Pandarus in The Iliad

The Iliad has many central heroes: Agamemnon, Menelaus, Nestor, Diomedes, Achilles, Priam, Hector, Paris, the list goes on. Then there are hundreds of named characters who get introduced in the Catalogue of the Ships or the Trojan Battle Order, and then meet a quick death at the hands of a central hero.

Pandarus is a character that falls between these two extremes. He’s a nobleman fighting on the side of Troy who we’re first introduced to in the Trojan Battle Order of Book II.

Those who inhabited Zeleia, under the lowest shoulder of Ida,
wealthy men, who drank the black waters of Aesepus,
called Troes – these were led by the splendid son of Lycaon,
Pandarus, to whom Apollo himself had given his bow.

I found the function of his character interesting. Some characters are explicitly blessed by the gods (eg. Aeneas by Aphrodite) while others are smited for failing to give tribute, or simply being on the “wrong side”. Pandarus falls into neither camp – despite his link to Apollo.

Pandarus gets into trouble in Book IV. The Achaeans and Trojans are at a truce and have stopped fighting. Hera and Athena want the Achaeans to be victorious – but no victory can come from peace so they begin to plot. On blessing from Zeus to interfere, Hera commands Athena to break the truce on the battlefield:

“Go as fast as you can to the Trojan and Achaean camps,
and try to ensure that the Trojans are the first to give
offence to the far-famed Achaeans, by breaking their oaths.”

On the battlefield Athena disguises herself as a Trojan soldier. She seeks out Pandarus and addresses him with her “winged words” and “swayed the thoughts of a thoughtless man”.

“War-minded son of Lycaon, will you perhaps do as I tell you,
and have the courage to let fly a swift arrow at Menelaus,
and so win gratitude and glory before all Trojans,
but most of all in the sight of the prince Alexander?

Pandarus, takes his bow and aims at Menelaus.

Then he opened the lid of his quiver, and from it took an arrow,
featured, not yet released, and a bearer of black agony.
Quickly he fitted the bitter shaft to the bowstring and
vowed to sacrifice to Lycian-born Apollo, renowned
with the bow, a splendid hecatomb of first-born lambs
when he returned to his home in Zeleia, the sacred city.

Then, gripping the notches and ox-gut string together, he pulled,
bringing the string back to his chest and the iron tip to the bow.
When he had bent the great bow so that it made an arc
it sang out, the string gave a loud cry, and the sharp arrow
leapt forth, raging to fly into the enemy soldiery.

But Athena is waiting to protect Menelaus.

But, Menelaus, the blessed immortal gods had not forgotten you,
and the first to your aid was Zeus’ daughter who gathers the spoils.
She stood before you and fended off the sharp-pointed arrow,
turning it away from your flesh just like a mother brushing
a fly from her child who is lying in sweet sleep, and with
her own hand she guided it instead to where its gold buckles
held his belt together and overlapped the double corset.

Agamemnon and the Achaeans see Menelaus be struck by the arrow and fear him dead. He’s alright, of course, but Athena’s scheming has forced Agamemnon to restart the combat: “those who were the first offenders, by breaking their oaths, will have their tender flesh devoured by vultures …”

The battle restarts, and the Achaean Diomedes ,empowered by Athena, is on a rampage. Aeneas (A Trojan, later of Rome myth) seeks out Pandarus and the two set off to kill Diomedes.

“Pandarus, where now are your bow and your winged arrows,
and your fame? No man here can compete wth you in archery,
nor does any man in Lycia boast that he is better than you.
Come now, lift your hands to Zeus and let fly an arrow at this man,
the one who stands supreme here, who is inflicting great hurt
on the Trojans, loosening the knees of many fine men –
unless he is some god who has a grudge against the Trojans,
being angry over a missed offering; a god’s anger is hard to bear.”

Pandarus replies.

“Aeneas, counsellor of the bronze-shirted Trojans,
this man seems to me exactly like Tydeus’ war-minded son,
for I recognise him by his shield and his vizored helmet,
and the look of his horses; but I do not know for sure if it is a god.
If this is the man I think it is, Tydeus’ war-minded [Diomedes], this
crazed assault cannot happen without a god, and some immortal
must be standing close to him, his shoulders shrouded in mist,
who has turned aside the swift arrow that was on course to hit him;
I have already let fly an arrow at him, and it his his right
shoulder, passing right through the plate of his corslet, and
I believed I was on the point of sending him to Hades, but
even so I did not fell him. So some resentful god must be here.

Pandarus tells Aeneas that has father told him to “take my stand in a horse-drawn chariot and lead the Trojans into the harsh conflict of battle”. He speaks.

“already I have let fly an arrow at two of their champions,
the son of Tydeus [Dimoedes] and Atreus’ son [Menelaus], and in both I have
made the blood flow with a clear hit, but it only provoked them
the more. So it was for a miserable destiny that I took down my
curved bow from its peg, on the day that I came leading my
Trojans to beautiful Ilium, doing a service to glorious Hector.
But if I ever go back home and cast eyes on my native land,
on my wife and on my great high-roofed house,
may some stranger cut off my head, there and then,
if I do not smash this bow with my hands and throw it
into the blazing fire; it was useless gear to bring with me.”

Aeneas makes an inspirational speech and urges Pandarus to accompany him in a chariot and go to fight Diomedes. Into combat they go. An Achaean sees them coming and warns Diomedes.

“Diomedes, son of Tydeus, delight of my heart, I can
see two mighty men coming at your, raging for the fight,
filled with immense strength; one is the skilled bowman,
Pandarus, who boasts that he is the son of Lycaon,
while the other [Aeneas] boasts that he was born the son of
blameless Anchises, and that his mother was Aphrodite.
Come, let us retreat in our chariot, and do not, I beg you, storm
like this through the front-fighters, or you may lose your dear life.”

But mighty Diomedes looked at him darkly and addressed him:
“Do not talk to me of flight; I do not think you will persuade me.
I am not the kind of man to hang back from the fight,
nor to cower in fear; my fury is still firmly fixed within me.
But I am loath to mount my chariot, and will go to meet them
just as I am; Pallas Athena does not allow be to be afraid.
As for those two, their swift horses will not carry them home,
away from me, even if one or the other of them escapes.

The chariot approaches and Pandarus addresses Diomedes.

“Steadfast-hearted, war-minded son of proud Tydeus!
So my swift shot, my bitter arrow, did not fell you; but this time
I will test you with my spear, and perhaps I will strike you down.” So he spoke, and poised his long-shadowing spear and threw it,
and hit the shield of Tydeus’ son; and the bronze point
flew clean through it and reach Diomedes’ corslet.
At this Lycaon’s splendid son gave a great shout:
“You are hit, deep in your side! I do not think you will
hold out much longer; you have given me great glory.”

Fearlessly, mighty Diomedes addressed him:
“You missed – you did not hit me! I think that before
you are finished with all this one or other of you will fall and
with his blood glut Ares, the fighter with the oxhide shield.”
So he spoke and hurled his spear, and Athena guided it on to
Pandarus’ nose by his eye, and it went through his white teeth.
The relentless bronze cut his tongue away at the root,
and the point then came out underneath his chin.
He tumbled from the chariot, and his bright-glittering armour
clattered about him, and the swift-footed horses
started in fear; and there his life and fury ebbed away.

And so is the end of Pandarus. His character plays collateral to Athena’s plans and Diomedes’ rampage. The Iliad contains many duels between characters both backed by opposing gods. At the time of crisis for the beaten character they are whisked away before death. This is the case for Aeneas in this fight, where Aphrodite (his mother) saves him before Diomedes can kill him. Pandarus has no god to save him.

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