Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Helen of Troy

Bust of Helen of Troy by Antonio Canova at Vic...Image via WikipediaMy series of Notable Eastern Women is taking some geographic liberties today, because Helen of Troy was really born Helen of Sparta. But history had other plans for the woman with "the face that launched a thousand ships".

If you aren't familiar with Homer (or Marlowe), I'll give you the skinny.

Helen was the daughter of Leda and Zeus. She grew up to be a demi-goddess of astounding beauty. Then like a pawn, she was married off to Menelaus, the local strong arm who won the games held in her honor. She was a true prize, with powers of seduction and connections to the gods (probably via opiats).

Meanwhile in Troy, handsome Paris (the man, not the city or the hotel heiress) was between a rock and a hard place. Three goddesses, Hera, Aphrodite and Athena, asked him to choose who was the most beautiful among them.  He awarded the golden apple (Calista) to Aphrodite, because she promised him the love of the most beautiful woman.

Fast forward to Paris visiting the court of Menelaus. Aphrodite arranged to have Menelaus leave for pressing business and Helen was left to "entertain" Paris. The rest is history - or mythology, depending how you look at it.

The ancient site of Troy is in modern day Turkey, near Çanakkale, at the narrowest point of the Dardanelles. There isn't much left to look at.  After all, Menelaus supposedly destroyed the wealthy trading port with his famous Trojan horse, even though Achilles ran into some bad luck with his heel.

So what was the real story? Did Helen love Paris?  She probably had to go with him willingly. (Many a woman has dropped everything for a hot guy with cold cash.) Was Menelaus really jealous enough to convince the owners of 1,000 ships (because most of the ships weren't his) and the sons of may men to join him in his quest for revenge? The sad part is, it was probably more a question of who had the biggest piggy bank. A busy port city at the mouth of the Dardanelles was a jewel in anyone's crown, but the romantic idea of fighting for the woman you love is more interesting and we're still captivated by the story even in our century.


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LTM said...

sigh. And boys love to fight. This is a great story--there are so many great stories in ancient mythology. You're smart to mine them~ :o) <3

Jules said...

Sorry but I have to wonder if any woman with a half bald head could really persuade a 1,000 ships to launch. :)

Seriously though, I love the Trojan Horse myth. Sort of an underdog story to me.

Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Golden Eagle said...

It's too bad we'll never really know . . . but it's fun imagining what might have been the real reason!

Old Kitty said...

These darned gods and goddesses meddling in mortals' affairs and causing breakups, death and wars!! LOL!!!

Awwwww the romantic in me would like to think that hearts and passion were at stake!! Oh but you're most likely right - money greed and power tend to get in the way somewhat!

Thanks for a fab post!! Take care

Laurel Corona said...

Serendipity is exactly what running across your website was for me. I love your comments on Helen. They match many of my views. She is one of the central characters in my new novel, PENELOPE'S DAUGHTER (Penguin/Berkley 2010). Check it out if you want to get a vision of an utterly fabulous and self-empowered middle-aged Helen!

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

It's a cool story. I like to think she loved Paris, but I'm an ole softy.

Unknown said...

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