Tiger at the Gates

by Jean Giraudoux

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Hector’s wife, Andromache, joyfully tells Cassandra, his sister, that there will be no Trojan war because Hector, as soon as he comes home, will assuage the feelings of the Greek ambassador. Cassandra, true to her reputation, claims that she knows destiny will provoke a war. She knows this not as a result of her ability to prophesy but because she always takes into account the stupidity and the folly of men. Since Andromache cannot understand destiny in the abstract, Cassandra offers her the picture of a tiger prowling at the palace gates and waiting for the moment to enter.

Hector, home from war, is delighted to hear that Andromache will soon bear a child that she expects to be a son. Andromache fears that the child will have the father’s love of battle, but Hector assures her that he and his soldiers return this time disabused of their former ideas of war as a glorious adventure. They are all ready for peace, and he intends to get from his father, Priam, permission to shut the gates of war permanently.

Cassandra brings the younger brother Paris to Hector to give his version of his abduction of Helen. He tells Hector that he happened to sail past Helen while she was bathing in the sea. While Menelaus was busy removing a crab from his toe, Paris casually took her into his ship and sailed on. He likes her because she—unlike Trojan women, who tend to cling—seems always to be at a distance, even while in his arms. This is not the first time Hector took Paris away from a woman, but Paris resists obeying Hector, promising instead to obey Priam, their father.

Cassandra realizes that destiny is already lurking like a tiger because Priam would rather give up his own daughters than let Helen leave the kingdom. Priam and all the other old men in Troy spend their days admiring Helen as she takes a daily walk around Troy, to be greeted by toothless shouts whenever she appears. To the old men Helen is a symbol; she is Beauty. Hecuba, Priam’s wife, suggests that the old men would do well to find a symbol among their own Trojan women, and not a blond one such as Helen, because blond beauty fades fast. The men, however, are intoxicated by Helen. The poet gets his inspiration from her. The mathematician finds all measurements related to Helen—the weight of her footfall, the length of her arm, the range of her look. They argue the justification of war for Helen’s sake. Paris says he is willing to let Hector handle the situation because Paris feels humiliated to be cast as the seducer, a role that he does not want to play within his large family. He brings Helen to Hector.

While Hector speaks with her in his attempt to avoid conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans, he finds that Helen is completely unpredictable. It is hard to tell whether she has any sense at all or whether she depends completely on fate to do what it would with her. She agrees to leave Troy because she can no longer see Paris plainly. She claims also that she never saw Menelaus plainly and supposes she often walked over him without realizing it. She warns that she sees a battle raging, a city burning, and a figure in the dust that she recognizes as Paris only by his ring. She admits that the things she sees do not always come to pass, and she promises to leave Troy with Ulysses. Left with Cassandra, Helen begs Cassandra to...

(This entire section contains 935 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

make Peace appear but cannot see the figure until Peace paints herself outrageously. By that time Trojan patriots are shouting that the gods are insulted and have struck down the temple. Peace becomes sick. As Hector prepares to shut the gates of war, Helen turns her blandishments on the young Troilus, who refuses to kiss her. She promises him that her chance will come later. The poet, the mathematician, and others prepare for war by agreeing on a war song and by discussing the usefulness to soldiers of insulting epithets.

In spite of the opposition of the poet, the mathematician, and the others, and in spite of dire forebodings by a traveling expert on the rights of nations, Hector makes an ironic Oration for the Dead and closes the gates of war just before the Greeks come ashore. Ajax is the first Greek to reach Hector. He approaches in an insulting manner and strikes Hector on the cheek, but Hector refuses to rise to the insult. When the poet calls shame on him, Hector strikes the poet, who vows revenge. Ajax, amused, admiring Hector’s courage, swears he will not fight against Hector.

Hector promises Ajax and Ulysses that he will give Helen back to them. To Ulysses’ questioning as to whether there is cause for reprisals, Paris’s crew tells of Paris and Helen’s apparent delight in each other on the trip to Troy. Ulysses senses that war is inevitable but, talking to Hector as soldier to soldier, he regrets it, particularly since the cause of it is Helen, a woman of shallow brain, hard heart, and narrow understanding. Still trying to defy destiny, Ulysses attempts to get back to his ship. Ajax is a little slower and is caught by the mob when the poet, struck down by Hector, calls for war and cries out that Ajax mortally wounded him. The crowd kills Ajax as the gates of war open to show Helen kissing Troilus.