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Book XXIII Book XXIV
Hector fights Ajax
Hector and Paris successfully killed a number of Greeks. Worried by this, Athena agreed to Ares’ proposal that they should stop both sides fighting by persuading Hector to challenge the best of the Greeks to fight him in a duel.
They made Helenus put this proposal to Hector who, having been reassured it was not yet his time to die, agreed. Hector addressed both armies, issuing the challenge for one of the Greeks to a duel on the condition that the winner would allow the one defeated to be buried by his own men. Menelaus stood up to accept the challenge when no-one else seemed ready to do so but was prevented by Agamemnon, who thought Hector would easily kill Menelaus.
Nestor then shamed the Greeks for not volunteering by saying, if he had been younger, he would fight Hector; and he told the Greeks how in his youth he had fought and killed Ereuthalion. Nine Greek warriors, including Agamemnon, Diomedes, Odysseus and Ajax, then volunteered and, after deciding to draw lots, it was decided Ajax would fight Hector.
The Greeks prayed to Zeus for victory for Ajax or for the contest to be a draw. Hector and Ajax were evenly matched, each avoiding the other’s spear throw by using their strong shields, although Ajax did wound Hector in the neck, and the huge rock each then threw. It was therefore decided to end the fight and, at Hector’s suggestion they exchanged gifts, Hector giving Ajax his sword and Ajax gave Hector his purple belt. Both Greeks and Trojans were delighted to have their warrior back safely.
The Greeks sacrificed a bull to Zeus and, after feasting on its meat, Nestor suggested to Agamemnon he propose a truce so that the Greeks could take up their dead from the battlefield and, having cremated them, they would have their bones to take home to their families; they should also dig a deep ditch and build high towers round their camp for protection against the Trojans. Agamemnon agreed.
To a Trojan assembly, Antenor proposed that they should return Helen and all her property to Menelaus and thus end the war. Paris refused to give up Helen but was willing to return all her property. Idaeus conveyed this message to the Greeks and also proposed a truce to allow burial of the dead. Agamemnon refused to accept the property but did agree to a truce. Both sides collected and cremated their dead. The Greeks then built the towers and dug a walled ditch round the camp. Zeus allayed the worries Poseidon had that the Greek wall would surpass in fame the one he had built for Laomedon round Troy. Supply ships arrived for the Greeks and, while the Greeks and Trojans feasted that night, Zeus thundered and made them afraid.