Greek Gift – Beware of Greeks bearing gifts 9 mins read “I fear the Greeks
9 mins read
“I fear the Greeks even [when they are] bringing gifts”, Virgil’s Aeneid II.
I have spoken to a number of young people about this Troy story of naivetés and foolishness so many times that sometimes I assume that I could simply rewrite and embellish the story to emphasize the lessons learnt.
To be brutally honest, a good number of young people have no idea what a Greek Gift is. Don’t feel out of place, neither did I decades ago. This article will put paid to that misery of lack of knowledge, while providing the background for a true and personal story towards the end of the write up.
Greek mythology and literature – The Fall of Troy
On April 24, 1184 BCE, the city of Troy, in what is today Turkey, fell to invading Greek army, ending the 10-year-long Trojan War.
The story of the Trojan Horse is well-known as it was first mentioned in the Odyssey, one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to a Greek poet named Homer. It is one of the most important stories in the Greek mythology.
The main ancient source for the story is the Aeneid of Virgil, a Latin epic poem from the time of Augustus.
The story describes how Greek soldiers were able to take the city of Troy after a fruitless ten-year siege, by hiding in a giant horse supposedly left as an offering to the goddess Athena, in the final days of the Trojan War
But was it just a myth?
In some quarters it is suggested that all the dates surrounding the Trojan War are total guesses. Many historians didn’t believe Troy existed at all until the 19th century, when archaeologists found evidence of the legendary city on a hill near the modern town of Hisarlik, Turkey. Even that evidence is disputed—and there is no evidence of a giant wooden horse!
But you know……..let’s play along with this fascinating story. The dispute on whether it is a myth or not will not form part of our discussion at this time.
The Trojan War began when a Trojan prince ran off with the wife of a Greek king. The woman, Helen of Troy, became “the face that launched a thousand ships,” when her husband, Menelaus, assembled a fleet of ships to retrieve her from Troy. The war between the Greeks (who actually called themselves Achaeans) and the Trojans lasted ten years.
The Trojan War ended when the Greek commander Odysseus devised a plan to invade the walled city. The Greeks pretended to give up after constructing a huge wooden horse to hide a select force of men inside, including Odysseus.
Odysseus thought of building a great wooden horse (the horse being the emblem of Troy), hiding an elite force inside, and fooling the Trojans into wheeling the horse into the city as a trophy. The Greeks built the wooden horse in three days. Thirty of the Achaeans’ best warriors hid in the Trojan horse’s womb and two spies in its mouth.
Then they burned their tents and left to Tenedos by night. Greek soldier Sinon was “abandoned” and was to signal to the Greeks by lighting a beacon.
Odysseus’s plan called for one man to remain outside the horse; he would act as though the Greeks had abandoned him, leaving the horse as a gift for the Trojans. An inscription was engraved on the horse reading: “For their return home, the Greeks dedicate this offering to Athena”.
Sinon, the only volunteer for the role, successfully convinced the Trojans that he had been left behind and that the Greeks had gone. Sinon told the Trojans that the Horse was an offering to the goddess Athena, meant to atone for the previous desecration of her temple at Troy by the Greeks and ensure a safe journey home for the Greek fleet.
Sinon tells the Trojans that the Horse was built to be too large for them to take it into their city and gain the favor of Athena for themselves.
While questioning Sinon, the Trojan priest Laocoön guesses the plot and warns the Trojans.
However, the god Poseidon sends two sea serpents to strangle him and his two sons before any Trojan heeds his warning. The two serpents were sent by Apollo, whom Laocoon had insulted by sleeping with his wife in front of the “divine image.
In the Odyssey, Homer says that Helen of Troy also guesses the plot and tries to trick and uncover the Greek soldiers inside the horse by imitating the voices of their wives, and one of the thirty soldiers’ attempts to answer, but Odysseus shuts his mouth with his hand.
A princess who was a soothsayer of Troy, insists that the horse will be the downfall of the city and its royal family. She too is ignored.
Since the Greeks had pretended to sail away, the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. However, that night the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greeks entered and destroyed the city of Troy, ending the war.
A “Trojan Horse” has come to mean any trick or stratagem that causes a target to invite a foe into a securely protected bastion or place.
What then is a Greek Gift?
- Collins English Dictionary defines Greek Gift as a gift given with the intention of tricking and causing harm to the recipient
- Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms further explains this. When someone says “beware of Greeks bearing gifts” they mean that you should not trust enemies or opponents who are being friendly, showing kindness or being generous, as they may have an ulterior motive.
- You should be suspicious of people who are suddenly kind to you.
- If someone who was formerly a rival or enemy suddenly begins to act kindly, he or she may have a secret motive, much like the Greeks when they gave the Trojans the wooden horse, so you would need to be suspicious or “beware.”
- This phrase cautions people not to trust others blindly.
Greek Gift – In Chess
In the game of chess, the Greek gift sacrifice (or as it is more commonly called, the classical bishop sacrifice) is a typical sacrifice of a bishop by White playing Bxh7+ or Black playing …Bxh2+.
The common theme is however the same, you are gifted a piece that appears too easy and too cheap that without thinking deep enough, you take the bait only to find that you have lost much more than you thought you gained.
Greek gift sacrifices, or the threat of them, occur relatively frequently in play, especially at the lower levels. A Greek gift sacrifice may be the prelude to a double bishop sacrifice depending on the context of the game and may spiral into an inevitable loss of the game.
Now my Story
The first time I heard the word “Greek Gift” was when as a teenager, my dad gave my younger sister some talking to, after she had recieved a valentine gift from a senior colleague in secondary school. The young lad had the audacity to hand-deliver the gift himself to the house and unfortunately, into the waiting hands of my stern looking father.
Sadly, I am not sanctioned to share this particular story.
However, I have a story of my own that may interest you and hopefully drive home the implication of receiving a gift wrapped in deceit.
I once had a friend in whom I was well pleased! Well, I assumed she was a good friend indeed. Don’t we all have that one friend drabbed in sheep’s fur but baring the unmistakable fang of a wolf!
We were pretty close, and I thought sincerely, that I was helping her deal with the pressures of life generally. I offered advice freely(no invoice sent for this), gave a good chunk of my valuable time to listen to her unending tirades about how people were unfair to her and how she detested a lot of people for being desperately wicked. She was highly opinionated and intolerant about the most trivial of all issues and this alone was a challenge I had to disabuse. I am not sure I helped her much. Her mind was set by default in pessimism.
It was a burden I was willing to bear and I offered my listening ear and time to help her navigate the torrid world of gossip, wrong perception and the nuances of human behavior that typically beleaguered and confused women her age, in return for the self-satisfaction from knowing that I helped a friend.
When she offered me a bunch of lottery tickets to buy for a program at her local church where she was a member of the organising committee, I didn’t fancy my chances of winning and I made this clearly known to her. She had that special gift to drive a hard bargain and could sell any business to the most uninterested buyer. Effortlessly, I buckled under her convincing salesmanship and reluctantly paid for a booklet. The booklet had about 50 tickets and cost about NGN25,000.00
But I was skeptical!
I expressed my concern about gambling or anything that appeared in the form of taking a lucky dip or chance or anything in that mould.
Not once in my entire 29years (with 11 years’ experience at being 29) in life had I won anything via lottery, lotto, betting, gambling or anything at all. It just wasn’t for me!
I earned my value through hard work. By working my fingers to the bone. I latched on to half chances, I learned to create opportunities from the faintest chances, and learned not to wait for lotteries, bets or a spin on the wheel of fortune. It just wasn’t for me!
I have been at countless dinner events where they brandished lottery tickets and convinced me to buy as many booklets of tickets as I could afford, so I could stand a better chance of winning the grand prize or a consolation prize at the least. Even if I paid for the entire lot of booklets and left just one booklet for every other “gambler”, all the winning numbers announced that evening would be on that one booklet I didn’t purchase.
I had tested this claim so many times as a teenager and the result never failed to disappoint me. And I had since learned never to pay attention to this part of life.
There was no chance that I could win anything even if I paid NGN25,000.00 for the booklet that my dear friend offered me sadly.
But I paid for it nonetheless. After all, she considered me worthy enough to offer the opportunity to win huge cash prizes. What she didn’t know however was, I already knew the end result.
I held on to the booklet after I had transferred cash to her account and then kept it with keen interest hoping, that for the umpteenth time, I will prove and confirm that my lack of fortune and probable jinx with lotteries hadn’t quite ended.
A week later, she returned and gleefully announced that I had won a prize!
Freeze your thoughts dear friends!!!
Imagine the look on my face!
My classic response was;
“How is that so?”
I studied her body language keenly for tell-tale signs that she was kidding, but she went on about this charade, oblivious of my questioning stare, excitedly.
I didn’t need to tell her that there wasn’t any chance that my lot was about to change in one clandestine lottery game. I willingly participated in the pretense.
I asked her to narrate the exact sequence of events that led to the announcement that a ticket, in the only booklet I paid for, held the lucky charm. She went about the narration in unconvincing bits and pieces claiming that she wasn’t paying much attention at the time it was announced as she was running about getting the event going.
Goodness me, what did I win by the way?
It was a monetary amount. I just won NGN200,000.00! Or so they claimed.
Wow! Not a bad business at all, if you look at it from the investment point of view. In one week I had gone from parting away with NGN25,000.00 grudgingly to being a whooping N200,000.00 richer!
Could this be a Greek Gift?
*Check definition again!
“So, how do we claim this prize” I asked quizzically
Well, I would have to buy goods worth NGN200,000.00 with the voucher at a fancy boutique somewhere in the affluent part of the town. She mentioned also that the boutique stocked mostly female clothes, accessories, jewelry and shoes.
One part of me was starting to get excited for my wife, it looked like she had just earned herself a gift by association. But the pragmatic part of me couldn’t place where the distrust was going to come from, but something just wasn’t quite right.
“Where is this boutique? Let’s go claim the prize quickly, I don’t want them changing their mind”
She offered to take me to the boutique the next day. I thought I was fortunate to use her expertise to get something really nice for my wife with her help and eye for details.
“Oh! How nice of her”
I didn’t mention a word to my wife when I got home that evening. It was best to make this a pleasant surprise, I thought.
But it appeared that I was the one in for a surprise!
The next day, I drove to the assigned boutique in the company of my dear friend while she babbled on about how happy she was that I won the coveted prize and that she was excited. At other times, she simply deflected to discussions about having lunch when we were done at the boutique. I thought that was a small price to pay for her effort on this.
When we strolled into the boutique, I noticed that she was quite friendly with the attendant. She asked after someone, whom I assumed was the owner of the business, and mentioned that she was there the day before.
No red flag yet!
And then as though on cue, she took brisk and measured stride up the staircase and walked directly to a shoe rack that had price tags in hundreds of thousands. I didn’t bat an eyelid, we had NGN200,000 to spend so no worries. And from a cursory glance at the price tag on the hand bags/shoes and accessories as I walked past, it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to buy more than two items at this boutique.
She took a quick sit on one of the couches and then started trying a few of the shoes on.
“Where is the one I picked yesterday?” She asked the attendant who scurried off to get a pack of shoes.
At this point, I assessed the situation, it didn’t look like we were shopping for my wife here. My friend appears to have an agenda. But I wasn’t very sure yet. I imagined that perhaps she was buying one for herself.
Then she started bargaining on a cream colored high-heeled shoe. The shoe was a few thousands short of “our” prize money.
Right there in my presence. She settled for the shoe and presented the voucher – which by the way, she never handed over to me, to the attendant while I looked on in silent protest.
My head was a thick and dense cloud of thoughts, I was wondering for one moment what was going on.
She hadn’t requested for the shoe size of my wife, nor did she ask if any of the shoes would interest my wife or myself. She wasn’t offering any explanation and she went about her business as though that was what we agreed to do.
Oh my days! You never really know people!
I then analyzed the situation;
She was in the planning committee at her local church, and she probably selected the stores where winning prize tickets would be claimed. She chose that boutique and checked it for specific items she could acquire. From the very start, she was gunning for that one shoe. The shoe cost NGN196,000.00
Now she wasn’t willing to sow any seed either, rather she would have to get someone to buy a ticket, someone she could manipulate. Poor me!
Once I paid for the ticket, she somehow found a way to get a ticket from the booklet included in the winning lot.
The rest was easy!
There I was stupefied by her shenanigans and completely dumbfounded by her unabashed attitude.
There was simply no explanation for what she had done, and she didn’t offer any.
Some things are better left unspoken. Confrontation and trading of invectives will certainly not get me the shoes or any other gift from that boutique, neither will it confirm that the jinx was broken. I was a pawn in the narcissist agenda of my dear friend.
A ploy and grand scheme cleverly hatched to serve her own selfish interest and motive but disguised as a winning lottery ticket for her gullible friend who was to learn and relearn that, nothing can take the place of working hard and earning whatever you desire.
I was grateful I hadn’t made a promise to my wife about some purported gift and to my dear friend, not one word was ever spoken about the incident afterwards.
She had staked our friendship – if we can call it that – on the table of fraud and greed.
Rather than being very upset and angered by her trickery, I genuinely felt sorry for her. And I am convinced she needs a lot of help. This is hoping she finds it somewhere………else!
I need to break this jinx though. Who wants to help?
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