Translation by Ian Johnston

Book Three
Paris, Menelaus, and Helen

[The armies move together; Paris volunteers to fight Menelaus in single combat; both sides prepare make a truce; Iris visits Helen; Helen goes to the Scaean Gate, looks at the Achaean troops with Priam; Priam leaves Troy to visit the armies and administer the treaty oath; Agamemnon utters the prayer for the treaty; Paris and Menelaus fight in single combat; Aphrodite rescues Paris; Paris and Helen back in Troy; Agamemnon demands compensation from the Trojans]

Once troops had formed in ranks under their own leaders,
Trojans marched out, clamouring like birds, like cranes
screeching overhead, when winter's harsh storms drive them off,
screaming as they move over the flowing Ocean,
bearing death and destruction to the Pygmies,
launching their savage attack on them at dawn.
Achaeans came on in silence, breathing ferocity,
determined to stand by each other in the fight.
Just as South Wind spreads mist around the mountain peak,                          [10]
something shepherds hate, but thieves prefer to night,                           10
for one can see only a stone's throw ahead,
so, as men marched, dense dust clouds rose up underfoot.
They moved out rapidly across the plain.
The two armies came up close towards each other.
Then godlike Paris stepped out, as a Trojan champion,
on his shoulders a leopard skin. He had bow and sword.
Brandishing two bronze-tipped spears, he challenged
the best men in the whole Achaean force to fight—
a single combat, to the death. War-loving Menelaus                                        [20]
noticed Alexander striding there, his troops                                            20
bunched up in ranks behind him, and he rejoiced,
like a famished lion finding a large carcass—
antlered stag or wild goat—and devouring it at once,
though fierce young hunters and swift dogs attack.
So Menelaus was happy to see Paris there,
right before his eyes. Menelaus had in mind
taking revenge on the man who'd injured him.
At once Menelaus jumped out of his chariot,
down to the ground, his weapons in his fists.
When godlike Alexander saw Menelaus there,                                        30        [30]
among the fighters at the front, his heart sank.
He moved back into the ranks, among his comrades,
avoiding death. Just as a man stumbles on a snake
in some mountainous ravine and gives way, jumping back,
his limbs trembling, his cheeks pale, so godlike Paris,
afraid of Atreus' son, slid back among proud Trojan ranks.
Seeing this, Hector went at Alexander, insulting him:

"Despicable Paris, handsomest of men,
but a woman-mad seducer. How I wish
you never had been born or died unmarried.                                 40         [40]
That's what I'd prefer, so much better
than to live in shame, hated by others.
Now long-haired Achaeans are mocking us,
saying we've put forward as a champion
one who looks good, but lacks a strong brave mind. 
Was this what you were like back on that day
you gathered up your faithful comrades,
sailed sea-worthy ships across the ocean,
went out among a foreign people,                                         
then brought back from that far off land                                       50
a lovely woman linked by marriage
to warrior spearmen, thus bringing on
great suffering for your father and your city,                                          [50]
all your people—joy to your enemies
and to yourself disgrace? And can you now
not face Menelaus? If you did, you'd learn
the kind of man he is whose wife you took.
You'd get no help then from your lyre, long hair,
good looks—Aphrodite's gifts—once you're face down,
lying in the dirt. Trojans must be timid men.                                60
If not, for all the evil things you've done
by now you wear a garment made of stones."

To Hector godlike Alexander then replied:                                                      [60]

"Hector, you're right in what you say against me.
Those complaints are not unjustified. 
Your heart is tireless, like a wood-chopping axe
wielded by a craftsman cutting timber for a ship—
the axe makes his force stronger.  Your mind's like that—
the spirit in your chest is fearless. But don't blame me 
for golden Aphrodite's lovely gifts.                                               70
Men can't reject fine presents from the gods,
those gifts they personally bestow on us,
though no man would take them of his own free will.
You want me now to go to battle.
Then get the others to sit down—Trojans and Achaeans.
Put me and war-loving Menelaus
in their midst to fight it out for Helen,                                                   [70]
all her property. The one who triumphs,
comes off victorious, the better man,                                           
let him take all the goods and lead that woman home                  80
as his wife. Let others swear a solemn oath,
as friends, either to live on in fertile Troy
or to return to horse-breeding Argos,
land of the lovely women of Achaea."

So Paris spoke. Hearing those words, Hector felt great joy.
He strode into the middle ground, between the armies,
halted Trojan troops, grasping the centre of his spear shaft.
The men sat. But long-haired Achaeans kept on shooting,
attempting to hit Hector with rocks and arrows.                                              [80]
Then Agamemnon, king of men, roared out at them:                             90

"Argives, Achaean lads, stop hurling things.
Hector of the flashing helmet wants to talk to us."

Once Agamemnon spoke, the men stopped fighting,
quickly falling silent. Hector then addressed both sides:

"You Trojans, you well-armed Achaeans,
listen now to what Paris has to say,
the man whose actions brought about our fight.
He bids the other Trojans, all Achaeans,
set their weapons on the fertile ground.                                     
He and war-loving Menelaus here                                                100        [90]
will fight it out alone between the armies
for Helen and for all her property.
Whichever one comes out victorious,
the stronger man, let him seize all the goods,
and take the woman as his wife back home.
Let others swear a solemn oath as friends."

So Hector spoke. The soldiers all grew silent.
Then Menelaus, loud in war, answered Hector:

"Listen now to me. More than anyone,                                         
my heart has suffered pain. So now I think                                  110
Argives and Trojans should part company,
since you have suffered many hardships,
thanks to the fight between myself and Paris,                                        [100]
a fight that he began. Whichever one of us                              
death takes, our fate, let that man perish.
You others quickly go your separate ways.
So bring two lambs here—white male, black female—
for earth and sun. We'll bring one more for Zeus.
Lead out great Priam to administer the oath
in person, for his sons are over-proud,                                         120
untrustworthy. No man should transgress
by violence oaths sworn in Zeus' name.
Young men's minds are fickle. An older man
who joins them thinks of past and future,
so for both groups what happens works out best."                                [110]

Achaeans and Trojans were elated, full of hope
that wretched war would end. They pulled the chariots back
into the ranks, climbed out, disarmed, and placed their weapons
on the ground next to each other, with little room                        
between both groups. Hector sent two heralds to the city,                    130
to fetch the lambs with speed and summon Priam.                                 
Agamemnon sent Talthybius to the hollow ships,
instructing him to bring a sacrificial lamb. 
Talthybius obeyed god-like Agamemnon's orders.                                            [120]

Then Iris came as messenger to white-armed Helen,
taking on the image of her sister-in-law,
wife of Antenor's son Helicaon, a fine man.
Her name was Laodice, of all Priam's daughters
the most beautiful. She found Helen in her room,                                  
weaving a large cloth, a double purple cloak,                                         140
creating pictures of the many battle scenes
between horse-taming Trojans and bronze-clad Achaeans,
wars they suffered for her sake at the hands of Ares.
Standing near by, swift-footed Iris said:

                                         "Come here, dear girl.                                    [130]
Look at the amazing things going on.
Horse-taming Trojans and bronze-clad Achaeans,
men who earlier were fighting one another
in wretched war out there on the plain, 
both keen for war's destruction, are sitting still.
Alexander and war-loving Menelaus                                             150  
are going to fight with their long spears for you.
The man who triumphs will call you his dear wife."

With these words the goddess set in Helen's heart
sweet longing for her former husband, city, parents.                                        [140]
Covering herself with a white shawl, she left the house,
shedding tears. She did not go alone, but took with her
two attendants, Aethrae, daughter of Pittheus,
and ox-eyed Clymene. They soon reached the Scaean Gates.
Oucalegaon and Antenor, both prudent men,
elder statesmen, sat at the Scaean Gates,                                               160
with Priam and his entourage—Panthous, Thymoetes, 
Lampus, Clytius, and warlike Hikataeon. Old men now,
their fighting days were finished, but they all spoke well.
They sat there, on the tower, these Trojan elders,                                            [150]
like cicadas perched up on a forest branch, chirping
their soft, delicate sounds. Seeing Helen approach the tower,
they commented softly to each other—their words had wings:

"There's nothing shameful about the fact                       
that Trojans and well-armed Achaeans
have endured great suffering a long time                                      170
over such a woman—just like a goddess,
immortal, awe-inspiring. She's beautiful.
But nonetheless let her go back with the ships.
Let her not stay here, a blight on us, our children."                                [160]

So they talked. Priam then called out to Helen.

"Come here, dear child. Sit down in front of me,
so you can see your first husband, your friends,
your relatives. As far as I'm concerned,                                        
you bear no blame. For I blame the gods.
They drove me to wage this wretched war                                   180
against Achaeans. Tell me, who's that large man,                                    
over there, that impressive, strong Achaean? 
Others may be taller by a head than him, 
but I've never seen with my own eyes 
such a striking man, so noble, so like a king."                                        [170]

Then Helen, goddess among women, said to Priam:

"My dear father-in-law, whom I respect and honour, 
how I wish I'd chosen evil death 
when I came here with your son, leaving behind 
my married home, companions, darling child,                              190
and friends my age. But things did not work that way. 
So I weep all the time. But to answer you,
that man is wide-ruling Agamemnon,
son of Atreus, a good king, fine fighter,
and once he was my brother-in-law,
if that life was ever real. I'm such a whore."                                          [180]

Priam gazed in wonder at Agamemnon, saying:

"Son of Atreus, blessed by the gods, fortune's child,
divinely favoured, many long-haired Achaeans
serve under you. Once I went to Phrygia,                                    200
that vine-rich land, where I saw Phrygian troops
with all their horses, thousands of them, 
soldiers of Otreus and godlike Mygdon, 
camped by the banks of the river Sangarius.
I was their ally, part of their army,
the day the Amazons, men's peers in war,                                   
came on against them. But those forces then
were fewer than these bright-eyed Achaeans."                                       [190]

The old man then spied Odysseus and asked:

"Dear child, come tell me who this man is,                                  210
shorter by a head than Agamemnon,
son of Atreus. But he looks broader
in the chest and shoulders. His armour's stacked
on the fertile earth, but he strides on there,
marching through men's ranks just like a ram 
moving through large white multitudes of sheep. 
Yes, a woolly ram, that's what he seems to me."

Helen, child of Zeus, then answered Priam:                                                   

"That man is Laertes' son, crafty Odysseus,                                           [200]
raised in rocky Ithaca. He's well versed                                        220
in all sorts of tricks, deceptive strategies."

At that point, wise Antenor said to Helen:

"Lady, what you say is true. Once lord Odysseus
came here with war-loving Menelaus
as an ambassador in your affairs.
I received them both in my residence
and entertained them. I got to know them—
from their appearance and their wise advice.                              

When they mingled with us Trojans
in our meeting and Menelaus rose,                                               230        [210]
his wide shoulders were higher than the other's.
But once they sat, Odysseus seemed more regal. 
When the time came for them to speak to us,
setting out their thoughts quite formally,
Menelaus spoke with fluency—few words,
but very clear—no chatter, no digressions—
although he was the younger of the two.
But when wise Odysseus got up to speak,                             

he just stood, eyes downcast, staring at the ground. 
He didn't move the sceptre to and fro,                                         240 
but gripped it tightly, like some ignoramus—
a bumpkin or someone idiotic.
But when that great voice issued from his chest,                                    [220]
with words like winter snowflakes, no man alive
could match Odysseus. We were no longer                                  
disconcerted at witnessing his style."

Priam, the old man, saw a third figure, Ajax, and asked:

"Who is that other man over there—
that huge, burly Achaean—towering
head and shoulders over the Achaeans?"                                     250

                                                                               Then Helen,
long-robed goddess among women, answered:

"That's massive Ajax, Achaea's bulwark.
Across from him stands Idomeneus,
surrounded by his Cretans, like a god.                                                    [230]
Around him stand the Cretan leaders.                      
Often war-loving Menelaus welcomed him
into our home, whenever he arrived from Crete.
Now I see all the bright-eyed Achaeans
whom I know well, whose names I could recite.
But I can't see two of the men's leaders,                                      260
Castor, tamer of horses, and Pollux, 
the fine boxer—they are both my brothers,
whom my mother bore along with me.
Either they did not come with the contingent
from lovely Lacedaemon, or they sailed here                                   
in their seaworthy ships but have no wish                                              [240]
to join men's battles, fearing the shame,
the many slurs, which are justly mine."

Helen spoke. But the life-nourishing earth
already held her brothers, in Lacedaemon                                              270
in their own dear native land.

                                                            Through Troy, 
heralds brought offerings to seal the binding oaths,
two lambs and in a goatskin sack some sparkling wine,
fruit of the earth. Idaios, the herald, brought in
the gleaming mixing bowl and golden cups.                                          
Standing close by Priam, he encouraged him.

"Son of Laomedon, the leading officers                                                  [250]
among horse-taming Trojans and bronze-clad Achaeans
are calling you to come down to the plain,
to administer their binding promises.                                           280
Paris and war-loving Menelaus
are going to fight it out with their long spears
over the woman. The man who wins,
who comes off the victor, gets the woman
and her property. The others will all swear                           
an oath of friendship, a binding one—
we will live in fertile Troy, they in Argos,
where horses breed, and in Achaea, 
land of lovely women."

                                                      Idaios finished.
The old man trembled, then ordered his attendants                               290
to get his chariot ready. They obeyed at once.                                                  [260]
Priam climbed in and pulled back on the reins. 
Antenor climbed in the fine chariot beside him.
The two men led swift horses through the Scaean Gate,
out to the plain. Once they reached the Trojans and Achaeans,
they climbed out of the chariot onto fertile ground, 
in the space between the Trojan and Achaean soldiers.
At once, Agamemnon and subtle Odysseus
stood up to greet them. Noble heralds fetched the offerings, 
to ratify their solemn oaths pledged to the gods.                                    300
They prepared wine in the mixing bowl, then poured water
over the kings' hands. Atreus' son drew out the dagger                                    [270]
which always hung beside his sword's huge scabbard
and sliced hairs off lambs' heads. Attendants passed these hairs                              
among the leaders of the Trojans and Achaeans.
Raising his hands, Agamemnon then intoned
a mighty prayer on their behalf:

                                                       "Father Zeus, 
ruling from Mount Ida, most glorious, 
most powerful, and you, too, god of the sun, 
who sees everything, hears everything,                                         310
you rivers, earth, you gods below the earth,                         
who punish the dead when men swear false oaths,
you gods are witnesses. Keep this oath firm.                                          [280]
If Alexander slays Menelaus,                                                       
let him keep Helen, all her property.
Let us return in our sea-worthy ships.
But if red-haired Menelaus kills Alexander, 
then let the Trojans hand back Helen, 
with all her property, and compensate
Achaeans with something suitable,                                              320
which future ages will remember.                                  

If Alexander's killed and Priam
and Priam's children are unwilling
to reimburse me, then I'll remain here,                                   
fight on until I'm fully satisfied,                                                              [290]
until I end this war appropriately."

So Agamemnon prayed. With his bronze dagger,
he slit the lambs' throats and placed them on the ground,
gasping in their death throes as their life ebbed out,
their spirit sliced away by Agamemnon's knife.                                      330
Next from the mixing bowl, they drew off wine in cups
and poured libations to the deathless gods.
Then Trojans and Achaeans all spoke out this prayer:

"Most powerful, mighty Zeus, and you others,                                      
you immortal gods, may you make sure
the men who first violate these oaths
will have their brains spill out onto the ground,
just like this wine, they and their children.                                             [300]
May their wives be carried off by other men."

So they prayed. But the son of Cronos didn't grant their wish.              340
Then Priam, descendant of Dardanus, addressed them all:

"Hear me, you Trojans, you well-armed Achaeans. 
I am returning now to windy Troy. 
I have no wish to see with my own eyes 
my dear son fight war-loving Menelaus.
Zeus and other immortal gods know well
which of them is fated to end up dead."

So Priam spoke. He placed the lambs inside his chariot.                                  [310]
The god-like man climbed in, held back the reins.                         
Antenor climbed in the fine chariot beside Priam.                                 350
Then both men set off, moving back toward Troy.

Hector, Priam's son, and lord Odysseus
first paced out the ground, took lots, and shook them up
in a bronze helmet, to see who'd throw his bronze spear first.
Then every Trojan and Achaean held up his hands,
praying to the gods:

                           "Father Zeus, ruling from Mount Ida,                         [320]
mighty, all-powerful, of these two men,
let the one who brought this war to both sides     
be killed and then go down to Hades' house.
And grant our oath of friendship will hold firm."                         360 

So they prayed. Hector of the flashing helmet
turned his eyes to one side and shook out the lots.
Alexander's token fell out immediately.                                                        
The troops sat down in their respective places, 
by their high-stepping horses and their inlaid armour.
Paris, husband to Helen with the lovely hair,
hoisted his fine armour on his shoulders. On his shins,                                    [330]
he clipped his greaves fitted with silver ankle clasps.
Then he put around his chest the body armour
belonging to his brother Lycaon. It fit him well.                                     370 
On his shoulder he looped his bronze sword with silver studs,
his huge strong shield. On his handsome head he put
a fine helmet with nodding horse-hair plumes on top,
full of menace. Then he picked out a strong sharp spear
which fit his grip. Menelaus prepared himself as well.                                           
When the two men, standing on each side with their troops,                           [340]
had armed themselves, they strode out to the open space
between the Trojans and Achaeans, staring ferociously.
As horse-taming Trojans and well-armed Achaeans
gazed at the two men, they were overcome with wonder.                      380
Both men approached each other over measured ground,
brandishing their spears in mutual fury.
Alexander was the first to hurl his spear.                                        
It struck Menelaus' shield, a perfect circle,
but the bronze did not break through, the point deflected
by the powerful shield. Then Menelaus, Atreus' son,
took his turn and threw. First he made this prayer to Zeus:                             [350]

"Lord Zeus, let me be revenged against this man,
who first committed crimes against me,
lord Alexander.  Let him die at my hands,                                    390 
so generations of men yet to come
will dread doing wrong to anyone                                        
who welcomes them into his home as friends."                                          

Menelaus then drew back his long-shadowed spear
and hurled it. It hit the son of Priam's shield,
a perfect circle.  The heavy spear pierced through it,
went straight through the fine body armour, through the shirt 
which covered Alexander's naked flesh.
But Paris twisted to the side, evading a black fate.                                           [360]  
Pulling out his silver-studded sword, the son of Atreus                         400
raised it and struck the crest of Paris' helmet. 
But the sword shattered into several pieces,
falling from his hand. The son of Atreus, in vexation,
looked up into wide heavens, crying out:

                                                                "Father Zeus, 
what god is more troublesome than you!
I thought I was paying Alexander
for his wickedness, but now my sword
has shattered in my fist, while from my hand
my spear has flown in vain.  I haven't hit him."

As Menelaus said these words, he sprang forward,                                410
grabbing the horse hair crest on Paris' helmet, 
twisting him around. He began dragging Paris off,                                            
back in the direction of well-armed Achaeans.                                                 [370]
The fine leather strap stretched round Paris' soft neck,
right below his chin, was strangling him to death.
At that point Menelaus would have hauled back Paris
and won unending fame, if Aphrodite, Zeus' daughter,
had not had sharp eyes. Her force broke the ox-hide strap,
leaving Menelaus clutching in his massive hands
an empty helmet.  Whipping it around, Menelaus                                  420
hurled the helmet in among well-armed Achaeans. 
His loyal companions retrieved it.  He charged back
with his bronze spear, intent on killing Alexander.
But Aphrodite had snatched Paris up—for a god                                             [380]
an easy feat—concealed him in a heavy mist,
and placed him in his own sweetly scented bedroom.

Then Aphrodite went to summon Helen.
She found her on the high tower in a crowd
among the Trojan women.  She clutched Helen
by her perfumed dress, twitched it, then addressed her,                         430
in the form of an old woman, a wool carder,
someone who used to live in Lacedaemon,                                            
producing fine wool, a woman Helen really liked.
In this shape, divine Aphrodite spoke to Helen:

"Alexander is asking you to come back home.                                       [390]
He's in the bedroom, on the carved out bed,
his beauty and his garments glistening.
You wouldn't think he's just come from some fight.
He looks as if he's going to a dance
or if he's sitting down right after dancing."                                  440   

Aphrodite spoke, stirring emotion in Helen's heart. 
Noticing the goddess' lovely neck, enticing breasts,                              
her glittering eyes, Helen was astonished.

"Goddess, why do you wish to deceive me so?
Are you going to take me still further off,                                               [400]
to some well populated city somewhere
in Phrygia or beautiful Maeonia,
because you're in love with some mortal man
and Menelaus has just beaten Paris
and wants to take me, a despised woman,                                   450
back home with him?  Is that why you're here,
you and your devious trickery?
Why don't you go with Paris by yourself,
stop walking around here like a goddess,
stop directing your feet toward Olympus,
and lead a miserable life with him,
caring for him, until he makes you his wife                                             [410]
or slave.  I won't go up to him in there—
that would be shameful, serving him in bed.  
Every Trojan woman would revile me afterwards.                       460
Besides, my heart is hurt enough already."

Divine Aphrodite, angry at Helen, answered her:

"Don't provoke me, you obstinate girl.
I might lose my temper, abandon you,
and hate you just as much as I have loved you.
I could make the Trojans and Danaans hate you, too.
Then you'd suffer death in misery."

Aphrodite spoke.  Helen, born from Zeus, was too afraid.
She covered herself in her soft white linen shawl
and left in silence, unseen by all the Trojan women.                              470
With goddess Aphrodite in the lead,                                                                 [420]
they came to Alexander's lovely house.
There the attendants quickly set about their work.
Helen, goddess among women, went to her room upstairs,
where laughter-loving goddess Aphrodite
picked up a chair and carried it for Helen. 
She placed it facing Paris. Helen, child of Zeus,
who bears the aegis, sat down. With eyes averted,
she began to criticize her husband:

"You've come back from the fight.  How I wish                          480
you'd died there, killed by that strong warrior
who was my husband once.  You used to boast
you had more strength than warlike Menelaus,                                       [430]
with stronger hands, more power in your spear.
So go now, challenge war-loving Menelaus
to fight again in single combat. 
I'd suggest you stay away.  Don't fight it out
man to man with red-haired Menelaus,
without further thought.  You might well die,                                 
come to a quick end on his spear."                                               490       

Replying to Helen, Paris said:

don't mock my courage with your insults.
Yes, Menelaus has just defeated me,
but with Athena's help.  Next time I'll beat him.                                    [440]
For we have gods on our side, too.  But come,
let's enjoy our love together on the bed.
Never has desire so filled my mind as now,
not even when I first took you away
from lovely Lacedaemon, sailing off                                             
in our sea-worthy ships, or when I lay with you                           500
on the isle of Cranae in our lover's bed.
That's how sweet passion has seized hold of me,
how much I want you now."

                                                   Paris finished speaking.
He led the way to bed.  His wife went with him.
The two lay down together on the bed.          

Atreus' son paced through the crowd, like a wild beast,
searching for some glimpse of godlike Alexander.                                            [450]
But no Trojan nor any of their famous allies
could show warlike Menelaus where Paris was.
If they'd seen him, they had no desire to hide him.                                510
For they all hated Paris, as they hated gloomy death.
Agamemnon, king of men, addressed them:

"Listen to me, Trojans, Dardanians, allies—
victory clearly falls to war-loving Menelaus.
So give back Argive Helen and her property.
Compensate us with a suitable amount,
something for future ages will all talk about."                                         [460]

As he finished speaking, the other Achaeans cheered.


Translation by Ian Johnston, Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, BC.  This document is in the public domain and may be used by anyone without permission and without charge, provided the source is acknowledged. 

[Last modified on December 28, 2003]

[Note that the line numbers in square brackets refer to the Greek text]



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