Menelaus in The Iliad: Characteristics & Traits

Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

Though he is often outshone by the glory of his older brother and other warriors, Menelaus is a strong, steady man who has been hurt by the betrayal of Helen. It is on his behalf that the Trojan War begins.

King Menelaus of Sparta

Have you ever had an older sibling or friend steal all the attention and glory? Imagine having an older brother like King Agamemnon. For being a big part of the reason the Trojan War is fought, Menelaus is a rather insignificant character in Homer's epic poem The Iliad. Though he is a major Achaean leader and a good fighter, Menelaus takes a backseat to the drama between the hero Achilles and Agamemnon. This lesson focuses on the characteristics and traits of Menelaus in The Iliad.

King Menelaus of Sparta
King Menelaus of Sparta

Helen Won and Lost

Before the war started, Menelaus had it pretty good. He was king of the powerful Achaean land of Sparta, and his wife was Helen, called Helen of Troy. Helen, the half-mortal daughter of Zeus and Leda, is considered the most beautiful woman ever. So many people want to marry her that each suitor make a promise to uphold the rights of the man finally chosen. And Menelaus is the one chosen.

But Paris, a prince of Troy, makes a bargain with the goddess of love, Aphrodite. Paris awards Aphrodite the golden apple for being the most beautiful of the goddesses, and she promises him that Helen shall be his wife. Even though Helen is already married, she runs away with Paris to the city of Troy. When Agamemnon and the other Achaean leaders keep their promise and come to Menelaus' aid to get her back, the ten year Trojan War begins.

The events of the epic The Iliad take place in the ninth year of the war, when a squabble between the leaders Achilles and Agamemnon almost costs the Achaeans the war.

Menelaus in the War

Menelaus is rarely mentioned in the fighting scenes in The Iliad, with characters like Achilles, Agamemnon, and the Trojan Prince Hector taking up most of the battle glory. He's often described with the term ''war-loving,'' and much is made of his father (Atreus) and his connections to Agamemnon. Menelaus is steady, a good warrior, but largely overlooked in Homer's epic. Menelaus does fight one major battle with Paris, the man who stole his wife away.

Menelaus fights Paris until Aphrodite intervenes
Menelaus fights Paris until Aphrodite intervenes

Battle with Paris

Paris, in Book 3 of The Iliad, steps up and issues a challenge, and Menelaus answers it. Paris is obviously scared of the Achaean fighter and tries to hide. Only when his older brother Hector shames him does Paris agree to fight Menelaus.

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