Why Paris is such an utter plonker
You should use the comix Kudos and Aidos and What makes a Homeric hero to help you understand further, but here are a batch of supporting quotations to make it absolutely clear. If you prefer not to read them you should instead watch this video. You can also listen to this short podcast, should you wish.
1) Hektor tells Paris “Our people are dying … and it is because of you that the clamour of war is blazing round this city.” Book 6
2) “…godlike Paris kept moving out in front of the Trojan ranks, wearing a leopard-skin over his shoulders, and a curved bow and sword. Shaking a couple of bronze-capped spears, he constantly challenged all the best men of the Argives to fight him one to one in grim combat… But, when godlike Pairs saw Menelaus appear among the front fighters, his heart quailed and he shrank back into the mass of his companions to avoid destruction.” Book 3
3) “Next, he put a corselet around his chest: it was his brother Lykaon’s, and it fitted him.” Book 3
4) This is divine intervention. A god actually comes down and changes the outcome of an event. This rarely happens (and the reason the film ‘Troy’ all goes wrong mid-way is because they chose not to include it) and it’s a really massive deal. The fact that it’s done for Paris, so that he can go and sleep with his ‘wife’, really highlights how exceptionally rubbish he really is. Also, he only ever makes hits when using a bow-and-arrow, which is not a hand-to-hand combat weapon. It’s a sneaky git’s weapon. There’s no honour in this kind of fighting at this time: the duel and its completion is the most important thing.
5) Helen, after being forced to go to Paris’ bedchamber by Aphrodite who threatens to end her, tells him in no uncertain terms that she wishes he was dead. He replies like a total creep: “Wife, do not deride my courage with these hard taunts. This time Menelaus has beaten me with Athene’s aid, and another time I shall beat him: there are gods on my side too. [EDIT: What? WHAT? You were rescued by Aphrodite from a duel, a duel that in fact was solemnised by a sacrifice in order that the winner would take Helen home. You are not the winner. *resists urge to punch him in the face*] No, come, let us enjoy the bed of love. Never before has desire so enveloped my heart, not even that first time when I stole you away from lovely Lakedaimon and sailed off with you in my seafaring ships…” Book 6. In modern language, this is something like ‘I love it when you’re angry’, and ‘I want to rape you like I’ve never raped you before…’ Nice.
When he goes to find him, “Hektor found Paris in the bedroom, fussing over his exquisite armour.” Instead of being in the male sphere of action, on the battlefield, he is in the bedroom, where his wife is weaving – the female sphere of action and quite the wrong place for him to be. Hektor berates him, quite fairly, for his behaviour: “Strange man! no-one in all fairness could belittle your success in battle [EDIT: I beg to differ – see 7] as you are a brave fighter [EDIT: HA!]. But you deliberately hang back and refuse to fight, and my heart within me is pained at that, when I hear the shaming things said of you by the Trojans, who have much hardship to endure on your account.” Then Paris replies to Hektor in the most crawlingly obsequious way; “Hektor, your charge is not unfair, and there is justice in it, so I will tell you the truth, and you mark what I say and listen to me. It is not so much anger or resentment at the Trojans that has kept me sitting in my room, but I wanted to give way to my distress. But just now my wife talked me round with gentle persuasion and urged me back to the war and I think that would be best myself – victory switches from man to man. So come now, wait for me while I put on my armour of war: or you go on, and I shall follow – I think I shall catch you.” Yeah right: the way his wife ‘talked him round’ was to tell him she wished he “had died there, brought down by a man of strength,” at her former husband Menelaus’ hands. As she tells Hektor (a man she actually respects), “I wish I had been the wife of a better man than this, one who had sense for men’s outrage and all the shaming things they say. But this one has no wits in his head no, and never will in the future: and I think that he will meet the reward for that.”
“So he spoke. And Hektor of the glistening helmet made no answer.” Too right he didn’t.
6) “‘Hektor, your taunt is not unfair, and there is justice in it… but do not charge against me Aphrodite’s lovely gifts: there is no discarding the glorious gifts that come from the gods’ own giving, though a man would not take them of his choice.'” Book 6
7) This is hilarious: “Paris … was bending his bow against the son of Tydeus (Diomedes), shepherd of the people, leaning against the gravestone of Ilus, son of Dardanus. …It did not leave his hand in vain but pierced the flat of Diomedes’ food, going right through it and fixing itself in the ground. Paris, with a hearty laugh, sprang forward from his hiding-place and taunted him, saying: ‘You are wounded! My arrow has not been shot in vain; would that it had hit you in the belly and killed you.’ Diomedes… answered: ‘Archer, you who without your bow are nothing, slanderer and seducer, if you were to be tried in single combat fighting in full armour, your bow and arrows would serve you little stead. Vain is your boast that you have scratched the sole of my foot. I care no more than if a girl or some silly boy had hit me. A worthless coward can inflict but a light wound, but when I wound a man, though I but graze his skin it is another matter, for my weapon will lay him out.‘.” Book 11
Compare these reactions to the events of Book 6, after Paris fails to complete his duel with Menelaus, is spirited away to his bedroom in Troy by Aphrodite, and is cursed, to his face, by his wife and brother:
Helen to Hektor: “…it is your mind above all others that the war’s work besets, all for the sake of the bitch that I am and the blind folly of Paris. On us two Zeus has set a doom of misery, so that in time we can be themes of song for men of future generations.” These two understand the seriousness of the war and the culture of shame in which they live.
Paris: ” As soon as he had put on his splendid armour, he hurried off through the town at full speed, like a stallion who breaks his halter at the manger where they keep and fatten him, and gallops off across the fields in triumph (!) to the bathing-place in the delightful river. He tosses up his head; his mane flies back along his shoulders; he knows how beautiful he is; and away he goes. skimming the ground with his feet, to the haunts and pastures of the mares. So Paris, Priam’s son, came down hotfoot from the citadel or Pergamum, resplendent in his armour like the dazzling sun, and laughing as he came.” Shame? What shame? What’s ‘defeat’? Isn’t life grand! I’m a spoilt golden child and I’m going to have sex! Aren’t I pretty!
EDIT: I completely forgot this little Homeric aside from Iliad Book 11, when the sons of Antimachus are captured by the Atreides:
Paris (Alexandros) *bribed* Antimachus, not just to vote against giving Helen back to Menelaus when the Trojans met with the Achaians to decide what to do, but to actually *kill Menelaus* while he is under Xenia as an ambassador in Troy. (Maybe not so ‘wise-hearted’ Antimachus after all?) And, on top of that, this plot was clearly discovered, and is the cause of Antimachus’ sons deaths in revenge for it.
Does that man ever get his hands dirty?
All quotations from Hammond and Rieu translations. Screenshots of the text from the Perseus online text (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Hom.%20Il.%2011&lang=original).
15 thoughts on “Why Paris is such an utter plonker”
Oh my god, you made me laugh so loud, I scared the dog. Brilliant wit and a scathing put down of a deserving wimp. so great.
brilliant 🙂 Thanks!
I’ve always been interested, but intimidated by the classics – thanks for the “route in”!
Glad to have helped! Try some of the explanatory comics like divine Intervention, divine inspiration, epithets and epic similes if you’re planning on reading the Iliad! And maybe read a summary of Book 2 instead of getting bogged down in it. Good luck!
It’s always annoyed me that Paris and Helen were seen as a love story. Helen was Spartan. She had equal rights, something no one any woman in ancient Greece could boast. On top of that when her husband went to war she was the ruler of Sparta along with the wife of the other king (Sparta traditionally had two kings). They were in charge of money, lands and businesses freeing the men to concentrate on war. Why on earth with all of that going for her would she willingly leave with such a plonker? She would have been stronger than him as Spartan women were trained in war to defend their homes while their men were away. Daily exercises were required by all citizens. Further, when Helen was brought back to Sparta she was celebrated as their queen, not a traitor. Menelaus is always portrayed as a bully and a philanderer, but Spartan husband and wives chose each other and adultery by their own beliefs was impossible. If a family admired the strength and skills of a certain warrior, they would arrange for the wife to have a child by him. It was accepted and encouraged. Neither would have sex with someone the other hadn’t explicitly given their permission and Helen wouldn’t have given a damn about him having sex with another woman. Basically it’s not a romance story. Paris was a big headed idiot who kidnapped and raped the queen of a nation and thought he could just get away with it.
Well, I agree with you on the Paris front, but remember that the Sparta in the Iliad is not the Sparta you’re describing; the Iliad is set in the C13th BC, while the reformed Sparta you’re describing didn’t come about until around the C7th or C8th BC. it’s likely Sparta was like most Greek poleis at that time, instead of radically different.
The story told of Helen’s mortal father Tyndareus (as her father was of course meant to be Zeus as she was sooooooo goooorgeous and everything) inviting suitors for her hand but then, in some versions, letting her choose from them herself, is certainly unusual and suggestive of more of a female role in society. However, she chose Menelaus, brother of the most powerful king, Agamemnon of Mycenae, to whom her sister Clytaemnestra was already married – unable to choose the ‘best’ king, it could be argued she chose the next best, a fact perhaps having been proven by the way the two brothers had recently retaken the throne of Mycenae after years of family feuding and being ousted by Thyestes, whom they overthrew with the help of Tyndareus – Helen’s father, to whom they probably paid their debts by alliancing themselves to him through marriage.
In any case, Helen is used by ancient authors to support their stories, given different personalities each time: in the Iliad, it’s definitely not a love story – she is self-hating for the trouble her beauty has caused and considers herself still married to Menelaus, constantly telling Paris to go on the battlefield where real men win honour, and hopefully die there; yet, in the Aeneid, she is a traitor to the Trojans, sneakily signalling to the hidden Greeks with a torch from the palace tower as soon as the Trojans are off-guard from celebrating their ‘victory’, then, full of cowardice, hiding in the temple of Aphrodite. In plays about her (sorry I’ve forgotten which one I’m thinking of specifically, but it’s a rare one), it’s written that she never even left Sparta, but a kind of ‘ghost; of her was taken, while she herself was hidden somewhere else in Greece, living a full and happy life. She’s an ancient woman, so she doesn’t get to tell her own story. But, I personally like the way Homer ‘tells’ her. The film of Troy however…..well, they decided to tell a story dependent on divine intervention without using gods… hence a sweet little love story, where in the end they live ‘happily ever after’. Blech.
This is a few years late but I’m glad I found this post. I have always been bothered by the portrayals of Paris and Menelaus in most modern retellings of this myth I have come across. Paris is often presented as a romantic hero while Menelaus is a brute and a bully, or completely dominated by his brother with no agency of his own or some variation of the two. From the various versions and plays of the myth I’ve read, Menelaus seems to be a fairly decent and honourable guy (at least by ancient greek standards) though he can be quite vicious and vindictive. It always annoys me when writers justify Paris’ poor behaviour and overall disregard for anyone else’s interests and well-being by rewriting him into a hero and Menelaus into a villain, so it’s nice to find someone else who sees Paris for the absolute plonker that he is.
Oh and the play you may be thinking of (if you haven’t already found it) is Helen by Euripides. Yes in that one the real Helen never actually makes it to Troy. She sits out the war in Egypt and has to fend of the advances of Theoclymenus, the king of Egypt when she receives word that Menelaus never returned from Troy and is presumed dead. But Menelaus ends up shipwrecked in Egypt and the couple are reunited. Then they trick Theoclymenus and make their way back to Greece together.
I actually quite like Paris. And although Homer implies Paris’ cowardice, his actions don’t align with the vicious nature of Achilleus or Hektor. Paris doesn’t find joy in a bloody endless search for glory. He doesn’t threaten to behead children or to stick heads on spikes. He doesn’t lean toward war or violence. He doesn’t kidnap Helen as a war trophy. He struggles to float in a violent ancient greek culture and instead, pursues happiness. I don’t blame people for hating him, I think that’s the character’s purpose, however, I’ve found more insight by enjoying his character: by instilling his actions into modern-day law. When you interpret through this lens, Paris seems to be one of the only compelling characters as he struggles to match his more preferred peers. (In the duel with Menelaos, his initially instincts are to retreat. I don’t think this is too unreasonable as he has a basic human drive for survival. Especially with the way Homer describes Paris as a carcass in which a lion approaches. However, he listens to his brother’s chastising and rejects his initial instincts. Even though he knows he doesn’t have a chance, he fights him anyways. He knows it’s the honorable thing to do. He doesn’t ask aphrodite to save him, but he can’t help but feel glad when she does i.e. “celebrating” with Helen. Later, he realizes that the honorable thing would to be to return to the battlefield. Although no one told him to rejoin the Trojan soldiers, and he feels ashamed for being rescued, he puts on his armor and engages in battle, actually being useful. Homer even gives him a bow and arrow: a projectile weapon. This symbolizes the distance Paris puts between him and violence. He doesn’t lean toward warfare. Yet he still attributes in the defense of his city. Regarding the idea that the bow and arrow is a cowardly weapon, a few books later, another character uses this weapon and is framed as one of the greatest warriors in the army. Think about the Hunger Games, Legend of Zelda, Percy Jackson, etc. The bow and arrow is not cowardly. In this respect, I think it’s pretty amazing he’s able to avenge his brother and kill Achilleus). Note this is all my interpretation of the story.
(please ignore grammar mistakes if you can)
That was an impassioned view, beautifully written. However, you seem to have your rose-tinted spectacles on as several of the points you make are actually refuted in the bullet-point-essay underneath the Comic. You are being *far* too kind to Paris, and I*implore* you to watch the video narrative version of this comic and essay (which I realise now I’ve somehow not linked to on this page) at https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1pJ-BOwkHaE . I look forward to the scales falling from your eyes to reveal the truth, a la the Trojan Aeneas in Aeneid Book 2: ‘The Fall of Troy’, which, incidentally, has been caused by Paris and his string of entirely selfish life choices.
All the best,
Laura, this rant is superb!
I am showing this web page to my Greek pupil.
Hope to see you soon!
Ha ha I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I made a video of the rant too which is rather fun 😉
Really hope to see you soon too! X