The Children of Priam

With his wife Hecabe (whose own parentage was famously obscure), Priam had fifty sons and fifty daughters, among them the warriors Hector and Deiphobus, the handsome Troilus and the prophetic twins Helenus and Cassandra.

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When Apollo wooed Cassandra with promises that, if she slept with him, he would grant her the gift of prophecy, the princess agreed and the god breathed his power into her. But at the last moment Cassandra changed her mind and haughtily rebuffed him There was little that Apollo could do. He could not withdraw his gift. So instead he added a curse: none of Cassandra’s prophecies would be believed.

Predictions of disaster already haunted Troy. When Hecabe was pregnant with her second son, she dreamt she bore a baby with a hundred hands, each holding a blazing firebrand. The meaning was clear: if allowed to live, the boy would ruin Troy; only his death would save the city. Reluctantly Hecabe wrapped the newborn in a fine embroidered cloth and gave him to a herdsman to expose on nearby Mount Ida. Here, though, the child was suckled by a she-bear. Finding him still alive nine days later, the herdsman pitied him and took him in his knapsack (in Greek, ‘pera’) to his steading, where he reared him as his own. The boy grew strong and handsome. When he fought off a band of cattle-rustlers, the herdsmen called him Alexander (‘Protector of Men’), though – in memory of the knapsack – he had already been named Paris.

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