The Iliad

previous book Iliad home next book

Book III


Now with the squadrons marshaled, captains leading each,
the Trojans came with cries and the din of war like wildfowl
when the long hoarse cries of cranes sweep on against the sky
and the great formations flee from winter's grim ungodly storms,
flying in force, shrieking south to the Ocean gulfs, speeding
blood and death to the Pygmy warriors, launching at daybreak
savage battle down upon their heads. But Achaea's armies
came on strong in silence, breathing combat-fury,
hearts ablaze to defend each other to the death.


      When the South Wind showers mist on the mountaintops,
no friend to shepherds, better than night to thieves-
you can see no farther than you can fling a stone-
so dust came clouding, swirling up from the feet of armies
marching at top speed, trampling through the plain.


      Now closer, closing, front to front in the onset
till Paris sprang from the Trojan forward ranks,
a challenger, lithe, magnificent as a god,
the skin of a leopard slung across his shoulders,
a reflex bow at his back and battle-sword at hip
and brandishing two sharp spears tipped in bronze
he strode forth, challenging all the Argive best
to fight him face-to-face in mortal combat.


      Soon as the warrior Menelaus marked him,
Paris parading there with his big loping strides,
flaunting before the troops, Atrides thrilled
like a lion lighting on some handsome carcass,
lucky to find an antlered stag or wild goat
just as hunger strikes-he rips it, bolts it down,
even with running dogs and lusty hunters rushing him.
So Menelaus thrilled at heart-princely Paris there,
right before his eyes. The outlaw, the adulterer ...
"Now for revenge!" he thought, and down he leapt
from his chariot fully armed and hit the ground.


      But soon as magnificent Paris marked Atrides
shining among the champions, Paris' spirit shook.
Backing into his friendly ranks, he cringed from death
as one who trips on a snake in a hilltop hollow
recoils, suddenly, trembling grips his knees
and pallor takes his cheeks and back he shrinks.
So he dissolved again in the proud Trojan lines,
dreading Atrides-magnificent, brave Paris.
                                                            At one glance
Hector raked his brother with insults, stinging taunts:
"Paris, appalling Paris! Our prince of beauty-
mad for women, you lure them all to ruin!
Would to god you'd never been born, died unwed.
That's all I'd ask. Better that way by far
than to have you strutting here, an outrage-
a mockery in the eyes of all our enemies. Why,
the long-haired Achaeans must be roaring with laughter!
They thought you the bravest champion we could field,
and just because of the handsome luster on your limbs,
but you have no pith, no fighting strength inside you.
What?-is this the man who mustered the oarsmen once,
who braved the seas in his racing deep-sea ships,
trafficked with outlanders, carried off a woman
far from her distant shores, a great beauty
wed to a land of rugged spearmen?
curse to your father, your city and all your people,
a joy to our enemies, rank disgrace to yourselfl
So, you can't stand up to the battling Menelaus?
You'd soon feel his force, that man you robbed
of his sumptuous, warm wife. No use to you then,
the fine lyre and these, these gifts of Aphrodite,
your long flowing locks and your striking looks,
not when you roll and couple with the dust.
What cowards, the men of Troy-or years ago
they'd have decked you out in a suit of rocky armor,
stoned you to death for all the wrongs you've done!"


      And Paris, magnificent as a god, replied,
"Ah Hector, you criticize me fairly, yes,
nothing unfair, beyond what I deserve.
The heart inside you is always tempered hard,
like an ax that goes through wood when a shipwright
cuts out ship timbers with every ounce of skill
and the blade's weight drives the man's stroke.
So the heart inside your chest is never daunted.
Still, don't fling in my face the lovely gifts
of golden Aphrodite. Not to be tossed aside,
the gifts of the gods, those glories ...
whatever the, gods give of their own free will-
how could we ever choose them for ourselves?
                                                            Now, though,
if you really want me to fight to the finish here,
have all Trojans and Argives take their seats
and pit me against Menelaus dear to Ares-
right between the lines-
we'll fight it out for Helen and all her wealth.
And the one who proves the better man and wins,
he'll take those treasures fairly, lead the woman home.
The rest will seal in blood their binding pacts of friendship.
Our people will live in peace on the rich soil of Troy,
our enemies sail home to the stallion-land of Argos,
the land of Achaea where the women are a wonder. .."


      When Hector heard that challenge he rejoiced
and right in the no man's land along his lines he strode,
gripping his spear mid-haft, staving men to a standstill.
But the long-haired Argive archers aimed at Hector,
trying to cut him down with arrows, hurling rocks
till King Agamemnon cried out in a ringing voice,
"Hold back, Argives! Sons of Achaea, stop your salvos!
Look, Hector with that flashing helmet of his—
the man is trying to tell us something now.


      They held their attack. Quickly men fell silent
and Hector pleaded, appealing to both armed camps:
"Hear me—Trojans, Achaeans geared for combat!
Hear the challenge of Paris,
the man who caused our long hard campaign.
He urges all the Trojans, all the Argives too,
to lay their fine armor down on the fertile earth
while Paris himself and the warrior Menelaus
take the field between you and fight it out
for Helen and all her wealth in single combat.
And the one who proves the better man and wins,
he'll take those treasures fairly, lead the woman home.
The rest will seal in blood their binding pacts of friendship."


      He stopped. A hushed silence held the ranks.
And Menelaus whose cry could marshal armies
urged both sides, "Now hear me out as well!
Such limited vengeance hurts me most of all-
but I intend that we will part in peace, at last,
Trojans and Achaeans. Look what heavy casualties
you have suffered just for me, my violent quarrel,
and Paris who brought it on you all. Now we'll fight-
and death to the one marked out for doom and death!
But the rest will part in peace, and soon, soon.
Bring two lambs-a white male and a black ewe
for the Sun and Earth-and we'll bring a third for Zeus.
And lead on Priam too, Priam in all his power,
so the king himself can seal our truce in blood-
his royal sons are reckless, not to be trusted:
no one must trample on the oath we swear to Zeus.
The minds of the younger men are always flighty,
but let an old man stand his ground among them,
one who can see the days behind, the days ahead-
that is the best hope for peace, for both our armies."


      The Achaean and Trojan forces both exulted,
hoping this would end the agonies of war.
They hauled their chariots up in ranks, at rest,
the troops dismounted and stripped away their arms
and laid them down on the earth, crowded together-
hardly a foot of plowland showed between them.
Back to the city Hector sent two heralds now
to bring the lambs at once and summon Priam
while King Agamemnon sent Talthybius off,
heading down to the ships for one more lamb.
The herald obeyed his captain's orders quickly.


      And now a messenger went to white-anned Helen too,
Iris, looking for all the world like Hector's sister
wed to Antenor's son, Helicaon's bride Laodice,
the loveliest daughter Priam ever bred.
And Iris came on Helen in her rooms ...
weaving a growing web, a dark red folding robe,
working into the weft the endless bloody struggles
stallion-breaking Trojans and Argives armed in bronze
had suffered all for her at the god of battle's hands.
Iris, racing the wind, brushed close and whispered,
"Come, dear girl, come quickly-
so you can see what wondrous things they're doing,
stallion-breaking Trojans and Argives armed in bronze!
A moment ago they longed to kill each, other, longed
for heartbreaking, inhuman warfare on the plain.
Now those very warriors stand at ease, in silence-
the fighting's stopped, they lean against their shields,
their long lances stuck in the ground beside them.
Think of it: Paris and Menelaus loved by Ares
go to fight it out with their rugged spears-
all for you-and the man who wins that duel,
you'll be called his wife!"
                                                            And with those words
the goddess filled her heart with yearning warm and deep
for her husband long ago, her city and her parents.
Quickly cloaking herself in shimmering linen,
out of her rooms she rushed, live tears welling,
and not alone-two of her women followed close behind,
Aethra, Pittheus' daughter, and Clymene, eyes wide,
and they soon reached the looming Scaean Gates.


      And there they were, gathered around Priam,
Panthous and Thymoetes, Lampus and Clytius,
Hicetaon the gray aide of Ares, then those two
with unfailing good sense, Ucalegon and Antenor.
The old men of the realm held seats above the gates.
Long years had brought their fighting days to a halt
but they were eloquent speakers still, clear as cicadas
settled on treetops, lifting their voices through the forest,
rising softly, falling, dying away ... So they waited,
the old chiefs of Troy, as they sat aloft the tower.
And catching sight of Helen moving along the ramparts,
they murmured one to another, gentle, winged words:
"Who on earth could blame them? Ah, no wonder
the men of Troy and Argives under arms have suffered
years of agony all for her, for such a woman.
Beauty, terrible beauty!
A deathless goddess-so she strikes our eyes!
                                                            But still,
ravishing as she is, let her go home in the long ships
and not be left behind ... for us and our children
down the years an irresistible sorrow."
                                                            They murmured low
but Priam, raising his voice, called across to Helen,
"Come over here, dear child. Sit in front of me,
so you can see your husband of long ago,
your kinsmen and your people.
I don't blame you. I hold the gods to blame.
They are the ones who brought this war upon me,
devastating war against the Achaeans—
Here, come closer,
tell me the name of that tremendous fighter. Look,
who's that Achaean there, so stark and grand?
Many others afield are much taller, true,
but I have never yet set eyes on one so regal,
so majestic ... That man must be a king!"


      And Helen the radiance of women answered Priam,
"I revere you so, dear father, dread you too—
if only death had pleased me then, grim death,
that day I followed your son to Troy, forsaking
my marriage bed, my kinsmen and my child,
my favorite, now full-grown,
and the lovely comradeship of women my own age.
Death never came, so now I can only waste away in tears.
But about your question—yes, I have the answer.
That man is Atreus' son Agamemnon, lord of empires,
both a mighty king and a strong spearman too,
and he used to be my kinsman, whore that I am!
There was a world . . . or was it all a dream?"


      Her voice broke but the old king, lost in wonder;
cried out, "How lucky you are, son of'Atreus,
child of fortune, your destiny so blessed!
Look at the vast Achaean armies you command!
Years ago I visited Phrygia rife with vineyards,
saw the Phrygian men with their swarming horses there-
multitudes—the armies of Otreus, Mygdon like a god,
encamped that time along the Sangarius River banks.
And I took my stand among them, comrade-in-arms
the day the Amazons struck, a match for men in war.
But not even those hordes could match these hordes of yours,
your fiery-eyed Achaeans!"
                                                            And sighting Odysseus next
the old king questioned Helen, "Come, dear child,
tell me of that one too-now who is he?
Shorter than Atreus' son Agamemnon, clearly,
but broader across the shoulders, through the chest.
There, you see? His armor's heaped on the green field
but the man keeps ranging the ranks of fighters like a ram-
yes, he looks to me like a thick-fleeced bellwether ram
making his way through a big mass of sheep-flocks,
shining silver-gray."
                                                  Helen the child of Zeus replied,
"That's Laertes' son, the great tactician Odysseus.
He was bred in the land of Ithaca. Rocky ground
and he's quick at every treachery under the sun-
the man of twists and turns."
                                                            Helen paused
and the shrewd Antenor carried on her story:
"Straight to the point, my lady, very true.
Once in the past he came our way, King Odysseus
heading the embassy they sent for your release,
together with Menelaus dear to Ares.
I hosted them, treated them warmly in my halls
and learned the ways of both, their strategies, their traits.
Now, when they mingled with our Trojans in assembly,
standing side-by-side, Menelaus' shoulders
mounted over his friend's in height and spread,
when both were seated Odysseus looked more lordly.
But when they spun their appeals before us all,
Menelaus spoke out quickly-his words racing,
few but clear as a bell, nothing long-winded
or off the mark, though in fact the man was younger.
But when Odysseus sprang up, the famed tactician
would just stand there, staring down, hard,
his eyes fixed on the ground,
never shifting his scepter back and forth,
clutching it stiff and still like a mindless man.
You'd think him a sullen fellow or just plain fool.
But when he let loose that great voice from. his chest
and the words came piling on like a driving winter blizzard-
then no man alive could rival Odysseus! Odysseus ...
we no longer gazed in wonder at his looks."
Catching sight
of a third fighter, Ajax, the old king asked her next,
"Who's that other Achaean, so powerful, so well-built?
He towers over the Argives, his head, his massive shoulders!"


      And Helen in all her radiance, her long robes, replied,
"Why, that's the giant Ajax, bulwark of the Achaeans.
And Idomeneus over there-standing with his Cretans-
like a god, you see? And the Cretan captains
form a ring around him. How often Menelaus,
my good soldier, would host him in our halls,
in the old days, when he'd sail across from Crete.
And now I see them all, the fiery-eyed Achaeans,
I know them all by heart, and I could tell their names ...
but two I cannot find, and they're captains of the armies,
Castor breaker of horses and the hardy boxer Polydeuces.
My blood brothers. Mother bore them both. Perhaps
they never crossed over from Lacedaemon's lovely hills
or come they did, sailing here in the deep-sea ships,
but now they refuse to join the men in battle,
dreading the scorn, the curses hurled at me . . ."


      So she wavered, but the earth already held them fast,
long dead in the life-giving earth of Lacedaemon,
the dear land of their fathers.
                                                            Now through Troy
the heralds brought the offerings for the gods,
sacred victims to bind and seal the oaths:
two lambs and the wine that warms the heart,
the yield of the vine, filling a goatskin sack,
and the herald Idaeus carried a gleaming bowl
and golden winecups. Reaching the old king's side
the crier roused him sharply: "Son of Laomedon, rise up!
They are calling for you now, commanders of both armies,
stallion-breaking Trojans and Argives armed in bronze-
come down to the plain so you can seal our oaths.
Now Paris and Menelaus, Atrides loved by Ares,
will fight it out with their rugged spears for Helen,
and Helen and all her treasures go to the man who wins.
The rest will seal in blood their binding pacts of friendship.
Our people will live in peace on the rich soil of Troy.
Our enemies sail home to the stallion-land of Argos,
the land of Achaea where the women are a wonder."


      A shudder went shooting through the old man
but he told his men to yoke the team at once.
They promptly obeyed and Priam climbed aboard,
pulling the reins back taut. Anterior flanked him,
mounting the gleaming car, and both men drove the team
through the Scaean Gates, heading toward the plain.


      Reaching the front, they climbed down from the chariot,
onto the earth that feeds us all, and into the space
between Achaean and Trojan lines they marched,
Lord Agamemnon rose at once to greet them both
with the great tactician Odysseus by his side.
The noble heralds brought on the victims
marked for the gods to seal and bind the oaths.
They mixed the contenders' wine in a large bowl
and rinsed the warlords' waiting hands with water.
Atreus' son drew forth the dagger always slung
at his battle-sword's big sheath, cut some tufts
from the lambs' heads, and heralds passed them round
to Achaean and Trojan captains. Then Atreus' son
Agamemnon stood in behalf of all, lifted his arms
and prayed in his deep resounding voice, "Father Zeus!
Ruling over us all from Ida, god of greatness, god of glory
Helios, Sun above us, you who see all, hear all things!
Rivers! And Earth! And you beneath the ground
who punish the dead—whoever broke his oath-
be witness here, protect our binding pacts.
If Paris brings Menelaus down in blood,
he keeps Helen himself and all her wealth
and we sail home in our racing deep-sea ships.
But if red-haired Menelaus brings down Paris,
the Trojans surrender Helen and all her treasures.
And they pay us reparations fair and fitting,
a price to inspire generations still to come.
But if Priam and Priam's sons refuse to pay,
refuse me, Agamemnon-with Paris beaten down-
then I myself will fight it out for the ransom,
I'll battle here to the end of our long war."
                                                            On those terms
he dragged his ruthless dagger across the lambs' throats
and let them fall to the ground, dying, gasping away
their life breath, cut short by the sharp bronze.
Then dipping up the wine from the mixing bowls,
brimming their cups, pouring them on the earth,
men said their prayers to the gods who never die.
You could hear some Trojan or Achaean calling, "Zeus-
god of greatness, god of glory, all you immortals!
Whichever contenders trample on this treaty first,
spill their brains on the ground as this wine spills-
theirs, their children's too-their enemies rape their wives!"


      But Zeus would not fulfill their prayers, not yet ...
Now Priam rose in their midst and took his leave:
"Hear me, Trojans, Achaeans geared for combat-
home I go to windy Ilium, straight home now.
This is more than I can bear, I tell you-
to watch my son do battle with Menelaus
loved by the War-god, right before my eyes.
Zeus knows, no doubt, and every immortal too,
which fighter is doomed to end all this in death."


      And laying the victims in the chariot, noble Priam
climbed aboard, pulling the reins back taut.
Antenor flanked him, mounting the gleaming car,
and back they drove again, heading home to Troy.
But Priam's son Prince Hector and royal Odysseus
measured off the ground for single combat first,
then dropped two stones in a helmet, lots for casting-
who would be first to hurl his bronze-tipped spear?
The armies prayed and stretched their hands to the gods.
You could hear some Trojan or Achaean pleading, "Father Zeusl
Ruling over us all from Ida, god of greatness, gloryl
Whoever brought this war on both our countries,
let him rot and sink to the House of Death—
but let our pacts of friendship all hold fast!"
                                                            So they prayed
as tall Hector, eyes averted under his flashing helmet,
shook the two lots hard and Paris' lot leapt out.
The troops sat down by rank, each beside his horses
pawing the ground where blazoned war-gear lay. And now-
one warrior harnessed burnished armor on his back,
magnificent Paris, fair-haired Helen's consort.
First he wrapped his legs with well-made greaves,
fastened behind the heels with silver ankle-clasps,
next he strapped a breastplate round his chest,
his brother Lycaon's that fitted him so well.
Then over his shoulder Paris slung his sword,
the fine bronze blade with its silver-studded hilt,
and then the shield-strap and his sturdy, massive shield
and over his powerful head he set a well-forged helmet,
the horsehair crest atop it tossing, bristling terror,
and last he grasped a spear that matched his grip.
Following step by step
the fighting Menelaus strapped on armor too.


      Both men armed at opposing sides of the forces,
into the no man's land between the lines they strode,
glances menacing, wild excitement seizing all who watched,
the stallion-breaking Trojans and Argive men-at-arms.
Striking a stand in the dueling-ground just cleared
they brandished spears at each other, tense with fury.
Suddenly Paris hurled-his spear's long shadow flew
and the shaft hit Menelaus' round shield, full center-
not pounding through, the brazen point bent back
in the tough armor.
                                                  But his turn next—Menelaus
reared with a bronze lance and a prayer to Father Zeus:
"Zeus, King, give me revenge, he wronged me first!
Illustrious Paris-crush him under my hand!
So even among the men to come a man may shrink
from wounding the host who showers him with kindness."


      Shaking his spear, he hurled and its long shadow flew
and the shaft hit Paris' round shield, hit full center-
straight through the gleaming hide the heavy weapon drove,
ripping down and in through the breastplate finely worked,
tearing the war-shirt, close by Paris' flank it jabbed
but the Trojan swerved aside and dodged black death.
So now Menelaus drew his sword with silver studs
and hoisting the weapon high, brought it crashing down
on the helmet ridge but the blade smashed where it struck-
jagged shatters flying-it dropped from Atrides' hand
and the hero cried out, scanning the blank skies,
"Father Zeus-no god's more deadly than you!
Here I thought I'd punish Paris for all his outrage-
now my sword is shattered, right in my hands, look,
my spear flew from my grip for nothing-I never hit him!"


      Lunging at Paris, he grabbed his horsehair crest,
swung him round, started to drag him into Argive lines
and now the braided chin-strap holding his helmet tight
was gouging his soft throat-Paris was choking, strangling.
Now he'd have hauled him off and won undying glory
but Aphrodite, Zeus's daughter quick to the mark,
snapped the rawhide strap, cut from a bludgeoned ox,
and the helmet came off empty in Menelaus' fist.
Whirling it round the fighter sent it flying
into his Argives scrambling fast to retrieve it-
back at his man he sprang, enraged with brazen spear,
mad for the kill but Aphrodite snatched Paris away,
easy work for a god, wrapped him in swirls of mist
and set him down in his bedroom filled with scent.
Then off she went herself to summon Helen
and found her there on the steep, jutting tower
with a troop of Trojan women clustered round her.
The goddess reached and tugged at her fragrant robe,
whispering low, for all the world like an old crone,
the old weaver who, when they lived in Lacedaemon,
wove her fine woolens and Helen held her dear.
Like her to the life, immortal Love invited,
"Quickly-Paris is calling for you, come back homel
There he is in the bedroom, the bed with inlaid rings-
he's glistening in all his beauty and his robes!
You'd never dream he's come from fighting a man,
you'd think he's off to a dance or slipped away
from the dancing, stretching out at ease."
                                                            Enticing so
that the heart in Helen's breast began to race.
She knew the goddess at once, the long lithe neck,
the smooth full breasts and the fire in those eyes-
and she was amazed, she burst out with her name:
"Maddening one, my Goddess, oh what now?
Lusting to lure me to my ruin yet again?
Where will you drive me next?
Off and away to other grand, luxurious cities,
out to Phrygia, out to Maeonia's tempting country?
Have you a favorite mortal man there too?
                                                            But why now?—
because Menelaus has beaten your handsome Paris
and hateful as I am, he longs to take me home?
Is that why you beckon here beside me now
with all the immortal cunning in your heart?
Well, go to him yourself-you hover beside him!
Abandon the gods' high road and be a mortal!
Never set foot again on Mount Olympus, never!-
suffer for Paris, protect Paris, for eternity ...
until he makes you his wedded wife-that or his slave.
Not I, I'll never go back again. It would be wrong,
disgraceful to share that coward's bed once more.
The women of Troy would scorn me down the years.
Oh the torment—never-ending heartbreak!"


      But Aphrodite rounded on her in fury:
"Don't provoke me-wretched, headstrong girl!
Or in my immortal rage I may just toss you over,
hate you as I adore you now-with a vengeance.
I might make you the butt of hard, withering hate
from both sides at once, Trojans and Achaeans-
then your fate can tread you down to dust!"
                                                            So she threatened
and Helen the daughter of mighty Zeus was terrified.
Shrouding herself in her glinting silver robes
she went along, in silence. None of her women
saw her go . . . The goddess led the way.


      And once they arrived at Paris' sumptuous halls
the attendants briskly turned to their own work
as Helen in all her radiance climbed the steps
to the bedroom under the high, vaulting roof.
There Aphrodite quickly brought her a chair,
the goddess herself with her everlasting smile,
and set it down, face-to-face with Paris.
And there Helen sat, Helen the child of Zeus
whose shield is storm and lightning, glancing away,
lashing out at her husband: "So, home from the wars!
Oh would to god you'd died there, brought down
by that great soldier, my husband long ago.
And how you used to boast, year in, year out,
that you were the better man than fighting Menelaus
in power, arm and spear! So why not go back now,
hurl your challenge at Menelaus dear to Ares,
fight it out together, man-to-man again?
take my advice and call a halt right here:
no more battling with fiery-haired Menelaus,
pitting strength against strength in single combat-
madness. He just might impale you on his spear!"


      But Paris replied at once to Helen's challenge:
"No more, dear one-don't rake me with your taunts,
myself and all my courage. This time, true,
Menelaus has won the day, thanks to Athena.
I'll bring him down tomorrow.
Even we have gods who battle on our side.
                                                            But come—
let's go to bed, let's lose ourselves in love!
Never has longing for you overwhelmed me so,
no, not even then, I tell you, that first time
when I swept you up from the lovely hills of Lacedaemon,
sailed you off and away in the racing deep-sea ships
and we went and locked in love on Rocky Island ...
That was nothing to how I hunger for you now-
irresistible longing lays me low!"


      He led the way to bed. His wife went with him.
And now, while the two made love in the large carved bed,
Menelaus stalked like a wild beast, up and down the lines-
where could he catch a glimpse of magnificent Paris?
Not a single Trojan, none of their famous allies
could point out Paris to battle-hungry Menelaus.
Not that they would hide him out of friendship,
even if someone saw him—
all of them hated him like death, black death.
But marshal Agamemnon called out to the armies,
"Hear me now, you Trojans, Dardans, Trojan allies!
Clearly victory goes to Menelaus dear to Ares.
You must surrender Helen and all her treasures with her.
At once-and pay us reparations fair and fitting,
A price to inspire generations still to come!”


      So Atrides demanded. His armies roared assent.


02 03 04 05 06
07 08 09 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24