Book III

Single Combat of Menelaus and Paris

Proposal of Hector to end the war by a duel between Menelaus and Paris, the victor to possess Helen and her wealth⁠—Priam and Helen behold the combat⁠—Description of the principal Greek princes and chiefs, given by Helen to Priam⁠—Paris snatched away from the combat by Venus, as he was in danger of being slain, and conveyed to the bedchamber of Helen.

Now when both armies were arrayed for war,
Each with its chiefs, the Trojan host moved on
With shouts and clang of arms, as when the cry
Of cranes is in the air, that, flying south
From winter and its mighty breadth of rain,
Wing their way over ocean, and at dawn
Bring fearful battle to the pygmy race,
Bloodshed and death. But silently the Greeks
Went forward, breathing valor, mindful still
To aid each other in the coming fray.

As when the south wind shrouds a mountain-top
In vapors that awake the shepherd’s fear⁠—
A surer covert for the thief than night⁠—
And round him one can only see as far
As one can hurl a stone⁠—such was the cloud
Of dust that from the warriors’ trampling feet
Rose round their rapid march and filled the air.

Now drew they near each other, face to face,
And Paris in the Trojan van pressed on,
In presence like a god. A leopard’s hide
Was thrown across his shoulders, and he bore
A crooked bow and falchion. Brandishing
Two brazen-pointed javelins, he defied
To mortal fight the bravest of the Greeks.

Him, Menelaus, loved of Mars, beheld
Advancing with large strides before the rest;
And as a hungry lion who has made
A prey of some large beast⁠—a horned stag
Or mountain goat⁠—rejoices, and with speed
Devours it, though swift hounds and sturdy youth
Press on his flank, so Menelaus felt
Great joy when Paris, of the godlike form,
Appeared in sight, for now he thought to wreak
His vengeance on the guilty one, and straight
Sprang from his car to earth with all his arms.

But when the graceful Paris saw the chief
Come toward him from the foremost ranks, his heart
Was troubled, and he turned and passed among
His fellow-warriors and avoided death.
As one, who meets within a mountain glade
A serpent, starts aside with sudden fright,
And takes the backward way with trembling limbs
And cheeks all white⁠—the graceful Paris thus
Before the son of Atreus shrank in fear,
And mingled with the high-souled sons of Troy.
Hector beheld and thus upbraided him
Harshly: “O luckless Paris, nobly formed,
Yet woman-follower and seducer! Thou
Shouldst never have been born, or else at best
Have died unwedded; better were it far,
Than thus to be a scandal and a scorn
To all who look on thee. The long-haired Greeks,
How they will laugh, who for thy gallant looks
Deemed thee a hero, when there dwells in thee
No spirit and no courage? Wast thou such
When, crossing the great deep in thy stanch ships
With chosen comrades, thou didst make thy way
Among a stranger-people and bear off
A beautiful woman from that distant land,
Allied by marriage-ties to warrior-men⁠—
A mischief to thy father and to us
And all the people, to our foes a joy,
And a disgrace to thee? Why couldst thou not
Await Atrides? Then hadst thou been taught
From what a valiant warrior thou didst take
His blooming spouse. Thy harp will not avail,
Nor all the gifts of Venus, nor thy locks,
Nor thy fair form, when thou art laid in dust.
Surely the sons of Troy are faint of heart,
Else hadst thou, for the evil thou hast wrought,
Been laid beneath a coverlet of stone.”

Then Paris, of the godlike presence, spake
In answer: “Hector, thy rebuke is just;
Thou dost not wrong me. Dauntless is thy heart;
’Tis like an axe when, wielded by the hand
That hews the shipwright’s plank, it cuts right through,
Doubling the wielder’s force. Such tameless heart
Dwells in thy bosom. Yet reproach me not
With the fair gifts which golden Venus gave.
Whatever in their grace the gods bestow
Is not to be rejected: ’tis not ours
To choose what they shall give us. But if thou
Desirest to behold my prowess shown
In combat, cause the Trojans and the Greeks
To pause from battle, while, between the hosts, as
I and the warlike Menelaus strive
In single fight for Helen and her wealth.
Whoever shall prevail and prove himself
The better warrior, let him take with him
The treasure and the woman, and depart;
While all the other Trojans, having made
A faithful league of amity, shall dwell
On Ilium’s fertile plain, and all the Greeks
Return to Argos, famed for noble steeds,
And to Achaia, famed for lovely dames.”

He spake, and Hector, hearing him, rejoiced,
And went between the hosts, and with his spear,
Held by the middle, pressed the phalanxes
Of Trojans back, and made them all sit down.
The long-haired Greeks meanwhile, with bended bows,
Took aim against him, just about to send
Arrows and stones; but Agamemnon, king
Of men, beheld, and thus he cried aloud:⁠—

“Restrain yourselves, ye Argives; let not fly
Your arrows, ye Achaians; Hector asks⁠—
He of the beamy helmet asks to speak.”

He spake, and they refrained, and all, at once,
Were silent. Hector then stood forth and said:⁠—

“Hearken, ye Trojans and ye nobly-armed
Achaians, to what Paris says by me.
He bids the Trojans and the Greeks lay down
Their shining arms upon the teeming earth,
And he and Menelaus, loved of Mars,
Will strive in single combat, on the ground
Between the hosts, for Helen and her wealth;
And he who shall o’ercome, and prove himself
The better warrior, to his home shall bear
The treasure and the woman, while the rest
Shall frame a solemn covenant of peace.”

He spake, and both the hosts in silence heard.
Then Menelaus, great in battle, said:⁠—

“Now hear me also⁠—me whose spirit feels
The wrong most keenly. I propose that now
The Greeks and Trojans separate reconciled,
For greatly have ye suffered for the sake
Of this my quarrel, and the original fault
Of Paris. Whomsoever fate ordains
To perish, let him die; but let the rest
Be from this moment reconciled, and part.
And bring an offering of two lambs⁠—one white,
The other black⁠—to Earth and to the Sun,
And we ourselves will offer one to Jove.
And be the mighty Priam here, that he
May sanction this our compact⁠—for his sons
Are arrogant and faithless⁠—lest some hand
Wickedly break the covenant of Jove.
The younger men are of a fickle mood;
But when an elder shares the act he looks
Both to the past and future, and provides
What is most fitting and the best for all.”

He spake, and both the Greeks and Trojans heard
His words with joy, and hoped the hour was come
To end the hard-fought war. They reined their steeds
Back to the ranks, alighted, and put off
Their armor, which they laid upon the ground
Near them in piles, with little space between.

Then Hector sent two heralds forth with speed
Into the town, to bring the lambs and call
King Priam. Meanwhile Agamemnon bade
Talthybius seek the hollow ships and find
A lamb for the altar. He obeyed the words
Of noble Agamemnon, king of men.

Meanwhile to white-armed Helen Iris came
A messenger. She took a form that seemed
Laodice, the sister of Paris, whom
Antenor’s son, King Helicaon, wed⁠—
Fairest of Priam’s daughters. She drew near
To Helen, in the palace, weaving there
An ample web, a shining double-robe,
Whereon were many conflicts fairly wrought,
Endured by the horse-taming sons of Troy
And brazen-mailed Achaians for her sake
Upon the field of Mars. Beside her stood
Swift-footed Iris, and addressed her thus:⁠—

“Dear lady, come and see the Trojan knights
And brazen mailed Achaians doing things
To wonder at. They who, in this sad war,
Eager to slay each other, lately met
In murderous combat on the field, are now
Seated in silence, and the war hath ceased.
They lean upon their shields, their massive spears
Are near them, planted in the ground upright.
Paris, and Menelaus, loved of Mars,
With their long lances will contend for thee,
And thou wilt be declared the victor’s spouse.”

She said, and in the heart of Helen woke
Dear recollections of her former spouse
And of her home and kindred. Instantly
She left her chamber, robed and veiled in white.
And shedding tender tears; yet not alone,
For with her went two maidens⁠—Aethra, child
Of Pitheus, and the large-eyed Clymenè.
Straight to the Scaean gates they walked, by which
Panthoüs, Priam, and Thymoetes sat,
Lampus and Clytius, Hicetaon sprung
From Mars, Antenor and Ucalegon,
Two sages⁠—elders of the people all.
Beside the gates they sat, unapt, through age,
For tasks of war, but men of fluent speech,
Like the cicadas that within the wood
Sit on the trees and utter delicate sounds.
Such were the nobles of the Trojan race
Who sat upon the tower. But when they marked
The approach of Helen, to each other thus
With wingèd words, but in low tones, they said:⁠—

“Small blame is theirs, if both the Trojan knights
And brazen-mailed Achaians have endured
So long so many evils for the sake
Of that one woman. She is wholly like
In feature to the deathless goddesses.
So be it: let her, peerless as she is,
Return on board the fleet, nor stay to bring
Disaster upon us and all our race.”

So spake the elders. Priam meantime called
To Helen: “Come, dear daughter, sit by me.
Thou canst behold thy former husband hence,
Thy kindred and thy friends. I blame thee not;
The blame is with the immortals who have sent
These pestilent Greeks against me. Sit and name
For me this mighty man, the Grecian chief,
Gallant and tall. True, there are taller men;
But of such noble form and dignity
I never saw: in truth, a kingly man.”

And Helen, fairest among women, thus
Answered: “Dear second father, whom at once
I fear and honor, would that cruel death
Had overtaken me before I left,
To wander with thy son, my marriage-bed,
And my dear daughter, and the company
Of friends I loved. But that was not to be;
And now I pine and weep. Yet will I tell
What thou dost ask. The hero whom thou seest
Is the wide-ruling Agamemnon, son
Of Atreus, and is both a gracious king
And a most dreaded warrior. He was once
Brother-in-law to me, if I may speak⁠—
Lost as I am to shame⁠—of such a tie.”

She said, the aged man admired, and then
He spake again: “O son of Atreus, born
Under a happy fate, and fortunate
Among the sons of men! A mighty host
Of Grecian youths obey thy rule. I went
To Phrygia once⁠—that land of vines⁠—and there
Saw many Phrygians, heroes on fleet steeds,
The troops of Otreus, and of Mygdon, shaped
Like one of the immortals. They encamped
By the Sangarius. I was an ally;
My troops were ranked with theirs upon the day
When came the unsexed Amazons to war.
Yet even there I saw not such a host
As this of black-eyed Greeks who muster here.”

Then Priam saw Ulysses, and inquired:⁠—
“Dear daughter, tell me also who is that,
Less tall than Agamemnon, yet more broad
In chest and shoulders. On the teeming earth
His armor lies, but he, from place to place,
Walks round among the ranks of soldiery,
As when the thick-fleeced father of the flocks
Moves through the multitude of his white sheep.”

And Jove-descended Helen answered thus:⁠—
“That is Ulysses, man of many arts,
Son of Laertes, reared in Ithaca,
That rugged isle, and skilled in every form
Of shrewd device and action wisely planned.”

Then spake the sage Antenor: “Thou hast said
The truth, O lady. This Ulysses once
Came on an embassy, concerning thee,
To Troy with Menelaus, great in war;
And I received them as my guests, and they
Were lodged within my palace, and I learned
The temper and the qualities of both.
When both were standing mid the men of Troy,
I marked that Menelaus’s broad chest
Made him the more conspicuous, but when both
Were seated, greater was the dignity
Seen in Ulysses. When they both addressed
The council, Menelaus briefly spake
In pleasing tones, though with few words⁠—as one
Not given to loose and wandering speech⁠—although
The younger. When the wise Ulysses rose,
He stood with eyes cast down, and fixed on earth,
And neither swayed his sceptre to the right
Nor to the left, but held it motionless,
Like one unused to public speech. He seemed
An idiot out of humor. But when forth
He sent from his full lungs his mighty voice,
And words came like a fall of winter snow,
No mortal then would dare to strive with him
For mastery in speech. We less admired
The aspect of Ulysses than his words.”

Beholding Ajax then, the aged king
Asked yet again: “Who is that other chief
Of the Achaians, tall, and large of limb⁠—
Taller and broader-chested than the rest?”

Helen, the beautiful and richly-robed,
Answered: “Thou seest the mighty Ajax there,
The bulwark of the Greeks. On the other side,
Among his Cretans, stands Idomeneus,
Of godlike aspect, near to whom are grouped
The leaders of the Cretans. Oftentimes
The warlike Menelaus welcomed him
Within our palace, when he came from Crete.
I could point out and name the other chiefs
Of the dark-eyed Achaians. Two alone,
Princes among their people, are not seen⁠—
Castor the fearless horseman, and the skilled
In boxing, Pollux⁠—twins; one mother bore
Both them and me. Came they not with the rest
From pleasant Lacedaemon to the war?
Or, having crossed the deep in their good ships,
Shun they to fight among the valiant ones
Of Greece, because of my reproach and shame?”

She spake; but they already lay in earth
In Lacedaemon, their dear native land.

And now the heralds through the city bore
The sacred pledges of the gods⁠—two lambs,
And joyous wine, the fruit of Earth, within
A goat-skin. One of them⁠—Idasus⁠—brought
A glistening vase and golden drinking-cups,
And summoned, in these words, the aged king:⁠—

“Son of Laomedon, arise! The chiefs
Who lead the Trojan knights and brazen-mailed
Achaians pray thee to descend at once
Into the plain, that thou mayst ratify
A faithful compact. Alexander now
And warlike Menelaus will contend
With their long spears for Helen. She and all
Her treasures are to be the conqueror’s prize;
While all the other Trojans, having made
A faithful league of amity, shall dwell
On Ilium’s fertile plain, and all the Greeks
Return to Argos, famed for noble steeds,
And to Achaia, famed for lovely dames.”

He spake, and Priam, shuddering, heard and bade
The attendants yoke the horses to his car.
Soon were they yoked; he mounted first and drew
The reins; Antenor took a place within
The sumptuous car, and through the Scaean gates
They guided the fleet coursers toward the field.

Now when the twain had come where lay the hosts
Of Trojans and Achaians, down they stepped
Upon the teeming earth, and went among
The assembled armies. Quickly, as they came,
Rose Agamemnon, king of men, and next
Uprose the wise Ulysses. To the spot
The illustrious heralds brought the sacred things
That bind a treaty, and with mingled wine
They filled a chalice, and upon the hands
Of all the kings poured water. Then the son
Of Atreus drew a dagger which he wore
Slung by his sword’s huge sheath, and clipped away
The forelocks of the lambs, and parted them
Among the Trojan and Achaian chiefs,
And stood with lifted hands and prayed aloud:⁠—

“O Father Jupiter, who rulest all
From Ida, mightiest, most august! And thou,
O all-beholding and all-hearing Sun!
Ye Rivers, and thou Earth, and ye who dwell
Beneath the earth and punish after death
Those who have sworn false oaths, bear witness ye,
And keep unbroken this day’s promises.
If Alexander in the combat slay
My brother Menelaus, he shall keep
Helen and all her wealth, while we return
Homeward in our good ships. If, otherwise,
The bright-haired Menelaus take the life
Of Alexander, Helen and her wealth
Shall be restored, and they of Troy shall pay
Such fine as may be meet, and may be long
Remembered in the ages yet to come.
And then if, after Alexander’s fall,
Priam and Priam’s sons refuse the fine,
I shall make war for it, and keep my place
By Troy until I gain the end I seek.”

So spake the king, and with the cruel steel
Cut the lambs’ throats, and laid them on the ground,
Panting and powerless, for the dagger took
Their lives away. Then over them they poured
Wine from the chalice, drawn in golden cups,
And prayed to the ever-living gods; and thus
Were Trojans and Achaians heard to say:⁠—

“O Jupiter most mighty and august!
Whoever first shall break these solemn oaths,
So may their brains flow down upon the earth⁠—
Theirs and their children’s⁠—like the wine we pour,
And be their wives the wives of other men.”

Such was the people’s vow. Saturnian Jove
Confirmed it not. Then Priam, of the line
Of Dardanus, addressed the armies thus:⁠—

“Hear me, ye Trojans, and ye well-greaved Greeks!
For me I must return to wind-swept Troy.
I cannot bear, with these old eyes, to look
On my dear son engaged in desperate fight
With Menelaus, the beloved of Mars.
Jove and the ever-living gods alone
Know which of them shall meet the doom of death.”

So spake the godlike man, and placed the lambs
Within his chariot, mounted, and drew up
The reins. Antenor by him took his place
Within the sumptuous chariot. Then they turned
The horses and retraced their way to Troy.

But Hector, son of Priam, and the great
Ulysses measured off a fitting space,
And in a brazen helmet, to decide
Which warrior first should hurl the brazen spear,
They shook the lots, while all the people round
Lifted their hands to heaven and prayed the gods;
And thus the Trojans and Achaians said:⁠—

“O Father Jove, who rulest from the top
Of Ida, mightiest one and most august!
Whichever of these twain has done the wrong,
Grant that he pass to Pluto’s dwelling, slain,
While friendship and a faithful league are ours.”

So spake they. Hector of the beamy helm
Looked back and shook the lots. Forth leaped at once
The lot of Paris. Then they took their seats
In ranks beside their rapid steeds, and where
Lay their rich armor. Paris the divine,
Husband of bright-haired Helen, there put on
His shining panoply⁠—upon his legs
Fair greaves, with silver clasps, and on his breast
His brother’s mail, Lycaon’s, fitting well
His form. Around his shoulders then he hung
His silver-studded sword, and stout, broad shield,
And gave his glorious brows the dreadful helm,
Dark with its horse-hair plume. A massive spear
Filled his right hand. Meantime the warlike son
Of Atreus clad himself in like array.

And now when both were armed for fight, and each
Had left his host, and, coming forward, walked
Between the Trojans and the Greeks, and frowned
Upon the other, a mute wonder held
The Trojan cavaliers and well-greaved Greeks.
There near each other in the measured space
They stood in wrathful mood with lifted spears.

First Paris hurled his massive spear; it smote
The round shield of Atrides, but the brass
Broke not beneath the blow; the weapon’s point
Was bent on that strong shield. The next assault
Atrides Menelaus made, but first
Offered this prayer to Father Jupiter:⁠—

“O sovereign Jove! Vouchsafe that I avenge
On guilty Paris wrongs which he was first
To offer; let him fall beneath my hand,
That men may dread hereafter to requite
The friendship of a host with injury.”

He spake, and flung his brandished spear; it smote
The round shield of Priamides; right through
The shining buckler went the rapid steel,
And, cutting the soft tunic near the flank,
Stood fixed in the fair corselet. Paris bent
Sideways before it and escaped his death.
Atrides drew his silver studded sword,
Lifted it high and smote his enemy’s crest.
The weapon, shattered to four fragments, fell.
He looked to the broad heaven, and thus exclaimed:⁠—

“O Father Jove! Thou art of all the gods
The most unfriendly. I had hoped to avenge
The wrong by Paris done me, but my sword
Is broken in my grasp, and from my hand
The spear was vainly flung and gave no wound.”

He spake, and, rushing forward, seized the helm
Of Paris by its horse-hair crest, and turned
And dragged him toward the well-armed Greeks. Beneath
His tender throat the embroidered band that held
The helmet to the chin was choking him.
And now had Menelaus dragged him thence,
And earned great glory, if the child of Jove,
Venus, had not perceived his plight in time.
She broke the ox-hide band; an empty helm
Followed the powerful hand; the hero saw,
Swung it aloft and hurled it toward the Greeks,
And there his comrades seized it. He again
Rushed with his brazen spear to slay his foe.
But Venus⁠—for a goddess easily
Can work such marvels⁠—rescued him, and, wrapped
In a thick shadow, bore him from the field
And placed him in his chamber, where the air
Was sweet with perfumes. Then she took her way
To summon Helen. On the lofty tower
She found her, midst a throng of Trojan dames,
And plucked her perfumed robe. She took the form
And features of a spinner of the fleece,
An aged dame, who used to comb for her
The fair white wool in Lacedaemon’s halls,
And loved her much. In such an humble guise
The goddess Venus thus to Helen spake:⁠—

“Come hither, Alexander sends for thee;
He now is in his chamber and at rest
On his carved couch; in beauty and attire
Resplendent, not like one who just returns
From combat with a hero, but like one
Who goes to mingle in the choral dance,
Or, when the dance is ended, takes his seat.”

She spake, and Helen heard her, deeply moved;
Yet when she marked the goddess’s fair neck,
Beautiful bosom, and soft, lustrous eyes,
Her heart was touched with awe, and thus she said:⁠—

“Strange being! Why wilt thou delude me still?
Wouldst thou decoy me further on among
The populous Phrygian towns, or those that stud
Pleasant Maeonia, where there haply dwells
Someone of mortal race whom thou dost deign
To make thy favorite. Hast thou seen, perhaps,
That Menelaus, having overpowered
The noble Alexander, seeks to bear
Me, hated as I must be, to his home?
And hast thou therefore fallen on this device?
Go to him, sit by him, renounce for him
The company of gods, and never more
Return to heaven, but suffer with him; watch
Beside him till he take thee for his wife
Or handmaid. Thither I shall never go,
To adorn his couch and to disgrace myself.
The Trojan dames would taunt me. O, the griefs
That press upon my soul are infinite!”

Displeased, the goddess Venus answered: “Wretch,
Incense me not, lest I abandon thee
In anger, and detest thee with a zeal
As great as is my love, and lest I cause
Trojans and Greeks to hate thee, so that thou
Shalt miserably perish.” Thus she spake;
And Helen, Jove-begotten, struck with awe,
Wrapped in a robe of shining white, went forth
In silence from amidst the Trojan dames,
Unheeded, for the goddess led the way.

When now they stood beneath the sumptuous roof
Of Alexander, straightway did the maids
Turn to their wonted tasks, while she went up,
Fairest of women, to her chamber. There
The laughing Venus brought and placed a seat
Right opposite to Paris. Helen sat,
Daughter of aegis-bearing Jove, with eyes
Averted, and reproached her husband thus:⁠—

“Com’st thou from battle? Rather would that thou
Hadst perished by the mighty hand of him
Who was my husband. It was once, I know,
Thy boast that thou wert more than peer in strength
And power of hand, and practice with the spear,
To warlike Menelaus. Go then now,
Defy him to the combat once again.
And yet I counsel thee to stand aloof,
Nor rashly seek a combat, hand to hand,
With fair haired Menelaus, lest perchance
He smite thee with his spear and thou be slain.”

Then Paris answered: “Woman, chide me not
Thus harshly. True it is, that, with the aid
Of Pallas, Menelaus hath obtained
The victory; but I may vanquish him
In turn, for we have also gods with us.
Give we the hour to dalliance; never yet
Have I so strongly proved the power of love⁠—
Not even when I bore thee from thy home
In pleasant Lacedaemon, traversing
The deep in my good ships, and in the isle
Of Cranaë made thee mine⁠—such glow of love
Possesses me, and sweetness of desire.”

He spake, and to the couch went up; his wife
Followed, and that fair couch received them both.

Meantime Atrides, like a beast of prey,
Went fiercely ranging through the crowd in search
Of godlike Alexander. None of all
The Trojans, or of their renowned allies,
Could point him out to Menelaus, loved
Of Mars; and had they known his lurking-place
They would not for his sake have kept him hid,
For like black death they hated him. Then stood
Among them Agamemnon, king of men,
And spake: “Ye Trojans and Achaians, hear,
And ye allies. The victory belongs
To warlike Menelaus. Ye will then
Restore the Argive Helen and her wealth,
And pay the fitting fine, which shall remain
A memory to men in future times.”

Thus spake the son of Atreus, and the rest
Of the Achaian host approved his words.