Open main menu

HELEN, or Helena (Gr. Ἑλένη),in Greek mythology, daughter of Zeus by Leda (wife of Tyndareus, king of Sparta), sister of Castor, Pollux and Clytaemnestra, and wife of Menelaus. Other accounts make her the daughter of Zeus and Nemesis, or of Oceanus and Tethys. She was the most beautiful woman in Greece, and indirectly the cause of the Trojan war. When a child she was carried off from Sparta by Theseus to Attica, but was recovered and taken back by her brothers. When she grew up, the most famous of the princes of Greece sought her hand in marriage, and her father's choice fell upon Menelaus. During her husband‛s absence she was induced by Paris, son of Priam, with the connivance of Aphrodite, to flee with him to Troy. After the death of Paris she married his brother Deïphobus, whom she is said to have betrayed into the hands of Menelaus at the capture of the city (Aeneid, vi. 517 ff.). Menelaus thereupon took her back, and they returned together to Sparta, where they lived happily till their death, and were buried at Therapnae in Laconia. According to another story, Helen survived her husband, and was driven out by her stepsons. She fled to Rhodes, where she was hanged on a tree by her former friend Polyxo, to avenge the loss of her husband Tlepolemus in the Trojan War (Pausanias iii. 19). After death, Helen was said to have married Achilles in his home in the island of Leukē. In another version, Paris, on his voyage to Troy with Helen, was driven ashore on the coast of Egypt, where King Proteus, upon learning the facts of the case, detained the real Helen in Egypt, while a phantom Helen was carried off to Troy. Menelaus on his way home was also driven by stress of winds to Egypt, where he found his wife and took her home (Herodotus ii. 112-120; Euripides, Helena). Helen was worshipped as the goddess of beauty at Therapnae in Laconia, where a festival was held in her honour. At Rhodes she was worshipped under the name of Dendritis (the tree goddess), where the inhabitants built a temple in her honour to expiate the crime of Polyxo. The Rhodian story probably contains a reference to the worship connected with her name (cf. Theocritus xviii. 48 σέβου μ᾽, Ἑλένας φυτὸν εἰμί). She was the subject of a tragedy by Euripides and an epic by Colluthus. Originally, Helen was perhaps a goddess of light, a moon-goddess, who was gradually transformed into the beautiful heroine round whom the action of the Iliad revolves. Like her brothers, the Dioscuri, she was a patron deity of sailors.

See E. Oswald, The Legend of Fair Helen (1905); J. A. Symonds,

Studies of the Greek Poets, i. (1893); F. Decker, Die griechische Helena in Mythos und Epos (1894); Andrew Lang, Helen of Troy (1883); P. Paris in Daremberg and Saglio's Dictionnaire des antiquités; the exhaustive article by R. Engelmann in Roscher‛s Lexikon der Mythologie; and O. Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie, i. 163, according to whom Helen originally represented, in the Helenephoria (a mystic festival of Artemis, Iphigeneia or Tauropolos), the sacred basket (ἑλένη) in which the holy objects were carried; and hence, as the personification of the initiation ceremony, she was connected with or identified with the moon, the first appearance

of which probably marked the beginning of the festivity.