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Aaron Freedman

Iliad Essay Test

In Homer’s Iliad, the war fought between the Greeks and the Trojans,
which is the basis of the entire poem, happens because of a single woman –
Helen. Helen’s move to Troy with Paris causes the Greek attack, making
Helen the centerpiece of the action in the Iliad. But, for what seems to be
such an important character, Helen is neglected to a secondary role for most
of the poem. Despite this, Helen still is able to convey some action and
emotion throughout the Iliad, with some of the most important things she
says being about her coming to and living in Troy with Paris. While most of
the other characters in the book don’t care about why Helen came to Troy,
it is clear based on her actions that she went due to a combination of
seduction by Paris and Aphrodite’s intervention, but not by her free will.
One of the reasons that Helen went to Troy is because of seduction
by Paris. Paris is very handsome and seductive, as his brother Hektor calls
him “beautiful, woman-crazy” (III, 39). It is understandable that the also
very beautiful Helen would have difficulties resisting such a man. Paris’
charm is also able to calm Helen when she is angry and get her into bed,
making it hard for her to think with a totally clear mind. Paris’s seduction
and charm could have easily got Helen to come with him to Troy without
really thinking about it first.
Another reason that Helen went to Troy is intervention by Aphrodite.
Aphrodite is a powerful goddess who is also quick to anger, making her very
intimidating to the mortal Helen. Aphrodite also gets very angry at Helen
when she doesn’t get her way. When Helen refused to sleep with Paris,
Aphrodite went into a rage against her, threatening that Helen would
“wretchedly perish” (III, 417). This intimidation and menacing could have
easily occurred back when Paris first took Helen if she refused to go. One
reason that Aphrodite is so keen on making sure Helen goes with Paris and
does his bidding is that she’s in competition with the other goddesses, Hera
and Athena. After Aphrodite was awarded the Golden Apple by Paris, she
had to make sure that she kept her end of the deal up by giving Helen, the
fairest woman in the world, to Paris. Aphrodite also has to show her loyalty
to and protect Paris, not just to keep up the deal, but also to rub it in the
faces of rival goddesses Athena and Hera, because in the end, the gods are
most concerned with the other gods, not mortals. Because of this, Aphrodite
has to make sure that nothing gets in her and Paris’s way, such as Helen
objecting to sex. Aphrodite has not only Paris to protect, but her own
stature as a goddess.
Helen did not go to Troy due to her own free will, because she dislikes
Paris and Troy and longs to be back with the Greeks and Menelaos. Helen
could not have gone to Troy freely, as she doesn’t even like Paris that much.
She refuses sex with him after being commanded to do it by Aphrodite, and
even personally insults him. Like Paris, Helen also dislikes Troy itself, as the
woman there don’t even like her and laugh at her because of her virtual
enslavement to Paris. She instead longs to be back with the husband she was
taken away from, Menelaos. She thinks that Menalaos is stronger and better
than Paris, and that Paris should have died on the battlefield instead of
being luckily rescued by Aphrodite. Helen never would have gone to Troy if
she truly loved Menelaos. Helen even confesses her longing for Greece to
Paris’s father, King Priam, saying that she is “worn with weeping” from being
stuck in Troy (III, 176). Priam himself is even able to pick up on Helen’s
suffering and help relieve her of it by asking her to name many of the Greek
heroes, who she longs to be back with. The Trojans aren’t the only ones who
get a sense of Helen’s suffering and longing. Nestor, the old Greek wiseman,
says that Helen longs to escape from Troy and wishes to return home. So in
the end, if Helen longs so much to return home with Menelaos and detests
Paris and Troy so much, she never would have gone there totally voluntarily
in the first place.
Helen never would have gone to Troy with Paris voluntarily. Paris’s
beauty and charm would have impaired on her better judgment, keeping her
from seeing the true suffering caused by leaving Menelaos and Sparta and
going to Troy with Paris. Aphrodite’s intervention would have also forced
Helen to go to Troy, as her threatening, intimidating, and determined nature
would frightened and forced Helen into involuntarily leaving her home. And
Helen would never have left Troy freely because she still longs for Greece
and Menealos and detests Paris and Troy. This shows something about Helen
that is not really explained in any other way – that she does have free will.
In the Iliad, women are treated as objects, almost literally in the sense that
they are geras, or honor prizes. The fact that Helen, one of the only
important female characters in the Iliad, actually has the free will to refuse
Paris’s sexual desires and express her own feelings about who she really
loves demonstrates something about women in the Iliad that cannot be found
anywhere else.

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