“Well then, what shall I go through first, what shall I save for last?”
-Homer, Odyssey 9.14-15
The Trojan War.
Where to begin?
In the work that you’re about to read, the Trojan War—the legendary decade-long struggle waged by the Achaeans (i.e. Greeks) against the Trojans over Helen of Sparta—has a beginning as humble as the rustic dreamer on whom the comic opens.
Having fallen asleep on the job, Paris now hurries home, berating his cattle as he goes. You would be forgiven for concluding that the boy, both somnolent and impatient, is neither a terribly competent herdsman, nor an enthusiastic one.
From the look on Paris’ father’s face and the tone of his reproach, we gather that this isn’t the first time Paris has dozed instead of tending the herd. If we already had the impression that Paris isn’t too competent in the duties of his rustic life, this encounter with his father, which we sense is more or less an everyday thing, seems to confirm it.
For those of you in the know about Paris’ role in the coming war, you’ve probably caught that his pastoral ineptitude, as well as his frustration with the herdsman’s life, is a kind of foreshadowing. After all, herdsmen typically don’t go on to bigger things in ancient literature. Hence the incredulity with which Colluthus, a poet of the 5th century CE who wrote an epyllion (mini-epic) about the abduction of Helen, begins his work:
Paris is still venting his irritation on the cattle when he suddenly catches sight of a group of men approaching. He immediately takes flight to warn his father.
So it is a cattle raid! After a fashion, anyway. Emissaries from the king of Troy have come to requisition Paris’ and Agelaus’ finest bull, which they’ve heard about from others living in the countryside of Mt. Ida.
Agelaus’ strategy has really backfired. He’d given his staff to Paris to take inside in order to prevent exactly this kind of outburst. But Paris, whom you can see watching in obvious dismay in the first panel, instead uses it to attack the king’s emissaries. He is only saved by Agelaus’ intercession.
So Paris is spared, but none the wiser for it. In spite of the fact that Agelaus is there to drive home the lesson, “You must learn to control yourself,” the boy is oblivious. He continues to seethe over the abduction of the bull, unfazed by his brush with death.
Agelaus tries to persuade Paris that, even if they are losing the bull to the king of Troy, they’ll still be sacrificing it, at least in a metaphorical way.
But Paris isn’t buying it.
So Paris has decided to travel to Troy and win back his bull. But before embarking on his trip he enjoys a bit of pre-voyage voyeurism.
So we get our answer: the three women are nymphs! And to judge from the way Paris strokes the nymph Oenone’s hair and urges her to “leave it and come with me,” we now know what was motivating him to bring his offering.
Let’s start by asking the first and most obvious question . . . what is a nymph?
Now we learn more about why Oenone felt a tension in the air on the previous page: the omens all point to something momentous on the horizon. Paris, with characteristic arrogance, knows exactly what the heavens are predicting: his big trip to the city.
There’d be every reason in the world to laugh at him, if he weren’t right.
If we were worried about how Oenone would react to Paris’ little ruse, we needn’t have been. The joy on her face is palpable in the first panel. Look at the way she cradles Paris as they lie on a grassy bed, the way Paris picks leaves out of her hair. Their intimacy is obvious as they lay talking, with Paris catching Oenone up on the events of the last few pages.
While he’s filling her in on that story, let’s ourselves catch up on theirs and find out about the origins of the relationship between Paris and Oenone.
The morning after.
Oenone awakens with a start, disturbed by something she’s dreamt. What was her alarming dream? Alas, we’ll have to wait a page to find out. Since that’s the case, let’s use the intervening time to continue our conversation about sex from the previous page.
Now we learn about Oenone’s dream, a vision of horror and war with Paris mortally wounded. Oenone’s terror is plain to see, especially as she grips her head in the third panel. But Paris is brutally dismissive, certain her dream has no significance and is in any event irrelevant to his most pressing concern: the big trip to Troy.
We’ll see how Paris’ departure plays out on the next page, but for now let’s look a bit more closely at Oenone’s dream.
And so Paris rushes off, leaving Oenone behind to call after him with a prescient warning: when Paris is wounded, she is the only person who can heal him.
As you’d imagine, it’s difficult to talk about this page without also discussing events further down the line. To understand what Eric is doing in these panels, you need to know more about how Paris’ and Oenone’s relationship plays out. So consider this fair warning that the discussion below will delve into the later story of Paris and Oenone.
Now here is a page that benefits enormously from John Dallaire’s wonderful color work. Thanks to his efforts, you can’t help but instantly recognize how out of place Paris’ swaddling cloth is. Its rich purples and golds could not be more different from the plain grays and browns of Agelaus’ mud-brick home. Because of John’s coloring, the incongruity between the high quality of the fabric and its humble surroundings is now impossible to ignore.
“His blood is higher than ours.”
And where is Agelaus looking as he utters this line?
We first see it from without, sheep grazing beyond the city walls while a shepherd takes shade beneath a nearby tree. This panel is primarily an establishing shot, but it also symbolizes the thematic transition in progress. Age of Bronze began in the pastoral world of Mount Ida, far from both the hustle-and-bustle of the big city and the narrative center of the Trojan War. Now we approach Troy. The pastoral world that we’ve come to know is still in the foreground (at least visually), but Troy looms behind it. The narrative center of the story is shifting.
And suddenly we’re in Troy.
Now we really start to see Troy. In the upper panel we pan up and away from the lower town, and then begin to descend slowly into the upper city. The main purpose of the page is to establish the geography of Troy; but observe also how Eric interweaves the archaeological record with the story of the comic.