The Iliad is the basic unit perforce of Western thought, as the cell is to life. From it has sprung what we term the ‘West’ (being in Europe, I realize now more so than before how ambiguous the term is; it begs a discussion but not now).

The Achaeans, also referred to by other names in the epic, spend ten years sieging Ilium (from whence we get Iliad). They are portrayed by Homer as noble fighters, fighting for a noble cause: the restitution of Helen. However, the Trojans are not presented as the antithesis either, though they have broken what ostensibly is international law: the hospitality afforded to the ξένος (guest-friend). Paris abuses Agamemnon’s hospitality and takes (hopefully this word is neutral, neither conveyed a removal by force or volition) Helen. Moreover, the Trojans also have noble and excellent fighters, e.g., Hector.

We — as the readers — are told that the international conflict lasts ten years. The Iliad itself covers the last two weeks of the conflict, though we are deprived of fall of Ilium and not until the Odyssey do we learn of it. Ten years is a long time, which surely must have affected Greek society as normally happens when those not suitable to soldier are left at home while those that are are mobilized to the front. The situation at Odysseus’ Ithika hints at the negative impact the absence of so many men has had on those that stayed behind; the prevaricating cabal of bachelors that seek Penelope’s hand, and in turn Odysseus’ kingdom, are a puerile and disorderly bunch and we may go as far as to say unmanly.

Did the Greek city-states support economically the war for all ten years? Was the prize actually Helen? Was honor such an important mien of the Hellenic ethos to justify such an intensive commitment, especially in human resources?

According to Euripides Helen never went to Ilium but by the will of the the ever-jealous Hera, was exiled to Egypt:

“Hera, indignant at not defeating the goddesses, brought to naught my marriage with Paris, and gave to Priam’s princely son not Helen, but a phantom endowed with life, that she made in my image out of the breath of heaven; and Paris thought that I was his, although I never was — an idle fancy!”

And further on in her soliloquy, the loquacious Helen says:

“So I was set up as a prize for all the chivalry of Hellas, to test the might of Phrygia, yet not I, but my name alone; for Hermes caught me up in the embracing air, and veiled me in a cloud; for Zeus was not unmindful of me; and he set me down here in the house of Proteus [in Egypt], judging him to be the most virtuous of all mankind; that so I might preserve my marriage with Menelaus free from taint.”

In effect, the Achaeans seem to be nomially fighting for Helen, whilst the true reason for their endeavor lies elsewhere: greed.

“Good heavens! Mardonius, what manner of men are these against whom thou hast brought us to fight?- men who contend with one another, not for money, but for honour!” hisotires 8

What is it that we fear in them?- not surely their numbers?- not the greatness of their wealth? We know the manner of their battle- we know how weak their power is; already have we subdued their children who dwell in our country, the Ionians, Aeolians, and Dorians. I myself have had experience of these men when I marched against them by the orders of thy father; and though I went as far as Macedonia, and came but a little short of reaching Athens itself, yet not a soul ventured to come out against me to battle. (SS 2.) And yet, I am told, these very Greeks are wont to wage wars against one another in the most foolish way, through sheer perversity and doltishness. histories 7

It is said victors write history; to a large extent it is true.

(a completely different person from the dead and shadow-like skeleton of a woman that stands along side of Menelaus

1 Euripides, Helen.