The Achaians advance across the plain and the Trojans move to meet them. Alexandros (Paris) struts out to challenge any of the Argive leaders, yet when Menelaus, the husband of Helen, steps forward, in cowardice Alexandros/Paris shrinks back to disappear among the fighters. Hektor, shamed by his brother’s behaviour, rebukes him firmly:
“Evil Paris, beautiful, woman-crazy, cajoling,
better if you had never been born, or killed unwedded.
Truly, I could have wished it so; it would be far better
than to have you with us to our shame, for others to sneer at.
Surely now the flowing-haired Achaians laugh at us,
thinking you are our bravest champion, only because your
looks are handsome, but there is no strength in your heart, no courage.” (lines 38-45)
Paris agrees that the reprimand is justified, yet still attempts to excuse his behaviour by claiming that he could not refuse a gift (Helen) from a god (Aphrodite), however, to Hektor’s satisfaction, he agrees to fight Menelaus. Hektor pauses the fighting and declares that whoever is the victor between Paris and Menelaus shall win Helen and her possessions, and thus the rest of them can break oaths, part friends and the war will be at an end.
Hektor dispatches a messenger to the citadel of Troy with the news, and Agamemnon sends for two lambs to use as a sacrifice to seal the pledges of the two sides. Meanwhile, the goddess, Iris, appears to Helen in the form of Antenor’s son’s wife, Laodike, revealing that Menelaus and Paris will fight for her possession, and Helen sheds a tear for her former life as she goes to the Skaian gate. There we find king Priam with his wise elders, “men of good counsel”. Spotting Helen, they say that they aren’t surprised at the discord over her given her beauty, but they wish her far away as she brings grief to the Trojans. Priam exhibits compassion for her, blaming not her but the gods, and asks her the names of the expedition leader (Agamemnon), the troop marshal (Odysseus), and the warrior who towered over all (gigantic Aias), She describes them, including Idomeneus, then questions the absence of her brothers, Kastor and Polydeuces, not knowng that they are dead in Lakedaimon.
The sacrifice of the lambs is made to seal their oaths, Priam, unable to watch his son’s battle, departs for Ilion (Troy), and Paris and Menelaus arm for battle. With the first throw, Paris’ spear does not penetrate Menelaus’ shield but Menelaus’ spear does his, and Paris must turn to avoid death. Menelaus then grabs Paris by his helmet, dragging him towards the Achaians and would have won the contest if Aphrodite did not cause the strap to break and then whisked Paris back to his bedchamber in a thick mist.
After having words with Aphrodite, initially refusing to go to Paris, Helen gives in and visits Paris in his chamber wishing his death, but all he wants is lovemaking. Menealus rages, Agamemnon claims victory and commands that the Trojans honour their pledge and return Helen.
While it appears that Helen was a willing captive when Paris fled with her, she now appears to despise him, yet perhaps she despises herself and her role in the war even more. Many things about Helen are paradoxical: she is the most beautiful woman in the world yet she is causing the most strife and suffering; she must have cared about Paris but now she hates him; while the elders of Troy are kind to her and tell her she is not to blame, on the other hand they realize she is the ignition of the war and wish her worlds away. She is an intriguing character.
Scholars have noted the odd positioning of the scene where Priam asks Helen about the Achaian warriors. This is the tenth year of the war, yet Priam is asking for this information for the first time? As a story, it is unlikely and indicates that the “writer” is not interested in narrative uniformity. But it certainly works as a recited poem to condense the information.
The gods are at odds with each other. Zeus taunts Hera, then inquires as to why she is so hateful of Troy.
“If you could walk through the gates and through the towering ramparts
and eat Priam and the children of Priam raw, and the other
Trojans, then, then only might you glut at last your anger.” (Lines 34-36)
They agree that if Zeus gives Hera her way with regard to this battle, that she will never again cross him respecting any city he may wish sacked and plundered (I’m not sure that I believe her). With this new understanding between husband and wife, Hera plots to make the Trojans break their oaths with the Achaians and, in this, Zeus supports her. Athene flies down to the assembled warriors, merging with the Trojans in the likeness of Laodokos, son of Antenor. Finding the son of Lykaon, Pandaros, she urges him to speed an arrow at Menelaus to win glory and respect. As the arrow springs from the bow, Athene misdirects its path but still it strikes Menelaus, drawing a gush of blood. Agamemnon is stunned by the scene and laments Menelaus’ possible death and the victory of the Trojans, however when he learns that the wound is not serious, he calls for Machaon, the physician. As Machaon sucks blood from the gash and applies healing medicines, Agamemnon leaves his chariot with his henchman, Eurymedon, and strides among the warriors, urging them to battle. He exchanges words of respect with Idomeneus, the Aiantes and Nestor, but rebukes Menestheus and Odysseus, claiming that the latter’s mind is on “profit and treachery,” and that they’re hanging back from the fighting. Odysseus responds, incensed, finishing with a direct insult:
“Your talk is wind and not meaning” (line 355)
Laughing, Agamemnon takes back his words and moves on.
Next he disparages and insults Diomedes, who stands speechless before the assault and it’s Sthenelos who gives a strong retort, however he is silenced by Diomedes, who urges him to “find not fault” with Agamemnon. And so they march into battle ,,,,
“Ares drove these on, and the Achaians grey-eyed Athene,
and Terror drove them, and Fear, and Hate whose wrath is relentless,
she the sister and companion of murderous Ares,
she who is only a little thing at the first, but thereafter
grows until she strides on the earth with her head striking heaven.
She then hurled down bitterness equally between both sides
as she walked through the onslaught making men’s pain heavier.” (Lines 439-445)
….. which unravels with many descriptions of the death of warriors and their bloodshed.
The Trojan “Heroes”
It’s interesting that so far Homer, a Greek poet, portrays the “enemy”, the Trojans, in a rather sympathetic light. Priam’s kindness is highlighted as well as Hektor’s good sense and bravery. Keep watching for Homer’s tone when he describes Trojan heroes and characters; it’s illuminating.
What’s with Agamemnon disparaging further leaders who are on his side? What is his purpose in behaving like this? A possibility is that his intent is to force them to fight better but then why is he not treating all the leaders that way? Did you notice that this book begins with conflict among the gods and ends with conflict between Agamemnon and his leaders/warriors? Again, here are examples of people who should be getting along but aren’t. And again, I note, the gods are not behaving any better than the humans.