Beware of... my hooves.
"I don't intend to look a gift horse in the mouth." Sir Humphrey Applebey:
"I put it to you, Minister, that you are looking a Trojan horse in the mouth!" James Hacker:
"If we look closely at this gift horse, we'll find it full of Trojans?" Bernard Woolley:
"If you had looked a Trojan horse in the mouth, Minister, you'd have found Greeks inside. Well the point is, it was the Greeks who gave the Trojan horse to the Trojans, so technically, it wasn't a Trojan horse at all, it was a Greek horse."
Ever since Odysseus
ended ten years of futile war
with a spot of carpentry, this has been one of the favourite tactics of clever characters faced with impregnable defenses.
In the simplest version, the Greeks simply hide inside a object which they know the Trojans will be unable to resist picking up and taking inside their defenses. If the Trojans aren't complete idiots, subterfuge will be used to get them to accept the object — anything from disguising it as a Trojan vehicle up to a full-blown Gambit Roulette
. Common variations include hiding a well-trained animal inside the Trojan Horse, or a computer program. In Speculative Fiction
the Horse itself might be a robot or shape shifter.
Whatever the details, the net result is the same. The Greeks get some of their agents inside the Trojans' walls, without the Trojans knowing they are there, which leaves the Greeks free to commit sabotage, assassinate the Trojan leader, or simply open the gate and let the rest of their friends in.
This contrasts with such tropes as Trojan Prisoner
, I Surrender, Suckers
, and the nailfile-in-the-cake trick
, because in those cases the Trojans do
know the Greeks are there, and are trying, however sloppily, to guard them. Thus, the Greeks don't usually have the degree of free rein the Trojan Horse gambit gives them.
It also contrasts with using similar tricks to smuggle inanimate objects inside the Trojan lines, typically poisons and explosives, since such objects can't make decisions. A Greek soldier, or even a well trained monkey, is adaptable. They can change plans in mid-stream, taking advantage of unexpected opportunities. Poison can't do that. Thus, a Trojan Horse allows many more narrative possibilities than do inanimate objects.
Subtrope of False Flag Operation
Beware of gifts bearing Greeks
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Anime and Manga
- Naruto combined this with Sealed Evil in a Can. The Hidden Mist sealed the Sanbi into Rin's body, knowing that she would be rescued and return to Konoha. The seal would eventually break and the Sanbi would be free to rampage. She managed to ruin the plan by getting killed far from the village.
- In Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, Fei Wang wishes to make use of Syaoran's soul for one of his plans. His underling, the cloned Syaoran, pretends to kill him and give him the body. Just as the Fei Wang is about to receive the body, Syaoran proceeds to impale him with the underling's weapon.
- In Dark Avengers: Ares, the title character's men do this with the bodies of two demonic horses they killed. The twist is that Travis hides in one, while the other is stuffed with explosives, so when enemies try to attack it, before another foe emerges, they get themselves blown up.
- Red Hulk used that tactic in Planet Red Hulk. He even jokes that his opponents fell for one of the oldest tricks in the book.
- In Dark Empire II, Lando and a Rebel team get to Byss (the Imperial stronghold) by hiding in war droids that the Empire had ordered.
- Dr. Brainstorm suggests doing this in Calvin & Hobbes: The Series. Lampshaded by Jack.
- In Renegade, the Scrin assault and mind-control a turian cruiser while it is isolated in the Widow nebula in order to get close enough to the Citadel to teleport troops into the GDI embassy to kill Tali and Shepard.
Films — Animation
- In Sky Blue, the Diggers hijack a weapons truck to sneak into Ecoban.
- Despicable Me used this in a weird form: making orphaned girl scouts sell robot cookies to a villain so they can help ANOTHER villain get inside and steal a Shrink Ray.
- Mr. Peabody & Sherman has Peabody use a miniature Trojan horse to get inside the original Trojan horse. The Greeks fall hook, line and sinker for their own trick.
Films — Live-Action
- Troy. Well, Duh.
- Serenity film. The title ship was disguised while running the gauntlet through the Reaver ships.
- Hudson Hawk. The title character smuggles himself inside the Vatican inside a large mailed crate.
- In the Hellboy movie, Kroenen combines this with My Death Is Just the Beginning. He shuts off his heart, then BPRD carries him back to their headquarters. Then Kroenen revives on the examining table.
- Oceans Eleven
- They smuggle the acrobat into the vault inside one of the cash boxes. And then smuggle most of the team both in and out in the SWAT vehicle.
- Used twice in Thirteen. First to sneak a camera and computer connection into the baddy's office and later to get a magnetron into the computer core.
- In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Sir Bedevere devises a slight variation to infiltrate the French castle, involving a wooden rabbit. He only gets one little detail wrong — he forgets that there should be somebody inside it. Just as well, since the French catapulted it back out.
Bedevere: Um, l-look, if we built this large, wooden badger...
- In The Thomas Crown Affair, thieves sneak into a museum inside a greek statue of a horse (though, it isn't wooden). It's delivered as an upcoming exhibit.
- White Heat has Cody Jarrett and his gang using an empty tanker truck to smuggle themselves into a chemical plant so they can rob its payroll office. Cody lampshades this by mentioning that he got the idea from a story his mother had told him:
"Way back there was a whole army tryin' to knock over a place called Troy and gettin' nowhere fast. Couldn't even put a dent in the walls. And, uh, one mornin', one mornin' the people of Troy wake up, look over the walls and the attackin' army's disappeared. Men, boats, the works. Taken the powder. But they left one thing after them: a great big wooden horse. And, according to Ma..."
- The final ploy of the heroes of Independence Day was to send two of their men to The Mothership in a captured alien fighter to upload a virus. Went well, up until they tried to leave...
- Mom and Dad Save the World uses a giant bust of the Big Bad. The Big Bad, being an idiot like everyone else on the planet only thinks that the bust got his face wrong, and has it brought in just so people can tell the difference. This particular Trojan Horse scheme hits a little snag since the native rebels forgot to include a way out of the bust after sealing themselves inside it (again, planet of idiots).
- Our Man Flint. After Flint is trapped inside an air-tight chamber by Galaxy, he uses his ability to place himself in suspended animation to appear to be dead. Galaxy buys it and takes his body to its Island Base. After he wakes up, he infiltrates their secret headquarters.
- In Star Trek Into Darkness, Spock does beam over the 72 torpedos, but Khan's crew are no longer in them and the warheads are active.
- In The Dark Knight, Joker smuggles himself into the headquarters of Gambol (a rival mobster who's placed a bounty on Joker's head) by wrapping himself in trash bags, then playing dead while his mooks carry him in claiming they've killed him and want to claim the bounty.
- Invoked Trope by Octavian in The Heroes of Olympus, who uses the "beware Greeks bearing gifts" line to try and incite conflict with the Greek demigods and so maintain his own power. It's not exactly a horse though, and nor is that actually the plan.
- It doesn't actually happen in The Iliad. It's mentioned in The Odyssey, but the actual event isn't depicted in either poem, but rather in the other, lost epics of the Trojan Cycle. It is described in flashback in The Aeneid by Vergil, though, and that is why the line "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes" is Latin.
The original is far more flattering to both sides than the simple version usually taught in elementary schools. In the original, the Greeks simply cannot take Troy, try as they might, because Poseidon has placed over the city a protective veil. So they construct a great wooden image of a horse, the sacred animal of Poseidon, then except for the few men concealed within the image, withdraw from the city, beyond any range from which they could attack, with a message placed before the image that reads, "For the honour of Troy and the glory of Poseidon." The Trojans are then forced either to reject the gift, which will likely offend Poseidon who will then withdraw his protection from the city, or bring it inside, which will require them to partly dismantle the gate and thus rend the veil. Either way, the veil is down and the Greeks have at least a fighting chance to take the city. There's a reason David Xanatos is Greek.
- In the novel Beyond Varallan by S.L. Veihl, the protagonist hides warriors onboard shuttles that were supposed to be carrying refugees away from the titular planet in order to take over the enemy vessel and hand them over to the other enemy vessels in order to save their world.
- Parodied twice over in the Discworld series:
- In Eric, the Tsorteans immediately see through the ruse and surround the wooden horse with soldiers. It turns out that the Ephebian commander expected that to happen, and merely intended the horse to distract the defenders while he and his men got into the city another way.
- In Pyramids, war breaks out again between Ephebe and Tsort. Both the Ephebian and Tsortean armies build several giant wooden horses. Facing each other. The Tsortean officers get one with rockers.
Ephebian Sergeant: Look, soldier, anyone bloody stupid enough to think we're going to drag a lot of horses full of soldiers back to our city is certainly daft enough to drag ours all the way back to theirs. QED.
- Played straight in Carpe Jugulum, when Agnes and Oats sneak into the castle by hiding in two vacant coffins that are being delivered there.
- Nathanael West's 1931 novel The Dream Life of Balso Snell has its protagonist encountering a variety of characters inside the actual Trojan Horse.
- In the Star Wars novel Wraith Squadron, the titular squadron uses a captured pocket carrier to ambush a Star Destroyer in a rather awesome fashion.
- In Heir to the Empire, Thrawn uses one in a clever application of a cloaking device. The (realistic) weakness of cloaking devices in his stories is that they are double blind and therefore difficult to use properly in conventional combat. He comes up with a clever solution: cloak the cargo bay and fill it with TIE fighters. Scanners would show the bay is empty and once they got into range the fighters could launch inside the enemy shipyard. It is only partially successful thanks to the timely intervention of Wedge and Rogue Squadron as well and Han, Luke and Lando.
- In the Perry Rhodan reboot Perry Rhodan Neo, the nearly immortal Atlan hints that he was one of the men inside the horse.
- Red Storm Rising features this tactic with the Soviet invasion of Iceland in which they disguise an invasion ship as an American flag cargo vessel. It manages to work until they start launching hovercraft.
- In David Gemmell's Troy Series the Trojan Horse is actually an elite unit of Trojan cavalry led by prince Hector. In the final book, the unit is wiped out in an ambush and the Greeks dress up in the distinct armor worn by the cavalrymen. They then fool the Trojan defenders into thinking that survivors of the Trojan Horse are retreating toward the city and a gate is opened to let them in. The gate defenders are slaughtered and before reinforcements can close the gate, the rest of the Greek army storms in and sacks the city.
- Briefly mentioned in Skulduggery Pleasant, in which the eponymous detective says "never to look a gift horse in the mouth, unless it's made of wood."
- Angel: How the Circle of the Black Thorn are defeated. Angel manages to fake a Face-Heel Turn convincingly enough for the Circle to let him join; insodoing, he's able to identify their members, and arrange for them to be assassinated separately by different members of his own team.
- Doctor Who
- In the serial "The Myth Makers", the Doctor is actually the one to suggest the idea of a giant wooden horse (after his earlier suggestion of catapults to fling the soldiers over the walls is rejected) after being captured by Odyessus during the Siege of Troy.
- Also deliberately invoked in "Underworld" and "The Armageddon Factor."
- Not to mention the several occasions on which the Tardis (with occupants) has been hauled into the stronghold of the opposition, either as a valuable piece of technology or merely a curiosity.
- Yes, Minister episode Bed of Nails uses the term for a task that would mean political suicide for the clueless minister James Hacker, who has been duped into accepting the position. This leads to this page's opening quote. Next, he becomes confused with Ancient Grome (since he did not attend Oxbridge).
Bernard Woolley: Hence the tag "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes", which you'll recall, is usually and somewhat inaccurately translated as "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts". Or doubtless you would have recalled had you not attended the LSE.
James Hacker: Greek tags are all very well, but can we stick to the point?
Bernard Woolley: No, the point is, Minister, just as the Trojan horse was Greek, what you call a Greek tag is, in fact, Latin. It's obvious, really: The Greeks would never suggest bewaring of themselves, if one can use such a participle, and it's clearly Latin not because "Timeo" ends in "o", as the Greek first person also ends in "o". No, there is a Greek word "Timao" meaning "I honour", but the "os" ending is a nominative singular termination of a second declension in Greek and an accusative plural in Latin, though actually Danaos is not only the Greek for Greek, it's also the Latin for Greek.
- The NCIS episode "Trojan Horse". A guy gets into the evidence locker to tamper with evidence by hiding in the stuffing of a seat of a taxi made to look like a crime scene.
- The Chaser's War On Everything attempted towing a literal Trojan horse (containing Chas dressed as a Greek soldier) into a number of secure locations. They got into a surprising number. Except for, hilariously enough, the Turkish embassy in Sydney. Troy was in what is now Turkey.
- Part of The Caper in the Farscape episode "Liars, Guns and Money" involves hiding Rigel in a cargo container then depositing the container in the bank they are intending to rob.
- Sharpe and the Chosen Men did this at least twice. Once with the youngest of their number groaning on a stretcher while the French-speaker shouted about cholera, once with Harper covered in blood from a pulled tooth and pretending to be mortally wounded until the time came to attack.
- The A-Team once used a Trojan Whiskey Delivery Truck to get inside a convent that had been taken over by South American Guerrillas (who had just run out of booze).
- On NUMB3RS, a group of criminals plan to kill a prisoner who is about to turn state's evidence. Their plot involves an overly complicated scheme that first involves killing power to sections of LA to cause the prison to run their generators out of fuel. As more fuel is required, the criminals hide inside the fuel truck to plan their entry into the prison. However Fridge Logic kicks in when you realize that the tanker was empty. Apparently the prison guards fail to check the inside of the truck or even tap the side to see it is empty.
- In episode 33 of Chouriki Sentai Ohranger, "The Five Robos' Great Riot", the Ohrangers trick Bacchus Wrath into bringing the new secretly-constructed Blocker Robos inside his base by disguising them as powerful, jewel-decked blocks and presenting these as a gift. Once inside, the Ohrangers activate the robos and trash the place.
- One story on Urban Legends featured a midget thief who robbed bus passengers by hiding in a large duffel bag, which an accomplice set out with other riders' luggage for the driver to stash in the cargo bins.
- The final episode of Leverage features a trojan murder investigation: the team fakes their own deaths, then attaches themselves to the investigation leading to said deaths (which allows them free access to a room they were unable to break into on their own). Sterling references this explicitly, calling himself a trojan horse after realizing he'd been duped into unlocking that room and letting them in.
- An earlier episode featured a variation. When Hardison is captured, the villainous executive assumes that there is no possible way that the incriminating files he had just finished deleting could now get out. While Hardison and his hard drive had no way out that didn't apply to the executive and his cell phone, which Hardison had just finished downloading the files to before he was captured. Parker manages to lift the phone after Hardison convinces him to go outside. There was also the fact that while the incriminating files were the original objective, they weren't the most valuable thing on those servers, that would be the food patents that the company owned. Nate is able to use those to leverage the executive into turning himself in.
- Investigating the casino robbery in "Suckers", the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation crew soon discover that a thief had been hiding inside a replica suit of antique Japanese armor, which was placed in the secure room with other valuables. Subverted in that the casino's owner had actually arranged the theft himself, so only acted like he'd been fooled by the Trojan Horse tactic.
- The Wire has a few examples.
- When Rawls is frustrated by the Major Crimes Unit, he sends in Lieutenant Marimow to take over command and disrupt the unit from within. Marimow forces the unit to focus on "street rips," which is the exact thing the unit was created to get away from, rendering the MCU useless. Rawls even calls him "Marimow, my Trojan Horse."
- When Omar wants to rob a Barksdale stash house and disguises himself as an old man in a wheelchair to gain entry, claiming to be related to the home's owner. He even has the guards carry him up the stairs before he pulls out his shotgun.
- When Freamon slickly sells the entire drug ring pre-tapped cell phones.
- The Mission: Impossible team uses tricks like this to get people or equipment into or out of the area they are operating in, regularly.
- Dungeons & Dragons
- In the adventure X12 "Skarda's Mirror", the bandit warlord Skarda uses the title magical mirror to act out this trope, selling or giving it to his enemies so that the thousands of troops in the adjoining Pocket Dimension can bypass their defenses.
- In module OA 2 Night of the Seven Swords, the Michimori counselor Kaijitsu hides inside an empty sake barrel to infiltrate a gathering of oni (ogre mages). After he jumps out of the barrel he defeats all of the oni.
- In Exalted, one of the Deathlords, the Lover Clad in the Raiment of Tears, constructed a noble warstrider for the sole purpose of allowing the government of Lookshy to capture it and take it to their capital. Apparently, it contains a booby trap that, when triggered, will turn most of the country into a shadowland, allowing her legions to swoop in and conquer the whole place with hardly a shot fired. She hasn't triggered it yet, though, because she's Brilliant, but Lazy.
- Magic: The Gathering: Akroan Horse. You gift it to an opponent when it's played and, in turn, it gives soldiers to their opponents. Loads of fun in multiplayer games.
- A ploy like this is responsible for the continued existence of video games as a medium. After The Great Video Game Crash of 1983, stores were reluctant to sell consoles, or even anything that looked like a console because everybody was sick of them, and people wouldn't buy what they were sick of. Then along came Nintendo, marketing the Robotic Operating Buddy as a conventional toy and allegedly providing the NES as a bonus instead of the other way around. While R.O.B himself was a piece of junk, the ruse allowed the NES to enter everyone's homes and made people realize that the medium was, in fact, not so dead after all. This is listed as #5 on Game Spy's Top 25 Smartest Moments in Interactive Entertainment.
- New Super Mario Bros. Wii. the Koopa Kids kidnap Princess Peach by sneaking into her castle inside a giant cake during her birthday party.
- In Discworld Noir, Lewton sneaks on board the Milka by hiding in a crate that's being taken on board, and later discovers that a killer snuck into the Patrician's Palace by hiding in a wine barrel that was delivered there.
- In Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty the heroes storm the Dominion weapon research facility and steal a Super Prototype of a Humongous Mecha scheduled to be shipped to the Dominion capital world to lead a parade. They then have one of their own pilot the mecha and ship it to the destination, where it is used to launch a surprise attack in the middle of the parade.
- Facebook game Backyard Monsters has wild monsters deliver such a horse outside your base. Monsters will come out of it and attack you whether you accept or reject the proposed 'truce'.
- In the Lupin III game, Treasure of the Sorcerer King, Lupin manages to get himself on a train by hiding inside a statue that his partner delivers onto one of the cars.
- In the Halo: Reach mission "Long Night of Solace", you hijack a Covenant Corvette, plant a slipspace drive turned bomb on board, and send it to dock with a Supercarrier. However, Jorge is forced to sacrifice himself to manually detonate the bomb, and the whole mission is rendered moot when the rest of the Covenant fleet shows up.
- In Fallout 3, if you arrange for the Ghouls to live in Tenpenny Tower, they slaughter the residents after two weeks.
- Fate Nuovo Guerra has Odysseus as one of the Servants participating in the Holy Grail War. Naturally, his ultimate Noble Phantasm is the Trojan Horse.
- Kitset by Glenn Jones: order your fast-assembled trojan horse today!
- In computing, a "Trojan horse" or more simply "trojan" is a virus that disguises itself as an innocuous program and sneaks past anti-virus programs to infect computers. They don't self-replicate, but are harder to spot and can royally mess up infected computers.
- Real viruses also qualify, as they trick the cells they invade into taking them inside, using features on their surfaces that resemble nutrients the cell requires.
- A hilarious case of Unfortunate Names: Trojan Condoms. Either they're named for the city, which had its defenses fall, or it refers to the horse, which got the city to open their defenses so they could be ravaged. Upon that last thought, perhaps Fridge Brilliance rears its head...