Finding Helen in texts is frustrating. Many kind of inconsistent facts may be encountered. Who was Helen? What about her life, her power, her birth, her beauty? Was she hated or was she loved? If we were to create a short biography, it might check out like this: Helen was the daughter of Leda and also Tyndareus/Zeus, and Clytemnestra, Castor and Polydeuces’ sister. Penelope was her cousin. She married Menelaos king of Sparta, was seduced and abducted by Paris who took her to Troy. The Achaeans battled the Trojans for ten years to get her ago.

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But tbelow is more to understand around her.

In  A variation on the concept of a gleam that blinded Homer, an short article from Classical Inquiries, Nagy writes about “he blinding of Homer by Helen” and also “he blinding of Stesichorus by Helen”:

But others say that he <= Homer> proficient the very same thing <= blindness> because of the anger of Helen, who was angry at him because he said that she had abandoned her previous husband also <= Menelaos> and had adhered to Alexander <= Paris>. Here is exactly how it happened: the soul of the heroine , appearing in the night, stood beside him and advised him to burn his poetry. exactly how, if he did so, things would certainly go well. But (he told her) that he just couldn’t carry himself to perform this.

Vita 6.51–57

Were Stesichorus and Homer blinded bereason they created songs which did not meet Helen?

In the Odyssey, she provides a special drug to help her guests forgain their sorrows.

She <= Helen> put a drug right into the wine from which they drank. It <= the drug> was against penthos and against anger . It made one forobtain all poor things. Whoever before swpermitted it, when it was blended with the wine right into the mixing bowl, might not melted a tear from his cheeks for that day, even if his mommy and father died or if he had actually previously shed a brvarious other or his own dear son, eliminated by bronze weapons—even if he experienced it all occur with his very own eyes. This drug, of such sovepower power and virtue, had been offered to Helen by Polydamna wife of Thon, a woguy of Egypt, wbelow tright here thrive all sorts of herbs, some excellent to put right into the mixing-bowl and also others poisonous. Furthermore, eincredibly one in the whole country is a skilled medical professional, for they are of the family tree of Paieon. When Helen had put this drug in the bowl, and had told the servants to serve the wine round, she said:

“Menelaus, son of Atreus, dear to Zeus, and you my great friends, sons of honourable males (which is as Zeus wills, for he is the giver both of good and also evil, and also can do what he chooses), feastern right here as you will certainly, and listen while I tell you a tale in season…”

Odyssey 4.220–240 Sourcebook<1>

Ann Bergen in chapter 5 of Weaving Truth: Esstates on Language and also the Female in Greek Thought writes around Helen’s drug. Her drug is “favor the poeattempt of kleos.

Helen’s φάρμακον “drug” is, then, favor the poetry of κλέος “fame.” It is so reliable an antidote to grief that at the tragedy of your family members, you would certainly feeling just glory and would not weep. With this drug Helen deserve to now supply what the banquet has lacked heretofore, remembrance of the past without pain. For indeed, simply as she adds a φάρμακον “drug” via the power of poetic κλέος, so she will certainly now supply a μύθος “story” via the properties of her “great drug.” Unfavor Menelaus’ earlier recollections, Helen’s μύθος will be a painless painful memory. By this drug-prefer narrative supplement, events naturally tragic for some of the audience will be detoxified. A song of the λυγρός “baneful” genre for some will certainly sound prefer κλέος and will be heard by all without loss or enduring. By thus describing her drug and also its verbal counter-part, the poet casts Helen in the role played by himself and also by the Odyssean tradition he repeats—the function of making past deeds existing via κλέος for the actors and also τέρψις “delight” for the audience. Helen’s φάρμακον “drug”/μύθος “story” will certainly be, therefore, the oppowebsite of Menelaus’ part of the evening—simply as female is the opposite of male, wife of husband, and Odyssey of Iliad—but it will be the equal of its mate in constitution. For both are based upon the presumption of analogous polarities, controlled and also mutually exclusive, to which poetry and also drugs sell no exemption.

Ann Bergen, Weaving Truth: Esstates on Language and also the Female in Greek Thought (

Different stories around Helen emerge. Was she in Troy or was her ghold in Troy? Was she in Egypt as Stesichorus (and later Herodotus and also Euripides) wrote?

In one of the translations at Sententiae Antiquae, Helen did not go to Troy.

" data-medium-file="" data-large-file="" loading="lazy" class="size-tool wp-image-22202" src="" alt="Helen and Menelaos. Menelaos inhas a tendency to strike Helen, yet captivated by her beauty he drops his sword. A flying Eros and also Aphrodite watch the scene. (450–440) Louvre" width="300" height="276" srcset=" 300w, 1024w, 150w, 1985w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />Helen and also Menelaos. Menelaos inoften tends to strike Helen, but captivated by her beauty he drops his sword. A flying Eros and Aphrodite watch the scene. (450–440) LouvreThis is not the true tale:You never went in the well-benched shipsYou did not go to the towers of Troy…eidolon> checked out Troyand that Helen continued to be backvia Prôteus…”

Stesichorus, fr. 15 (the Helen Palinode). Translated by Joel Christensen.

Plato appears to agree through Stesichorus about Helen. In Phaedrus, according to him, Helen was not in Troy.

…they put on airs as though they aplaced to somepoint, if they could cwarmth some mere manikins and also acquire honour among them. Now I, my friend, have to purify myself; and also for those who have sinned in matters of mythology tbelow is an old purification, unknown to Homer, however known to Stesichorus. For once he was stricken through blindness for speaking ill of Helen, he was not, prefer Homer, ignorant of the factor, but since he was educated, he kbrand-new it and straightway he writes the poem :“That saying is not true; thou didst not go within the well-oared ships, nor didst thou concerned the wall surfaces of Troy.”

Plato Phaedrus 243a, on Perseus

Was Helen loved? She was not loved by all, and she is shown horribly in Aeschylus’ tragedy Agamemnon.

Who deserve to have offered a name so altogether true—was it some power invisible guiding his tongue aappropriate by forecasting of destiny? —who named that bride of the spear and source of strife with the name of Helen? For, true to her name, a Hell she confirmed to ships, Hell to males, Hell to city,  as soon as stepping forth from her luxuriant and costly-curtained bower, she sailed the sea before the breath of earth-born Zephyros. And after her a goodly hold of warrior huntsmen followed on the oars’ vanished track in quest of a quarry that had beached its boat on Simmers’ leafy banks—in a conflict to end in blood.

Aeschylus Agamemnon 680–700, Sourcebook

In Euripides’ Orestes, Electra and her brother try to kill her.

Slay her, kill her, ruin her! Stab with your twin double-edged swords the woman that left her father, left her husband, and eliminated so many kind of of the males of Hellas, slain alongside the river-financial institution, wbelow tears rained dvery own, by the iron darts all round the eddies of Scamander.

Euripides Orestes 1303–1311

However, Apollo conserves her at the end of the play. She becomes a goddess.

Go your means, and also honor Peace, fairest of goddesses; I will carry Helen to the halls of Zeus, once I have pertained to the skies, bideal via stars. Tright here, enthroned next to Hera and Hebe, the bride of Heracles, she will certainly be honoured by men with libations as a goddess for ever; together with those Zeus-born sons of Tyndareus, she will be a guardian of the sea, for the good of seafarers.

Euripides Orestes 1683–1692, translated by E. P. Coleridge, on Perseus

She will certainly be via Zeus. Is she Zeus ‘daughter? Helen’s birth is surrounded by mysteries. Different versions exist.

The Greeks say that Nemesis was the mother of Helen, while Leda suckled and nursed her. The father of Helen the Greeks favor everybody else organize to be not Tyndareus yet Zeus.

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.33.7, analyzed by W.H.S. Jones and H.A. Ormerod on Perseus

And right here is the version offered by Helen herself, in Euripides’ play, while she is in Egypt waiting for Menelaos, that is in Troy.

These are the lovely pure streams of the Nile, which waters the plain and also lands of Egypt, fed by white melting snow instead of rain from heaven. Proteus was king of this land once he was alive, <5> living on the island also of Pharos and also lord of Egypt; and also he married among the daughters of the sea, Psamathe, after she left Aiakos’ bed. She bore 2 kids in his royal residence here: a boy Theoklymenos, and also a noble daughter, her mother’s pride, dubbed Eiexecute in her insophisticated. But once she pertained to youth, the season of marriage, she was called Theonoe; for she knew whatever the gods design, both present and to come, having actually received this honor from her grandpa Nereus.

My very own fatherland, Sparta, is not without fame, and also my father is Tyndareus; however there is indeed a story that Zeus flew to my mom Leda, taking the create of a bird, a swan, which completed the deceitful union, fleeing the quest of an eagle, if this story is true. My name is Helen; I will tell the evils I have experienced. For the sake of beauty, 3 goddesses concerned a deep valley on Mount Ida, to Paris: Hera and also Kypris, and also the virgin daughter of Zeus, wishing to have the judgment of their loveliness made a decision. Kypris available my beauty, if misfortune is beautiful, for Paris to marry, and also so she won. Paris, the shepherd of Ida, left his ox-stalls and also involved Sparta, to have me in marital relationship.

Euripides Helen 1–31, interpreted by E.P. Coleridge, on Perseus

It is challenging to uncover a detailed physical description of her. We hear of her beautiful hair and that she looks favor a goddess. In the Iliad, the old men attest to her beauty:

These were also old to fight, but they were fluent orators, and also sat on the tower like cicadas that chirrup delicately from the boughs of some high tree in a timber. When they witnessed Helen coming in the direction of the tower, they shelp softly to one one more, “Tright here is no means to wish for retribution that Trojans and strong-greaved Achaeans need to endure so much and also so long, for the sake of a womale so marvelously and also divinely lovely. Still, fair though she be, let them take her and go…”

Iliad 3.145–160, Sourcebook

Helen shows up in among the nicest poems composed by Sappho. Does it show up that Sappho interpreted that Helen was not only a beautiful woguy however a complimentary and independent one?

Some say a massing of chariots and their chauffeurs, some say of footsoldiers, some say of ships, if you think of every little thing that exists on the surface of this black earth, is the the majority of beautiful point of them all. But I say it is that one point that anyone passionately loves <erātai>. It’s really quite simple to make this understandable to everyone, this thing. You check out, that womale that was by much supreme in beauty among all people, Helen, she <…> her finest of all husbands, him she left behind and sairesulted in Troy, caring not around her daughter and her dear parents, not caring at all. She was swept along <…> reminds me best currently of Anaktoria. She is here. Oh, exactly how I would far fairly wish to see her taking a dancing action that arosupplies passionate love <= eraton>, and to check out the luminous radiance from the look of her confront than to watch those chariots of the Lydians and also the footsoldiers in their armor as they fight in fight <…>.

Sappho 16, Sourcebook

Helen resembles no various other epic or tragic character. In her book Les Larmes d’Achille, Hélène Monsacré writes beauticompletely around Helen. Helen, she states, does not shed tears for the loss of a husband also or a boy, “She cries about her mistake and its consequences…She is the only feminine epic character to have such autonomy of feelings.”

Elle pleure son erreur et ses conséquences…Elle est en cela le seul personnage féminin de l”épopée à avoir une telle autonomie de sentiments.Les Larmes d’Achille, Le Felin, 2010, p. 203

Helen is additionally a woguy that gives kleos. Her husband Menelaos gets it from her.

“…As for your own end, Menelaos, promoted son of Zeus, you shall not die in horse-pasturing Argos, but the gods will take you to the Elysian ordinary, which is at the ends of the human being. There fair-haired Rhadamanhence reigns, and men lead an less complicated life than any where else in the civilization, for in Elysium tright here falls not rain, nor hail, nor scurrently, but Okeanos breathes ever with a West wind that sings softly from the sea, and offers fresh life to all men. This will certainly take place to you because you have actually married Helen, and are Zeus’ son-in-law.“

Odyssey 4.560–570, Sourcebook

Finding Helen’s identity is a never-finishing procedure.

Feel free to share your thoughts or other messages about Helen in the Forum.

<1> Sourcebook: The Old Greek Hero in 24 Hours Sourcebook of Initial Greek Texts Translated right into English, Gregory Nagy, General Editor.

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Image credits

Jean-Jacques Lagrenée (1739–1821) Helen Recognising Telemachus, Son of Odysseus, 1795 Wikimedia Commons: Public Domain

Helen and Menelaos vase, Louvre 


Hélène Emeriaud is a retired teacher. A Community TA for HeroesX in v3, v4,and also v5. She enjoys being a participant in Hour 25.