Molly McMule's Horse Tales - 1001 Stall Stories

The Gift Horse

"Open wide! I want to take a look at your teeth!"

"Come on, Desi. Just because you were watching the dentist when she was here doesn't mean that we're all going to be standing here while you pretend to examine our mouths," said Beau.

"Well, I just wanted to find out what it means when they talk about being 'long in the tooth,'" she said.

Desi had heard the dentist and some of the other people talking about how that expression had come into use and found that it was a way to determine approximately how old a horse was. It seems that horses being fed a diet of hay no longer used their front teeth to tear off the coarse grass that they normally would eat in the wild, and as a result had worn only the back teeth down. This is where the phrase came from and is used to describe an "old horse".

"There seem to be a number of popular expressions referring to horses. For instance," said Ginny, "have you ever heard 'don't look a gift horse in the mouth?"

"Yes," answered Desi, "but I don't understand it."

Beau grumbled a little, and then said, "When a horse is given as a gift, it is generally an old horse, so the idea is that if you don't want to be disappointed, accept it as it is and don't squabble about the age. Seems like a pretty cynical expression to me."

Molly was trying hard not to laugh at Beau and Desi, and at the same time, she wanted to expand the conversation. So she asked, "Do you know why people say 'Beware of Greeks bearing gifts'?"

Again, Desi was puzzled.

"Whatever could that mean? Sounds kind of silly to me. What possibly could be dangerous about accepting a gift? After all, gifts are given to people you like and I'm sure Greeks also give nice gifts," she said. "They're nice people."

"Right, but the saying was a result of a story in Greek Mythology about a large wooden horse and how it brought about the defeat of a country," Molly told the group now assembled in the pasture sensing that a story was about to be told.

"Well, don't keep us in suspense," Equinox said. "Let's hear the rest of it."

"Thousands of years ago, the Greeks and the Trojans were at war. The war had started because the son of King Priam of Troy, whose name was Paris, was in love with Helen, the beautiful wife of Menelaus, the king of Sparta, a Greek city. When the two lovers ran away to Troy, it angered Menelaus and he took a huge army of Greeks in his black ships and sailed to the shores of Troy.

"There they fought many bitter battles but no one really won the war. This went on for years. Then, about ten years later, the Greek army began to leave. The Trojans watched from the walls of the city as the ships went out to sea. They were curious, but cautious and eventually ventured out of the gates to see if the enemy had really gone.

"As they watched the Greek army leave in a cloud of dust, they saw a shape looming in the distance and they went to examine this strange sight. Soon they realized it was an enormous wooden horse with a painted face and large round belly.

"The high priest of Troy tried to warn the people that this might be a trick and that it was not wise to trust the Greeks, but no one really believed him. The priest left with his two sons thinking he must sacrifice a bull to the gods, and the people who had gathered to look at the horse stayed on. Soon they came across another man who had his hands tied behind his back, and he told them that he had escaped from the clutches of the high priests. His name was Sinon, and he said the high priests had said that if the Greeks were to win the war, they would have to build this horse as a gift for the goddess Athena, and also make a human sacrifice.

"Sinon continued to tell them that 'they are really afraid that you will take the horse into the city and all of the goddess Athena's protection and favor will then be given to Troy and they will never be able to win the war. That's why they made the horse so big that it won't fit between the city gates and it also was very heavy.'

"While the Trojans listened and also doubted his story, two enormous sea snakes came gliding through the sea toward Troy." Desi snorted at the thought. "They watched as the snakes came on the shore and attacked the high priest and his sons, killing them. Of course, the Trojans decided it was a punishment imposed by the gods because the high priest had not trusted the gift of the wooden horse."

"Gosh, this sounds like a fairy tale," said Desi.

Molly continued explaining, "Not a fairy tale, but a legend which many people feel may have at least been partially true."

"So, what happened next?" Equinox asked.

"The people were so excited about this gift and what it must mean that they worked very hard to put rollers under it and pulled it up to the city gates. There they found it was too large to get through, so they had to enlarge the gates too. They were so happy that they were all singing and shouting and making so much noise that it drowned out any other sounds and the wooden horse was finally in the center of the city.

"That night the exhausted and happy people were sleeping. The moonless night was quiet and very dark. Sinon, the man who said he had escaped from the Greeks, was looking out to sea. Finally, he saw the signal he had been waiting for, a flicker of fire from a ship. The Greeks were sailing back to Troy and Sinon was heading toward the wooden horse in the center of the city.

"Very quietly, he raised a ladder to the belly of the horse and opened a trap door. The horse was hollow and it was filled with Greek soldiers armed with swords and shields. The soldiers quickly came out of the horse and began to swarm throughout the city burning and breaking everything they could. They were destroying the city as the people tried to flee. By the time morning came, any Trojans who were still alive were leaving the city weeping and carrying the few possessions they could save. By this time they had forgotten all about Paris and Helen who had started the war. But in the center of the city was the gift horse, still standing there looking down victoriously."

Molly finished the story as the pasture crowd was mulling over the story and thinking about the meaning of the phrase that started it all. Desi just kept her mouth closed for once. [HOOFPRINT END TEXT SYMBOL]

Molly says, there are lots of reference books about the Trojan Horse. "The Trojan Horse" retold and illustrated by Warwick Hutton, is one. More information can be found in "The Greek Armies" by Peter Connolly, "Ancient Greece" an Eyewitness Book and "Black Ships Before Troy" (The story of The Iliad) by Rosemary Sutcliff. All are good sources of information about the Ancient Greeks.