Last Updated on June 12, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 920
Alexandros (Paris): abductor of Helen and cause of the war; basically a coward
Aphrodite: Goddess of Love and mother of Aneas
Helen: wife of Menelaos and mistress of Paris
Priam: father of Paris and King of Troy
Idaios: herald who urges Priam to make a truce with Agamemnon
Antenor: accompanies Priam to make truce with Agamemnon
The Trojans and Achaians approach each other to do battle. As they prepare to fight, Alexandros (Paris) challenges the best of the Achaians to a duel. However, when Menelaos agrees to fight, Paris cowardly shrinks back into the ranks. Hektor derides Paris for causing the war and then having no courage to fight. Paris is so shamed by his brother’s remarks that he agrees to duel with Menelaos for Helen and all of her goods, leaving the rest of the armies out of it.
The armies are overjoyed with this plan, and quickly lay down their armor and prepare to make a truce. Idaios the herald is sent to summon King Priam, who rides down in his chariot with Antenor to meet Agamemnon and Odysseus. Together they swear that the winner of the fight will keep Helen and all her goods. When the conditions have been met, the Achaians will return to their home. However, if Menelaos wins and Priam refuses to pay, the Achaians will fight the war to its end. Two lambs are sacrificed and everyone prays to Zeus, cursing any who offend the oath.
Hektor and Odysseus then measure out the dueling ground in a large open space between the two armies. Lots are shaken, and Paris draws the honor of throwing the first spear. Soon after the fighting begins, it becomes apparent that Menelaos is the better warrior. After inflicting a small wound, he knocks Paris to the ground and drags him triumphantly by the plume of his helmet to the Achaian onlookers. However, before he reaches his companions, Aphrodite wraps Paris in a thick mist and spirits him away from the battlefield. She deposits him in his bedroom and calls Helen to him.
Agamemnon declares Menelaos the victor of the duel, because he had been winning before Paris disappeared. He calls for the Trojans to give Helen and her possessions back, and to provide compensation. The book ends with the Achaians applauding their leader.
Discussion and Analysis
In the beginning of this book there is tension between Paris and the Trojans. While Paris was completely and solely responsible for causing the war that has now raged on for nine solid years, he is neither quick to take responsibility nor to do his fair share of the fighting. His act of bravado in challenging the best of the Achaians to a duel reveals his cowardice. Hektor expresses the views of the majority of Trojans when he taunts Paris. After the disappearance during the duel, it states that none of his companions would have hidden him, “since he was hated among them all as dark death is hated” (line 454). Hektor is in an awkward position. As Paris’ brother and commander of the forces, Hektor is duty-bound to protect him and to fight for him. However, it is Paris who has brought disruption to the social order of Troy and has put the family at risk. This is a recurring issue in the epic, and Hektor will continually chide Paris for his irresponsible behavior.
The actual duel between Menelaos and Paris over Helen acts as a capsulated version of the entire war. These three characters are, after all, the only ones involved in the original conflict. The duel would therefore seem more appropriate at the beginning of the war, rather than at this point ten years later. Still, we see two strong fighters with the advantage at first shifting sides, then resting decidedly with the Achaian fighter who eventually triumphs. Added to this action is the intervention of Aphrodite, who acts as a symbol of the intervention of the gods in the larger conflict. The outcome of this duel foreshadows the inevitable outcome of the Trojan War.
This chapter also illuminates the conflicting emotions of Helen. Before Priam is called to the battlefield to agree to the truce, he confers with Helen. She gives her father-in-law a description of the key figures in the Achaian army. Throughout the chapter, Helen’s allegiances are turned toward the Achaians, and she begins to miss the life she left as wife of Menelaos. As Aphrodite attempts to draw her back to Paris, Helen swears she will never return to his bed. When she is threatened with disaster, Helen agrees to go to Paris, but then tells him she wishes he had died in the duel. Helen realizes that Menelaos is the better man, but knows she must stay with Paris.
Interestingly, while Helen represents the cause of the conflict between the Achaians and the Trojans, she herself is alienated. Paris is weak and cowardly, and she appears to be bored in Troy. Here we see her sympathies shift to Menelaos and her former home, but she is not passionate about that either. The truth is, whether Helen is with Paris or with Menelaos, her situation will not change significantly. She is like a trophy; a thing to be possessed. Yet in reality, no one can own her. She is ruled by Aphrodite, in bondage to the gods, and she goes where they tell her to go. Helen is beauty personified, and beauty deserts those who desire to hold it too tightly.
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