Homer’s Iliad: Book VII
Questions for Book VII:
- The recommendation arises in the Trojan counsel meeting that perhaps Paris should return Helen. Do you think this would end the war? Why NOT? Break it down.
Hector and Paris work together successfully on the battlefield. Apollo (pro-Trojan) and Athena (anti-Trojan) face off. And the gods suggest to Hector a duel: he should challenge the bravest Greek “to duel in bloody combat to the death. / It’s not the hour to meet your doom, not yet” (7.59-60). “I’ll speak out what the heart inside me urges” (7.79), responds Hector, issuing his challenge to the Greeks. Menelaus shames his men for not jumping at the challenge, calling them “women” (7.110), so, wow, what a burn! Agamemnon calms down his brother. Nestor wishes he were young again (7.152) and yammers on about his past glories. But nine Greeks get roused for battle. The decision amounts to a kind of lottery — stones in a helmet — of who will take on Hector; and Ajax “wins.” After the customary trash-talking, Hector heaves a spear and pierces six of the eight layers of Ajax’s shield, then Ajax heaves. Next, they go for their lances, and more. Hector is hit by a rock:
“and the rock crashed home, Hector’s shield burst in,
hit by a millstone — and Hector’s fine knees buckled,
flat on his back he went, his shield crushing down on him
swept him off his feet. But Apollo quickly pulled him up”
Apollo intervenes, and Ajax and Hector agree to call it a day. And they exchange gifts. The men return to their respective sides. It’s all reason for rejoicing, unless you’re an ox in the Greek camp. Back in Troy at a council meeting, Paris agrees to return the stolen treasures to Menelaus, but he refuses to give up Helen:
“Now I say this to our stallion-breaking Trojans,
I say No, straight out — I won’t give up the woman!”
Life does have to mean something, after all.
Helen is, however, disturbingly referred to by the Trojans as “the lawful wife of Menelaus” (7.452). Corpses are piled up, pyres made by both sides. Poseidon raises his old gripe about Laomedon and getting stiffed after helping build the walls of Troy, and Zeus shames him. While Zeus “plotted fresh disaster for both opposing armies” (7.552), the humans offer libations to him. And we ask when will this cursèd war end?