Helen of Troy In Greek mythology, the most beautiful woman in the world; daughter of Zeus and Leda; married to Menelaus; mother of Hermione, Pleisthenes, and Nicostratus. Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduced Leda, who produced two eggs. From the first hatched Helen and her brother Polydeuces (or Pollux).
From the second egg came Clytemnestra and Castor. (The second egg, according to some accounts, was fathered by Tyndareus, the king of Sparta and husband of Leda.) When Helen was a young girl she was abducted by Theseus and Pirithous and rescued by her brothers Castor and Polydeuces, the Dioscuri. In some accounts she was the mother of Iphigenia by Theseus.
She was so beautiful that all the available princes in Greece wished to marry her. To calm the intense rivalry Odysseus had all of the suitors swear to support the husband whom Helen would choose and to avenge any wrong to the couple caused by the marriage. After the agreement Helen chose Menelaus, brother of Agamemnon, who was husband of her sister Clytemnestra.
Helen and Menelaus seemed to live happily until the day Paris abducted her. (Paris had been promised Helen by Aphrodite as a reward for naming Aphrodite the “fairest” in the Judgment of Paris.) Some accounts say Helen accompanied Paris willingly to Troy; others say she was taken by force. In any event, Menelaus rallied all of Greece to his aid, and the result was the Trojan War.
While in Troy, Helen bore Paris many children, all of whom died in infancy. After Paris’s death she was briefly married to Deiphobus. When Troy fell through the trick of the wooden horse, Helen was returned to her husband Menelaus, who took her back as if nothing had happened. She then lived with Menelaus until her death.
But some accounts say Helen was hanged by the maids of Argive Polyxo to avenge the death of Tlepolemus at Troy. Some scholars believe Helen was originally a pre-Greek goddess with a tree cult (one in which the goddess was hanged from a tree, which might account for one version of her death) who was worshipped in Laconia and Rhodes. In the Homeric epics, however, Helen is entirely human.
Homer’s Iliad mentions that the Trojans treated her kindly, and in the Odyssey she is described as a hospitable wife. A later myth not included in Homer, devised to save her reputation, says that a phantom, not the real Helen, went to Troy. This myth is cited in Plato’s Phaedrus and is followed in Euripides’ Helen and Richard Strauss’s opera Die Ägyptische Helena (The Egyptian Helen) with a libretto by Hofmannsthal.
In general, however, most poets take a judgmental view of her behavior, among them Ovid, Seneca, and Vergil. She appears in Euripides’ Helen, Ovid’s Heroides (16), Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, W. B. Yeats’s “Leda and the Swan,” Tennyson’s “A Dream of Fair Women,” Brooke’s “Menelaus and Helen,” and Lang’s Helen of Troy. Dante (Hell, Second Circle) places Helen among those driven by lust. Ronsard’s Sonnets pour Hélène were written for Hélène de Surgeres, his last love.
In Goethe’s Faust (Part 2) Faust marries Helen, who symbolizes all that is most beautiful in ancient Greek life. In Marlowe’s play Dr. Faustus Helen also appears to Faust, and hers is “the face which launched a thousand ships.” Homer never describes her features, and she has not frequently appeared in art, though David’s Paris and Helen portrays the couple, and a work from the school of Fra Angelico portrays The Rape of Helen.
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow-Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante
Helen of Troy – The Face That Launched One Thousand Ships
Helen of Troy is described as the most beautiful woman in the world, but she was never entirely mortal. In the most famous version of her origin, Helen is the daughter of Zeus, who transformed into a swan to rape her mother, Leda, a mortal queen. Leda simultaneously conceived two children by Zeus and two by her mortal husband. Two of the resulting four children were mortal; the other two immortal. Helen was the immortal sister, as opposed to her mortal twin, Clytemnestra.
Helen possessed supernatural beauty and allure, which brought her little if any joy. When she was a little girl, the hero Theseus saw her dancing for Artemis; he abducted and raped the child. Helen’s twin brothers, the Dioscuri, rescued and returned her. Helen’s beauty later made her the prize in the Judgment of Paris. Trojan prince and shepherd Paris was forced to decide which of three goddesses deserved a golden apple labeled “for the fairest.” Not one of the goddesses had supreme confidence in her own merits. Each offered Paris a sizable bribe. Aphrodite promised Paris the world’s most beautiful woman. When Paris picked her, she gave him Helen, her devotee.
In a more obscure version of Helen’s mythic origins, she is fully immortal. Zeus pursued the resisting Nemesis, who transformed into a fish to escape him. He ploughed up Earth’s waters to catch her. In a desperate game of hide-and-seek, Nemesis kept changing shapes, finally transforming into a goose. Zeus, in the guise of a swan, raped her. She laid, then abandoned an egg the color of blue hyacinths. The egg ended up with Leda, who hid it until Helen hatched from it.
Helen is blamed as the cause of the Trojan War, ostensibly fought to return Helen to her husband, Menelaus, King of Sparta. In one version of her myth, Helen was never in Troy. Growing bored with Paris even as they eloped, she jumped ship in Egypt, where a pharaoh kept her safe and hidden.
Helen is the original sex goddess, the lady of irresistible allure. This isn’t meant only metaphorically: she was worshipped as a goddess with various shrines throughout Greece. She had a shrine near Sparta, which may have contained the original egg from which she hatched or a replica. She may have been worshipped in Memphis, Egypt, where she had allegedly entertained the pharaoh.
She was venerated on the island of Rhodes as a tree goddess. Legend has it that after the death of Menelaus, with whom she reconciled after the Trojan War, Helen’s step-son banished her from Sparta. She went to visit an old friend, Polyxo, Queen of Rhodes. Or at least Helen imagined her to be a friend: in truth, Polyxo secretly hated Helen, blaming her for the death of her husband during the Trojan War. Once she had Helen alone, Polyxo dressed servants up as Erinyes. They stripped Helen naked, scourged her, and hung her from a tree, killing her. Some understand this as a lynching; others interpret “hanging from a tree” to mean crucifixion. Perhaps to atone or to appease Helen’s ghost, veneration of Helen was then instituted on Rhodes.
Helen is an erotic goddess petitioned for romantic and domestic happiness. She is also invoked for fertility and to assist conception. Themes of sexual violence permeate her myths. Helen may be invoked to protect and avenge those who have been sold into sexual slavery or otherwise exploited and abused. Helen knows the secret formula for nepenthe, the potion that banishes grief and suffering and provides healing oblivion.
Jewish folklore identifies Helen of Troy as an avatar of Lilith. Simon Magus allegedly discovered Helen of Troy (either her immortal self or her Reincarnation) laboring in a brothel in Tyre, now in modern Lebanon. He rescued her, proclaiming her his Sophia (Shekhina, Ennoia); the two were eventually venerated together. Vestiges of Helen may survive under the mask of Saint Helena who is profoundly associated with romance and love magic in Christian folk traditions.
Hers is the face that launched a thousand ships. Helen is allegedly awe-inspiringly beautiful, seductive, and sexy.
Helen was venerated alongside her brothers, the Dioscuri, and Aphrodite.
Water; Helen is associated with healing springs.
Painted eggs; china, crystal, or otherwise precious eggs
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.