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Mary Macgregor

Menelaus and Paris Do Battle

When the heralds of Agamemnon had led Briseis away, Achilles stripped off his armour, for not again would he fight in the Trojan War. Down to the sea-shore he went alone to weep for the loss of Briseis the Faircheeked.

As he wept he called aloud to his mother Thetis. From the depths of the sea she heard his cry, and swift on a wave she reached the shore. Soon she was by the side of her son, and taking his hand, as when he was a boy, she asked, "My child, why weepest thou?"

Then Achilles told how Agamemnon had taken from him Briseis, whom he loved.

"Go to the palace of Zeus," he entreated her, "and beseech Zeus to give me honour before the hosts of the Greeks. Let him grant victory to the Trojans until the king sends to Achilles to beg for his help in the battle."

So Thetis, for the sake of her dear son, hastened to Olympus, and bending at the knee of Zeus she besought the god to avenge the wrong done to Achilles.

At first Zeus, the Cloud-gatherer, was silent, as though he heard her not. "Give me now thy promise," urged Thetis, "and confirm it with a nod or else deny me."

Then the god nodded, and thereat Olympus shook to its foundations. So Thetis knew that she had found favour in the eyes of Zeus, and leaving the palace of the gods she plunged deep into the sea.

Zeus hastened to fulfil his promise, and sent to Agamemnon a "baneful dream."

As the king dreamed, he thought he heard Zeus bid him go forth to battle against the Trojans, for he would surely take the city. But in this Zeus deceived the king.

When Agamemnon awoke in the morning he was glad, for now he hoped to win great honour among his warriors. Quickly he armed himself for battle, throwing a great cloak over his tunic, and slinging his sword, studded with silver, over his shoulder. In his right hand he bore the scepter of his sires, the sign of his lordship over all the great hosts of Hellas.

Then when he was armed, the king assembled his great army, and after telling his dream, he bade it march in silence toward the city.

But when the Trojans saw the Hellenes drawing near, they came out to meet them "with clamour and with shouting like unto birds, even as when there goeth up before heaven a clamour of cranes which flee from the coming of winter and sudden rain."

As the Trojans approached, Menelaus saw Paris who had stolen his fair wife, and he leaped from his chariot that he might slay the prince. But Paris, when he saw the wrath of Menelaus, was afraid and hid himself among his comrades.

Then Hector, his brother, who was the leader of the Trojans, mocked at him for his cowardice, until Paris grew ashamed.

"Now will I challenge Menelaus to single combat," he cried. And Hector rejoiced at his words and bade the warriors stay their arrows.

"Hearken, ye Trojans and ye Greeks," he cried, "Paris bids you lay down your arms while he and his enemy Menelaus alone do battle for Helen and for her wealth. And he who shall be victor shall keep the woman and her treasures, while we will make with one another oaths of friendship and of peace." So there, without the walls of the city, oaths were taken both by the Greeks and the Trojans. But the heart of Priam, King of Troy, was heavy lest harm should befall Paris, and he hastened within the gates of the city that he might not watch the combat. "I can in no wise bear to behold with mine eyes my dear son fighting with Menelaus," he said. "But Zeus knoweth, and all the immortal gods, for whether of the twain the doom of death is appointed."

Then Menelaus and Paris drew their swords, and Menelaus cried to Zeus to grant him his aid, so that hereafter men "may shudder to wrong his host that hath shown him kindness."

But it seemed that Zeus heard not, for when Menelaus flung his ponderous spear, although it passed close to Paris, rending his tunic, yet it did not wound him, and when he dealt a mighty blow with his sword upon the helmet of his enemy, lo, his sword broke into pieces in his hand.

Then in his wrath, Menelaus reproached the god: "Father Zeus," he cried, "surely none of the gods is crueler than thou. My sword breaketh in my hand, and my spear sped from my grasp in vain, and I have not smitten my enemy."

Yet even if Zeus denied his help, Menelaus determined to slay his foe. So he sprang forward and seized Paris by the strap of his helmet. But the goddess Aphrodite flew to the aid of the prince, and the strap broke in the hand of Menelaus. Before the king could again reach his enemy, a mist sent by the goddess concealed the combatants one from the other. Then, unseen by all, Aphrodite caught up Paris, "very easily as a goddess may," and hid him in the city within his own house.

In vain did Menelaus search for his foe, yet well did he know that no Trojan had given him shelter. For Paris was "hated of all even as black death," because it was through his base deed that Troy had been besieged for nine long years.