The story of the Trojan War as played out in the Iliad is perhaps most gripping for the focus on the role of the individual; the soul is struck by the very concept of a decade-long war and a city-state razed to the ground for one man’s crime and one woman’s beauty. As such, the dynamic between Helen, Paris, and the Trojan people they have doomed is a fascinating one. For while Prince Paris is hated by all of Troy, his right to keep Helen is challenged by none. This is seen mostly clearly in Book III, after Paris has been spirited away to safety by the goddess Aphrodite; the book ends with Trojans and Greeks alike united in scorn for Paris and his consort. In Book VII, however, at the war council of the Trojans, when a defiant Paris refuses to yield his prize, no man questions his right to do so. This puzzling contrast, between the anger of the many against the crimes of the one and the rights of the one against the will of the many, presents insight into key themes of Homer’s epic. The passages in Books III and VII highlight the unique way in which the Iliad focuses on property rights as perhaps the highest expression of individual self-worth, the violation of which demands complete redress.
Book III paints Paris at his lowest: a posturing coward contemptible in his weakness. When he seems in danger of losing a duel against his rival Meneleus—a duel that promises to end the war without further bloodshed—Paris is snatched up by his protector Aphrodite and promptly forgets all about the two armies camped at the walls. The reader is thus united with both armies in scorn for the prince when Homer describes Paris and Helen losing themselves in lust while the fragile treaty strai...
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... domain of his property that they are willing to die to uphold it, even for a prince they despise.
In the relationship between Paris and the Trojan people with respect to his ownership of Helen, Homer demonstrates the subtleties of a culture that celebrated the heroism of the individual while simultaneously acknowledging the power of the fates in human affairs. To strenuously fight for one’s rights in the face of opposition is to court disaster, as Agamemnon, Achilles, and Paris all discover, and yet in doing so, one is able to rise above the herd of lesser men and become a truly heroic individual. It is a remarkable irony of Homeric Greece that the path to immortality often began with an obsession over the seemingly petty matters of material ownership and property.
1. Homer, Iliad, trans. Robert Fagles (New York: Penguin Books, 1990).
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