Writing Assignment – Week 9

At 16.821-822 Homer says that Patroklos fell “to the horror of all the Achaian people”; but at the beginning of Scroll 17 it is Menelaos who is first mentioned as seeing the fallen hero. He thus stands over Patroklos’ body “as over a first-born calf the mother | cow stands lowing, she who has known no children before this” (17.1-8). Of all the possible Achaeans to notice Patroklos, why does Homer pick Menelaos? What is the significance of the simile that describes his care for him? In your answer be sure to focus on previous descriptions of Menelaos and his role in the Iliad, as well as previous instances where heroes have been likened to women/mothers.

8 thoughts on “Writing Assignment – Week 9

  1. Cordelia Davies

    Menelaos’ reaction to Patroklos’ death is completely appropriate. He never loses sight of the catalyst of this war. The Trojan War began because Menelaos was dishonored by Paris and his lack of respect for xenia when he left Greece with Menelaos’ wife Helen and all of his possessions. Like Achilles, he could not let this happen without any consequences. The men on the Achaian side are fighting to restore honor to Menelaos. Many times throughout the poem, the reader is reminded that these men left their land, their wives and children, and possessions. Menelaos is meant to feel somewhat responsible for the loss of these men and the families to whom they will not be returning. I think that this is why Homer picks Menelaos to be the first to react to Patroklos’ death.
    Not only does he feel responsible, but I think he must be destroyed by the loss of hope that Patroklos’ death brings him. The Achaians, and Menelaos personally, have been worn out mentally, physically, and emotionally by the reciprocal nature of this war. In the tenth year the Achaians finally expect to sack Troy and to recover Helen and Menelaos’ possessions, but, beginning with the one-on-one battle between Menelaos and Paris, the upper hand has been switching sides constantly as the gods seem to trade off intervening on behalf of each side. Menelaos had hope in that first battle with Paris in Book 3 that it would be settled and it would have been had it not been for the intervention of Aphrodite. Patroklos’ display of ‘manslaughtering’ and bravery gave Menelaos hope because the Achaians were beginning to gain ground once more. The simile of mother and calf relates to the relationship of king and countryman or commander and soldier in the way of responsibility rather than love. Patroklos’ death means failure for Menelaos.
    Menelaos demonstrates this painful responsibility in Book 5 when Aineias kills twin brothers Orsilochos and Krethon. They were still quite young. “These two as they were grown to young manhood followed along with the Argives in their black ships to Ilion, land of good horses, winning honor for the sons of Atreus, Agamemnon and Menelaos.” (5.551-553) They made the trip for the sons of Atreus and entered the fighting for the sake of their honor though they were young. They were raised in this environment so it is almost like Menelaos is a father to them. Their death deeply saddens and angers Menelaos and drives him to seek revenge. Homer uses this simile to describe their death: “These, as two young lions in the high places of the mountains had been raised by their mother in the dark of the deep forest, lions which as they prey upon the cattle and the fat sheep lay waste the steadings where there are men, until they also fall and are killed under the cutting bronze in the men’s hands.” (5.554-558) And even Homer, in this simile, seems to place blame on Menelaos’ shoulders!

    Reply
    1. Joseph Reid

      Great post Cordelia, you introduce your points very well saying that Menelaus never loses sight of the catalyst of this war. I also believe the war started because of Paris’s abduction of Helen, even though Agamemnon’s thirst for power by sacking the city of Troy also played a small part in starting the war. I also believe Menelaos had hope in that first battle with Paris in Book 3 that it would be settled and it would have been had it not been for the intervention of Aphrodite. I think the Gods consistent intervention is making the war dull. You did a great job in concluding stating the simile about the lions in book 5, I think it helped a lot in getting your point across

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      1. Jerome Lawrence

        You both made mention to important points, Joseph and especially you Cordelia (You made almost every possible point that could be made). Yes it is Menelaos getting Helen back that is the overall goal of the war. The war was started because of this and continued because of this. Line 3.15 introduces the same bravery and not backing down to a situation upon the battlefield that is also seen in Menelaos as he protects Patroklos’ body in the beginning of scroll 17. He had to show bravery because if it was not for him demanding Helen back in early book 3 then almost everyone, if not everyone of the Achaians who were killed in the Iliad would still be alive. He had been wronged by Paris and knew how it felt to be wronged while Agamemnon wrong Achilles. Achilles was very close to Patroklos so Patroklos knew the extent a person would go after being wronged so Patroklos put his life on the line to help the Achaians from certain doom but I believe that Menelaos knew that Achilles knew how he was feeling so protecting Achilles body to prevent further grief to Achilles was important to him. That is my interpretation of his motive in protecting the dead body of Patroklos over many of his already dead comrades.

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    2. Chris Grass

      Cordelia,
      I think this is an excellent post and made me view Menelaos in a new way. Like you said, in the the time of the Iliad if another man came to your home as a guest then left with your wife and possessions there was only one option and that was to go to war. There is one thing though that I think needs to be considered related to the Greeks fighting to restore Menelaos’ honor. I remember in the Lattimore intro, it mentions that many of the Greek heroes wanted to marry Helen and when Menelaos was determined to be the most suitable all of Helen’s other suitors swore an oath to protect here. This reason along with loyalty to Menalaos is the reason so many Greek heroes from different lands are fighting against Troy. I don’t think that this lessens the responsibility and gratefulness Menelaos feels to his comrades but I think it should be considered when we talk about the motivations of the Greeks.

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  2. Joseph Reid

    I think Homer chose Menelaus to notice Patroclus death because of the similarities between the two characters. They both never been much fighters, especially compared to their respective relatives. Menelaus is basically a miniature Agamemnon, and Patroclus is basically a miniature Achilles. Menelaus actually needs the help of Athena (disguised as Phoenix) to put new life into him. Even though they aren’t great fighters, they do have their moments(aristeias). Patroclus aristeia came in scroll 16, and Menelaus had an extended aristeia in scroll 17 as the hero retrieves the corpse of Patroclus from the battlefield. Menelaus role thus far in the iliad, compared to his brother Agamemnon, has been quieter, less imposing, and less cocky. Though he has a brave heart, Menelaus is not among the mightiest Achaean warriors. A previous instance where heroes have been likened to women/mothers, is the role Thetis has to Achilles. Thetis has been very devoted to Achilles in his times of need and even gets Zeus to help the Trojans and harm the Achaeans at the request of her angry son. When Achilles finally rejoins the battle, she asks Hephaestus to make him a new suit of armor. I also think Homer chose Menelaus becuase both Achilles and Agamemnon were away from the battlefield at the time. Not only are they not as good of fighters as Agamemnon and Achilles but they have less authority and will be more likely to receive orders rather than give them.

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    1. Chris Grass

      Joseph, good post,you mention that Menelaus and Patroklus are “miniature versions” of their companions Agamemnon and Achilles. I can definitely see how it can be viewed this way if we are only talking about war prowess but I wonder if instead of being seen as the weaker companions Menalaos and Patroklus can be seen as reflecting the traits that the other companions lack which leads to a balanced companionship. For example, where Achilleus has a large ego Patroklus appears to be more humble and sensible. You stated, “Menelaus role thus far in the Iliad, compared to his brother Agamemnon, has been quieter, less imposing, and less cocky.” I think this can also be stated that Menelaus is more reserved and more humble than Agamemnon, where they (Patroklus and Menelaus) don’t have the diluted qualities of their companions but instead their strengths are the exact opposite qualities.

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      1. Jerome Lawrence

        You both have good points. Agamemnon really looks out for his brother Menelaos. In line 10.240 it is assumed that Agamemnon did not want Menelaos to scout whether the Trojan army was retreating or not likewise Achilles did not want Patroklos to battle the Trojan army. Both Patroklos and Menelaos had older brother figures looking out for them so in the absence of both brother figures they decided to protect each other. Menelaos guarded Patroklos even after his death, so that his body could not get beheaded (Hektor wanted to behead Patroklos) just like a mother would defend her calf from predators. Chris, both men definitely seems more humble than their brother figure. Menelaos’ stepping up to Paris’ challenge in book three was justified so it did not come across as arrogant. In that case Paris was the arrogant one. Patroklos did not want Kleos since he even wore Achilles’ armor so that he could let the Trojan army think that he was Achilles. In these cases it can definitely be assumed that Menelaos and Agamemnon were more humble than their brother figures.

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        1. Jerome Lawrence

          A person does not necessarily have to be older to act as an older brother figure. This is an assumption made in my comment above.

          Reply

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