Stories from the Iliad Told to the Children - Jeanie Lang

The Fight Between Paris and Menelaus

To meet the great Greek host came the men of Troy. With loud shouting and clamour they came, noisy as the flocks of cranes that fly to far-off seas before the coming of winter and sudden rain.

But in silence marched the Greeks, shoulder to shoulder, their hearts full of courage.

Like the mist that rolls from the crest of the mountains until no man can see in front of him further than the cast of a stone, so did the dust rise in clouds under the tread of the warriors' feet as they marched across the plain.

Front to front did the two armies stand at last, and from the Trojan ranks strode forth Paris the godlike, he who robbed Menelaus of her who was to him most dear.

From the shoulders of Paris swung a panther's skin. He bore a curved bow and sword, and, brandishing two bronze-headed spears, he challenged all the chieftains of the Greek host to fight him, man to man, in mortal fight.

As a hungry lion rejoices to see a great-horned stag coming to be his prey, even so did Menelaus rejoice when he saw Paris, the golden-haired and blue-eyed, stride proudly forth.

Straightway, in his armour, did Menelaus leap from his chariot to the ground.

But when Paris saw him to whom he had done so sore a wrong, his heart was smitten.

As a man who, in a mountain glen, suddenly sees a deadly snake and shrinks away from it with shaking limbs, even so did Paris shrink back amongst his comrades.

Scornfully did Hector his brother behold him.

"Fair in face thou art!" said Hector, "but shamed I am by thee! I ween these long-haired Greeks make sport of us because we have for champion one whose face and form are beautiful, but in whose heart is neither strength nor courage. Art thou a coward? and yet thou daredst to sail across the sea and steal from her husband the fair woman who hath brought us so much harm. Thou shalt see what sort of warrior is he whose lovely wife thou hast taken. Thy harp and thy golden locks and fair face, and all the graces given to thee by Aphrodite, shall count for little when thou liest in the dust! Cowards must we Trojans be, else thou hadst been stoned to death ere this, for all the evil thou hast wrought."

Then answered Paris:

"No word hast thou said that I do not deserve, brave Hector. Yet scorn not the gifts of golden Aphrodite, for by his own desire can no man win the love and beauty that the goddess gives. But let me now do battle with Menelaus. Make the Trojans and the men of Greece sit down, while Menelaus and I fight for Helen. Let him who is conqueror have her and all that is hers for his own, and let the others take an oath of friendship so that the Greeks may depart in peace to their own land, and in peace the Trojans dwell in Troy."

Greatly did Hector rejoice at his brother's word. His spear grasped by the middle, he went through the Trojan ranks and bid the warriors hold back.

But as he went, the Greeks shot arrows at brave Hector and cast stones.

"Hold! hold! ye Greeks," called Agamemnon. "Hector of the glancing helm hath somewhat to say to us."

In silence, then, the two armies stood, while Hector told them the words of Paris his brother.

When they had heard him, Menelaus spoke.

"Many ills have ye endured," he said, "for my sake and because of the sins of Paris. Yet now, I think, the end of this long war hath come. Let us fight, then, and death and fate shall decide which of us shall die. Let us offer sacrifice now to Zeus, and call hither Priam, King of Troy. I fear for the faith of his sons, Paris and Hector, but Priam is an old man and will not break faith."

Then were the Greeks and the Trojans glad. They came down from their chariots, and took off their arms, and laid them on the ground, while heralds went to tell Priam and to fetch lambs and a ram for the sacrifice.

While they went, Hera sent to Troy Iris, her messenger, in the guise of the fairest daughter of Priam.

To the hall where Helen sat came lovely Iris. And there she found Helen, fairest of women, her white arms swiftly moving back and forward as she wove a great purple web of double wool, and wrought thereon pictures of many battles of the Greeks and. the men of Troy.

"Come hither, dear lady," said Iris, "and see a wondrous thing. For they that so fiercely fought with each other, now sit in silence. The battle is stayed; they lean upon their shields, and their tall spears are thrust in the earth by their sides. But for thee are Menelaus and Paris now going to fight, and thou shalt be the wife of the conqueror."

So spake lovely Iris, and into the sleeping heart of Helen there came remembrance, and a hungry longing for her old home, and for Menelaus, and her father and mother, and for little Hermione, her child.

The tears rolled down her cheeks, but quickly she hid her face with a veil of fair linen, and hastened out, with her two hand-maidens, to the place where the two armies lay.



At the Skaian gates sat Priam and other old warriors.

As Helen, in her fair white robes, drew near, the old men marvelled at her loveliness.

"Small wonder is it," said they, "that Trojans and Greeks should suffer hardships and lay down their lives for one so beautiful. Yet well would it be for her to sail away upon the Greek ships rather than stay here to bring trouble upon us now, and upon our children hereafter."

Then Priam called to Helen:

"Come hither, dear child, and sit beside me, that thou may'st see the man who once was thy husband, and thy kinsmen, and thy friends. No blame do I give to thee for all our woes, but only to the gods who have chosen thee to be the cause of all this blood-shed."

Then did Priam ask her the names of the mighty heroes who stood by their spears in the Grecian ranks, and Helen, making answer to him, said:

"Dear father of Paris, my lord, would that I had died ere I left my own land and my little child, and all those that I loved, and followed thy son hither. Agamemnon, a goodly king and a mighty spearsman, is the Greek warrior whose name thou dost ask. Brother of him who was my husband is he. Ah! shameless me, who did leave mine own."

Of Odysseus also, and of many another warrior of great stature and brave looks, did Priam make inquiry. And Helen told him all she knew, while tears of longing stood in her eyes.

"My two brethren, Castor, tamer of horses, and Polydeuces, the skilful boxer, I do not see," she said ; "mayhap they have not crossed the sea." For she knew not that her two brothers lay dead in her own beautiful land.

Then was the sacrifice to Zeus offered, and the vows made between Agamemnon and Priam, King of Troy.

When the sacrifice and vows were accomplished, Priam in haste mounted his chariot and drove away.

"Verily will I return to windy Ilios," said the old man, "for I cannot bear to watch the fight between Menelaus and my own dear son. But only Zeus and the gods know which one of them is to fall."

Then Hector and Odysseus marked out a space for the fight, and into a bronze helmet Hector placed two pebbles and shook them in the helmet, looking behind him. And the pebble of Paris leapt out the first, so that to him fell the lot to cast first his spear of bronze.

Then did Paris arm himself. Greaves of beauteous fashioning he placed upon his legs, and fastened them with silver ankle-clasps. Over his shoulders he put his silver-studded sword of bronze and his great shield. On his head he placed a helmet with nodding crest of horse-hair, and in his hand he grasped his strong spear. In like manner did Menelaus arm himself.

One moment did they stand face to face, wrath and hatred in their hearts, their spears gripped firm in their hands.

Then did Paris hurl his spear and smite the shield of Menelaus. But the shield was strong and the spear could not pierce it.

His hand lifted up for the cast, Menelaus looked upwards and called to Zeus.

"Grant me revenge, great Zeus!" he cried. "On him that hath done me grievous wrong, grant me vengeance, so that all men hereafter may shudder to wrong one who hath treated him as his honoured guest."

Then hurled he his mighty spear. Through the bright shield it went, and through the shining breastplate, tearing the tunic of Paris on his thigh. But Paris swerved aside, and so escaped death.

Then Menelaus drew his silver-studded sword and drove it crashing down upon the helmet of Paris. But in four pieces was the sword shattered, and fell from the hand of Menelaus.

"Surely art thou the most cruel of all the gods, Zeus!" angrily he cried. "My spear is cast in vain, and my sword shattered, and my vengeance is still to come!"

So saying, he leapt upon Paris. By the crest on his helmet he seized him, and, swinging him round, he dragged him towards the Greek host. The embroidered strap beneath the helmet of Paris strangled him, and so he would have shamefully died, had not Aphrodite marked his plight. Swiftly did she burst the leather strap, and the helmet was left empty in the grasp of Menelaus.

Casting the empty helmet, with a swing, to his comrades, Menelaus sprang back, ready, with another spear, to slay his enemy.

But Aphrodite snatched Paris up, and in thick mist she hid him, and bore him away to his own home. Like a wild beast Menelaus strode through the host, searching for him. But no Trojan would have hidden him, for with a bitter hatred did the men of Troy hate Paris, most beautiful of mortal men.

Then said Agamemnon:

"Hearken tome, ye Trojans. Now hath Menelaus gained the victory. Give us back Helen, and all that is hers, and pay me the recompense that ye owe me for all the evil days that are gone."

So spake he, and glad were the shouts of the Greeks as they heard the words of their king.