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The Iliad

The Iliad

by Homer

The Iliad Book 3 Summary

  • The two armies – Trojan and Achaian – have formed battle lines and are approaching each other on the plain.
  • Paris runs out in front of the Trojan army and starts prancing around.
  • On the Greek side, Menelaos sees Paris and thinks this looks like a good opportunity to kill him. He jumps out of his chariot and gets ready to attack.
  • Paris sees him, however, and merges back into the Trojan ranks.
  • When Hektor, Paris's brother, sees this, he starts taunting him, calling him a lover-boy who gets his city in trouble and then can't help out when the going gets tough.
  • Now that he's been publicly insulted, Paris says that Hektor's criticism is unfair. He says that he'll fight Menelaos one-on-one; whoever wins can take Helen. Then the war will be over.
  • Hektor thinks this is a good idea. He gets in front of the Trojan army and stops them from advancing.
  • The Achaian archers and rock-throwing-dudes think this is a good opportunity to get a few shots in at Hektor, but Agamemnon stops them. He wants to hear what Hektor has to say.
  • When Hektor announces the terms of Paris's challenge, Menelaos immediately agrees.
  • The two sides take off their armor and sit down on opposite sides of no-man's-land.
  • Meanwhile, back at the ranch (i.e., Troy), Iris, the messenger of the gods, appears to Helen in the shape of her sister-in-law and lets her know about the coming fight between Paris and Menelaos. Iris's words make Helen nostalgic for her former husband.
  • To get the best view of what's going on, Helen goes to the Skaian Gates (the most prominent gates of the city of Troy).
  • There on the ramparts, she finds Priam, the elderly Trojan king, along with some other old fogeys.
  • Priam's buddies start by commenting to one another on how beautiful Helen is. Then they agree that, all the same, they should send her back. She's caused too much trouble.
  • Priam is gentler towards Helen. He invites her to come over by him.
  • Priam points out various Achaian soldiers and asks her to explain to him who they are. Helen, who remembers them from her life back in Achaea, identifies first Agamemnon, then Odysseus.
  • Antenor, one of Priam's old buddies, reminisces about a time earlier in the war when Menelaos and Odysseus came to Troy together to ask for Helen back. He says that everyone was impressed with Menelaos's physique, but that Odysseus's speaking ability knocked everyone's sandals off.
  • Next, Helen identifies the "big" Aias, followed by Idomeneus. (Yes, there are two guys named Aias in the Achaian army, and, yes, they are known as "bigger" and "smaller." Because "big" Aias – also known as Telamonian Aias, after his father, Telamon – is the more famous one, we're going to use the name "Aias" to refer to him unless otherwise specified.)
  • After scanning the Achaian ranks, Helen says that she can't see her half-brothers, the twins Castor and Polydeukes (better known these days by their Roman names – Castor and Pollux).
  • Helen speculates that her brothers might not have joined the expedition because they couldn't endure hearing the insults everybody was slinging at their sister.
  • Homer tells us what Helen doesn't know: that Castor and Polydeukes are already dead and buried in their homeland of Lacedaemon (the area around Sparta).
  • Helen and Priam's people-watching is cut short when a herald arrives on the battlements to tell Priam that he's wanted down on the field to referee the fight between Menelaos and Paris.
  • Although Priam is filled with fear for his son, Paris, he agrees to head down.
  • Once he gets to where the fighters are waiting, Agamemnon performs a sacrifice and repeats the terms of the duel.
  • As soon as everything has been agreed upon, Priam goes back to the city. He can't stand to stay and watch what's about to happen.
  • Paris and Menelaos cast lots for who will cast the first spear. Hektor holds the lots in his helmet, and shakes it up. Paris's lot springs out first. He will have the first throw.
  • Paris and Menelaos put on their armor.
  • When both are ready, Paris throws his spear and hit Menelaos's shield but fails to pierce it.
  • Now it's Menelaos's turn. Before he throws his spear, however, he first says a prayer to Zeus. Menelaos's spear not only punches through Paris's shield, it also pierces his breastplate and his tunic, slightly wounding him.
  • Menelaos moves in for the kill. Unfortunately for him, his sword shatters on Paris's helmet. Not to be deterred, he grabs the helmet by the crest and starts dragging Paris around. Paris's chinstrap is choking him.
  • Seeing what is happening, the goddess Aphrodite comes down to help him. (To refresh your memory on why Aphrodite has a soft spot for Paris, check out The Backstory's Backstory in our summary of Book 2.) With her divine power, she snaps the chin-strap, freeing him. The helmet comes loose in Menelaos's hands.
  • After throwing the helmet away, Menelaos comes after Paris with his spear.
  • It looks like Paris is about to meet his end – but then, all of a sudden, Aphrodite wraps him in a cloud of mist and carries him back to Troy. In the Ancient equivalent of teleportation, she drops him off in his bedroom back home, safe and sound. It's good to have a goddess in your corner.
  • As if things weren't going well enough for Paris, now Aphrodite heads off to find Helen. Disguising herself as an old crone, the goddess finds her on the Skaian gates, and tells her to go home to her husband.
  • As it happens, though, Helen recognizes the goddess and curses her for meddling. (How does she recognize her? Partly by her youthfully rounded bosom. There are some things the goddess of love just isn't willing to disguise.) Helen asks Aphrodite, if she likes Paris so much why doesn't she marry him (shades of the schoolyard here). "Why don't you become a mortal too and see how it feels, huh?"
  • Aphrodite tells Helen to fall into line or else.
  • Helen falls into line. When she gets home, she finds Paris in their bedroom.
  • Helen curses him out, calls him a coward, and makes him admit that Menelaos beat him.
  • Paris does admit it, but he also claims that Menelaos only won thanks to Athene. (Uh...is it just us or did we not see any involvement by Athene in that fight?) Then he invites Helen into his bed. She complies (though we think it's probably only because Aphrodite threatened her).
  • Meanwhile, Menelaos is stalking around the battlefield looking for Paris.
  • Obviously, he can't find him. Homer tells us that even if the Trojans were hiding Paris, it wouldn't be out of affection – they all hate his guts.
  • Finally, Agamemnon says, "Whatever. Menelaos won, so you Trojans had better cough up Helen – and all her treasure."

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