Thursday, December 13, 2007

War of the Words, Trojan Style

In legend, the Trojan War started when Paris abducted Helen, wife of King Menelaus. Referring to Helen, Christopher Marlowe wrote, in The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus,
“Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?”

The Trojan War introduced us to a large cast of characters, and some of them have lent their names to words still commonly used.

The Odyssey is one of the great epic poems of ancient Greece. It recounts the adventures of Odysseus as he returned home to Ithica after fighting in the Trojan War. It took him an incredible ten years. By extended use, odyssey refers to a long series of wanderings or a long adventurous journey. [See Odyssey of the Mind]

To hector is to act as a bully, to brag, bluster, or domineer. Oddly enough, it is taken from the name Hector, a hero in the Trojan War. For centuries, Hector was regarded as a heroic figure, a valiant warrior with a loyal streak a mile wide. But in 16th century England, his name began to be applied to hoodlums who roamed the streets of London. Shakespeare probably shares much of the blame. He presented Hector as a narcissist in Troilus and Cressida.

achilles heel
An achilles heel is a vulnerable spot--often, the only vulnerability in a person or a plan. Legend has it that Achilles’ goddess mother, Thetis, tried to make her baby immortal by dipping him in the River Styx. She held him by the heel so she could retrieve him, and that remained his only vulnerability. Sure enough, he died when an arrow [some say a spear] hit him in the heel. But before that, he killed Hector during the Trojan War.

trojan horse
Trojan is the adjective referring to Troy, and a trojan horse is something that destroys from within--something insinuated to bring down an enemy. In computer terms, it is software surreptiously inserted into a computer. It appears to be doing something legitimate, but it actually gives the perpetrator control of the invaded computer. Historically, the name refers to a hollow wooden horse, ostensibly abandoned by the fleeing Greek fleet, in which Greek forces, including Odysseus, hid themselves in order to enter Troy.

ADDENDUM: My son Michael reminds me that I left one out--Stentor. Stentor was a Greek warrior in the Trojan war, “whose voice was as powerful as fifty voices of other men.” The word stentorian thus means very loud, powerful, and far-reaching in sound, as a person with a stentorian voice.

SIDEBAR: The Trojan Band

SIDEBAR: McAfee Threat Center

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