4

In the Iliad why is there no continuation of the duel between Paris and Menelaus?

I guess I will never understand the mentality of the Iliad but the whole war is started by a Paris vs Menelaus rivalry so to speak and an agreement to settle it as such. Why is there no call to just continue the duel?

  • 2
    The duel was over the moment Paris fled. What's the point of calling for another duel between Paris and Menelaus if you know Paris will flee? And even if we assume the Greeks did call for a second duel, why would Paris even consider it? – yannis Aug 4 at 21:02
  • Furthermore, even if the war may superficially seem like a quarell between Menelaus and Paris, it certainly isn't just that. The Greeks have raised a massive army, and travelled to the other side of their known world. They are absolutely not going to accept going home empty-handed. That is not how war works. The duel is just a gimmick, to create the illusion that they crossed the sea for honor, not for the riches of Troy. However, everyone knows the pair isn't evenly matched. Paris doesn't stand a chance against Menelaus, the Greeks wouldn't have offered the duel if they thought otherwise. – yannis Aug 4 at 21:15
  • @yannis Well yes there is the idea that the Greeks may continue even after the return of Helen but surely the fact that they agreed to stop the war with the return had to mean something in an age where honor was so important and supposedly the Gods cared?? – Hao S Aug 5 at 0:06
  • The duel helps the storyteller paint an honorable picture of the Greeks and also shame Paris as a coward. But that's just about it. A story of an army of a thousand ships going to the other side of the known world only to watch a duel and then return home isn't a very interesting one. Or one that makes a lot of sense, really. How can a story that starts with the king of kings sacrificing his daughter for the cause end on such a dull note. Sure, Menelaus would perhaps be satisfied. But how about everyone else? – yannis Aug 5 at 0:27
  • 2
    The duel is never meant to conclude. The storyteller only adds it in the story to tell us that the Greeks at least tried to be honorable and that Paris is a coward. That's the whole - and only - point of the duel. The agreement is not significant. The storyteller already knows the duel isn't going to go through as planned, they know Paris will flee. And in doing so, he will release the Greeks from the agreement with their honour intact. – yannis Aug 5 at 1:31
4

The Trojan War is the continuation of that duel. The idea of a duel between individuals, with no collective consequences, reappears sometimes in history during times of rugged individualism: in the late chivalric Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, among Vikings, in the Wild West, etc. But apart from these exceptions, the feud, involving clan honor and clan vengeance, is dominant throughout history. To quote that article: "the blood feud, coupled with the practice of blood price, functioned as an effective form of social control for limiting and ending conflicts between individuals". The duel between Paris and Menelaos, being unresolved, devolves onto their clans; and these clans being royal and existing in a web of inter-clan alliances, the feud becomes a full-blown war. To quote historian Marc Bloch, The Feudal Society:

The solitary individual, however, could do but little. Moreover, it was most commonly a death that had to be avenged. In this case the family group went into action and the feud came into being ... No moral obligation seemed more sacred than this ... The whole kindred, therefore, placed as a rule under the command of a chieftain, took up arms to punish the murder of one of its members or merely a wrong that he had suffered.

Note that everyone in the Iliad is perfectly OK with this clan-honor rationale for a major war---it needs no additional justification. Nobody bothers to persuade allies through economic, political, or religious reasons; nobody much bothers to propagandize Troy as a looming military threat, a competitor, or a rich city to be looted, even though these reasons may have quietly influenced actual decisions. The official casus belli, accepted matter-of-factly by everyone involved, is a violation of clan honor by another clan, and never mind the fortunes and interests of the individual persons involved. The duel serves as introduction and pretext to the feud, and then it, Paris, and Menelaos cease to matter, swept up in the currents of war. That's the mentality of the Iliad for you; and it is hardly unusual, in the course of history.

1

Because Paris got his butt kicked. (Paris was only saved by the intervention of the gods.)

  • The Trojans escaped losing the duel on a technicality--it would have been unwise to reprise that particular match up.

imho, they may even have been hoping for Paris to lose, so they could return Helen and end the war. But it was pre-ordained that Troy would fall, so no getting to avoid that fate over a single duel.

The opening lines of the Iliad explain:

Sing, O goddess, the rage of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and crows, for so was the will of Zeus fulfilled.
Iliad, line 1 ff.


  • Paris is not honorable; Hector is.

The other is that these are honor/shame based warrior cultures. If Paris was honorable, he'd likely want to reprise the duel with Menelaus. But Paris isn't honorable--he was received in Argos by Menelaus as a guest-friend, enjoying his hospitality until Menelaus goes away, at which point Paris promptly steals his wife.

(This might be due to Paris' upbringing by a shepherd, after the failed infanticide due to exposure. Paris is sort of wild, raised on Mt. Ida, away from the royal court of Troy.)

One might then ask "Why don't the Trojans betray Paris give Helen back?" The answer is surely complicated, but involves family loyalty--Hector may not respect Paris but he won't betray his brother. Helen may also have asked Priam for protection. Lastly, to give back Helen would be to betray Aphrodite, who promised Paris the most beautiful woman in the world.

In some sense, the Fall of Troy is analogous to the fall of Hector. Troy was put in a situation with no way out, but honored it's commitments. Likewise, Hector may have fallen, but his honor was intact.

  • 1
    I guess I will never understand the whatever is fated to happen so I'll just choose the dangerous option mentality. For the Trojans why should they fight so cowardly Paris can keep Helen? It seems reasonable to just give Paris an ultimatum either continue the duel or accept you lost the duel and return Helen I cannot understand the Trojan mentality of not returning Helen. Sure the Greeks may ultimately decide to still attack Troy but they would at least lose come credability/morale... – Hao S Aug 6 at 1:28
  • @HaoSun It was an honor/shame society, with very complex codes. Why does Ajax commit suicide? (It's a form of protest, but also inability to live with shame.) Priam is quite inconstant in regard to Paris, but ultimately chooses to accept and protect him, despite the prophecies that he would be the destruction of Troy. (Look to Paris' abandonment as an infant on the slopes of Mt. Ida, and how the gods refused to allow him to die.) – DukeZhou Aug 6 at 19:24
  • @HaoSun Don't forget that we're dealing with a world that believes in the Fates, and where the gods took part in the war. What Priam or Paris or the Achaeans is irrelevant. Troy falls because Hera and Athena demand it, and Aphrodite alone cannot overrule those two combined. Apollo and Poseidon also have a longstanding grievance against Troy. – DukeZhou Aug 6 at 19:28
  • 2
    What would be the story then @HaoSun? Crazy king in a faraway kingdom murders infant son because of some vague prophecy, the end? – yannis Aug 7 at 11:21
  • 1
    @HaoSun Killing prisoners to honor the dead is not confined to Greek mythology. I seem to recall similar episodes in Chinese mythology (Three Kingdoms and so forth), despite the Confucian ideal of benevolence. Human sacrifice is not uncommon in Greek mythology, from Andromeda to Iphigenia. There is good archaeological evidence of human sacrifice in "Bronze age" Europe. – DukeZhou Aug 8 at 21:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.