Helen of Troy: Women in Greek Myths-3

Helen of Troy, https://id.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helene

Helen of Troy is the third Greek woman character in Natalie Haynes book ‘Pandora‘s Jar: Women in Greek Myths’. Helen of Troy, just like the others, is maligned in recent versions and in the famous British-American movies https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_of_Troy_(miniseries) as the face that launched a thousand ships, the destroyer of Troy and leading to loss of innumerable human lives. Definition of Helen of Troy:  the wife of Menelaus whose abduction by Paris brings about the Trojan War. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Helen%20of%20Troy But was she the reason for the Trojan Wars?

‘The face that launched a thousand ship’ appeared in Aeschylus’ ‘Agamemnon’, several times in Euripides’ ‘Adromache’ and Homer’s ‘Iliad’. Everything about Helen from her birth is contested. She is said to be born from an egg, conceived by her mother Leda, through the Greek God Zeus in the form of a swan! She is raised by King Tyndareus and Queen Leda of Sparta. At the age of seven, Greek God Theseus wanted to marry her. So he and his friend Pirithous kidnap Helen and left her in Athens. Helen’s brothers wage war on Athens and bring her back to Sparta. So even as a child Helen apparently caused a war! The second war fought over Helen is the most famous Trojan War. This has captivated the imagination of the Western world and a number of movies have depicted various version of Helen of Troy and the Trojan War, with the famous myth of the Trojan horse.

In Homer’s ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’ the Greeks and the Trojans blame Helen for the catastrophic loss of life on all sides. Helen’s Greek husband, Menelaus, waged a ten year war on the Trojans to get back his wife kidnapped by Paris, prince of Trojan. How did she become wife of Menelaus in the first place? Helen was exceptionally beautiful. When she reached marriageable age her father Tyndareus came up with a plan, that whoever sought Helen would pledge that if he did not win Helen he would always help her husband to protect her. This was a cleaver plan to prevent the suitors from waging war after the groom was chosen. Helen or her father chose Menelaus. Soon after Menelaus abandons her with Paris and goes off to Crete (not very clear to me why) . Unfortunately no one thought that a non-Greek who had not sworn the oath, a Trojan prince Paris, would seduce or abduct her and the Greeks would need to go to war.

In Euripides’ ‘The Trojan Women’ Helen is given a chance to defend herself. She apportions responsibility for the Trojan War to powerful Goddess Aphrodite for asking Paris to choose the most beautiful among three of them, to Paris’ mother Hecabe for giving birth to him to Paris’ father Priam for not acting on a prophesy and killing his son when he was born, and to her husband Menelaus who abandoned her with Paris. Eventually the causation of the war according to Natalie Haynes research was as described here: ‘The war is caused by Paris taking Helen from Menelaus, but Helen is promised to Paris by Aphrodite in exchange for the golden apple, and the apple is put in among the goddesses by Eris’, the goddess of quarrel, who got it from the Garden of the Hesperides.

Obviously the story of Helen of Troy is more complicated than is told with Elizabeth Taylor as Helen in Richard Burton’s movie! Helen is much more difficult ‘to pin down, her confused parentage, her contested childhood, her multiple marriages’. The most notorious story that she eloped with Paris is a lie. What is she? ‘Helen of Troy, Helen of Sparta, Helen of Joy, Helen of Slaughter’ or just another woman maligned in Greek myth, like Pandora and Jocasta, and a lot more so in our times!

One thought on “Helen of Troy: Women in Greek Myths-3

  1. Really well put. Though as said, there are many contradictions. If I would parallel the “cause of war” eviction on women, Draupati in Hindu mythology has faced similar contradictions. And her birth was unnatural.

    Enjoyed the read.

    Kopal

    Like

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