The Iliad, Book III

Overview
Book I Book II Book III Book IV Book V Book VI Book VII
Book VIII Book IX Book X Book XI Book XII Book XIII Book XIV Book XV 
Book XVI Book XVII Book XVIII Book XIX Book XX Book XXI Book XXII
Book XXIII Book XXIV

The Duel of Paris & Menelaus

The Trojans, shrieking, and the Greeks, in silence, advanced towards each other. Paris challenged the best of the Greeks to meet him in single combat and Menelaus stepped forward, relishing the opportunity to kill the man who had dishonoured him.

Paris, in terror, initially retreated but, after Hector had admonished him for being a disgrace and a coward, only fit for love making and stealing other men’s wives, Paris agreed to fight Menelaus on condition the winner would have Helen and her property and both sides would swear oaths of friendship and return to their homes. Menelaus agreed provided that Priam swore the oath on behalf of the Trojans and both sides prepared to make sacrifices.

Helen of Troy and King Priam watch Paris and Menelaus fight for her sake. Illustration by Fortunino Matania.

In disguise as her sister-in-law, Laodice, Iris told Helen about the duel that was about to take place. Helen, feeling homesick for Sparta and her family there, went to the Scaean Gate on the walls of Troy where Priam welcomed her, saying he did not hold her responsible for the war. He asked her the names of the various Greek warriors he could see and she supplied them along with some information about each: Agamemnon, Odysseus, Ajax and Idomeneus.

After Priam and Agamemnon had made the sacrifices and sworn oaths as to the terms for the winner and loser, Priam returned to Troy while Hector, for the Trojans, and Odysseus, for the Greeks, measured out the area for the duel and placed lots in a bronze helmet as to who would throw his spear first. It was Paris. Both sides prayed for their warrior to win and for peace to follow. Menelaus and Paris faced each other in full armour. Both men, when they threw their spears hit the other’s shield but without causing injury; Menelaus’ sword, upon hitting Paris’ helmet, broke in his hands so then, holding the helmet’s crest, Menelaus began to drag Paris towards the Greeks.

Menelaus (centre-left) pursues Paris (centre-right) as Aphrodite (left) and Artemis (right) watch on. Side A from an Attic red-figure kylix, c. 490–460 BC. Louvre.

Aphrodite came to Paris’ aid by breaking the helmet strap around his neck. Throwing the helmet into the Greek lines, Menelaus hurled himself at Paris but Aphrodite covered Paris in mist and withdrew him from the battlefield and into his bedchamber. Then, disguised as an old woman dear to Helen, Aphrodite went to tell Helen where Paris was. Suspecting a trick when she realised she was speaking to a goddess, Helen at first refused to go to Paris but, after Aphrodite threatened to withdraw her protection, Helen obeyed. In their bedchamber she urged Paris to return to Menelaus to challenge him again, saying Menelaus would easily be the victor but Paris, after saying that, although he had lost on this occasion, he would win on the next time they fought, persuaded her into their bed to make love. Menelaus, meanwhile, was searching for Paris on the battlefield, to no avail. Agamemnon declared Menelaus the winner and demanded that the Trojans give up Helen and her property.

Book II Book IV