, found on Mykonos Archaeological Museum of Mykonos Wikipedia

The Sacking of Troy
Relief on pithos 675-650 BCE, found on Mykonos
Archaeological Museum of Mykonos
Wikipedia

Antenor was the first high ranking Trojan to meet and host Greek emissaries, Odysseus and Menelaos, at his palace. King Priam sanctioned their arrival and entrusted Antenor be their intermediary. They were presented to the assembly of Trojans and each given the opportunity to convince them to return Helen and stolen goods. (Book 3, Lines 204-225) In another scene, when Paris and Menelaos are about to duel, King Priam commanded Antenor to head down to the battle ground and be his herald. In this role, Antenor performs “oath offerings” to gods with Agamemnon and Odysseus.

In later poets’ and historians rendition of the sack of Troy, Antenor’s actions were questioned and labelled a traitor. His house and family were the only ones spared during the invasion. Did his actions make him a turncoat of his own people? I don’t believe so. He was the single voice who tried to end the war and wanted to stop the endless deaths.

What are your thoughts? Do you think Antenor was an unsung hero or traitor? As always, I look forward to your comments.
Thank you for visiting and reading.
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Further reading:
Antenor, Greek Myth Index
Antenor, Greek Mythology Link

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15 thoughts on “An Unsung Hero or Traitor?

  1. well, he certainly had some brain, after all eloping with another man’s wife was not a very smart thing to do, especially if that man is powerful enough to destroy you, vindictive enough to destroy your entire world. So if …

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  2. I’d say he was a sung hero, all things considered. 😉 But seriously, the Greek heroes were such “action figures” almost anyone looks good beside them. Hector stands head and shoulders above them all, and yet he’s the antagonist. Go figure.

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    • A lot of dash and slash ;D
      I guess Hektor epitomised the ideal warrior, faithful to his king, a father, humble and excellent fighter. A lot going for him. 😀

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  3. Hello Luciana,

    Well, being strict he was a traitor of his country. Just after searching online I have found and interesting point to highlight here: According to Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, the Cocytus was the ninth and lowest circle of The Underworld. One of this circle’s descending sections was called “Antenora”. And its name is related to Antenor’s betrayal

    Great post, as always, best wishes,

    Aquileana 🙂

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    • Well that is very interesting indeed! I did not know that. Amazing the parallels that are drawn between various literature. 😀
      thank you Aquileana
      ciao
      Luciana

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  4. The idea of men fighting and dying over a woman is fodder for romantics and over simplifies the issues, I reckon.

    Even if the Trojans had returned Helen the Greeks would not depart – they were after honour and blood price – veils to hide their real intent. Warriors of the day were not paid wages – they depended on loot. Many Greeks had perished and their families back home needed succour – this can only be had by war booty. If the Trojans gave in – the Greeks will view it as weakness. The ultimate price is war booty – looting Troy, corralling herd animals, and enslaving women, children and men.

    Helen might arguably be the romanticised trigger – I reckon there was much more at play here.

    Of course, I’ve no evidence to boost my theory.

    Peace,
    Eric

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    • Nicely stated Eric and I totally agree. Helen certainly wasn’t the main reason for the war. Power, wealth and yes, honour was the impetus for annexing Troy. Ah, greed. When will people learn you can’t have it all!
      Thanks Eric 😀
      ciao
      Luciana

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    • Agreed. After all, the Greeks had basically pillaged their way there; the whole drama with Achilles was about booty from one such raid (double entendre intended 😉 ). Troy was certainly a ripe plum, and Greeks were certainly tired of paying for access to the Black Sea fisheries. Nice to have an “honorable” excuse to go after them. Kind of like G.W. Bush.

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  5. Luciana, I’ve really enjoyed your recent in-depth articles on less known heroes from the Illiad. I agree there was more at play in conflict between the Greeks and Trojans than the romantic trigger of Helen. I believe Antenor to be an unsung hero who argued for reason and peace to avoid one of the most brutal sackings that undoubtedly happened in Ancient History. Unfortunately, great leaders do not always heed their wise council. There is always more to great legends beneath the surface. Nicely written post.

    Cheers,
    Linnea

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    • I believe Homer set out to teach people the folly of power and greed yet the lesson falls on deaf ears. Much like the leaders in the Iliad who refuse to listen to advice from the experienced. Sound familiar?
      Thank you Linnea 😀
      ciao
      Luciana

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  6. A calm, wise voice that seeks a peaceful resolution to conflict—whatever its true nature—is no traitor in my book. Unfortunately, many people today still prefer a path of violence and “glory.” Not so much has changed in some ways since the Trojan War.

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    • Nope, nothing has changed. People still think they can destroy, kill all for power and greedy and believe its for a good cause. Nutty thinking really.
      Nice to hear from JM 😀
      Thank you
      Luciana

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