The Iliad is a cyclical poem that forms the basis of the Ancient Greece heroic epics. The poem is a reworking and combination of older legends about the heroes. It describes the events of the tenth year of the siege of Troy-Ilion by the combined army of the Achaeans (Homer 63). The main characters of the Iliad are Paris, Helen, Agamemnon, Menelaus, Achilles, Odysseus, Nestor, Diomedes, Ajax, Primus, Hector, Andromache, and the Olympian gods. Interestingly, the attention to duels over scenes of mass clashes is a characteristic of the Iliad, along with that the poem focuses on a short period of time. Perhaps the authors of the epic legends tried to portray the heroes more vividly and poetically, including their characters, morals, and motives for battle, avoiding generalizations and dehumanization of the war and emphasizing its terrible sides. This paper aims to discover the function of the single duel between Menelaus and Paris in the story and why this duel has not occurred earlier.
How the Duels Aim for Personification
The third book describes the duel between Paris and Menelaus and the results of this duel. The most important element of the scene is the conditions of the duel – the winner had to take Helen, and therefore the war between the Trojans and the Achaeans had to end. Menelaus, as a more skilled warrior, wins the duel, but Aphrodite kidnaps Paris from the battlefield (Homer 73). War-weary Achaeans are not offended and acknowledge their victory, demanding the extradition of Helen.
Interestingly, the technique of mass war scenes remains undeveloped in the poem, and the poetics use the combination of primitive exposition and the art of masterful storytelling. Therefore, duels are vividly depicted, but the scenes of mass violence are left to the imagination of the reader. This use of literary techniques allows for achieving the desired intensity of action. Predictions of the final victory of the Achaeans and the destruction of Ilion-Troy create an amplified effect because, after numerous deviations from the main storyline, the plot returns to the theme of military events.
The Function of the Duel between Menelaus and Paris in the Story
Interestingly, although Paris is sometimes credited with the wrath or kholos that prompted him to fight the Achaeans, the real reason for his actions was his love for Helen. This mood of Paris can be traced to his first meeting with Menelaus, who was a more experienced warrior. After inviting the strongest of the Achaeans to a duel, Homer says that Paris saw Menelaus and “was sick at heart when he saw who had met the challenge, and shying from death shrank back into the ranks” (Homer 63). The impression and partly the unwillingness to fight were so strong that “godlike Paris, fearing Atreides, hid among the throng of Trojan warriors” (Homer 63). After the elder brother of Paris, Hector, saw his embarrassment, he reproached him, saying that Paris was only pretending to be brave, and urged him to participate in a duel. Therefore, the detailed description of the duel through the dialogue of the characters revealed the heroes’ morale and intentions.
The duel between Menelaus and Paris is a key element of the poem, and that is why Homer focuses on it. The moment of the duel is a fork when two storylines are separated in the poem – the love line of Paris and Helen and the more epic line of the war between the Trojans and the Achaeans. Therefore, a closer look at the characters during the duel allowed the author to tell a story about tragic love against the historical background of political relations between the two peoples.
According to Homer, the Achaeans and Trojans were skilled warriors accustomed to annual campaigns to neighboring lands. An unstable peace was maintained thanks to Helen’s presence in Menelaus’s palace. The husband did not pay attention to her, being constantly absent in the war campaigns. Therefore, it seemed to Helen that she was sacrificing herself in the name of peace, which was probably true: Helen was recognized by the gods as the most beautiful woman in Hellas, and Menelaus was flattered by her presence in the palace (Lesser 190). In the course of the poem, Homer leaves it to the reader to decide whether Menelaus had tender feelings for Helen or simply perceived her as his belonging, which justifies the actions of Paris to some point. An even more important justification for the love story is that Helen’s kidnapping was only a pretext for the beginning of the bloodshed.
The duel of Paris and Menelaus brings to the fore the participation and role of Hector in the war between the Trojans and the Achaeans. The figure of Hector, who later finds a worthy opponent in Achilles, is very important for understanding the ideas of the Iliad. His character is constructively revealed in the dialogue with Paris during the duel (Oliensis 37). Hector approaches Paris, saying, “‘sinful Paris beautiful to look on, seducer and deceiver of women, I wish you had never been born or had died before you wed… such is my wish indeed, far better than disgrace us all, an object of men’s contempt”, making Paris responsible for starting the war (Homer 64). However, the true causes of the war were the ambitions of the Achaeans, Trojans, and the Olympian gods, who took sides. Therefore, in this episode, Homer lets Hector speak to depict him as a courageous man prone to sowing discord.
The Reasons Why Duel Did Not Occur Before
The timing of the duel within the framework of the main plot is not accidental. The scene is the culmination of the first part in terms of meaning, as it provides the prerequisites for the analysis of prophecies predicting the course of hostilities. Despite the desire for peace on both sides, the Iliad ends with the destruction of Troy. In this scene, set out at the beginning of the story, the dialogues of the main characters make the readers understand the desire of the Achaeans and Trojans to end the war with this duel (Homer 64). Despite this, the fate in the face of the gods that haunt the warriors, as well as outright provocations, such as the arrow fired by the Trojan Pandarus at Menelaus on the advice of Athena in book four, lead to the continuation of bloodshed. To sum it up, the duel did not take place earlier since it represents the will of the heroes to finally end the war.
Thus, the function of the duel between Menelaus and Paris was discovered, and the reasons why this duel had not occurred earlier were determined. The role of the duel in the story is a depiction of the true intentions of both sides of the conflict. The duel did not take place earlier since the parties did not immediately feel the desire to resolve the contradictions more peacefully. In general, the prevailing focus in the Iliad on individual duels rather than on the mass battles indicates that the authors intended to portray the heroes’ morals in situations of choice and avoid the depersonalization of war.
Homer. The Iliad. Poetry in Translation, 2009.
Lesser, Rachel H. “Female Ethics and Epic Rivalry: Helen in the Iliad and Penelope in the Odyssey.” American Journal of Philology, vol. 140, no. 2, 2019, pp. 189-226.
Oliensis, Ellen. “Menelaus’ Wound and Lavinia’s Blush.” The Classical Quarterly, vol. 69, no. 1, 2019, pp. 35-41.