In obedience to the summons of their leaders, the great host of the Achaians assembled on the plain of the flowing river Scamander, innumerable as the leaves and flowers in the season of spring. And in the midst of them stood the great ruler, Agamemnon: his head and eyes like those of Loud-thundering Zeus; his waist like that of the Man-slaying Mars; and with a breast like that of Neptune, the Ruler of the Sea. As the mail-clad Argives marched on, and rushed across the plain, the earth groaned beneath them.
Now Ægis-bearing Zeus sent his messenger, Iris, to the assembly of the Trojans, with the voice of Polites, son of Priam, their sentinel at Priam’s gate, and spake thus to Hector: “This is no time for idle words, for stern war is already upon you. But to thee, O Hector, do I especially speak; and do thou obey my voice! As thou hast many allies, of diverse nations and tongues, let each chief marshal and command his own people, and lead them forth to war.”
And the glorious Hector knew the voice of the messenger, and hastened to obey. He straightway dissolved the assembly. The gates of Troy were then thrown open, and the Trojan host rushed forth, with a mighty din. The blameless Hector, with his glancing helmet, was foremost of all, and led the bravest and strongest of the men; Æneas, son of the goddess Aphrodite, or Venus, born amidst the peaks of Ida, led the Dardans; and of the other leaders of the allies, the most famous were Sarpedon, son of Zeus, and blameless Glaucus, who led the Lycians, from distant Lycia, by the swift-eddying Xanthus.
And, as the countless hosts advanced, to meet each other in deadly conflict, the Trojans marched with noisy shouts, like the clamor of the cranes, when they fly to the streams of Oceanus, in the early morning, screaming, and bringing death and destruction to the Pigmy men; but the Achaieans came on in silence, breathing dauntless courage.
But when they came near to each other, the goodly Paris went before the front rank of the Trojans, and brandished his spear, and challenged all the Argive chiefs to single combat. When the warlike Menelaus, whom Paris had so deeply wronged by carrying off his wife, the beautiful Helen, saw Paris there, he was glad, thinking that he should now punish the false traitor for his wickedness. So he leaped from his chariot, in his clanging armor, and advanced to meet the challenger. And Paris saw him; and pale fear got hold of him, like to a man who has trodden on a serpent, in a wooded valley among the mountains; and he shrank back among the lordly Trojans.
His brother Hector saw him, and reproached him with scornful words. “Base deceiver of women, beautiful in appearance and favor, but coward at heart! would that thou hadst never been born, or that thou hadst died unwedded! Now thou seest what kind of man is he, whose lovely wife thou hast carried off by stealth. Of no avail will be thy sounding lyre, thy beauteous face and curling hair, or all the gifts of golden Venus, when thou liest groveling in the dust.”
And the goodly Paris answered him, “Hector, thou rightly chidest me, and not more than I deserve. Thy heart is ever undaunted, and keen as the axe, which cutteth the strong oak, in the hands of a skillful shipwright. But reproach me not for the lovely gifts of golden Aphrodite; for no man can obtain them by wishing for them, for they are among the precious gifts of the blessed Gods. But if thou desirest that I should do battle with the valiant Menelaus, make the Trojans and the Achaians sit down; and set me and Menelaus in the midst, to fight for Helen and for all the treasures which were taken away with her. And whichever of us twain shall be the victor, let him bear away the woman and the treasure, and take them home.”
So spake he, and they all kept silence; but Menelaus of the loud war-cry stood forward amongst the Greeks and made harangue, “Hearken now to me, for my heart hath endured the greatest grief. Whosoever of us twain shall fall, there let him lie. But now bring a goodly sacrifice, a white ram and a black ewe, for the Earth and for the Sun; and another for Loud-thundering Zeus; and summon hither the great King Priam, that he may take the pledge; for his sons are reckless and faithless; young men’s hearts are too frivolous and fickle, but an old man looketh to the future and the past.”
And Hector sent heralds to the city, to fetch two lambs, and to summon Priam; while Agamemnon sent Talthybius for a ram. Now Iris, in Troy, came to Helen, in the semblance of Laodice, Paris’s sister, fairest of Priam’s daughters, wife of Helicaon, the son of Antenor. She found Helen weaving a great purple web, on which she was embroidering the battles of the Argives and the Trojans. The swift-footed Iris came near her, and said, “Come hither, dear lady, come with me, to see the wondrous deeds of the horse-taming Trojans and the mail-clad Argives; for now the battle is suspended, while Paris, and Menelaus, dear to Mars, will fight alone with their spears, for thee; and thou wilt be the fair wife of the victor.” So Iris spoke, and put into Helen’s bosom a longing for her former husband, and for her darling daughter. Then Helen veiled her face, and went straightway to the Scæan Gate, letting fall a tear; and her two handmaidens, Æthre and Clymene, followed her.
On the tower above the Scæan Gate, she found the Trojan elders. These, on account of their age, had ceased from war, but were still good orators, with voices like the grasshoppers which sit upon a tree, and send forth their lily-like voice; so sat the elders of the Trojans on the Tower. When those ancient sages saw the fair Helen coming to them, they were astounded, and whispered one to another, “No wonder that the Trojans and the Achaians have suffered so many things for such a glorious woman! But, fair as she is, let her sail away, and not stay here to trouble us and our children after us.”
But the aged King Priam addressed her kindly. “Dear Daughter! come hither, and see thy former husband and kinsmen! I do not blame thee, but the Gods, and especially Venus, by whom this sad war has been brought upon us. But tell me who is that huge Achaian warrior? Many are taller than he, but I have never seen a man so stately and royal.” And the fair Helen, the daughter of Zeus, replied, “O venerable Father of my lord! would that death had been my lot, when I followed thy son to Troy, and left my home and husband, and my dear young daughter, and all the loved companions of my girlhood! But that was not to be, and therefore I mourn and weep. The man of whom thou speakest is Atreides, the wide-ruling monarch Agamemnon, who is both a stately king and a doughty warrior; he is the brother of Menelaus my husband—shameless thing that I am!”
Then the aged Priam asked her about the other Achaian chiefs,—Ulysses, and the gigantic Ajax, the bulwark of the host, and the godlike Idomeneus; and the lovely Helen told him all, and said, “I see all the other bright-eyed Achaians, and could tell their names; but two I see not, even mine own brothers, horse-taming Castor and the boxer Pollux; peradventure they came not with the Achaians; or if they came, they fight not, for fear of the revilings which men heap on me—shameless that I am!” She knew not that the earth already covered them, in Lacedæmon, their dear native land. Now the aged Priam drove out through the Scæan Gate, with Antenor by his side; and, when he had come to the Achaians and the Trojans, he descended from his chariot, and stood on the Earth, the bounteous grain-giver. Then Agamemnon, the king of men, and Ulysses, the man of many devices, rose up; and the stately heralds brought the holy oath-offerings to the gods, and mixed the ruddy wine in the mixing-bowl, from which they gave portions to the Achaian and the Trojan chiefs. Agamemnon raised his hands to heaven and prayed, “O Father Zeus, most great and glorious! O Sun, who seest and hearest all things! O ye Rivers, and thou, Mother Earth! be ye all witnesses to our oaths! If Paris shall kill Menelaus, then let him keep Helen and all her possessions; but if the yellow-haired Menelaus slay Paris, then let the Trojans give back Helen and her treasures!”
Then the lordly Agamemnon slew the lambs, and prayed again to Zeus. But Priam spake unto the Achaians and the Trojans. “I verily will return to breezy Ilium; for I cannot bear to see my own son engaged in deadly conflict with the war-loving Menelaus.”
Then the goodly Paris, lord of the fair-haired Helen, put on his beautiful armor. First he set the splendid greaves upon his legs, fastened round the ankles with silver clasps; then he donned the corslet, which he had borrowed from his brother Lycaon; and he threw over his shoulders the silver-studded sword-belt with his sword, and took up his mighty shield; and upon his beauteous head he placed the helmet, with a horsehair crest, and the plume nodded terribly; and he took a strong spear in his hand.
Then he and Menelaus stood face to face, on the ground which Hector and Ulysses had meted out; and they brandished their spears, with wrath against each other. Paris drew the lot to be the first to cast his long-shafted spear; he threw it, and it struck the round shield of Atreides Menelaus, but did not pierce it; for the point of the spear was turned.
Then Menelaus, poising his lance, prayed to Zeus, “O Father Zeus! grant me to take vengeance on goodly Paris, who did me such foul wrong—me, who had shown him so much kindness!” He said, and hurled his strong spear, which struck the bright shield of the son of Priam; and the sharp point passed through it, and through his breastplate, and rent the tunic, close to the side of his body; but Paris swerved from it, and shunned the black fate of death. Then Menelaus drew his sword from the silver-studded sheath, and smote on the helmet of Paris, but the sword was shattered, and fell in pieces from his hand. Then he looked up to heaven, and exclaimed, “O Father Zeus! thou art the most cruel of all the Gods!”
So saying, he caught Paris by his horse-hair crest, and dragged him towards the well-greaved Achaians, and the embroidered strap of the helmet went nigh to strangle him. But Venus, daughter of great Zeus, who loved the beauteous Paris, drew near him, and tore the strap of leather; and the helmet came away, empty, in the strong hand of the son of Atreus. Full of wrath, he hurled it towards his trusty companions, and they took it up. He then rushed back again, to slay his enemy; but golden-haired Venus, being a goddess, easily caught up Paris, and hid him in thick darkness, and carried him into Troy, to his high and fragrant chamber.
Venus, the golden Goddess of Love, then went to summon Helen, in the likeness of an old woman, a wool-comber, who had worked for Helen in Lacedæmon, and whom she greatly loved. She found the white-armed Helen on the high tower, and spake: “Come hither to Paris, who sends for thee; he is there in the fragrant chamber, shining in beauty—
“Not like a warrior parted from the foe,But some fair dancer from the public show.”(
Pope’s Translation of the Iliad.)
But Helen’s heart was greatly moved; she knew the golden Venus, saw her fair neck and sparkling eyes, and called her by her name. “O thou strange Goddess! wouldst thou again deceive me? Now Menelaus hath conquered Paris, and will carry me home—accursed as I am! And now do thou no more return to Olympus, but leave the dwelling of the Gods, and go and sit by Paris, till he make thee his wife—or perchance, his slave. But I will not go to him; for all the Trojan women would justly blame me hereafter; I have innumerable griefs within my heart.”
Then was the bright goddess sore displeased, and spake harshly to her. “Beware! thou foolish woman! lest in my wrath I leave thee, and henceforth hate thee, as I have loved thee until now!” Venus spake, and Helen, daughter of great Zeus, trembled and obeyed, wrapping her beautiful garments about her; and the goddess led her to the fragrant chamber in the palace, and set her on a chair before the goodly Paris.
But Helen looked askance at her lord, and chode him with bitter words. “Would that thou hadst never come back from the fight, but hadst perished by the arm of the warrior who was once my husband! Thou didst boast thyself to be a better man than Menelaus! Go then, and challenge him again, to meet thee face to face once more!”
Yet Helen, though she could not but despise Paris, soon became reconciled to him, partly from a remnant of her former love for him, and partly from her fear of Venus.
In the meantime, Menelaus was raging through the field in search of him. Nor could any of the Trojans find him, or they would have given him up; for they hated him like death, as the cause of all their sufferings.
And King Agamemnon said to the Trojans, “Now that the Mars-loving Menelaus hath conquered Paris do ye give back to us Helen and all her treasures!” But this was not to be.