HELENA, daughter of Zeus and of Leda the wife of Tyndareus king of Sparta, was sister of Castor, Pollux, and Clytemnestra, and was married to Menelaus, According to Homer she was obliged by Aphrodite to flee with Paris to Troy; and after the Trojan War site returned with Menelaus and lived with him as queen in Sparta. She had only one child, a daughter named Hermione, who was married to Neoptolemus. In the Homeric poems her character is drawn with marvellous skill ; forced by the gods to do what she regrets, she seems to be separated from the wrong that she does, and remains always an object of interest and respect.' Goethe (Faust, part ii.) introduces Helena apparently to symbolize the Greek spirit acting on the modern mind. Among later poets the tales of Helen are much more complicated. She was carried off by Theseus to Attica in her childhood, but was recovered by her brothers. Her character often suffers much in the tales followed by lyric and tragic poets. Stesichorus and Euripides (Helena), however, relate that Paris on his homeward voyage was driven by stress of wind to Egypt. Proteus, king of Egypt, learning the facts, detained the real Helen in Egypt, while a shadowy Helen was taken to Troy and fought for. Menelaus on his way home from Troy v. as also driven to Egypt, and there found his true wife. After the death of Paris she is also said to have been married to his brother Deiphobus.
If we turn to the religious ceremonies and the genuine popular tales, we find traces of a more archaic Helen. At Elianums in Attica she was connected with the worship of Nemesis, whose daughter she was considered to be. In Argos she was counted mother of Iphigenia, and was said to have founded a temple of Eileithyia, the goddess of birth. At Sparta she was bottomed as presiding over the care of children, and festivals were celebrated in her honour by the maidens. A tree appears to have been connected with her worship there (see Theocr. , xviii.); and in Rhodes she was worshipped by maidens with the epithet SEvapirms, a relic of the very oldest kind of worship, where a sacred tree was worshil ped as the embodiment of the god. In most of these cults connexion with a moon-goddess, the most important of whose functions was the care over child-birth, is apparent; and we are led to regard iNr'vn as an epithet of the moon, which has gradually been severed from it and raised to an independent existence (cf. the account given of Gorgophone under GoncoN). Beauty is a specially common attribute of the moon and of moon-goddesses, such as Hera. This makes it most probable that the word, like 60.1,rn, ix connected with the root soar, to shine. The tales connecting Helena with Achilles, who is clearly a sun-god originally, which are known already to the writer of the Cypria, arc also very instructive. Over the Black Sea coasts Achilles and Helena were worshipped as united in the Elysian fields. With this we must compare the story of Cadmus and Barmonia (see )I AIZAIONIA), and of Hades and Persephone ; and we must remember that these colonies of Miletus were closely connected with Attica. We may then look on it as probable that the rape of Helena by Theseus is merely a device of harmonizing skill to connect the Helena cf Spartan religion with the Helena worshipped in Attica. Probably a similar reason has contributed to mould the tale which has form( d itself round the undoubtedly historical fact of the destruction of Troy by a Greek tribe or army. The worship of Aphrodite, the goddess whose influence in the story of Paris and Helena is so great, was common to Troy and Cythera. Many facts also point to a close connexion between Aphrodite and Helena. The swan fruit] whose egg she is born is the bird of Aphrodite. By the author of the Cypria and in Attic tradition Helen is made the daught(r cf Nemesis; but Nemesis as a goddess of fate is clearly a dawn-god. dens (see Kuhn, Zft., iii. 449), and therefore may lie identified iu origin with Aphrodite. We have here another instance of the intimate relation of the moon and dawn goddesses, and the impossibility of dividing them by any broad line (see 11E13E, It would be at once a most instructive and a most interesting task to trace the steps by which the antique pre-Greek goddess was gradually transformed into the charming heroine round whom the action of the Iliad revolves. The data for reconstructing the history of this figure are more than usually full, and are so clear that writers of the most opposite schools (as Welcker, Gerhard, Mannhardt, Maury, Roscher) have recognized in Helena the ancient goddess.
Please include a link to this page if you have found this material useful for research or writing a related article. Content on this website is from high-quality, licensed material originally published in print form. You can always be sure you're reading unbiased, factual, and accurate information.
Highlight the text below, right-click, and select “copy”. Paste the link into your website, email, or any other HTML document.