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.

16 thoughts on “Writing Assignment – Week 9

  1. Sarah Lister

    I guess it’s my turn to post! First, I have to say that the horror spoken of is an eventual horror, that his death, when discovered, caused pain and sorrow, etc. That doesn’t mean that all the Achaian people saw or found out about his death, obviously.

    Menelaos stood over Patroclus’ body, protecting it from the Trojans, particularly Euphorbos, who was looking for the glory and spoils of hitting Patroclus first, as the simile says, “as over a first-born calf the mother cow stands lowing.” I’m not sure how many people are familiar with cows, but with their calves, particularly newborn, they’ll stand over them so that they can put themselves between them and danger. Lowing is mooing; it brings to mind the image of Menelaos standing over Patroclus with his shield and spear, hollering and putting himself between the body and the predator(Euphorbos).

    I found it incredibly interesting that Menelaos is compared to a cow when, in earlier books, he’s called “warlike” and compared to “a lion comes on a mighty carcass, in his hunger chancing upon the body of a horned stag or wild goat; who eats it eagerly” (3.23). They’re distinctly different images to compare to the same person, one painting the image of someone stalking forward, ready to tear into someone violently, the other a distinctly parental, protective image. Considering that Menelaos was the warrior who was insulted by the loss of his wife that brought on the war, his motivations have almost changed; in the first simile, he was attempting to get revenge on the man who took his wife, in the second, he’s trying to protect the body of a younger warrior. It still strikes me as odd that it was a cow that was chosen as the comparison – specifically a mother cow. Cows strike me as an incredibly maternal piece of imagery; they’re prized and known for milk that is processed because of childbirth. To compare a previously angry warrior to a maternal animal is particularly striking. Did anyone else really pause at that?

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    1. Sheree Goffe

      I Agree, Menelaus has transformed tremendously throughout the iliad. I went a little beyond because at first i didn’t understand the cow simile, so i went and did a little research. I came to find out that cows are somewhat social animals and develop lifelong bonds, when separated from their families they grieve and develop big stress and agitation. So when I saw that they compared Menelaus, The Brave and strong Warrior, to that was very interesting. It showed another side to him such as loyalty and love. I don’t think his motives changed, I do think that he felt respect for what Patroklus did for the Achaians. We all have to remember Patroklus lost his life when he decided to take Achilleus’ place in battle knowing that he is not as good a warrior as he but he had love for the Achaians and did what he decided was right. As you can see in book 16. 818-822 that through his poetic death. Patroklus was loved by the AchaiansBut Hektor, when he saw high-hearted Patroklos trying to get away, saw how he was wounded with the sharp javelin, came close against him across the ranks, and with the spear stabbed him in the depth of the belly and drove the bronze clean through. He fell, thunderously, to the horror of all the Achaian people.

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    2. Alicia Wooten

      Looking back on Book 4, I was wondering if you thought that Menelaos has grown. In Book 4, he is described as a child when Athene brushes away the arrow headed towards him, but in Book 17 he is described as a mother cow. What caused this change from a child to a mother? Does this change in similes reflect a change in Menelaos’s character? I think that Menelaos has the qualities of both a mother and a child. He is always obedient to his brother like a child is, yet he seems to always try to protect his comrades like a mother. I think Menelaos feels responsible for the war, so he feels obligated to try to protect his troops, even though he is not the best warrior.

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  2. Kendal Longmore

    I think that Menelaos here is described as a mother cow because of the way the Achaians have generally felt towards Patroklos. As we know they all grieve heavily at the loss of him and defend his body ferociously. The cow here symbolizes how a even the toughest warriors have a maternal instinct when it comes to the people they have to fight with. I also think that Menelaos is describe like this to give they audience more sympathy towards, for this war is because of his prize Helen taken. We never really get to see Menelaos pine over Helen the way Achilles does for Briseas. I, too, think its very interesting that the cow is chosen above all other animals. Maybe, as Sarah has previously mentioned, it is because the mother cow seems to physically put herself between the baby and danger just as Menelaos does to Patroklos.

    Could this also be comparing Patroklos to a “baby” of sorts? Someone who didn’t quite know what they were getting themselves into when they reentered the war?

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    1. Teresa Plummer

      Kendal, I thought your question about comparing Patroklos to a “baby” was interesting. In Book 16, when Patroklos approaches Achilleus before asking him about using his armor so that he can go fight for the Achaians, he is crying. Achilleus responds to him with “Why then are you crying like some poor little girl, Patroklos, who runs after her mother and begs to be picked up and carried, and clings to her dress, and holds her back when she tries to hurry, and gazes tearfully into her face, until she is picked up?” (16.6-10) I think these words were probably a bit prophetic since Patroklos becomes like a “baby” of sorts, stripped naked and needing to be carried back from the battle by Menelaos (who is like the “mother cow”).

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      1. Kendal Longmore

        Yes this is exactly what I was thinking. I think by putting Patroklos in these compromising positions we are harshly reminded that he is not Achilles. Like you mentioned, he came to Achilles crying, he most trusted companion and he didn’t even feel as sorrow for him. Just as if Patroklos was to take down the Trojans then he would be glorious, not Achilles. These little comparisons serves a bigger purpose to the bigger picture, Patroklos is not Achilles and only Achilles can save the Achaians. If Patroklos had not died Achilles wouldn’t have come back with such a vengenance and reason to reenter with all his might. His want to kill Hektor because he slayed Patroklos is the driving force behind him. He is not thinking about Briseas or Agamemnon or the Achaians, he is focused on his revenge which also makes them different

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  3. Natasha Moore

    As both Sarah and Kendal stated, I found the comparison to a cow quite striking as well. It is a stark contrast to both how Menelaus was previously described in book 3 as well as how Aias is described when he too is protecting Patroklaus’ body. When Aais is spoken of he is “covering the son of Menoitios under his broad shield” standing fast ” like a lion over his young, when the lion is leading his little ones along, and men who are hunting come upon them in the forest” (17.132-135. The two men’s actions are extremely similar but I question why such different animals were used to characterize them. Maybe the animals are not just a depiction of their actions but of the men themselves in someway?

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    1. Alicia Wooten

      I definitely agree that the choice of animal description says something about each warrior. I also think there is an interesting parallel between the similes about Menelaos and Aias to the events in Book 7. In Book 7, Hektor decides to duel with one of the Greeks. At first, Menelaos was the only one willing to face Hektor, but Agamemnon convinces Menelaos he is sure to lose. It is later Aias who is picked to duel Hektor since Aias is a much better fighter. In Book 17, Menelaos is at first the only Greek fighting to protect the body of Patroklos, but when Hektor comes to fight over Patroklos, Menelaos runs to Aias for help. It follows that Menelaos would be described as a cow and Aias as a lion.

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  4. Teresa Plummer

    As all of you stated, I was intrigued with the comparison of a mother cow as well. Sarah, I agree that “To compare a previously angry warrior to a maternal animal is particularly striking.” In this book alone, Menelaos is referred to as renowned (17.716), illustrious (17.238, 17.702), strong (17.554), warlike (17.2, 17.79, 17.138) and “of the great war cry” (17.237, 17.246, 17.560, 17.651, 17.656, 17.665) all of which do not seem to fit with the image of a protective mother cow.

    And, yes, Natasha, I question why Menelaos is likened to a mother cow when Aias is likened to a father lion. In Book 9, Achilleus likens himself to a mother bird (323-325). I wonder if there is any significance to the different animals (cow, lion, bird) for the different men or maybe something about the situations they are in when they are compared to these animals.

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  5. Paulina Horton

    I think there is definitely a significance between the animals that are chosen to describe each warrior. I think the cow was chosen to show how reliable he is. Even though cows aren’t the most ferocious animals they are incredibly reliable. They can provide milk, meat, and clothing to man and I think Homer is trying to show that Menelaus can fill different roles. He can be ferocious and unyielding but he can also be very protective. I think Ajax is described as the lion just because he is so big and powerful. He is courageous, but purely a warrior. I think Achilles describes himself as a mother bird because he was vigilant while he was in battle for the well-being of the rest of the army.

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    1. Kendal Longmore

      I like your idea Paulina of a cow being reliable. This definitely makes sense in comparison to Menelaus. Throughout the epic his has shown his abilities and has never backed down from a challenge he has be called for. His even changing role, sometimes as counsel to Agamemnon, warrior, and protector we see that his indeed an significant figure to this story; not just the man who got his woman stolen. Also Achilles as a mother bird is very fighting. Mother birds nurture and care for their babies until it is time for them to learn how to fly and leave the nest. It was Patroklos’s time to learn to fly on his own and not in the shadows of Achilles. Achilles even gave him the okay and supplied him with the tools (armour) to succeed. Not every baby bird makes it and neither did Patroklos.

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    2. Natasha Moore

      I had never thought of the animals this way but it makes sense. Menelaus very much plays an ever changing role. We often see him stepping up to the plate when no one else will. For example when Paris challenges the Achaeans and later when Hector does the same. Menelaus shows to be less imposing and less arrogant then his brother Agamemnon and is not the mightiest of the Achaeans. Unlike Ajax, he is more than just a warrior and unlike Achilles he has done more than watch from above so far in the epic.

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  6. Paulina Horton

    Do you guys think there is any other characters in the story that could have filled the same role as Menelaus in Book 17? Have we been shown any other character that is as reliable and courageous as him, besides Achilles? I also want to know why its only now that the Achaians are fighting to protect a body? Throughout the epic there have been attempts to protect the body of a fallen comrade, but most of the time they are either unsuccessful or not attempted. Why do the Achaians put so much effort in saving Patroklos’ corpse? Is it because he was Achilles’ best friend or could there be some other reason? What makes Patroklos’ body so valuable?

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    1. Sheree Goffe

      I feel as though Odysseus could have been used in his place to me, he seems just as good a warrior, daring and brave. but he does not have a similar relationship to Achilleus as menelaus does to Agammnon. Achilleus and Pateoklus has a deep bond, they have a connection as do close brothers do. Patroklus is Achilleus’ little brother, they have history basically grow up together. Menelaous is Agammnons brother. Patroklus and Menelaos are both in the battle without their older brothers. So in some way they are connected. Menelaus in a way took over Achilleus’ role and protected Patroklus’ body in honor.

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    2. Natasha Moore

      I think Patroklos body was so important because of what it represented. It was Patroklos who had finally returned hope to the Achaeans. In addition to being a great warrior he was a healer and Achilles’ best friend. If the Achaeans couldn’t have Achilles, Patroklos was proving to be the next best thing. The compassion he showed up to this point in the Iliad made it seems as if he would have been a respected member of the army, someone who all would have believed deserved a proper burial.

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  7. Taliah Broyard

    So I think it is very interesting and creative that Homer chose Menelaos to be the first to see the fallen hero, Patroklos, simply because of their loved ones fued. Menelaos is the brother and closest person to Agememnon and Patroklos is the beloved companion of Achilleus. Menelaos thought nothing of the ongoing fued between Agamemnon and Achilleus when he sees Patroklos lying on the floor dead, but instead goes into automatic protection mode like a mother would do her child. This is significant as well as touching because it shows that one’s commonalities are far more important than one’s differences with another. More so that love trumphs hate.
    Menelaos could have been joyful knowing that this meant Achilleus could finally join them in battle, but he was not, “As over a first-born calf the mother | cow stands lowing, she who has known no children before this” – This quote gives readers insight on how genuine the feeling was when Menelaos saw his fellow warrior dead.

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