Paris in The Iliad

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

Paris is a key figure in Homer's epic poem, ~'The Iliad.~' In this lesson we will learn who Paris is, his role in the story and his actions that determined the plot of the poem.

Paris from the Past

In order to understand what role Paris plays in the context of Homer's The Iliad, it is important to know a few things about his past. Before the story of The Iliad begins, Paris does two significant things that trigger the Trojan War and affect its outcome. First, he was put in charge of judging which of the goddesses was most beautiful. Aphrodite promised she would help him steal Menelaos's wife, Helen, if he chose her, so he did, but kidnapping Helen is what started the Trojan War. Menelaos gathered all of his allies to sail to Troy in an effort to get his wife back.

The little beauty contest also managed to make Hera, queen of the gods, super angry. She wanted to be the prettiest. Hera's anger causes her to exert herself on behalf of the Greeks in the Trojan War, and ultimately lead to the downfall of Troy. In short, Paris essentially brings about the destruction of his own kingdom. Oops.

Beauty Is Only Skin Deep

Paris, who is also sometimes called Alexandros, is an attractive guy, but not much else. After nine years of fighting, the Greeks and Trojans propose that Paris and Menelaos duel for Helen. When Menelaos shows up, Paris runs off and hides among the Trojan soldiers, which earns him this scorn from his brother, Hector who says, ''Evil-hearted Paris, fair to see, but woman-mad, and false of tongue, would that you had never been born, or that you had died unwed. Better so, than live to be disgraced and looked askance at.'' Hector goes on to say that Paris is ''fair to see but...has neither wit nor courage.'' Paris proves he is a weak warrior in his duel with Menelaos. When he is wounded and about to killed by Menelaos, Venus swoops in and whisks him away to his own bedchamber instead.

More Cowardice

Homer shows Paris's lack of bravery by pointing out that his weapon of choice is the bow and arrow. Today we might see nothing wrong with this, but Paris's contemporaries saw the bow and arrow as a cowardly sort of weapon because it allowed one to remain a safer distance from the actual battle. More ''manly'' Greek and Trojan soldiers preferred more violent, bloodier hand-to-hand combat with swords and shields. We see this play out when Paris, hiding behind a pillar, manages to shoot Diomed in the foot with an arrow. Paris gloats, but Diomed scorns him, saying, ''A worthless coward can inflict but a light wound.'' Diomed, in flowing ancient language, taunts Paris and calls on him to come out and fight like a ''real man.''

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