Hector and Helen goaded Paris to fight Menelaus

According to the Iliad, nine years into the Trojan War’s massive violence against men, Greek and Trojan men faced each other on the battlefield outside Troy. Prince Paris, son of the Trojan king Priam, moved forward from the Trojan line and challenged the Greek men to a face-to-face fight. The Greek king and fearsome warrior Menelaus eagerly leaped down from his chariot and sought to kill Paris. Menelaus’s wife had left him to become Paris’s wife, Helen of Troy. Punishment for adultery, like the institutionalized violence of war, has long been gender-biased against men. Both Paris’s brother Hector and his wife Helen goaded him to fight Menelaus. Paris’s self-abasing responses underscore deeply entrenched disregard for men’s lives.

Menelaus pursues Paris; painting on ancient Greek vase

When Paris saw Menelaus coming towards him, he retreated back into the line of Trojan men. The leading Trojan warrior Hector, seeing his brother retreating, castigated him:

Evil Paris, excellent in appearance, mad for woman, deceiver —
if only you were impotent and had died unmarried.
This I would wish, and it would be much better
than being both an outrage and mockery to others.
The long-haired Greek men must be laughing at you,
saying you’re an eminent champion only because you have a beautiful
appearance, for you don’t have force in your guts, nor strength.

{ Δύσπαρι εἶδος ἄριστε γυναιμανὲς ἠπεροπευτὰ
αἴθ᾽ ὄφελες ἄγονός τ᾽ ἔμεναι ἄγαμός τ᾽ ἀπολέσθαι:
καί κε τὸ βουλοίμην, καί κεν πολὺ κέρδιον ἦεν
ἢ οὕτω λώβην τ᾽ ἔμεναι καὶ ὑπόψιον ἄλλων.
ἦ που καγχαλόωσι κάρη κομόωντες Ἀχαιοὶ
φάντες ἀριστῆα πρόμον ἔμμεναι, οὕνεκα καλὸν
εἶδος ἔπ᾽, ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἔστι βίη φρεσὶν οὐδέ τις ἀλκή. }[1]

Men’s beauty should be appreciated, not ridiculed. Wishing a man to be impotent is truly wicked. Men too often are devalued as lovers and directed to be instruments of violence. Hector thus taunted his brother Paris:

Can’t you face Menelaus, beloved of Ares?
Then you would know the sort of man whose lively wife you have.
You wouldn’t be helped by your cithara or your gifts of Aphrodite —
your hair and your appearance — when you would be mingling with dust.
But the Trojans — they are very afraid. Otherwise, you would already
be dead with a stone tunic because of all the bad deeds you have done!

{ οὐκ ἂν δὴ μείνειας ἀρηΐφιλον Μενέλαον;
γνοίης χ᾽ οἵου φωτὸς ἔχεις θαλερὴν παράκοιτιν:
οὐκ ἄν τοι χραίσμῃ κίθαρις τά τε δῶρ᾽ Ἀφροδίτης
ἥ τε κόμη τό τε εἶδος ὅτ᾽ ἐν κονίῃσι μιγείης.
ἀλλὰ μάλα Τρῶες δειδήμονες: ἦ τέ κεν ἤδη
λάϊνον ἕσσο χιτῶνα κακῶν ἕνεχ᾽ ὅσσα ἔοργας. }

Paris in response didn’t vigorously claim his own beauty and his personal worth. He instead proposed that he and Menelaus fight for Helen, as if she were a priceless prize for him, rather than he being a priceless prize for her:

Hector, you rebuke me rightly, not beyond what’s right.

But don’t fling into my face lovely gifts of Aphrodite,
which are glorious and may not be refused,
like gifts of the gods themselves, which one wouldn’t willingly choose.
But now, if you want me to battle and fight,
make the other Trojans and all the Greeks sit down,
and set between the armies me and Menelaus, beloved of Ares,
to fight for Helen and all her property.
Whoever of us two proves himself better and wins,
let him rightly take home the woman and all her wealth.

{ Ἕκτορ ἐπεί με κατ᾽ αἶσαν ἐνείκεσας οὐδ᾽ ὑπὲρ αἶσαν

μή μοι δῶρ᾽ ἐρατὰ πρόφερε χρυσέης Ἀφροδίτης:
οὔ τοι ἀπόβλητ᾽ ἐστὶ θεῶν ἐρικυδέα δῶρα
ὅσσά κεν αὐτοὶ δῶσιν, ἑκὼν δ᾽ οὐκ ἄν τις ἕλοιτο:
νῦν αὖτ᾽ εἴ μ᾽ ἐθέλεις πολεμίζειν ἠδὲ μάχεσθαι,
ἄλλους μὲν κάθισον Τρῶας καὶ πάντας Ἀχαιούς,
αὐτὰρ ἔμ᾽ ἐν μέσσῳ καὶ ἀρηΐφιλον Μενέλαον
συμβάλετ᾽ ἀμφ᾽ Ἑλένῃ καὶ κτήμασι πᾶσι μάχεσθαι:
ὁππότερος δέ κε νικήσῃ κρείσσων τε γένηται,
κτήμαθ᾽ ἑλὼν εὖ πάντα γυναῖκά τε οἴκαδ᾽ ἀγέσθω }[2]

Women don’t have greater intrinsic human value than do men. Women should buy beloved men dinners and give them expensive gifts, if only as reparations for the terrible anti-men gender injustices that the Iliad illustrates.

Aphrodite saving Paris from Menelaus as Odysseus watches; carving on marble sarcophagus

The goddess of love Aphrodite loved men. Just as Menelaus was about to drag Paris by his head to sure death, Aphrodite snatched Paris away. She wrapped him in mist and transported him to his sensuous bedroom. Helen was then viewing the horrific violence against men from her protected, privileged position high up on a Trojan fortress wall.[3] Aphrodite summoned Helen to enjoy conjugal relations with her husband Paris, still alive thanks only to that goddess of love:

Helen, come this way. Paris calls you to come home.
He’s there in the marital bedroom, on the bed with inlaid rings.
He’s gleaming with his beauty and robes. You wouldn’t say
he came from fighting a foe, but rather he was going to a dance,
or from a dance having recently returned, he was resting.

{ δεῦρ᾽ ἴθ᾽: Ἀλέξανδρός σε καλεῖ οἶκον δὲ νέεσθαι.
κεῖνος ὅ γ᾽ ἐν θαλάμῳ καὶ δινωτοῖσι λέχεσσι
κάλλεΐ τε στίλβων καὶ εἵμασιν: οὐδέ κε φαίης
ἀνδρὶ μαχεσσάμενον τόν γ᾽ ἐλθεῖν, ἀλλὰ χορὸν δὲ
ἔρχεσθ᾽, ἠὲ χοροῖο νέον λήγοντα καθίζειν. }

Even when tired, men strive to fulfill as best they can their sexual obligation to their wives. Helen, however, viciously taunted Aphrodite about loving Paris.[4] Helen then declared that she wouldn’t go to her husband for fear of what other women would think of her:

There I will not go. It would be shameful
to continue to share that man’s bed, for all the Trojan women
would blame me afterwards. I have measureless griefs at heart.

{ κεῖσε δ᾽ ἐγὼν οὐκ εἶμι: νεμεσσητὸν δέ κεν εἴη:
κείνου πορσανέουσα λέχος: Τρῳαὶ δέ μ᾽ ὀπίσσω
πᾶσαι μωμήσονται: ἔχω δ᾽ ἄχε᾽ ἄκριτα θυμῷ. }[5]

Helen was a brazen adulterer in relation to her first husband Menelaus. In relation to her second husband Paris, she was a cowardly wife.

The prospects of a sexless marriage between Helen and Paris infuriated Aphrodite. She castigated Helen:

Don’t provoke me, wicked woman, or in anger I’ll desert you.
I can hate you, just as I now excessively love you.
and I can devise grievous hatred of you from both sides,
Trojans and Greeks alike. Then you would perish under an evil fate.

{ μή μ᾽ ἔρεθε σχετλίη, μὴ χωσαμένη σε μεθείω,
τὼς δέ σ᾽ ἀπεχθήρω ὡς νῦν ἔκπαγλα φίλησα,
μέσσῳ δ᾽ ἀμφοτέρων μητίσομαι ἔχθεα λυγρὰ
Τρώων καὶ Δαναῶν, σὺ δέ κεν κακὸν οἶτον ὄληαι. }

Helen thus agreed to go with the goddess of love to Paris in their marital bedroom.

Greek Prince Paris standing nude and holding an apple behind his back; sculpture

In their marital bedroom, Helen viciously taunted her current husband Paris as being a loser relative her former husband Menelaus. As if she were a Spartan mother speaking to her warrior son, Helen expressed contempt for Paris’s life:

You have returned from the war. I wish you had died there,
vanquished by the mighty man who was my former husband.
Once you boasted that, compared to Menelaus, beloved of Ares,
you were stronger with your hands and better with your spear.
But go now and challenge Menelaus, beloved of Ares,
to a duel again.

{ ἤλυθες ἐκ πολέμου: ὡς ὤφελες αὐτόθ᾽ ὀλέσθαι
ἀνδρὶ δαμεὶς κρατερῷ, ὃς ἐμὸς πρότερος πόσις ἦεν.
ἦ μὲν δὴ πρίν γ᾽ εὔχε᾽ ἀρηϊφίλου Μενελάου
σῇ τε βίῃ καὶ χερσὶ καὶ ἔγχεϊ φέρτερος εἶναι
ἀλλ᾽ ἴθι νῦν προκάλεσσαι ἀρηΐφιλον Μενέλαον
ἐξαῦτις μαχέσασθαι ἐναντίον }

Rather than dueling with Menelaus, Paris sought to have sex with his wife Helen. She, however, preferred him dead because he had shown himself to be a weaker fighter than her former husband. With cutting mockery, she reversed herself and advised him not to fight Menelaus:

But I myself
ask you to refrain, not to duel with fair-haired Menelaus
face-to-face, not to battle or fight with him without thought,
for soon he might vanquish you with his spear.

{ ἀλλά σ᾽ ἔγωγε
παύεσθαι κέλομαι, μηδὲ ξανθῷ Μενελάῳ
ἀντίβιον πόλεμον πολεμίζειν ἠδὲ μάχεσθαι
ἀφραδέως, μή πως τάχ᾽ ὑπ᾽ αὐτοῦ δουρὶ δαμήῃς. }

In the context of the brutalization of men’s sexuality, Helen’s reference to the superior power of Menelaus’s spear sexually belittles Paris. What husband would want to have sex with his wife after she wished him dead and taunted him as sexually inferior to her former husband?[6]

Like a battered husband, Paris continued to love Helen despite her verbal abuse of him. He protested her abuse only mildly. It apparently spurred his sexual desire for her:

Dear woman, don’t disparage me with harsh, reviling words.
This time Menelaus has vanquished me with Athena’s aid,
but another time I will vanquish him. On our side too, gods will help.
Come, let us have joy, sleeping together in love,
for sexual desire has never so enveloped my mind,
not even when I first swept you up from lovely Lacedaemon,
sailed away with you on my sea-going ships,
and on the island of Cranae mingled with you in love’s embrace.
Now I love you more, so sweet desire enraptures me.

{ μή με γύναι χαλεποῖσιν ὀνείδεσι θυμὸν ἔνιπτε:
νῦν μὲν γὰρ Μενέλαος ἐνίκησεν σὺν Ἀθήνῃ,
κεῖνον δ᾽ αὖτις ἐγώ: πάρα γὰρ θεοί εἰσι καὶ ἡμῖν.
ἀλλ᾽ ἄγε δὴ φιλότητι τραπείομεν εὐνηθέντε:
οὐ γάρ πώ ποτέ μ᾽ ὧδέ γ᾽ ἔρως φρένας ἀμφεκάλυψεν,
οὐδ᾽ ὅτε σε πρῶτον Λακεδαίμονος ἐξ ἐρατεινῆς
ἔπλεον ἁρπάξας ἐν ποντοπόροισι νέεσσι,
νήσῳ δ᾽ ἐν Κραναῇ ἐμίγην φιλότητι καὶ εὐνῇ,
ὥς σεο νῦν ἔραμαι καί με γλυκὺς ἵμερος αἱρεῖ. }

The divinity helping on Paris’s side was the goddess of love Aphrodite. He would have been better off hating like the goddess Hera.

Helen and Paris in their bedroom; painting

Paris’s embrace of Helen, who rightly called herself a “shameless bitch {κυνώπης},” shows the same bad judgment that caused the Trojan War’s massive violence against men. Menelaus should have considered himself fortunate when Helen ran off with Paris. Instead he gathered a huge army of Greek men to fight and die with Trojan men for that one nasty woman. Paris’s embrace of Helen after she wished him dead and disparaged him sexually indicates the folly of Greek and Trojan men — all men — more generally.[7]

The gender trouble is even worse. If Paris had fought with Menelaus before the start of the Trojan War, and the killing of one of those men would have prevented the killing of many more men, at least their duel would improved men’s welfare in aggregate. In reality, Hector goaded Paris into fighting with Menelaus during the ninth year of the horrific Trojan War. Moreover, Hera manipulated her husband Zeus into having the Trojans break their agreement with the Greeks to turn over Helen and her wealth if Menelaus defeated Paris. The Trojan War’s horrific violence against men thus continued even after Menelaus and Paris’s duel.

Having read the Iliad, Virgil understood gender trouble. You should, too.

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Homer, Iliad 3.39-45, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified) from Murray (1924). Subsequent quotes from the Iliad are similarly sourced. Although Hector was a fearsome warrior, his rebuke of Paris is milder than Helen’s rebuke of Paris. Minchin (2010) p. 390. On Hector’s rebukes in the Iliad, Driscoll (2010).

To help the general reader, I use “Greek men” for “Achaean men {Ἀχαιοί}” in the English translations. I similarly replace “Alexander” with “Paris.” Alexander was another name used for the Trojan prince Paris, although the two names were associated with different characterizations and perhaps different sources. Suter (1993) p. 2.

The Chicago Homer, which includes Richmond’s Lattimore’s English translation, provides a useful resource for studying the ancient Greek text of the Iliad. Lattimore’s introduction reviews the literary context and poetic style of the Iliad. Numerous other English translations of the Iliad are freely available online, including those of Butler (1898), Johnston (2002), and Kline (2009).

The Iliad’s editors and translators, who have been predominately men, haven’t adequately recognized the tragedy of men’s impotence. Commenting on Iliad 3.40, Kirk astutely observed:

ἄγονος could be taken either in a passive sense (‘unborn’) or in an active one, not so much ‘childless’ (as the emperor Augustus evidently meant when he used the verse against his daughter) as ‘unable to produce children’ — and then not because sterile but because impotent. There is no particular meaning of ἄγονος which makes Hektor’s wish absolutely logical and self-consistent — it is, after all, a highly rhetorical formulation; but what he wishes is that Paris had not been able to be γυναιμανής (as in 39) and so become involved in disastrous sexual unions (for that, rather than legal marriage, is the implication of ἄγονος here). Nearly all editors understand ‘unborn’, nevertheless.

Kirk (1985) p. 271. For Iliad 3.40, Murray has the (inconsistent) translation: “I wish that you had never been born and had died unwed.”

The subsequent quotes above are Iliad 3.52-7 (Can’t you face Menelaus…), 3.59, 64-72 (Hector, you rebuke me rightly…), 3.390-4 (Helen, come this way…), 3.410-2 (There I will not go…), 3.414-7 (Don’t provoke me, wicked woman…), 3.428-33 (You have returned from the war…), 3.433-36 (But I myself…), 3.438-46 (Dear woman, don’t disparage me…), 3.180 (shameless bitch).

[2] Iliad 3.70 and 3.72 literally refer to the winner of Menelaus and Paris’s duel taking Helen and “the possessions {κτήμᾰτᾰ}.” As Lattimore and Murray’s English translations recognize, the possessions in context are best understood as Helen’s possessions. Reversing the direct sense of the pun on Helen’s name in Iliad 3.72 and drawing upon the deeply entrenched social practice of gender-biased criminalization of men, Blondell asserted that “the possessions” are goods that Paris stole from Menelaus when Helen and Paris eloped. Blondell (2010) pp. 3, 8. Critically thinking persons should recognize the prevalent gender bias in penal punishment.

Ancient scholars better appreciated Helen’s agency in taking possessions. Proclus’s summary of the Cypria, attributed to Stasinus of Cyprus and probably originating in the Hellenistic period, has Helen and Alexander together loading up their ship with valuables and sailing away in the night. Apollodorus has Helen alone putting property on board the ship. Helen also abandons Hermione, her nine-year-old daughter with Menelaus. Apollodorus, Epitome 3.3.

[3] From up on the Trojan city wall, Helen viewed the Greek and Trojan men preparing to attack each other and the duel of Menelaus and Paris. That section of the Iliad is known as the “viewing from the wall {teichoscopia / τειχοσκοπία}.” Summoning Helen to the τειχοσκοπία, the messenger goddess Iris explained that the Trojan and Greek men had ceased their battle:

But Paris and Menelaus, beloved of Ares,
will fight with their long spears for you.
You will be called the beloved wife of the one who wins.

{ αὐτὰρ Ἀλέξανδρος καὶ ἀρηΐφιλος Μενέλαος
μακρῇς ἐγχείῃσι μαχήσονται περὶ σεῖο:
τῷ δέ κε νικήσαντι φίλη κεκλήσῃ ἄκοιτις. }

Iliad, 3.136-8. Women are deeply implicated in epic violence against men. Women must do more to lessen violence against men. Not regarding violence against men as a spectating opportunity would help to devalue such violence.

Michael Delahoyde observes:

This book {Iliad, Book 3} contains the famous “teichoskopia”: the viewing from the wall. (Is this even a thing? Where else in any form of literature or film does one find a “viewing from the wall”?)

From high up on a fortress wall, women viewing men engaged in horrific violence against men is a common scene in medieval European literature. It’s closely associated with the men-devaluing tradition of chivalry. For an example of a leading classicist ignoring the role of women in encouraging stupid, pointless wars, Scodel (2008).

Voluminous scholarly cant about men’s “objectification” of women and men “trafficking” in women has tended to trivialize violence against men and innumerable killings of men. For example, a scholar declared:

In the Iliad, the objectification of Helen as “bride” is most obvious in the duel that Menelaus and Paris fight over her while she looks on from the walls of Troy.

Blondell (2010) p. 3. From her protected, privileged position, Helen is gazing down upon men attempting to kill each other. The concept of Helen’s “objectification” here is, most obviously, obfuscatory. Helen’s female gaze is actively bestializing men and objectifying them as tools of gynocentric values.

[4] Helen describes Aphrodite encouraging her to have sex with her husband Paris as deceptive. Helen then essentially suggests that Aphrodite herself go have sex with Paris. Helen’s words are cold and vicious. Bowie commented:

Helen’s words here are among the strongest criticisms addressed to a divine figure in Greek literature. … Characters in Greek literature regularly complain about the gods, but none uses language as free and downright rude as this…

Bowie (2019) p. 160. Helen expresses “insolence and sarcasm” toward Aphrodite. Minchin (2008) p. 390. In the second century BGC, the influential Homeric scholar Aristarchus of Samothrace athetized these verses. Hunter (2018) p. 69. Readers have often failed to accept the full breadth of women’s humanity.

[5] Based on detailed philological analysis of this passage, Bonifazi (2016) concludes:

Helen is jealous of Aphrodite’s vouchsafing to Alexander {Paris} not only safety but also charm and beauty. Through her pronominal choices and their host clauses she conveys that she would like to keep distance from Alexander, while acknowledging, at the same time, his beautiful appearance.

Philology is vitally important. Nonetheless, this conclusion seems to me misleading without keen understanding of the broader context of Helen’s relations to Menelaus and Alexander / Paris.

The Iliad never explicitly describes a marriage ceremony or marriage agreement between Helen and Paris. Helen is usually called Paris’s “ἄλοχον,” which can mean “mistress” rather than “wife.” Bowie (2019) p. 164, discussing Helen taunting Aphrodite in Iliad 3.409. Helen, however, clearly shares Paris’s bed, apparently exclusively. She has high status among Priam’s ruling family. See, e.g. Iliad 3.361-5 (King Priam addressing Helen). Helen calls King Priam “beloved father-in-law {φίλος ἑκυρός}.” Iliad 3.172. Book 3 of the Iliad suggests symmetry between Menelaus and Paris as Helen’s former and current husbands, respectively. Helen refers to Paris’s brother Hector as her “brother-in-law {δαήρ}.” Iliad 6.344, 24.762. Hector in turn describes Helen as having an affectionate relationship with him. Iliad 6.360. Helen similarly describes her relationship with Hector. Iliad 24.767-72. Helen refers to Alexander / Paris as her “πόσις {husband}.” Overall, the literary evidence overwhelming indicates that throughout the Iliad, Helen and Paris are married as marriage was understood in the archaic Greek world.

[6] Helen’s words here are “bitterly sarcastic and hostile.” Kirk (1985) p. 327. Helen “upbraids her husband.” She has a “hostile, unwelcoming mood.” Minchin (2008) pp. 391, 392. Some scholars nonetheless interpreted Helen’s words as “a genuine outburst of concern for Paris.” Hunter (2018) p. 70.

Helen’s unwillingness to have sex with her husband Paris has often been moralistically misinterpreted. Ancient scholars, as well as modern anti-meninists, have interpreted women’s sexual passion for men as folly. Hunter (2018) pp. 77-8, citing Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 28.4-7, and Euripides, Trojan Women 983-92. A husband and wife having sex in the afternoon was also apparently regarded as shameful. Id. p. 79, citing Plutarch, Moralia 18f, 655a. Within the context of the Iliad, Helen’s sense of shame in having sex with her husband Paris is best interpreted as responding to Paris being socially regarded as the loser of his duel with Menelaus.

[7] In the teichoscopia, Helen calls herself a “shameless bitch {κυνώπης}” in describing her relation to Menelaus. Iliad 3.180. She subsequently calls herself a “horrible, evil-intriguing bitch {κῠ́ων κᾰκομήχᾰνος ὀκρυόεις},” or in short, a “bitch {κύων}.” Iliad 6.344, 356. In the Odyssey, Helen characterizes herself as a “shameless bitch {κυνώπης}” in relation to Menelaus. Odyssey 4.145. Understood less literally, Helen substantively calls herself a “shameless whore.”

A strand of ancient thought regarded the Trojan War as foolish. E.g. Herodotus, Histories 1.4. More generally, Scodel (2008) p. 220. But men too often have passively accepted the social construction of men’s disposability. For example, elderly chief men of Troy saw Helen looking upon the Trojan and Greek men prepared to do battle. The elderly chief men of Troy declared:

Surely the Trojan men and the well-greaved Greek men cannot be blamed
that they have long suffered woes on account of such a woman.
To look upon her is terribly like looking upon immortal goddesses.
Although she is like them, even so let her go home on the ships,
and not be left here to be grief to us and to our children after us.

{ οὐ νέμεσις Τρῶας καὶ ἐϋκνήμιδας Ἀχαιοὺς
τοιῇδ᾽ ἀμφὶ γυναικὶ πολὺν χρόνον ἄλγεα πάσχειν:
αἰνῶς ἀθανάτῃσι θεῇς εἰς ὦπα ἔοικεν:
ἀλλὰ καὶ ὧς τοίη περ ἐοῦσ᾽ ἐν νηυσὶ νεέσθω,
μηδ᾽ ἡμῖν τεκέεσσί τ᾽ ὀπίσσω πῆμα λίποιτο. }

Iliad, 3.156-60. The elderly men associate mythic punishment for the male gaze with gazing upon Helen. Men should be blamed for not vigorously asserting all persons’ freedom to gaze and imagine as they so choose. Men should also be blamed for gyno-idolatry. Within the Iliad, Paris is blamed for the Trojan War. Suter (1993). Elderly chief men of Troy at least recognized the merit of simply sending Helen away.

Classical scholars have striven to excuse and justify Helen’s behavior amid men’s reluctance to criticize her. A peer-reviewed work of gynocentric ideological contortions justified not blaming Helen on the basis of modern academic myth asserting “the male” to have a larger scope of agency than women:

The objectification of Helen therefore dovetails with the well-known fact that blame directed towards her by Iliadic characters other than herself is muted or non-existent. It is Paris who takes the blame, from Achaeans and Trojans alike, in acknowledgment of the larger scope for agency assigned to the male.

Blondell (2010) p. 4. Classical literature amply documents the classical pattern of men taking the blame, and women taking the credit. Another literary scholar more expansively declared:

The dazzling question after the ‘Teichoscopia’ concerns the value inherent in listening to a song tradition that deals with the struggle of two armies for the possession of a woman (Helen) who is the symbol of blame. The Iliadic tradition thus questions the very ontogeny of its subject matter and, by extension, of the genre it belongs to. Skillfully enough, there is a way out of the impasse. As only Helen can blame Helen, so only is the Iliad allowed to question its own validity.

Tsagalis (2008), from Chapter 6 (footnote omitted). The “dazzling question” is actually a tendentious question. Readers can and should blame Helen for massive violence against men. Moreover, the “validity” of the Iliad depends inextricably on the critical intelligence of the hearer or reader.

A recent Ph.D. thesis in classics argues that “central to the thematic program of the Iliad is a feminine-coded critique of masculine warrior values.” Warwick (2018) p. 3. On gender-stereotypical analysis of the Iliad, Dayton (2018). In contrast to superficial stereotypes, women have a directing role in epic violence against men. One might much more interestingly argue that central to the thematic program of the Iliad is a masculine-coded critique of feminine warrior values. Ausonius and Proba in the fourth century and Walafrid Strabo in the ninth century had similar critical views of violence against men.

More generally, young classicists would do well to learn from medieval Latin literature. They might ponder a medieval proverb preserved in Piers Plowman:

Alas for me, what a barren, useless youth I led!

{ Heu michi quia sterilem duxi vitam iuvenilem! }

William Langland (attributed), Piers Plowman / William’s Vision of Piers Plowman {Visio Willelmi de Petro Ploughman} 1.139, Middle English text (B version) from Schmidt (1978) via Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse, my English translation. This Latin leonine verse apparently was proverbial. It also survives in the proverb collection of John Rylands Library, Latin MS 394, written early or in the middle of the fifteenth century. Alford (1975) p. 392. For proverbs in Rylands MS 394, Pantin (1930).

[images] (1) Menelaus pursues Paris as the goddesses Aphrodite and Artemis watch. Painting on Attic red-figure kylix from Capua in southern Italy, c. 490–480 BGC. Preserved in the Louvre Museum (Paris) as accession # G 115. Source image thanks to Bibi Saint-Pol and Wikimedia Commons. Here’s another image of this vase painting. (2) Aphrodite saving Paris from Menelaus as Odysseus watches. Carving on marble sarcophagus of Aurelia Botania Demetria from second century GC. Preserved in the Antalya Archaeological Museum (Turkey). Source image thanks to Wolfgang Sauber and Wikimedia Commons. (3) Greek prince Paris standing nude and holding an apple behind his back. Marble sculpture designed by Antonio Canova in 1812 and completed by his workshop in 1822-23. Preserved as accession # 2003.21.2 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York). Credit line: Bequest of Lillian Rojtman Berkman, 2001. Source image generously contributed to the public domain by the Metropolitan Museum. (4) Helen and Paris in their bedroom. Painting (excerpt) by Jacques-Louis David in 1788. Preserved as accession # Inv. 3696 in the Louvre Museum (Paris). Source image thanks to Livioandronico2013 and Wikimedia Commons. Here’s another detail view.


Alford, John A. 1975. “Some Unidentified Quotations in Piers Plowman.” Modern Philology. 72(4): 390–99.

Blondell, Ruby. 2010. “‘Bitch That I Am’: Self-Blame and Self-Assertion in the Iliad.” Transactions of the American Philological Association. 140(1): 1–32.

Bonifazi, Anna. 2016. “Helen’s mixed feelings for Alexander in Iliad 3: the cognitive, pragmatic, and emotional significance of third-person pronouns.” Classical Inquires. Guest post dated May 2, 2016.

Bowie, Angus M. 2019. Homer. Iliad. Book III (Commentary). Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. Reviews by Christina Kraus, by James V. Morrison, and by Anthony Verity.

Dayton, John. 2018. “Eros and Polemos: Eroticized Combat in the Trojan War Myth.” Pp. 65-80 in John T. Grider and Dionne Van Reenen, eds. Exploring Erotic Encounters: The Inescapable Entanglement of Tradition, Transcendence, and Transgression. Leiden: Brill. Alternate source.

Driscoll, David F. 2010. Gentle reproach: Hektor’s hortatory and goading rebukes in the Iliad. Master of Arts Thesis, University of Georgia.

Hunter, Richard. 2018. The Measure of Homer: The Ancient Reception of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kirk, G. S. 1985. Homer. The Iliad: A Commentary. Volume 1, Books 1-4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Minchin, Elizabeth. 2010. “From Gentle Teasing to Heavy Sarcasm: Instances of Rhetorical Irony in Homer’s Iliad.” Hermes. 138 (4): 387–402.

Murray, A. T., trans. Revised by William F. Wyatt. 1924. Homer. Iliad. Loeb Classical Library 170 and 171. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Alternate source for Murray’s translation.

Pantin, W. A. 1930. “A Medieval Collection of Latin and English Proverbs and Riddles from the Rylands Latin MS 394.” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library. 14(1): 81–114.

Scodel, Ruth. 2008. “Stupid Pointless Wars.” Transactions of the American Philological Association. 138(2): 219–35.

Suter, Ann. 1993. “Paris and Dionysos: Iambos in the Iliad.” Arethusa. 26(1): 1–18.

Tsagalis, Christos. 2008. The Oral Palimpsest: Exploring Intertextuality in the Homeric Epics. Hellenic Studies Series 29. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Warwick, Celsiana. 2018. For Those Yet to Come: Gender and Kleos in the Iliad. Classics Ph.D. Thesis, University of California, Los Angeles.

One thought on “Hector and Helen goaded Paris to fight Menelaus”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Current month ye@r day *