On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book III

Index | Text

The Iliad is about the feud between Achilles and Agamemnon, a feud that occurs during the Trojan War. Book III of the Iliad has nothing to do with Achilles, a little to do with Agamemnon, and everything to do with why the whole war is happening at all.

Photo of the tower of books used for this article

Book III has led me to a number of books that are in my physical possession, here in Istanbul. Being able to use them seems like the fulfilment of a childhood fantasy that I had never articulated. Some of the books, I brought from the US; others, I bought here.

Thus this post is not a continuous narrative of the story of Book III, but I make a number of digressions. I have gone back to analyze the post into sections as follows (I added this index on December 16, 2018, and edited the whole post on December 6, 2020, and again on December 10, 2022).

  1. A duel could end the war, but does not.

  2. Paris must lack shame, to be such a devotee of Aphrodite—who is called Cyprides because of her origins (as I shall happen to recall in “Antitheses”).

  3. The book opens with two similes.

    1. The Trojans are like cranes, bringing death to Pygmy men. It is not clear whether a later legend of battle between cranes and African Pygmies derives from Homer’s simile; if it does, it could be a misinterpretation, as snake-handling is probably a misinterpretation of the Gospel. Note added April 11, 2019: Thoreau refers to the legend in Walden,Where I Lived, and What I Lived For,” just before “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”

      Still we live meanly, like ants; though the fable tells us that we were long ago changed into men; like pygmies we fight with cranes; it is error upon error, and clout upon clout, and our best virtue has for its occasion a superfluous and evitable wretchedness. Our life is frittered away by detail.

    2. The Greeks raise a cloud of dust, such as would be grateful to thieves seeking concealment.

  4. Holding up a lance is a sign of wanting to treat; sacrificing lambs is then a sign of good faith.

  5. Chapman elaborates on the virtue of Helen. He uses “offense,” apparently in the sense of a moral stumbling-block; but the passage is obscure.

  6. The old men whom Helen joins on the ramparts are like cicadas with lily-like voice; this leads me to references in the Theogony of Hesiod, the Phaedrus of Plato, and the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius. In this context, Hesiod refers to “an oak or a rock,” as Socrates does too in chastising Phaedrus.

  7. Homer digresses by allowing Helen and Priam to tell some of the backstory.

  8. The rite of pouring out wine as a symbol of blood predates Christianity.

  9. Homer takes us between war and peace, the battlefield and the bedroom.


The war is being fought because Paris, also called Alexander, has run off with Helen, the wife of the man he was visiting. Paris is one of the sons of King Priam of Troy; Helen’s husband was Menelaus, who, as King of Sparta and brother of King Agamemnon of Mycenae, was able to call all of the Greeks to defend his honor.

In Book III of the Iliad, Paris offers single combat with “the best of Grecian hearts.” When Menelaus eagerly accepts the challenge, Paris shrinks back; but his brother Hector shames him into putting his money where his mouth his. He agrees to fight Menelaus, winner take Helen. The duel happens. Without divine interference, Menelaus would win; but Aphrodite spirits away Paris before Menelaus can kill him.

Helen has been watching the battle from the walls of Troy with the old men of the city. Aphrodite orders her to go tend to the erotic needs of her current husband.

That is the story.


I say that Hector shames Paris into fighting Menelaus; but to be the kind of person he is, Paris must be largely shameless. His deity is the goddess of love. Nothing is more important than love, as Paris understands it: not wealth, not honor.

As a lover, Paris has to be able to make a show of himself. I suppose this is why he is able to prance out before the Trojans and offer to fight the best of the Greeks. He is not a warrior at heart. His preferred weapon is the arrow, shot at a distance from a bow. When he understands that his challenge to the Greeks will bring him face to face with a real man, he has second thoughts.

Paris agrees with Hector to fight Menelaus, but only if the dual will settle the whole war. This takes some presumption. The Greeks could be ashamed to win the war on such terms, after beseiging Troy for nine years. Hector expresses the contempt for Paris that many Trojans must share:

No soule; an emptie shape
Takes vp thy being: yet, how spight, to euerie shade of good,
Fils it with ill!

Why should the Greeks let the Trojans get away with saving their city, at the cost only of giving up their most despised prince?

With his smooth tongue, Paris glibly accepts the reproof of his brother Hector. He admits that Hector is better at the art of war; but Paris is better at the art of love, and this is something men would pay a great price for:

Yet I (lesse practisd, then thy selfe, in these extremes of warre)
May well be pardond, though lesse bold; in these, your worth exceeds;
In others, mine: Nor is my mind, of lesse force to the deeds
Requir’d in warre; because my forme, more flowes in gifts of peace.
Reproach not therefore the kind gifts, of golden Cyprides;
All heau’ns gifts haue their worthie price; as little to be scorn’d,
As to be wonne with strength, wealth, state; with which, to be adorn’d,
Some man would change, state, wealth, or strength …

Cyprides is Aphrodite, goddess of Cyprus.

Menelaus is not so self-important. He is game. When he first hears Paris’s challenge, he simply rejoices, as when a lion comes upon a deer or goat.

At the end of Book III, when Helen accuses Paris of cowardice, he is able to say, “Disgraces will not euer last.”

Opening similes

At the very beginning of Book III, before the challenge of Paris, the opposing armies rush at each other in a way that Homer describes with two interesting similes.

Cranes and Pygmies

First the Trojans make noise as if they were cranes, migrating to the coast in winter. I do not know anything about this migration. Homer must be aware that some birds go away for part of the year. He may not be in a position to know where they go.

Homer says of the cranes that they bring death to “Pygmei souldiers.” This could mean that, while the cranes fly overhead, soldiers die on the ground, in the vain belief that their little disputes have any importance. The word πυγμαῖος used for the soldiers is originally an adjective meaning small, derived from πυγμή, a noun indicating either (1) a fist or (2) the distance from the elbow to the front of the fist. This noun in turn derives from the adverb πύξ, “with the fist.”

My proposed interpretation of the Pygmy soldiers may be excessively poetical. Modern scholars think Homer is referring to a myth that the cranes are actually at war with the Pygmies of Africa. Though πυγμάχος “one who fights with the fists, a boxer” and the derived abstract noun πυγμαχίη are found in Cunliffe’s Lexicon of the Homeric Dialect (1924, new edition 1963), πυγμαῖος is not, and πυγμή is listed only as equivalent to πυγμαχίη, and the citation is only to line 669 of Book XXIII, during the funeral games for Patroclus, when Epeus says, “at cuffes I bost me best.” I presume then that Cunliffe interprets Homer’s Πυγμαίοι as a proper noun, just as Liddell and Scott do in their big Greek–English Lexicon (1843, ninth edition 1940). Liddell and Scott cite precisely the passage in question from Book III, along with Aristotle and Herodotus.

According to Harvey’s Oxford Companion to Classical Literature (1937, corrected 1980), the belief in a war between the cranes and the Pygmies “is frequently referred to by ancient writers, e.g. Homer, Aristotle, Ovid, and Pliny.” Homer was reciting the Iliad centuries before the other “ancient writers.” Perhaps it is not likely that they are all just taking Homer’s poetical pygmy reference too literally. It is plausible that they are all referring to a common myth, for which the oldest extant written source only happens to be Homer.

On the other hand, there are Christians who base their religious practice on a statement of Jesus that appears only in the Gospel of Mark, in Chapter 16:

17 And these signs shall follow them that believe: in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.

The speaker here is the Jesus who has risen from the dead. The verses are regarded as later additions to the text of the gospel, although they are “of evident antiquity and importance,” in the terminology of The Greek New Testament (Fourth Revised Edition, edited by Aland et al., Stuttgart, 1993).

Jehovah’s Witnesses drew my attention to the verses of Mark above. They ridiculed the Christians who cherry-picked from the Bible the parts that they liked. The Bible, said the Witnesses, had to be taken as a whole. The same recommendation could be made for the Iliad.

Cloud of dust

In the second simile of Book III, if simile it be, the Greeks approach the Trojans silently, but raising a cloud of dust, such as would be grateful to thieves desiring cover of darkness. Possibly Homer is suggesting ironically that the Trojans should appreciate this cloud, since it is they who were the thieves that stole Helen. But then I am not aware that Homer ever blames the Trojans for the crime of Paris.


After Paris has agreed to meet Menelaus on the terms discussed, Hector goes out to treat with the Greeks. As a sign of this, he holds up his lance. The common soldiers either do not or will not see this, but try to hit him with rocks and darts. Agamemnon stops them.

Menelaus generously accepts the offered challenge, saying,

I now haue hope to free
The Greekes and Troians of all ils, they haue sustaind for me
And Alexander, that was cause, I stretcht my spleene so farre.

Menelaus calls for the performance of certain rites by Priam himself, as a sign of good faith: the sacrifice of a black lamb and a white lamb, “for the Earth, and for the Sunne (the Gods on whom ye call).” The Trojans seem not to have quite the same pantheon as the Greeks.

The Virtue of Helen

Meanwhile, in the guise of Paris’s sister Laodice, Iris comes to tell Helen to go see what is happening outside the city. Here Chapman embellishes Homer, but in an obscure way. In the Loeb translation by Murray,

So spake the goddess, and put into her heart sweet longing for her former lord and her city and parents; and straightway she veiled herself with shining linen, and went forth from her chamber, letting fall round tears, not alone, for with her followed two handmaids as well …

Chapman tries to bring out the meaning of those tears (lines 145–53):

Thus spake the thousand colour’d Dame: and to her mind commends
The ioy to see her first espousd, her natiue tow’rs, and friends;
Which stir’d a sweet desire in her, to serue the which, she hi’d:
Shadowed her graces with white veiles, and (though she tooke a pride
To set her thoughts at gaze, and see, in her cleare beauties flood
What choice of glorie swum to her, yet tender womanhood)
Season’d with teares, her ioyes to see, more ioyes the more offence:
And that perfection could not flow, from earthly excellence.

Thus went she forth, and tooke with her, her women most of name …

My quotations of Chapman are from the type-facsimile of EEBO-TCP (Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership), and the passage here is a grammatical puzzle, to which the edition of Allardyce Nicoll offers a solution:

Shadow’d her graces with white veiles and (though she tooke a pride
To set her thoughts at gaze and see, in her cleare beautie’s flood,
What choice of glorie swum to her yet tender womanhood)
Season’d with teares her joyes, to see more joyes the more offence
And that perfection could not flow from earthly excellence.

If the omission of punctuation after “offence” is not an oversight, it suggests that the words, “that perfection could not flow from earthly excellence,” should be taken as a noun clause, which then, coordinately with “more joys the more offence,” is an object of “to see.”

Nicoll is a minimalist in stops. He remarks in his Introduction (page xxviii),

The punctuation of the original is interesting, but at the same time hopelessly confusing: apparently the printer has spattered his own stops over Chapman’s own habitually heavy pointing … The only course open for an editor who wishes to do more than merely reprint the original in type-facsimile is to introduce his own punctuation—and this I have done … I have deliberately kept the stops light, believing that only thus can Chapman’s vigorous flow of verse properly be interpreted.

It seems to me that the words, “that perfection could not flow from earthly excellence,” constitute an independent clause, in which “that perfection” refers to the perfection displayed in Helen’s crying. The word “offence” (or “offense” in American spelling) must have what is now an obsolescent meaning: as the Oxford English Dictionary (Compact Edition 1971) puts it,

A stumbling-block; a cause of spiritual or moral stumbling; an occasion of unbelief, doubt, or apostacy.

An illustrative quotation for this meaning is Tyndale’s 1526 rendition of Galatians 5: 11 (emphasis mine):

Brethren yf I yet preache circucision: why do I then yet suffre persecucion? For then had the offence which the crosse geveth ceased.

This makes its way into the King James Bible (1611) as

And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased.

The Revised Standard Version makes this:

But if I, brethren, still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case the stumbling block of the cross has been removed.

The Greek original for “offence” and “stumbling block” is σκάνδαλον, which comes into English as “scandal” and whose original meaning is of a trap or snare. However, this is the Greek of the New Testament; there is no Greek original for Chapman’s “offence,” but Chapman’s argument seems to be that Helen’s tears are owing to her moral perfection—not hers alone, but a perfection due to divine grace.

Helen obscured her lovely form with white veils, even though she was normally proud to be seen and to see for herself the deeds, the “choice” glories, that were being done on the plain of Troy for her young femininity. However, the joy of seeing these things also troubled her. The more she saw, the more she was troubled. Another woman would simply gloat over the armies that were fighting for her.

Chapman presently refers again to divine grace, or its opposite, when he has Priam tell Helen,

Come: doe not thinke I lay the warres, endur’d by us, on thee,
The gods have sent them, and the teares, in which they swumme to me.

This couplet does seem to be an honest translation, except for the swimming: Murray’s version is,

thou art nowise to blame in my eyes; it is the gods, methinks, who roused against me the tearful war of the Achaeans.

Priam echoes the other old men of Troy, among whom Iris has brought Helen. They say of her,

what man can blame
The Greekes and Trojans to indure, for so admir’d a Dame,
So many miseries, and so long? In her sweet countenance shine
Lookes like the Goddesses …

The old men are still practical-minded. They would be better off if Helen returned to Greece:

and yet (though never so divine)
Before we boast, uniustly still, of her enforced prise,
And iustly suffer for her sake, with all our progenies,
Labour and ruine, let her goe: the profit of our land,
Must passe the beauty.

Cold profit before divine grace. Even then,

They could not chuse but welcome her, and rather they accusde
The gods then beauty.


Homer likens the old men to cicadas, τεττίγες. Chapman calls them grasshoppers:

And as in well-grown woods, or trees, cold spiny grasshoppers
Sit chirping, and send voices out, that scarce can pierce our ears
For softness, and their weak faint sounds; so, talking on the tow’r,
These seniors of the people sat …

Is it wrong to translate τεττίξ as grasshopper? The OED uses the quotation to illustrate the meaning of grasshopper. There is also an 1880 quotation that allows grasshoppers to belong to several genera, including Tettix; but the family is not clear. It seems today grasshoppers constitute the suborder Caelifera of the order Orthoptera, while cicadas constitute the superfamily Cicadoidea within the order Hemiptera. Grasshoppers stridulate; cicadas vibrate their tymbals.

In his “Commentarius” at the end of Book III, Chapman suggests that Spondanus (in his 1583 Latin translation) misunderstands the grasshopper simile as meaning that the old men are garrulous. Chapman’s “weak faint sounds” are Homer’s ὄπα λειριόεσσαν, the singular accusative case of ὄψ λειριόεσσα—“lily-like voice,” as Murray has it, adding in a footnote that this is

but a striking instance of the transference of an epithet from one field of sense-perception to another, which often meets us.

Murray cites two examples: (1) Hesiod, Theogony 41 and (2) Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica IV.903. When you look these up, you indeed find mentioned a lily-like voice: but now this is the voice of the Muses, not of old men.

Here is Hesiod, from the Loeb edition by Glenn W. Most (which I happen to have in print; the online Project Perseus has the 1914 Loeb version by Evelyn-White, and Most says this is the first Loeb he ever bought, but it is, “though useful, rather idiosyncratic, and the extraordinary progress that scholarship on Hesiod has made since then has finally made it altogether outdated”):

But what is this to me, about an oak or a rock? Come then, let us begin from the Muses, who by singing for their father Zeus give pleasure to his great mind within Olympus, telling of what is and what will be and what was before, harmonizing in their sound. Their tireless voice flows sweet from their mouths; and the house of their father, loud-thundering Zeus, rejoices at the goddesses’ lily-like voice (ὀπὶ λειροέσσῃ) as it spreads out, and snowy Olympus’ peak resounds, and the mansions of the immortals.

Glenn Most has a note on “what is this to me, about an oak or a rock?” He calls it “a proverbial expression, possibly already so for Hesiod; its origin is obscure, but its meaning here is evidently, ‘Why should I waste time speaking about irrelevant matters?’ ”

Why indeed waste time on irrelevant matters? Towards the end of the Phaedrus, Socrates tells the story of the Egyptian origin of letters, and of how writing is an aid, not to memory (μνήμη, as in “mnemonic”), but to reminding (ὑπόμνησις, which became the name of my post “Hypomnesis,” based on a visit to Delphi). Phaedrus then retorts, “Socrates, you easily make up stories of Egypt or any country you please.”

Socrates replies,

They used to say, my friend, that the words of the oak in the holy place of Zeus at Dodona were the first prophetic utterances. The people of that time, not being so wise as you young folks, were content in their simplicity to hear an oak or a rock, provided only it spoke the truth; but to you, perhaps, it makes a difference who the speaker is and where he comes from, for you do not consider only whether his words are true or not.

Socrates may be alluding not to Hesiod as such, but to his saying, “What is this to me, about an oak or a rock?” For a supposedly inanimate object, only young people who would show such contempt as is expressed by Hesiod’s proverb.

The Phaedrus is where Socrates explains that cicadas were once men. For the Loeb translator, Harold North Fowler, the τεττίγες are locusts (today the word in the precise sense refers to swarming grasshoppers), and Socrates speaks thus:

when the Muses were born and song appeared, some of the men were so overcome with delight that they sang and sang, forgetting food and drink, until at last unconsciously they died. From them the locust tribe afterwards arose, and they have this gift from the Muses, that from the time of their birth they need no sustenance, but sing continually, without food or drink, until they die, when they go to the Muses and report who honours each of them on earth.

It is a story I remember when I hear cicadas in the summer. Socrates uses the story as a reason for not being lazy on a fine summer day. Homer may have such a story in mind when he likens the old men of Troy to cicadas. As Murray translates the passage of the Iliad, using the alternative form “cicala,”

Because of old age had they now ceased from battle, but speakers they were full good, like unto cicalas that in a forest sit upon a tree and pour forth their lily-like voice; even in such wise sat the leaders of the Trojans upon the wall.

The lily-like voice could well be an allusion to the Muses—or to the Sirens, daughters of the muse Terpsichore, by the account of Apollonius Rhodius in the Argonautica:

Now when dawn the light-bringer was touching the edge of heaven, then at the coming of the swift west wind they went to their thwarts from the land; and gladly did they draw up the anchors from the deep and made the tackling ready in due order; and above spread the sail, stretching it taut with the sheets from the yard-arm. And a fresh breeze wafted the ship on. And soon they saw a fair island, Anthemoessa, where the clear-voiced Sirens, daughters of Achelous, used to beguile with their sweet songs whoever cast anchor there, and then destroy him. Them lovely Terpsichore, one of the Muses, bare, united with Achelous; and once they tended Demeter’s noble daughter still unwed, and sang to her in chorus; and at that time they were fashioned in part like birds and in part like maidens to behold. And ever on the watch from their place of prospect with its fair haven, often from many had they taken away their sweet return, consuming them with wasting desire; and suddenly to the heroes, too, they sent forth from their lips a lily-like voice (ὄπα λείριον). And they were already about to cast from the ship the hawsers to the shore, had not Thracian Orpheus, son of Oeagrus, stringing in his hands his Bistonian lyre, rung forth the hasty snatch of a rippling melody so that their ears might be filled with the sound of his twanging; and the lyre overcame the maidens’ voice.

It is hard to understand how the Sirens’ song might be like the voices of old men. According to Cunliffe under λειριόεις, the literal meaning, “lily-white,” is an epithet for “the thin voice of the cicada … (the tenuity of the sound app. suggesting the tenuity of the flower’s form).” This interpretation, made by Chapman, seems more appropriate for the old men than the Music (Muse-connected) interpretation.


In having Helen visit the old men on the walls, Homer may be introducing to the world the technique of having one’s characters tell one’s story. Priam asks Helen about the Greeks whom he sees:

Sit then, and name this goodly Greeke, so tall, and broadly spred,
Who then the rest, that stand by him, is higher by the head;
The bravest man I ever saw, and most maiesticall;
His onely presence makes me thinke him King amongst them all.

He is indeed a king, as Helen says, and then she breaks into self-deprecation:

That’s Agamemnon, (Atreus sonne) the great in empery;
A King, whom double royaltie doth crowne, being great and good;
And one that was my brother in law, when I contain’d my bloud,
And was more worthy; if at all, I might be said to be,
My Being, being lost so soone, in all that honour’d me!

For Priam this is only an occasion to admire the Greeks, and to reminisce. In Phrygia once he joined a campaign against “Th’ Amazon dames, that in their facts affected to be men.” That was by the River Sangarius, today’s Sakarya. The Phrygians fought under Otreus and Mygdonus, and there were a lot of Phrygians; but now, before Troy, there are more Greeks. Chapman’s translation does not specify numbers, but only “such a world of Grecian youths, as I discover here!”—all fighting under Agamemnon. Priam is impressed.

The next man observed by Priam is shorter than Agamemnon, but broader-shouldered. Helen explains,

This is the old Laertes sonne, Vlysses cald the wise;
Who, though unfruitfull Ithaca, was made his nursing seate,
Yet knowes he every sort of sleight: and is in counsels great.

Odysseus is good at tricks, and good at giving advice on how to avoid tricks—and these skills are surely not unrelated, as Socrates might well point out. In Book I of the Republic (340a–b), he gets Polemarchus to agree that, here in Shorey’s translation,

Of whatsoever, then, anyone is a skilful guardian, of that he is also a skillful thief … A kind of thief then the just man it seems has turned out to be, and it is likely that you acquired this idea from Homer. For he regards with complacency Autolycus, the maternal uncle of Odysseus (ὁ τοῦ Ὀδυσσέως πρὸς μητρὸς πάππος Ἀυτόλυκος), and says he was gifted beyond all men in thievery and perjury. So justice, according to you and Homer and Simonides, seems to be a kind of stealing, with the qualification that it is for the benefit of friends and the harm of enemies. Isn’t that what you meant?

Shorey seems to have made a simple error here; Autolycus is to Odysseus not an uncle, but a grandfather, and I find no evidence in dictionaries that πάππος ever means other than grandfather or ancestor. Of Autolycus and Odysseus then we may say: like grandfather, like grandson.

The story of Autolycus and how he names Odysseus is told in the Odyssey Book XIX, when Penelope directs a servant to bathe the visiting stranger, who requests only an old servant; Penelope selects Eurycleia, and then Homer tells us the following of the stranger, whom we know to be Odysseus, here in Emily Wilson’s translation (lines 390–409):

He had a premonition in his heart
that when she touched him, she would feel his scar
and all would be revealed. She kneeled beside him,
and washed her master. Suddenly, she felt
the scar. A white-tusked boar had wounded him
on Mount Parnassus long ago. He went there
with his maternal cousins and grandfather,
noble Autolycus, who was the best
of all mankind at telling lies and stealing.
Hermes gave him this talent to reward him
for burning many offerings to him.
Much earlier, Autolycus had gone
to Ithaca to see his daughter’s baby,
and Eurycleia put the newborn child
on his grandfather’s lap and said, “Now name
your grandson—this much-wanted baby boy.”
He told the parents, “Name him this. I am
disliked by many, all across the world,
and I dislike them back. So name the child
‘Odysseus’ …”

Wilson is rather free. Lines 405–9 are

τὴν δ᾽ αὖτ᾽ Αὐτόλυκος ἀπαμείβετο φώνησέν τε:
‘γαμβρὸς ἐμὸς θυγάτηρ τε, τίθεσθ᾽ ὄνομ᾽ ὅττι κεν εἴπω:
πολλοῖσιν γὰρ ἐγώ γε ὀδυσσάμενος τόδ᾽ ἱκάνω,
ἀνδράσιν ἠδὲ γυναιξὶν ἀνὰ χθόνα πουλυβότειραν:
τῷ δ᾽ Ὀδυσεὺς ὄνομ᾽ ἔστω ἐπώνυμον …’

Murray has (with line breaks by me),

Then Autolycus answered her, and said:
“My daughter’s husband and my daughter, give him whatsoever name I say.
Lo, inasmuch as I am come hither as one that has been angered with many,
both men and women, over the fruitful earth,
therefore let the name by which the child is named be Odysseus …”

Here “as one that has been angered” is for the participle ὀδυσσάμενος of ὀδύσσομαι “to be angry.” Scholars are apparently not sure that Homer here is actually correct on the etymology of the name of Odysseus.

On the walls of Troy, Antenor breaks in to recall the time when Odysseus came to Troy with Menelaus, to ask for the return of Helen. The Greeks tried diplomacy first. Menelaus was taller and louder-voiced, but had little to say: he was indeed Laconical. When Odysseus spoke, he “fixt upon the earth his eyes,” but his words “flew about our eares, like drifts of winters snow.”

Telamonian Aias and Idomeneus are described more briefly. Helen looks for her brothers Castor and Pollux. She does not realize that they have died, back home in Sparta. Homer has no words of pity.


Priam is called to perform the rites that will seal the agreement between the Trojans and the Greeks. Paris and Menelaus will fight, the winner will take Helen and her wealth, and—says Idaeus to Priam—

The rest knit friendship, and firme leagues; we safe in Troy shall dwell;
In Argos and Achaia they, that do in dames excell.

Agamemnon prays to the universe:

O Ioue, that Ida dost protect, and hast the titles wonne,
Most glorious, most inuincible; And thou all-seeing Sunne;
All-hearing, all-recomforting; floods! earth! and powers beneath!
That all the periuries of men, chastise euen after death.

As the wine is poured on the ground, “one of both the hosts” prays,

O Iupiter, most high, most great, and all the deathlesse powers;
Who first shall dare to violate, the late sworne oaths of ours,
So let the bloods and braines of them, and all they shall produce,
Flow on the staind face of the earth; as now, this sacred iuice:
And let their wiues with bastardice, brand all their future race.

Wine symbolizes blood, not only for Christians. The pious pour it out, in a controlled way, in hopes that they can also control whose blood will flow. The spelling here of the obsolete word “bastardice” is parallel to “cowardice”; but the spelling in the edition of Nicoll is “bastardise,” parallelling “expertise.”

Homer tells us that the pouring of the wine is in vain. Zeus will not grant the prayers.

War and Peace

Priam cannot watch his son fight; he goes back into the city.

The combat will begin with a javelin throw. The first to throw will be chosen by lot. Recognizing that neither might nor chance makes right, Hector

Pray’d Ioue, the conquest might not be, by force or fortune giuen;
But that the man, who was in right, the author of most wrong,
Might feele his iustice; and no more, these tedious warres prolong.

The lot falls to Paris. His spear is stopped by the shield of Menelaus, who prays for success, a success that will benefit the sacred bond of host and guest.

That any now, or any one, of all the brood of men
To liue hereafter, may with feare, from all offence abstaine,
(Much more from all such foule offence) to him that was his host,
And entertain’d him, as the man, whom he affected most.

Here “affected” apparently means loved.

Presently Menelaus will complain, “Why haue I pray’d in vaine?” His lance hits Paris in the gut, and Menelaus brings his sword down on Paris’s helmet; but the sword breaks. He grabs the helmet and would strangle Paris; but Aphrodite breaks the chin-strap and carries Paris away.

She hid him in a cloud of gold, and neuer made him knowne,
Till in his chamber, (fresh and sweet) she gently set him downe.

The goddess now takes the guise of Graea, a servant whom Helen brought from Sparta. But Helen can tell the Graea is really Aphrodite. Helen knows that Menelaus has won the duel, and she expects to go home with him; however, the goddess may give Helen to the lusts of some other man, in Phrygia or Maeonia. May the goddess herself go serve the pleasure of Paris; Helen does not want to see him:

what shame, were it for me to feed
This lust in him! all honour’d Dames, would hate me for the deed;
He leaues a womans loue so sham’d, and showes so base a mind;
To feele, nor my shame, nor his owne; griefes of a greater kind
Wound me, then such as can admit, such kind delights so soone.

Helen thus still recognises the power of love, and Aphrodite traps her with this:

Incense me not you wretch, lest (once incenst) I leaue
Thy curst life to as strange a hate, as yet it may receiue
A loue from me …

Aphrodite could allow the Greeks and Trojans to see the cause of all their troubles in Helen, whom they would then kill instantly. Is it not better to go to bed with Paris?

Helen goes to Paris, but taunts him with his cowardice. He should be ashamed to be seen alive. Paris brushes it off:

Pray thee woman ceasse, to chide and grieue me thus:
Disgraces will not euer last; looke on their end; on vs
Will other Gods, at other times, let fall the victors wreath,
As on him Pallas put it now. Shall our loue sinke beneath
The hate of fortune? In loues fire, let all hates vanish …

Seize the day. Paris has never desired Helen more than now, not even when he first took her. She yields.

Meanwhile, outside the city, Menelaus looks frantically for Paris. The Trojans are not hiding him: “All hated him.”

Agamemnon finally observes that Menelaus did win the duel, and the Trojans should now return Helen.

Shorey’s error on Autolycus’s relation to Odysseus corrected,
and the relevant lines from the Odyssey quoted,
December 10, 2022

7 Trackbacks

  1. […] Priam goes to ransom his son’s corpse from Achilles, we shall know how nervous Priam is. In Book III, he will be too nervous to see his son Paris fight a duel with Menelaus. But now I see no clear […]

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  4. By On Plato’s Republic, 12 « Polytropy on November 22, 2021 at 10:07 pm

    […] to take up Socrates’s proverbial expression about a vegetable and a mineral in blogging about Book III of the Iliad. I noted how, in the Phaedrus, Socrates tells the title character […]

  5. By On Homer’s Iliad Book III « Polytropy on December 12, 2022 at 5:23 pm

    […] is a summary of Book III, more detailed than the one I supplied in 2017 while reading Chapman’s […]

  6. By Emotional Contagion (Iliad VIII) « Polytropy on January 19, 2023 at 6:08 am

    […] so happens that Thoreau’s next paragraph refers to the story to which Homer alludes in Book III of the […]

  7. By Grief (Iliad Book XXII) « Polytropy on April 27, 2023 at 6:54 pm

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