Introduction . . .
The Iliad and the Trojan Legend The Trojan legend, in which the quarrel of Achilles and Agamemnon is a
brief episode, concerns a central event of Greek mythology. The Greeks (or, in Homer’s own term, the Achaeans) band together and cross the Aegean Sea to wage war against Troy, a gracious, prosperous city in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). Their motive is revenge, for the Trojan prince Paris has stolen Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, from her husband Menelaus, a major Greek chieftain. Under the leadership of Menelaus’ brother Agamemnon, the Greeks fight around Troy for ten years and finally succeed in destroying the city and regaining Helen. The Iliad gets its title, which in Greek is Ilias and means the story of Troy, from one of the Greek names for Troy, Ilios or Ilion.
The Iliad focuses on Achilles’ clash with Agamemnon, which occurs in the final year of the war. But that brief episode is presented in ways that allow it to stand for or suggest the whole of the larger story of which it is part. The events of the Iliad represent a decisive turning point in the war. Although Achilles remains stubbornly resistant to Agamemnon’s attempts to appease him, he does eventually return to battle, drawn back by an overwhelming need to avenge the death of his closest companion, Patroclus. . . .
Shamed and outraged by Patroclus’ death, Achilles is filled with anger against Hector and returns to the battlefield, where he eventually meets and kills Hector.
The Iliad ends soon after this, with Achilles’ decision to return Hector’s body to his father, Priam, and with the funeral for Hector that can then take place. But it is clear that the story of the Trojan war is effectively over: by killing Hector, Achilles has eliminated Troy’s indispensable defender, assuring the fall of the city and the victory of the Greeks. The story of Achilles is also over: as he learns from his mother, Thetis, who is a goddess, his own death is fated to follow soon after Hector’s. The poet goes out of his way to keep us aware of these looming consequences, although he does not recount them.
Beyond that, the poet weaves into his narrative the names and stories of many other, less prominent figures, striving for comprehensiveness in a way that is typical of epic, the poetic genre that, as the earliest example in the Western tradition, the Iliad in part defines.
Epic is a monumental form which recounts events with far-reaching historical consequences, sums up the values and achievements of an entire culture, and documents the fullness and variety of the world. While the Iliad uses Achilles’ story as a means of organizing and concentrating its portrait of the Trojan war, it differs from the sharply focused explorations of individual experience found in many modern novels or in classical tragedy. One of its aims is to record the sheer number of people, each with his or her own history and circumstances, whose lives are decisively shaped by the war. . . .
The Iliad is the portrait of an entire society, structured around the experience of one individual who struggles to define himself within it and against it.
. . .
The Historical Context In considering the self-presentation of the Iliad’s poet and his stance toward
the story he tells, it would obviously be helpful to know something about the person who composed the poem and the circumstances under which it was produced. In fact, we know much less than we would like to about how and when the Iliad came into being. Ancient tradition attributed the poem to Homer, who was also considered responsible for another epic about the Trojan legend, the Odyssey, which tells about the return of the Greeks from Troy, and several shorter poems about the gods; but we have no reliable information about Homer that can contribute to an understanding of these works.
Where questions of chronology are concerned, it is not really possible to pin the poem to a single historical period. There is a strong—but far from complete— scholarly consensus that the Iliad was first written down in something like the form in which we now have it in the last half of the eighth century B.C.E., the time at which the Greeks acquired the art of alphabetic writing and written literature thus became possible. At the same time, we know the Iliad to be the result of a long tradition of earlier poetry, stretching back over many centuries, to which we have no direct access, because it was never written down, and which we can approach only through the traces it has left on the Iliad and other early Greek literature. The immense scholarly effort devoted to Homeric poetry over the last several centuries has made it clear that the Iliad reflects several historical periods, in a complicated amalgam whose layers we can only approximately distinguish.
First, it is important to recognize that the Iliad is itself a work of history, that it presents its story as a recollection of long-past events taking place in a time very
different from that in which those events are being recalled. The characters in the story are seen as belonging to a superior, even semi-divine breed that no longer exists, and they perform actions that no living person could duplicate. This sense of a gap between the world of the poem and the poet and his audience surfaces in occasional comments, as when the poet describes how Diomedes in the middle of combat “levered up in one hand a slab of stone / Much too large for two men to lift— As men are now …” (5.328–30). It also informs the poem’s frequent use of similes, which assimilate the distant world of heroic combat to a more ordinary, everyday world familiar to the poem’s audience.
The Trojan legend is a story of large-scale destruction. It includes not only the annihilation of Troy, but the many disruptions, almost as devastating as what they have inflicted on the Trojans, experienced by the Greeks as they return: they are blown off course and lost at sea, or they make it back, only to find their homes in turmoil and their own positions there under attack. For the ancient Greeks, this legend recorded the passing of an age of heroes that was understood to precede the drearier world of the present. To a modern historian, it reflects the end of the first stage of ancient Greek history, which is known as the Bronze Age, after the widespread use of bronze during that time, or the Mycenaean period, after the city of Mycenae, one of the main power centers of that era.
Mycenaean civilization developed in the centuries after 2000 B.C.E., which is approximately when Greek-speaking people first arrived in the area at the southern end of the Balkan peninsula that we now know as Greece. Those Greek- speakers gradually established there a rich civilization dominated by a few powerful cities built around large, highly organized palaces. These palaces were at once fortified military strongholds and centers for international trade, in particular trade with the many islands located in the Aegean Sea, to the east of the Greek mainland. On the largest of those islands, the island of Crete, there was already flourishing, by the time the Mycenaeans arrived in Greece, the rich and sophisticated Minoan civilization, by which the Mycenaeans were heavily influenced and which they came ultimately to dominate.
From the Minoans the Mycenaeans gained, along with many other crafts and institutions, a system of writing: a syllabary, in which each symbol stands for a particular syllable, as opposed to an alphabet—like the Roman alphabet now used to write English—in which each symbol stands for a particular sound. The Mycenaeans adapted the syllabary which the Minoans used to write their own language (a language which, although we have examples of their writing, still has
not been deciphered) and used it to write Greek. This earliest Greek writing system is known to present-day scholars as Linear B, and archaeologists excavating at the mainland centers of Mycenae and Pylos have recovered examples of it incised on clay tablets. These tablets contain not— as was hoped when they were found—political treaties, mythological poems, or accounts of religious rituals—but detailed accounts of a highly bureaucratic palace economy: inventories of grain or livestock and lists of palace functionaries assigned to perform such specialized roles as “unguent boiler,” “chair-maker,” or “bath- pourer.”
Mycenaean civilization reached its height at about 1600 B.C.E. and was essentially destroyed in a series of natural disasters and political disruptions about four hundred years later, around 1200 B.C.E. We do not really know what happened, but all of the main archaeological sites show some evidence of destruction, burning, or hasty abandonment at about that time, and a sharp decline thereafter in the ambition and complexity of their material culture. Among these is the site of Troy itself, which was discovered in the late nineteenth century by Heinrich Schliemann, who followed the topographical details given in the Iliad; through this discovery, Schliemann both vindicated the historical validity of Homer and helped to found the field of archaeology.
Related in some way to the disruptions that ended the Bronze Age was the emergence of a new group of Greek-speakers as the dominant people on the mainland. The Classical Greeks referred to these people as the Dorians and believed that they had invaded Greece from the north. Modern historians are uncertain whether they were new migrants or people already present in Greece who newly came to power in the upheavals of this period. In any case, many people left the mainland as a consequence and moved east, settling on various islands of the Aegean and along the coast of Asia Minor, in the area that is now western Turkey but which then became, in its coastal region, as much a part of the Greek world as was the mainland itself.
Both the Greeks who remained on the mainland and those who migrated to Asia Minor lived in conditions that involved less material prosperity and less highly organized concentrations of political and military power than had been characteristic of the Mycenaean period, and their period is traditionally known as the Dark Age, both because their physical remains suggest a less magnificent level of civilization and because we know relatively little about it. One result of the transition to the Dark Age was that writing, which was probably practiced in the
Mycenaean period only by a small class of professional scribes, fell out of use, and the Greeks became once again a culture without writing. On the other hand, they had always relied, and they continued to rely, on oral communication as their central means of recalling, preserving, and transmitting the historical memories, religious beliefs, and shared stories that in our culture would be committed to writing—or now to various forms of electronic media. In particular, the Greeks of Asia Minor, known as the Ionians, developed a tradition of heroic poetry through which they recalled their own history, looking back and recounting the experiences of that earlier, lost era. This poetry centered on certain legendary figures and events, among them the events surrounding the Trojan war, which, as mentioned above, appear to reflect the final moments of Mycenaean civilization.
. . .
Iliad Book 1
Sing, Goddess, Achilles’ rage, Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls Of heroes into Hades’ dark, And left their bodies to rot as feasts For dogs and birds, as Zeus’ will was done. Begin with the clash between Agamemnon— The Greek warlord—and godlike Achilles. Which of the immortals set these two  At each other’s throats? Apollo, Zeus’ son and Leto’s, offended By the warlord. Agamemnon had dishonored Chryses, Apollo’s priest, so the god Struck the Greek camp with plague, And the soldiers were dying of it. Chryses Had come to the Greek beachhead camp Hauling a fortune for his daughter’s ransom.  Displaying Apollo’s sacral ribbons On a golden staff, he made a formal plea To the entire Greek army, but especially The commanders, Atreus’ two sons: “Sons of Atreus and Greek heroes all: May the gods on Olympus grant you plunder Of Priam’s city and a safe return home. But give me my daughter back and accept This ransom out of respect for Zeus’ son, Lord Apollo, who deals death from afar.”  A murmur rippled through the ranks:
“Respect the priest and take the ransom.” But Agamemnon was not pleased And dismissed Chryses with a rough speech: “Don’t let me ever catch you, old man, by these ships again, Skulking around now or sneaking back later. The god’s staff and ribbons won’t save you next time. The girl is mine, and she’ll be an old woman in Argos Before I let her go, working the loom in my house And coming to my bed, far from her homeland.  Now clear out of here before you make me angry!” The old man was afraid and did as he was told. He walked in silence along the whispering surf line, And when he had gone some distance the priest Prayed to Lord Apollo, son of silken-haired Leto. . . . Apollo heard his prayer and descended Olympus’ crags Pulsing with fury, bow slung over one shoulder, The arrows rattling in their case on his back As the angry god moved like night down the mountain. He settled near the ships and let loose an arrow. Reverberation from his silver bow hung in the air. He picked off the pack animals first, and the lean hounds, But then aimed his needle-tipped arrows at the men  And shot until the death-fires crowded the beach. Nine days the god’s arrows rained death on the camp. On the tenth day Achilles called an assembly. Hera, the white-armed goddess, planted the thought in him Because she cared for the Greeks and it pained her To see them dying. When the troops had all mustered, Up stood the great runner Achilles, and said:
“Well, Agamemnon, it looks as if we’d better give up And sail home—assuming any of us are left alive— If we have to fight both the war and this plague.  But why not consult some prophet or priest Or a dream interpreter, since dreams too come from Zeus, Who could tell us why Apollo is so angry, If it’s for a vow or a sacrifice he holds us at fault. Maybe he’d be willing to lift this plague from us If he savored the smoke from lambs and prime goats.” Achilles had his say and sat down. Then up rose Calchas, son of Thestor, bird-reader supreme, Who knew what is, what will be, and what has been. He had guided the Greek ships to Troy  Through the prophetic power Apollo Had given him, and he spoke out now: “Achilles, beloved of Zeus, you want me to tell you About the rage of Lord Apollo, the Arch-Destroyer. And I will tell you. But you have to promise me and swear You will support me and protect me in word and deed. I have a feeling I might offend a person of some authority Among the Greeks, and you know how it is when a king Is angry with an underling. He might swallow his temper For a day, but he holds it in his heart until later  And it all comes out. Will you guarantee my security?” Achilles, the great runner, responded: “Don’t worry. Prophesy to the best of your knowledge. I swear by Apollo, to whom you pray when you reveal The gods’ secrets to the Greeks, Calchas, that while I live And look upon this earth, no one will lay a hand On you here beside these hollow ships, no, not even Agamemnon, who boasts he is the best of the Achaeans.” And Calchas, the perfect prophet, taking courage: “The god finds no fault with vow or sacrifice.
 It is for his priest, whom Agamemnon dishonored And would not allow to ransom his daughter, That Apollo deals and will deal death from afar. He will not lift this foul plague from the Greeks Until we return the dancing-eyed girl to her father Unransomed, unbought, and make formal sacrifice On Chryse. Only then might we appease the god.” He finished speaking and sat down. Then up rose Atreus’ son, the warlord Agamemnon, Furious, anger like twin black thunderheads seething  In his lungs, and his eyes flickered with fire As he looked Calchas up and down, and said: “You damn soothsayer! You’ve never given me a good omen yet. You take some kind of perverse pleasure in prophesying Doom, don’t you? Not a single favorable omen ever! Nothing good ever happens! And now you stand here Uttering oracles before the Greeks, telling us That your great ballistic god is giving us all this trouble Because I was unwilling to accept the ransom  For Chryses’ daughter but preferred instead to keep her In my tent! And why shouldn’t I? I like her better than My wife Clytemnestra. She’s no worse than her When it comes to looks, body, mind, or ability. Still, I’ll give her back, if that’s what’s best. I don’t want to see the army destroyed like this. But I want another prize ready for me right away. I’m not going to be the only Greek without a prize, It wouldn’t be right. And you all see where mine is going.” And Achilles, strong, swift, and godlike:  “And where do you think, son of Atreus, You greedy glory-hound, the magnanimous Greeks Are going to get another prize for you? Do you think we have some kind of stockpile in reserve?
Every town in the area has been sacked and the stuff all divided. You want the men to count it all back and redistribute it? All right, you give the girl back to the god. The army Will repay you three and four times over—when and if Zeus allows us to rip Troy down to its foundations.” The warlord Agamemnon responded:  “You may be a good man in a fight, Achilles, And look like a god, but don’t try to put one over on me— It won’t work. So while you have your prize, You want me to sit tight and do without? Give the girl back, just like that? Now maybe If the army, in a generous spirit, voted me Some suitable prize of their own choice, something fair— But if it doesn’t, I’ll just go take something myself, Your prize perhaps, or Ajax’s, or Odysseus’, And whoever she belongs to, it’ll stick in his throat. . . . Achilles looked him up and down and said: “You sorry, profiteering excuse for a commander!  How are you going to get any Greek warrior To follow you into battle again? You know, I don’t have any quarrel with the Trojans, They didn’t do anything to me to make me Come over here and fight, didn’t run off my cattle or horses Or ruin my farmland back home in Phthia, not with all The shadowy mountains and moaning seas between. It’s for you, dogface, for your precious pleasure— And Menelaus’ honor—that we came here, A fact you don’t have the decency even to mention!  And now you’re threatening to take away the prize That I sweated for and the Greeks gave me. I never get a prize equal to yours when the army Captures one of the Trojan strongholds. No, I do all the dirty work with my own hands,
And when the battle’s over and we divide the loot You get the lion’s share and I go back to the ships With some pitiful little thing, so worn out from fighting I don’t have the strength left even to complain. Well, I’m going back to Phthia now. Far better  To head home with my curved ships than stay here, Unhonored myself and piling up a fortune for you.” The warlord Agamemnon responded: “Go ahead and desert, if that’s what you want! I’m not going to beg you to stay. There are plenty of others Who will honor me, not least of all Zeus the Counselor. To me, you’re the most hateful king under heaven, A born troublemaker. You actually like fighting and war. If you’re all that strong, it’s just a gift from some god. So why don’t you go home with your ships and lord it over  Your precious Myrmidons. I couldn’t care less about you Or your famous temper. But I’ll tell you this: Since Phoebus Apollo is taking away my Chryseis, Whom I’m sending back aboard ship with my friends, I’m coming to your hut and taking Briseis, Your own beautiful prize, so that you will see just how much Stronger I am than you, and the next person will wince At the thought of opposing me as an equal.” Achilles’ chest was a rough knot of pain Twisting around his heart: should he  Draw the sharp sword that hung by his thigh, Scatter the ranks and gut Agamemnon, Or control his temper, repress his rage? He was mulling it over, inching the great sword From its sheath, when out of the blue Athena came, sent by the white-armed goddess Hera, who loved and watched over both men. She stood behind Achilles and grabbed his sandy hair, Visible only to him: not another soul saw her. Awestruck, Achilles turned around, recognizing  Pallas Athena at once—it was her eyes—
And words flew from his mouth like winging birds: “Daughter of Zeus! Why have you come here? To see Agamemnon’s arrogance, no doubt. I’ll tell you where I place my bets, Goddess: Sudden death for this outrageous behavior.” Athena’s eyes glared through the sea’s salt haze. “I came to see if I could check this temper of yours, Sent from heaven by the white-armed goddess Hera, who loves and watches over both of you men.  Now come on, drop this quarrel, don’t draw your sword. Tell him off instead. And I’ll tell you, Achilles, how things will be: You’re going to get Three times as many magnificent gifts Because of his arrogance. Just listen to us and be patient.” Achilles, the great runner, responded: “When you two speak, Goddess, a man has to listen No matter how angry. It’s better that way. With that he ground his heavy hand  Onto the silver hilt and pushed the great sword Back into its sheath. Athena’s speech Had been well-timed. She was on her way To Olympus by now, to the halls of Zeus And the other immortals, while Achilles Tore into Agamemnon again: “You bloated drunk, With a dog’s eyes and a rabbit’s heart! You’ve never had the guts to buckle on armor in battle Or come out with the best fighting Greeks  On any campaign! Afraid to look Death in the eye, Agamemnon? It’s far more profitable To hang back in the army’s rear—isn’t it?— Confiscating prizes from any Greek who talks back
And bleeding your people dry. There’s not a real man Under your command, or this latest atrocity Would be your last, son of Atreus. Now get this straight. I swear a formal oath: By this scepter, which will never sprout leaf Or branch again since it was cut from its stock  In the mountains, which will bloom no more Now that bronze has pared off leaf and bark, And which now the sons of the Greeks hold in their hands At council, upholding Zeus’ laws— By this scepter I swear: When every last Greek desperately misses Achilles, Your remorse won’t do any good then, When Hector the man-killer swats you down like flies. And you will eat your heart out Because you failed to honor the best Greek of all.”  Those were his words, and he slammed the scepter, Studded with gold, to the ground and sat down. Opposite him, Agamemnon fumed. Then Nestor Stood up, sweet-worded Nestor, the orator from Pylos With a voice high-toned and liquid as honey. He had seen two generations of men pass away In sandy Pylos and was now king in the third. He was full of good will in the speech he made: “It’s a sad day for Greece, a sad day. Priam and Priam’s sons would be happy indeed, And the rest of the Trojans too, glad in their hearts, If they learned all this about you two fighting, Our two best men in council and in battle. Now you listen to me, both of you. You are both Younger than I am, and I’ve associated with men Better than you, and they didn’t treat me lightly. . . .
And I held my own fighting with them. You couldn’t find A mortal on earth who could fight with them now. And when I talked in council, they took my advice. So should you two now: taking advice is a good thing.  Agamemnon, for all your nobility, do not take his girl. Leave her be: the army originally gave her to him as a prize. Nor should you, son of Peleus, want to lock horns with a king. A scepter-holding king has honor beyond the rest of men, Power and glory given by Zeus himself. You are stronger, and it is a goddess who bore you. But he is more powerful, since he rules over more. Son of Atreus, cease your anger. And I appeal Personally to Achilles to control his temper, since he is, For all Greeks, a mighty bulwark in this evil war.”  And Agamemnon, the warlord: “Yes, old man, everything you’ve said is absolutely right. But this man wants to be ahead of everyone else, He wants to rule everyone, give orders to everyone, Lord it over everyone, and he’s not going to get away with it. If the gods eternal made him a spearman, does that mean They gave him permission to be insolent as well?” And Achilles, breaking in on him: “Ha, and think of the names people would call me If I bowed and scraped every time you opened your mouth.  Try that on somebody else, but not on me. I’ll tell you this, and you can stick it in your gut: I’m not going to put up a fight on account of the girl. You, all of you, gave her to me and you can all take her back. But anything else of mine in my black sailing ship You keep your hands off, you hear? Try it. Let everybody here see how fast Your black blood boils up around my spear.” So it was a stand-off, their battle of words, And the assembly beside the Greek ships dissolved.
 Achilles went back to the huts by his ships With Patroclus and his men. Agamemnon had a fast ship Hauled down to the sea, picked twenty oarsmen, Loaded on a hundred bulls due to the god, and had Chryses’ daughter, His fair-cheeked girl, go aboard also. Odysseus captained, And when they were all on board, the ship headed out to sea. That was the order of the day. But Agamemnon Did not forget his spiteful threat against Achilles. He summoned Talthybius and Eurybates, Faithful retainers who served as his heralds: “Go to the hut of Achilles, son of Peleus; Bring back the girl, fair-cheeked Briseis. If he won’t give her up, I’ll come myself With my men and take her—and freeze his heart cold.” It was not the sort of mission a herald would relish.  The pair trailed along the barren seashore Until they came to the Myrmidons’ ships and encampment. They found Achilles sitting outside his hut Beside his black ship. He was not glad to see them. They stood respectfully silent, in awe of this king, And it was Achilles who was moved to address them first: “Welcome, heralds, the gods’ messengers and men’s. Come closer. You’re not to blame, Agamemnon is, Who sent you here for the girl, Briseis. . . . Patroclus obeyed his beloved friend And brought Briseis, cheeks flushed, out of the tent  And gave her to the heralds, who led her away. She went unwillingly. Then Achilles, in tears, Withdrew from his friends and sat down far away On the foaming white seashore, staring out
At the endless sea. Stretching out his hands, He prayed over and over to his beloved mother: “Mother, since you bore me for a short life only, Olympian Zeus was supposed to grant me honor. Well, he hasn’t given me any at all. Agamemnon  Has taken away my prize and dishonored me.” . . . Now you have to help me, if you can. Go to Olympus  And call in the debt that Zeus owes you. . . . Remind Zeus of this, sit holding his knees, See if he is willing to help the Trojans Hem the Greeks in between the fleet and the sea. Once they start being killed, the Greeks may Appreciate Agamemnon for what he is, And the wide-ruling son of Atreus will see  What a fool he’s been because he did not honor The best of all the fighting Achaeans.” And Thetis, now weeping herself: “O my poor child. I bore you for sorrow, Nursed you for grief. Why? You should be Spending your time here by your ships Happily and untroubled by tears, Since life is short for you, all too brief. Now you’re destined for both an early death And misery beyond compare. It was for this  I gave birth to you in your father’s palace Under an evil star. I’ll go to snow-bound Olympus And tell all this to the Lord of Lightning. I hope he listens. You stay here, though,
Beside your ships and let the Greeks feel Your spite; withdraw completely from the war. Zeus left yesterday for the River Ocean On his way to a feast with the Ethiopians. All the gods went with him. He’ll return  To Olympus twelve days from now, And I’ll go then to his bronze threshold And plead with him. I think I’ll persuade him.” And she left him there, angry and heartsick At being forced to give up the silken-waisted girl. Meanwhile, Odysseus was putting in At Chryse with his sacred cargo on board. . . . The crew disembarked on the seabeach And unloaded the bulls for Apollo the Archer. Then Chryses’ daughter stepped off the seagoing vessel, And Odysseus led her to an altar And placed her in her father’s hands, saying: “Chryses, King Agamemnon has sent me here To return your child and offer to Phoebus Formal sacrifice on behalf of the Greeks.  So may we appease Lord Apollo, and may he Lift the afflictions he has sent upon us.” Chryses received his daughter tenderly. Moving quickly, they lined the hundred oxen Around the massive altar, a glorious offering, Washed their hands and sprinkled on the victims Sacrificial barley. On behalf of the Greeks Chryses lifted his hands and prayed aloud:
“Hear me, Silverbow, Protector of Chryse, Lord of Holy Cilla, Master of Tenedos,  As once before you heard my prayer, Did me honor, and smote the Greeks mightily, So now also grant me this prayer: Lift the plague From the Greeks and save them from death.” Thus said the old priest, and Apollo heard him. . . . All this time Achilles, the son of Peleus in the line of Zeus, Nursed his anger, the great runner idle by his fleet’s fast hulls. He was not to be seen in council, that arena for glory, Nor in combat. He sat tight in camp consumed with grief,  His great heart yearning for the battle cry and war. Twelve days went by. Dawn. The gods returned to Olympus, Zeus at their head. Thetis did not forget Her son’s requests. She rose from the sea And up through the air to the great sky And found Cronus’ wide-seeing son Sitting in isolation on the highest peak Of the rugged Olympic massif.  She settled beside him, and touched his knees With her left hand, his beard with her right, And made her plea to the Lord of Sky: “Father Zeus, if I have ever helped you In word or deed among the immortals, Grant me this prayer: Honor my son, doomed to die young And yet dishonored by King Agamemnon, Who stole his prize, a personal affront. Do justice by him, Lord of Olympus.
 Give the Trojans the upper hand until the Greeks Grant my son the honor he deserves.” . . .  And the Son of Cronus nodded. Black brows Lowered, a glory of hair cascaded down from the Lord’s Immortal head, and the holy mountain trembled. Their conference over, the two parted. The goddess Dove into the deep sea from Olympus’ snow-glare And Zeus went to his home. The gods all Rose from their seats at their father’s entrance. Not one Dared watch him enter without standing to greet him. And so God entered and took his high seat. But Hera  Had noticed his private conversation with Thetis, The silver-footed daughter of the Old Man of the Sea, And flew at him with cutting words: “Who was that you were scheming with just now? You just love devising secret plots behind my back, Don’t you? You can’t bear to tell me what you’re thinking, Or you don’t dare. Never have and never will.” The Father of Gods and Men answered: “Hera, don’t hope to know all my secret thoughts. It would strain your mind even though you are my wife. . . . You witch! Your intuitions are always right. But what does it get you? Nothing, except that I like you less than ever. And so you’re worse off. If it’s as you think it is, it’s my business, not yours. So sit down and shut up and do as I say. You see these hands? All the gods on Olympus
 Won’t be able to help you if I ever lay them on you.” Hera lost her nerve when she heard this. She sat down in silence, fear cramping her heart, And gloom settled over the gods in Zeus’ hall.
. . . Book 3 Two armies, The troops in divisions Under their commanders, The Trojans advancing across the plain
Like cranes beating their metallic wings In the stormy sky at winter’s onset, Unspeakable rain at their backs, their necks stretched Toward Oceanic streams and down To strafe the brown Pygmy race,  Bringing strife and bloodshed from the sky at dawn,
While the Greeks moved forward in silence, Their breath curling in long angry plumes That acknowledged their pledges to die for each other.
Banks of mist settle on mountain peaks And seep into the valleys. Shepherds dislike it But for a thief it is better than night, And a man can see only as far as he can throw a stone.
No more could the soldiers see through the cloud of dust The armies tramped up as they moved through the plain.  And when they had almost closed—
Was it a god?—no, not a god But Paris who stepped out from the Trojan ranks, Leopard skin on his shoulders, curved bow, sword, And shaking two bronze-tipped spears at the Greeks He invited their best to fight him to the death. When Menelaus, who was Ares’ darling, saw him Strutting out from the ranks, he felt
As a lion must feel when he finds the carcass Of a stag or wild goat, and, half-starving,  Consumes it greedily even though hounds and hunters Are swarming down on him.
It was Paris all right, Who could have passed for a god, And Menelaus grinned as he hefted his gear And stepped down from his chariot. He would Have his revenge at last. Paris’ blood Turned milky when he saw him coming on, And he faded back into the Trojan troops With cheeks as pale as if he had seen—  Had almost stepped on—a poisonous snake In a mountain pass. He could barely stand As disdainful Trojans made room for him in the ranks, And Hector, seeing his brother tremble at Atreus’ son, Started in on him with these abusive epithets: “Paris, you desperate, womanizing pretty boy! I wish you had never been born, or had died unmarried. Better that than this disgrace before the troops. Can’t you just hear it, the long-haired Greeks Chuckling and saying that our champion wins  For good looks but comes up short on offense and defense? Is this how you were when you got up a crew And sailed overseas, hobnobbed with the warrior caste In a foreign country and sailed off with
A beautiful woman with marriage ties to half of them? You’re nothing but trouble for your father and your city, A joke to your enemies and an embarrassment to yourself. No don’t stand up to Menelaus: you might find out What kind of a man it is whose wife you’re sleeping with. You think your lyre will help you, or Aphrodite’s gifts,  Your hair, your pretty face, when you sprawl in the dust? It’s the Trojans who are cowards, or you’d have long since Been dressed out in stones for all the harm you’ve done.” And Paris, handsome as a god, answered him: “That’s only just, Hector. You’ve got a mind Like an axe, you know, always sharp, Making the skilled cut through a ship’s beam, Multiplying force—nothing ever turns your edge. But don’t throw golden Aphrodite’s gifts in my face. We don’t get to choose what the gods give us, you know,  And we can’t just toss their gifts aside. So all right, if you want me to fight, fine. Have the Trojans and the Greeks sit down, And Menelaus and I will square off in the middle To fight for Helen and all her possessions. Winner take all. And everyone else will swear oaths of friendship, You all to live here in the fertile Troad, And they to go back to bluegrass Argos And Achaea with its beautiful women.”  Hector liked what he heard. He went out in front along the Trojan ranks Holding a spear broadside and made them all sit down. Greek archers and slingers were taking aim at him And already starting to shoot arrows and stones When Agamemnon boomed out a command For them to hold their fire. Hector was signaling That he had something to say, and his helmet
Caught the morning sun as he addressed both armies: “Listen to me, Trojans, and you warriors from Greece.  Paris, on account of whom this war began, says this: He wants all the Trojan and Greek combatants To lay their weapons down on the ground. He and Menelaus will square off in the middle And fight for Helen and all her possessions. Winner take all. And everyone else swears oaths of friendship.” Utter silence, Until Menelaus, who was good at the war shout, said: “Now listen to me, since my pain is paramount  In all this. It may be that the Greeks and Trojans Can at last call it quits. We’ve had enough suffering From this quarrel of mine that Paris began. Whichever of us is due to die, let him die. Then the rest of you can be done with each other.” . . . You could see their mood brighten, Greeks and Trojans both, with the hope That this wretched war would soon be over. They pulled their chariots up in rows, Dismounted, and piled up their weapons. There was not much space between the two armies. . . . Iris stood near Helen and said: “Come and see, dear lady, the amazing thing The Greek and Trojan warriors have done. They’ve fought all these years out on the plain,
Lusting for each other’s blood, but now They’ve sat down in silence—halted the war— They’re leaning back on their shields And their long spears are stuck in the sand. But Paris and Menelaus are going to fight  A duel with lances, and the winner Will lay claim to you as his beloved wife.” The goddess’s words turned Helen’s mind Into a sweet mist of desire For her former husband, her parents, and her city. She dressed herself in fine silvery linens And came out of her bedroom crying softly. . . . But Priam called out to her:  “Come here, dear child, sit next to me So you can see your former husband And dear kinsmen. You are not to blame For this war with the Greeks. The gods are. Now tell me, who is that enormous man Towering over the Greek troops, handsome, Well-built? I’ve never laid eyes on such A fine figure of a man. He looks like a king.” And Helen, The sky’s brightness reflected in her mortal face:  “Reverend you are to me dear father-in-law, A man to hold in awe. I’m so ashamed. Death should have been a sweeter evil to me Than following your son here, leaving my home, My marriage, my friends, my precious daughter, That lovely time in my life. None of it was to be, And lamenting it has been my slow death. But you asked me something, and I’ll answer. That man is Agamemnon, son of Atreus, A great king and a strong warrior both.
 He was also my brother-in-law—shameless bitch That I am—if that life was ever real.” . . . Priam’s son Hector and brilliant Odysseus First measured off an arena and then Shook lots in a bronze helmet to decide  Which of the two would cast his spear first. You could see hands lifted to heaven On both sides and hear whispered prayers: “Death, Lord Zeus, For whichever of the two Started this business, But grant us your peace.” Great Hector shook the helmet, sunlight Glancing off his own as he looked away, And out jumped Paris’ lot. . . .  And then Paris threw. A long shadow trailed his spear As it moved through the air, and it hit the circle Of Menelaus’ shield, but the spearpoint crumpled Against its tough metal skin. It was Menelaus’ turn now, And as he rose in his bronze he prayed to Zeus: “Lord Zeus, make Paris pay for the evil he’s done to me, Smite him down with my hands so that men for all time Will fear to transgress against a host’s offered friendship.” With this prayer behind it Menelaus’ spear Carried through Paris’ polished shield  And bored into the intricate breastplate, The point shearing his shirt and nicking his ribs
As Paris twisted aside from black fatality. Menelaus drew his silver-hammered sword And came down with it hard on the crest Of Paris’ helmet, but the blade shattered Into three or four pieces and fell from his hands. Menelaus groaned and looked up to the sky: “Father Zeus, no god curses us more than you. I thought Paris was going to pay for his crimes,  And now my sword has broken in my hands, And my spear’s thrown away. I missed the bastard!” As Menelaus spoke he lunged forward And twisted his fingers into the thick horsehair On Paris’ helmet, pivoted on his heel, And started dragging him back to the Greeks. The tooled-leather chinstrap of Paris’ helmet Was cutting into his neck’s tender skin, And Menelaus would have dragged him All the way back and won no end of glory.  But Aphrodite, Zeus’ daughter, had all this In sharp focus and snapped the oxhide chinstrap, Leaving Menelaus clenching an empty helmet, Which the hero, spinning like a discus thrower, Heaved into the hands of the Greek spectators. Then he went back for the kill. But Aphrodite Whisked Paris away with the sleight of a goddess, Enveloping him in mist, and lofted him into The incensed air of his vaulted bedroom.  Then she went for Helen, and found her In a crowd of Trojan women high on the tower. A withered hand tugged at Helen’s fragrant robe. The goddess was now the phantom of an old woman
Who had spun wool for Helen back in Lacedaemon, Beautiful wool, and Helen loved her dearly. In this crone’s guise Aphrodite spoke to Helen: “Over here. Paris wants you to come home. He’s propped up on pillows in your bedroom, So silky and beautiful you’d never think  He’d just come from combat, but was going to a dance, Or coming from a dance and had just now sat down.” This wrung Helen’s heart. She knew It was the goddess—the beautiful neck, The irresistible line of her breasts, The iridescent eyes. She was in awe For a moment, and then spoke to her: “You eerie thing, why do you love Lying to me like this? Where are you taking me now? Phrygia? Beautiful Maeonia? Another city  Where you have some other boyfriend for me? Or is it because Menelaus, having just beaten Paris, Wants to take his hateful wife back to his house That you stand here now with treachery in your heart? Go sit by Paris yourself! Descend from the gods’ high road, Allow your precious feet not to tread on Olympus, Go fret over him constantly, protect him. Maybe someday he’ll make you his wife—or even his slave. I’m not going back there. It would be treason To share his bed. The Trojan women  Would hold me at fault. I have enough pain as it is.” And Aphrodite, angry with her, said: “Don’t vex me, bitch, or I may let go of you And hate you as extravagantly as I love you now. I can make you repulsive to both sides, you know, Trojans and Greeks, and then where will you be?”
Helen was afraid, and this child of Zeus Pulled her silvery-white linens around her And walked silently through the Trojan women, Eluding them completely. The goddess went ahead  And led her to Paris’ beautiful house. The servants Suddenly all found something to do. Helen moved like daylight to the vaulted bedroom, Where Aphrodite, smiling, placed a chair for her Opposite Paris. Helen, daughter of Zeus, Sat down and, averting her eyes, said reproachfully: “Back from the war? You should have died out there, Beaten by a real hero, my former husband. You used to boast you were better than Menelaus, When it came to spear work and hand-to-hand combat.  Why don’t you go challenge him to fight again, Right now? I wouldn’t recommend it, though, A fair fight between you and Ares’ redhead darling. You’d go down in no time under his spear.” Paris answered her: “Don’t insult me, Helen. Menelaus beat me this time—with Athena’s help. Next time I’ll beat him. We have gods on our side too. Enough of this. Let’s go to bed now and make love.  I’ve never wanted you so much, Not even when I first took you away From Lacedaemon in my sailing ship And made love to you on the island of Cranae. I want you even more now than I wanted you then.” He walked to the bed, and Helen followed. While the two of them slept in their bed, Menelaus prowled the ranks looking for Paris.
The Trojan troops, as much as they would have liked to, Could not produce him. To a man,  They hated Paris as they hated death itself.