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BOOK III: Menelaos against Alexandros (Paris)

Summary

The two armies meet on the Trojan plain, where Paris (Hector's brother, Priam's son, and the kidnapper of Helen) challenges the Greeks to combat. Menelaos takes up the challenge. Paris, not known as a warrior, is suddenly overcome with fear and runs away. The Trojan leader, Hector, then comes looking for his brother. He chastises Paris for his cowardice and accuses him of making a laughing stock of the Trojans in front of the Greeks. He further says that Paris has gone mad because of his lust for women and that he wishes his brother had never been born.

Out of shame, Paris agrees to a duel with Menelaos. The winner of the fight will rightfully have Helen for his own, ending the conflict between the Trojans and Greeks. After sacrificing lambs and swearing to the oath, the fight is to begin. Paris and Menelaos arm themselves and draw lots to see which of them will have the privilege of hurling the first spear. Paris draws the lot to begin the duel.

In the meantime, Iris, the divine messenger, takes the form of Laodice, the daughter of Priam, and comes to Helen to report what is taking place on the battlefield. When Iris approaches, Helen is weaving a red robe on which she depicts the struggles between the Greeks and Trojans. She puts down her handiwork to listen to Iris and then goes out to find Priam, the old king, at the Scaean Gates. When she arrives, Priam tells Helen to sit beside him. He then assures her that she is not really the cause for the war; instead, he says the gods are to blame. He asks her to name the key Greek warriors on the battlefield. Of course, she mentions her first husband (Menelaos), Agamemnon, and Odysseus. She does not, however, name Achilles, emphasizing the fact that the greatest Greek warrior is not present. Their conversation is interrupted by a messenger from the warfront, who has been sent to summon Priam to come forth and bless the outcome of the duel.

On the battlefield, Menelaos quickly gains the upper hand, slightly wounding Paris and taking him captive. As a result, Aphrodite, the goddess of love and protector of Paris, descends and enshrouds him in a cloud. She takes him from the battlefield to his bedchamber. Aphrodite then calls upon Helen to join her husband in the bedroom. Helen, however, is tired of being controlled by Aphrodite and argues with the goddess, asking how long she will be a pawn in a divine design. Aphrodite subdues her by threatening to take away her beauty.


In the bedroom, Helen chastises Paris for his cowardice. She dares him to return to the battlefield to fight Menelaos again, this time like a man. Working with Aphrodite's power, Paris calms Helen and entices her into bed.

In the meantime, Agamemnon addresses the Greek troops on the battlefield. He states that Menelaos has obviously won the duel and demands the return of Helen. In response, the Greeks cheer and applaud.

Notes

In this third book, the Greeks and Trojans prepare to resume fighting. Then it is agreed that Paris and Menelaos will settle the matter in an individual duel. It is very appropriate that these two men will fight each other, for they are the ones directly concerned with Helen.

It is ironic that Paris is the one who offers the initial challenge to the Greeks on the battlefield, for he has never been known as a warrior. When Menelaos immediately rises to the challenge, Paris grows scared and runs away, causing his brother Hector to chastise him and shame him into action. When he agrees to an individual duel with Menelaos, everyone assumes that Paris will be the loser, for he is a much weaker warrior than his opponent. It does not take long for Menelaos to gain the upper hand. He wounds Paris slightly and has him taken captive.

During this third book, Homer masterfully depicts the difference in attitudes of the two sons of Priam (Hector and Paris); it seems hardly possible that they belong to the same family. Hector, the leader of the Trojan forces, is depicted as a true warrior and hero, eager to defend his people and earn valor on the battlefield. In contrast, Paris never claims to be a warrior. He is only fighting in order to keep the beautiful Helen in his possession. Controlled by Aphrodite, love is his main concern.

Since Helen is very important to the entire book, Homer also carefully and dramatically depicts her in this section and beyond. Even though old Priam tries to convince her that she is not the cause of the conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans, she knows that she really is and takes out her frustration on her handiwork, weaving the images of war into a red robe. Helen fully realizes that the two forces are fighting to see whether Menelaos or Paris will retain possession of her, and she worries about the bloodiness of the fighting and the final outcome. When Iris arrives to report what is happening on the battlefield, Helen listens intently.

Homer hints that Helen feels that she is a prisoner of Paris and a pawn in the hands of the gods. She thinks about being reunited with her original husband, Menelaos, and resents Aphrodite's interference between Paris and herself. In fact when the goddess of love appears to Helen to lure her into Paris' bedchamber, the girl protests and argues with Aphrodite; but she is powerless against the divine. Helen then tries to stand up against Paris, calling him a coward; but Aphrodite is in clear control. Operating through Paris, Aphrodite calms Helen and draws her to Paris' bed, just as she was drawn away from Menelaos.

The power of the gods to control human affairs is clearly drawn in this book, and the warriors on the battlefield know it. As a result, before the fighting begins, they make sacrifices to Zeus, who hovers over the battlefield, planning how he will cause a Trojan victory, as promised.

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