HOMER: The Iliad [Book III]

In Book III of Homer’s Iliad, the Grecian and Trojan armies face off with one another. Before they engage, the two armies agree to determine the war by a single combat between Menelaus, the Spartan King, and Paris, the Trojan Prince who stole Menelaus’ wife, Helen, and sparked the Trojan War.

The duel between Menelaus and Paris ensues. Menelaus easily defeats the younger and weaker Paris. But when he is about to strike the deathblow, the goddess Venus whisks Paris away in a cloud. Venus deposits Paris safely in his room behind the Trojan walls, and the Grecian Kings demand that the Trojans restore Helen to Menelaus and concede defeat as they had agreed to do before the duel if Paris lost.

Toward the latter part of this book, Helen confides in the Trojan King, Priam, that she wishes she had never forsaken her husband, family, and friends in Sparta to travel to Troy because of the violent and destructive consequences that ensued. Priam assures her that the war is not her fault, but rather the gods’ fault. Recall that Greek mythology maintains that Venus, the goddess of Love, gave Menelaus’ wife, Helen, to Paris, which was the act that sparked the Trojan War.

As Venus was the Ancient Greek goddess of Love, we can interpret all the actions of Venus as the motions of Love. Consequently, when Venus encourages Paris to steal Helen away from Sparta, we can interpret the scene as Love persuading Paris to steal Helen. Also, when Venus conveys Paris away from the battlefield when he is in danger of being killed by Menelaus, we can interpret the scene as Love persuading Paris to flee the duel.

Thus, Love not only sparks the Trojan War, but also prolongs the bloody event. If Love had not persuaded Paris to steal Helen, then the Trojan War would have never happened. If Love had not caused Paris to violate the articles of the duel, then the Trojan War would have ended. Paris, however, is unable to overcome the power of Love.

Although Homer demonstrates the violent and dangerous aspects of Love in Book III, he does not entirely condemn Love. In later books, he discusses Love’s redemptive qualities, but we will need to wait until then to learn what they are.

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