Helen, the Face that Launched 1000 Ships

For this week’s Femme Fatale Friday, I have decided to feature Helen of Troy!   Helen of Troy was once married to the King of Sparta, Menelaus.   This is why he would launch a war to try and get back his wife, as her leaving with Paris was humiliating as well as insulting.    

Now, the story of her and Paris, and whether or not they actually loved one another is up to debate.   It all depends on the variant of the myth you read and your interpretation.   The basic story, as most famously told in Homer’s Illiad, begins with Eris being left off the guest list for a wedding.    This would lead to the Goddess of Discord throwing the Golden Apple into the wedding to have Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera bicker over it.    Zeus, being not totally dense, refused to pick a winner in this Divine beauty contest.   Instead, he pushed the task onto an innocent human man, his name was Paris!

So Paris, Prince of Troy, was offered bribes by each of the Goddesses.   Athena offered him greatness in battle, an army that could not lose.   Hera offered him rulership over vast lands.   Aphrodite offered him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world!   Of course, being a young man, he chose the beautiful woman.   This is how Paris and Helen would meet!

Some may believe that Aphrodite used love magic to force their feelings, which would make their love more or less false.   Others claimed that Helen was desperate to leave her husband and having this young and good-looking man interested made for the perfect escape.   Finally, others believed that they truly felt love and passion for one another!   I personally like to think that they really did feel love or at least lust for one another, otherwise the ten-year war fought due to this would be for naught! 

It is known that Aphrodite had a soft spot for these two lovers, as she sided with Troy during the war.   She did leave the war early in order to save her son, Aeneas, but her support was obviously in Troy’s corner.   Helen had no desire to leave Troy, which is what kept the war raging for ten long years.   This tells us that either she was in love with Paris (whether she loved him when she left or not, she loved him now) or she was that determined to not go back to Sparta!   She does end up going back to Sparta when Troy lost the war, at least according to Homer.   Euripides tells a variant of the story that sees Helen never going to Troy, instead, she was literally a figure (more like a ghost) while the actual Helen went to a different part of the world to await the conclusion of the war!   In this version she is a completely blameless figure, making for a very different take on the tale.   However, even here she is berated for being a harlot, so in my opinion, she may as well have had the affair that she is being accused of.   At least then she would have had the fun before the accusations! 

Helen is a timeless figure that is featured in one of the greatest war epics to ever be put in print.   She is a woman who is best remembered for her beauty.   However, she is also often described as being intelligent and capable of running a household, making her an ideal woman in both beauty and capabilities for her time.    I hope you have enjoyed this analysis of the importance of Helen of Troy.   Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is Evelyn De Morgan’s painting of Helen.   I found the image on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_of_Troy.

Further Reading

  • The Illiad by Homer
  • Helen by Euripides
  • Helen of Troy: The Story Behind the Most Beautiful Woman in the World by Bettany Hughes