Menelaus vs. Paris in The Iliad

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  • 0:03 ''The Iliad'' Summary
  • 0:56 The Duel
  • 2:07 Athena Interferes
  • 2:54 Impact of the Duel
  • 3:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jacob Belknap

Jake has taught English in middle and high school, has a degree in Literature, and has a master's degree in teaching.

Homer's ''The Iliad'' tells of the Trojan War between the Achaeans and the Trojans. This 10-year war could have been avoided if the duel between Menelaus and Paris had gone differently. This lesson explores the duel and its significance.

The Iliad Summary

One of the greatest battle stories in literature is Homer's The Iliad. This ancient Greek epic poem describes the Trojan War between the Achaeans and the Trojans. As remembered in lore, the war lasted for 10 years and involved both humans and gods. The Iliad details the final weeks of this long struggle.

As with most wars, there are many events and conditions that led to the Trojan War. However, one of the most direct reasons was when Helen of Troy left her Greek husband, King Menelaus of Sparta, with Prince Paris of Troy. Her leaving led to the Greeks assembling their armies, known as the Achaeans, and sailing for Troy in the hopes of getting her and her associated wealth back.

Let's explore the duel between the two lovers of Helen, Menelaus and Paris, and why this event was significant.

The Duel

We will begin in Troy in book three of The Iliad. The combined might of the Achaeans stands ready in front of the Trojan walls. Paris walks in front of the Trojan army, ready to battle an Achaean hero. But when Paris sees Menelaus step forward, the Trojan prince balks and tries to hide. His older brother, Prince Hector, shames him into fighting.

Paris proposes to fight Menelaus as a champion for Helen and her accompanying wealth, thereby preventing the armies from fighting. The fierce warrior-king Menelaus quickly agrees to these terms.

Then, the combat begins. Menelaus immediately takes the upper hand - he is the stronger fighter. He begins dragging Paris towards the Achaean army by the Trojan's helmet. This would have been the end of Paris, but then a goddess intervenes.

Just before Paris gets beyond the point of help, the goddess of love, Aphrodite, who helped Paris abscond with Helen, steps in to help him. First, she breaks his helmet strap, allowing him to escape. Then, when Menelaus moves in for the kill, she hides Paris in a mist before transporting him out of harm's way. Thus ends the one-on-one combat.

Athena Interferes

Everyone knows that Menelaus beat Paris. The leader of the Achaeans, King Agamemnon, calls for Helen and her associated wealth to be turned over to his army as they had agreed prior to the fight. However, the gods and goddesses have another idea. Hera, who wanted the war to take place, sends Athena to intervene and ensure the war begins.

Athena fools a Trojan soldier into believing she's a comrade. She disguises herself as a spearman, then tricks the warrior Pandarus into trying to win fame by shooting Menelaus with a well-placed arrow.

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