The Story of the Iliad/Chapter 4



So now the hosts drew near to battle. With many a cry the men of Troy came on, clamorous as a flock of cranes when they fly southward from the winter and the rain. But the Greeks marched in silence, resolute to stand by one another in the battle; and beneath their feet rose up a great cloud of dust, thick as the mist which the south wind brings over the mountain-tops—the mist which the shepherd hateth, but the thief loveth more than night.

They were now about to fight, when from the ranks of the Trojans Paris rushed forth. He had a panther's skin over his shoulders, and a bow and a sword, and in either hand a spear, and he called aloud to the Greeks that they should send forth their bravest to fight with him. But when Menelaüs saw him he was glad, for he said that now he should avenge himself on the man who had done him such wrong. So a lion is glad when, being sorely hungered, he finds a stag or a wild goat; he devours it, and will not be driven from it by dogs or hunters. He leapt from his chariot and rushed to meet his enemy; but Paris was afraid when he saw Menelaüs, and fled back into the ranks of his comrades, just as a man steps back in haste when unawares in a mountain glen he comes upon a snake. But Hector saw him, and rebuked him: "Fair art thou to look upon, Paris, but nothing worth. Surely the Greeks will scorn us if they think that thou art our bravest warrior, because thou art of stately presence. But thou art a coward; and yet thou daredst to go across the sea and carry off the fair Helen. Why dost thou not stand and abide the onset of her husband, and see what manner of man he is? Little, I ween, would thy harp and thy long locks and thy fair face avail when thou wert lying in the dust! A craven race are the sons of Troy, or they would have stoned thee ere this."

Then Paris answered: "Thou speakest well, Hector, and thy rebuke is just. As for thee, thy heart is like iron, ever set on battle; yet are beauty and love also the gifts of the gods, and not to be despised. But now set Menelaüs and me in the midst, and let us fight, man to man, for the fair Helen and for all her possessions. And if he prevail over me, let him take her and them and depart, and the Greeks with him, leaving you to dwell in peace; but if I prevail they shall depart without her."

Then Hector was glad, and going before the Trojan ranks, holding his spear by the middle, he kept them back. But the Greeks would have shot at him with arrows and slung stones, only Agamemnon cried aloud and said, "Hold, Hector has somewhat to say to us."

Then Hector said: "Hear, Trojans and Greeks, what Paris saith, Paris who hath bred this quarrel between us: 'Let all besides lay their arms upon the ground, and let Menelaüs and me fight for the fair Helen and all her wealth. And let him that is the better keep her and them, but the rest shall swear faith and friendship.'"

Then Menelaüs stood up and spake: "Listen to me, for this trouble toucheth me nearer than you all. The Greeks and the men of Troy would fain, I think, be at peace, for they have suffered grievous things because of my quarrel and of the wrong that Paris did. Therefore we two will fight together, and let him perish that is doomed to die. Bring two sheep, ye men of Troy, a white wether for the sun, and a black ewe for the earth, and we will bring another for Zeus. And because the sons of Priam are high-handed and light of faith, let Priam himself come, and do sacrifice, and take the oath. Young men are ever changeable; but when an old man is among them, he taketh thought for all."

So spake Menelaüs; and both the armies were glad, hoping to see an end of doleful war.

Then Hector sent a herald to the city, to summon Priam to the sacrifice and to fetch the sheep.

And while he went, Iris, in the guise of Laodicé, fairest of the daughters of Priam, came to Helen, where she sat in her hall, weaving a great web of double breadth and dyed with purple, whereon she had wrought many battles of the Greeks and the men of Troy. Iris came near and said: "Come, dear sister, and behold this marvel. Heretofore the Greeks and the men of Troy have fought together on the plain, but now they sit in peace, and the war is stayed; for Paris and Menelaüs are to fight for thee, and thou shalt be the wife of him that shall prevail."

So spake the goddess, and roused in Helen sweet longing for her former spouse, and her city, and her parents. So she wrapped herself in white apparel, and went forth from her chamber, weeping the while.

Meanwhile Priam sat on the wall with the old men. They had ceased from war, but in speech they were to be admired; they were like to the crickets that sit upon a tree in the wood, and send forth a thin, sweet voice. And as they talked, the fair Helen came near, and they said: "What wonder that men should suffer much for such a woman, for indeed she is divinely fair! Yet let her depart in the ships, nor bring a curse on us and our children."

But Priam called to her: "Come near, my daughter, that thou mayest see him that was thy husband, and thy friends and kinsmen. I find no fault with thee, for 'tis not thou, 'tis the gods who have brought about all this trouble. But tell me, who is this warrior that I see, so fair and strong? There are others even a head taller than he, but none of such majesty."

And Helen answered: "Ah, my father! I owe thee much reverence; yet would that I had died before I left husband and child to follow thy son. But as for this warrior, he is Agamemnon, a good king and brave soldier, and my brother-in-law in the old days."

"Happy Agamemnon," said Priam, "to rule over so many! Never saw I such an army gathered together, not even when I went to help the Phrygians when they were assembled on the banks of the Sangarus against the Amazons. But who is this that I see, not so tall as Agamemnon, but of broader shoulders? His arms lie upon the ground, and he is walking through the ranks of his men just as some great ram walks through a flock of sheep."

"This," said Helen, "is Ulysses of Ithaca, who is better in craft and counsel than all other men."

"'Tis well spoken, lady," said Antenor. "Well I remember Ulysses when he came hither on an embassy about thee with the brave Menelaüs. My guests they were, and I knew them well. And I remember how, in the assembly of the Trojans, when both were standing, Menelaüs was the taller, but when they sat, Ulysses was the more majestic to behold. And when they rose to speak, Menelaüs said few words, but said them wisely and well; and Ulysses—you had thought him a fool, so stiffly he held his sceptre and so downcast were his eyes; but as soon as he began, oh! the mighty voice, and the words thick as the falling snow! No man then might vie with Ulysses, nor thought we any more of his outward appearance."

Then Priam said, "Who is that stalwart hero, so tall and strong, overtopping all by head and shoulders?"

"That," said Helen, "is mighty Ajax, the bulwark of the Greeks. And next to him is Idomeneus. Often has Menelaüs had him as his guest in the old days, when he came from Crete. As for the other chiefs, I see and could name them all. But I miss my own dear brothers, Castor, tamer of horses, and Pollux, the mighty boxer. Either they came not from Sparta, or, having come, shun the meeting of men for shame of me."

So she spake, and knew not that they were sleeping their last sleep far away in their dear fatherland.

Meanwhile the heralds were bringing the sheep from the town, and wine in a goatskin; and Idæus, the herald, carried a bowl and golden cups. He came near to King Priam, and told him how the armies called for him. So he went, and Antenor with him. And he, on the one side, for the Trojans, and King Agamemnon for the Greeks, made a covenant with sacrifice that Paris and Menelaüs should fight together, and that the fair Helen, with all her treasures, should go with him who should prevail.

And when the sacrifice and the prayers were ended, King Priam said: "I will go back to Troy, for I could not endure to see my son fighting with Menelaüs. But which of the two is doomed to death, Zeus and the immortal gods only know."

So he spake and climbed into his chariot and took the reins; and Antenor stood beside him; so they went back to Troy even as they came.

And afterwards Hector and Ulysses marked out a space for the fight, and Hector shook two pebbles in a helmet, looking away as he shook them, that he whose pebble leapt forth the first should be the first to throw his spear. And it so befell that the lot of Paris leapt forth first. Then the two warriors armed themselves, and came forth into the space, and stood over against each other, brandishing their spears, with hate in their eyes. Then Paris threw his spear. It struck the shield of Menelaüs, but pierced it not, for the spear point was bent back. Then Menelaüs prayed to Zeus: "Grant, Father Zeus, that I may avenge myself on Paris, who has done me this wrong; so shall men in after time fear to do wrong to their host." So speaking, he cast his long-shafted spear. It struck the shield of Paris and pierced it through, and passed through the corselet, and through the tunic, close to the loin; but Paris shrank aside, and the spear wounded him not. Then Menelaüs drew his silver-studded sword and struck a mighty blow on the top of the helmet of Paris, but the sword broke in four pieces in his hand. Then he cried in his wrath, "O Zeus, most mischief-loving of the gods, my spear I cast in vain, and now my sword is broken." Then he rushed forward and seized Paris by the helmet, and dragged him towards the hosts of the Greeks, for he was choked by the band of the helmet. And truly he had taken him, but Aphrodité loosed the strap that was beneath the chin, and the helmet came off in his hand. And Menelaüs whirled it among the Greeks and charged with another spear in his hand. But Aphrodité snatched Paris away, covering him with a mist, and put him down in his chamber in Troy. Then Menelaüs looked for him everywhere, but no one could tell him where he might be. No son of Troy would have hidden him out of kindness, for all hated him as death.

Then King Agamemnon said, "Now, ye sons of Troy, it is for you to give back the fair Helen and her wealth, and to pay me, besides, so much as may be fitting for all my cost and trouble."

So spake King Agamemnon, and the Greeks applauded.