Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, doesn’t like Hillary Clinton’s position on Syrian refugees. At Sunday night’s presidential debate with the former secretary of state, he warned that admitting more Syrian refugees “is going to be the great Trojan horse of all time.”
He meant it as an attack. But there’s an irony to the charge.
Much like Syrian refugees, who have fled war, chaos and ISIS to build better lives for themselves and their children, the people in the Trojan horse were the heroes of the story.
The tale of the horse originated in the Odyssey, a Greek epic poem by Homer. (It’s not mentioned in the Iliad, which focuses on the earlier parts of the war.) After a long siege, the Greeks hid in the horse and burst out once the Trojans (their Middle Eastern rivals) brought it into the city.
It’s a Greek poem, so the Greeks are generally painted as the good guys.
Maybe Trump was thinking of Virgil’s telling of the story in the Aeneid, a Latin poem from the early days of the Roman Empire. (Virgil’s hero, Aeneas, was a Trojan.) Here’s his version:
‘After many years have slipped by, the leaders of the Greeks,
opposed by the Fates, and damaged by the war,
build a horse of mountainous size, through Pallas’s divine art,
and weave planks of fir over its ribs:
they pretend it’s a votive offering: this rumour spreads.
They secretly hide a picked body of men, chosen by lot,
there, in the dark body, filling the belly and the huge
cavernous insides with armed warriors.
Tenedos is within sight, an island known to fame,
rich in wealth when Priam’s kingdom remained,
now just a bay and an unsafe anchorage for boats:
they sail there, and hide themselves, on the lonely shore.
We thought they had gone, and were seeking Mycenae
with the wind. So all the Trojan land was free of its long sorrow.
The gates were opened: it was a joy to go and see the Greek camp,
the deserted site and the abandoned shore.
Here the Dolopians stayed, here cruel Achilles,
here lay the fleet, here they used to meet us in battle.
Some were amazed at virgin Minerva’s fatal gift,
and marvel at the horse’s size: and at first Thymoetes,
whether through treachery, or because Troy’s fate was certain,
urged that it be dragged inside the walls and placed on the citadel.
But Capys, and those of wiser judgement, commanded us
to either hurl this deceit of the Greeks, this suspect gift,
into the sea, or set fire to it from beneath,
or pierce its hollow belly, and probe for hiding places.
The crowd, uncertain, was split by opposing opinions.
Then Laocoön rushes down eagerly from the heights
of the citadel, to confront them all, a large crowd with him,
and shouts from far off: ‘O unhappy citizens, what madness?
Do you think the enemy’s sailed away? Or do you think
any Greek gift’s free of treachery? Is that Ulysses’s reputation?
Either there are Greeks in hiding, concealed by the wood,
or it’s been built as a machine to use against our walls,
or spy on our homes, or fall on the city from above,
or it hides some other trick: Trojans, don’t trust this horse.
Whatever it is, I’m afraid of Greeks even those bearing gifts.’
So saying he hurled his great spear, with extreme force,
at the creature’s side, and into the frame of the curved belly.
The spear stuck quivering, and at the womb’s reverberation
the cavity rang hollow and gave out a groan.
And if the gods’ fate, if our minds, had not been ill-omened,
he’d have incited us to mar the Greeks hiding-place with steel:
Troy would still stand: and you, high tower of Priam would remain.