She had the Face That Launched A Thousand Ships, or so The Iliad and The Odyssey tell us in the story of Helen of Troy.
It’s Greek Mythology, and though there is some truth to the story, or shall we say, the story comes from some truth, most of it is just plain fiction.
Homer was quite the story teller. Or possibly, re-teller.
Helen was the daughter of the Greek deities Zeus and Leda.
Her siblings were Castor, Pollux, and Clytemnestra. Again, baby name books were just not flying off the shelves.
In Greek myths she was considered to be the most beautiful woman in the world. She had hundreds of suitors.
Throughout all the Greek myths, 45 named suitors wanted Helen in a bad way, but there were more as we shall see.
Seems all the boys were crazy about her.
But, the one who fought the hardest was Paris, and her abduction by him brought about the Trojan War.
Throughout literature – not just mythology, Helen’s name has been synonymous with either marital infidelity or spectacular beauty, depending on the context of the piece.
Usually, beauty is the theme.
I mean, who wants to talk about infidelity?
Prior to her seduction by Paris, Helen was abducted by Theseus and Pinthous, two lads who were sons of gods. Since they were divine, they wanted a divine bride. They made a pact to abduct daughters of Zeus. Theseus wanted Helen; Pinthous wanted Persephone, who was already the bride of Hades, who was a real bad ass.
Theseus took Helen, dropped her off at his mom’s, and joined Pinthous in the underworld where he was scouting for Persephone.
Hades was mad as hell.
He pretended to welcome them, set UP a feast, and started to party. As soon as the boys took a seat, snakes coiled around their ankles and held them fast. Meanwhile, Castor and Pollux were invading Athens to free Helen.
Persephone stayed with Hades and Helen went home to Sparta.
Oh, yes, she was really Helen of Sparta before she became Helen of Troy.
Paris, who really was from Troy, and apparently dumb as dirt, decided Helen was just the gal that would make him happy, never mind that she was already married to some old dude named Menelaus.
Paris was ordered by Zeus to name the most beautiful goddess in the pantheon, and to gain his favor, the vain and overly tartted UP Aphrodite promised Paris, who apparently was easily bought, the most beautiful woman in the world if he would name her (Aphrodite) Miss Goddess of 2,374 BC. Of course, this really pissed Athena and Hera off.
Imagine that, a rigged beauty pageant.
Paris heads to Sparta, supposedly on a diplomatic mission, and meets Helen who was smokin’ hot, had a 9 year old kid, and a 900 year old husband.
Sparta was dull as dishwater, Paris was “man-pretty” and Helen was a bit of a tramp.
Some legends say Helen was raped by Paris, but Sappho, a voracious gossip ala Hedda, Rona, and Luella, who was in the know, insists that Helen hit the trail with Paris.
Because, and my Greek is rusty, “…she was a skanky ho who liked pretty boys, and Menelaus was geezer nasty…”
So, back to Troy, which was somewhere on the coast of Turkey, they went, leaving behind the 9 and 900 year olds.
When Menelaus woke UP sleeping single in a double bed, he called on all of Helen’s suitors to join him in an invasion of the Trojan homeland of Paris, now the adopted home of the slightly trampy Helen.
Menelaus amassed a navy of epic proportions, but steam, coal, and nuclear power millennia in the future, he was at the mercy of the wind.
Which, was not cooperating because Artemis, another Greek deity was chapped and would not be appeased without the sacrifice of Iphigenia, Agamemnon’s daughter.
Agamemnon was game for the sacrifice, but Clytemnestra, Iphigenia’s mother and Helen’s sister, begged her husband to reconsider his decision, calling Helen a
cheap trampy slut “wicked woman”. Clytemnestra (unsuccessfully) warns Agamemnon that sacrificing Iphigenia for Helen’s sake is, “buying what we most detest with what we hold most dear.” And my family seems so normal now!
After Iphigenia’s demise, the wind blew, and off to Troy went Menelaus and his navy.
The United Nations sent some folks in blue berets to beg for peace, asking Priam, Paris’ dad to hand over Helen peacefully, but alas, no deal.
So, war it was, Paris was a total wuss, Helen was recaptured, Menelaus took her home where she lived for a while, while the Spartanettes talked about her behind her back.
There are several endings to the saga. One says she was hanged on a tree by the Rhodians, another says, Zeus felt so sorry for her he took her back to Mt. Olympus, and yet another says she stayed in Sparta, reunited with Menelaus and the kid and life was all dandy.
Well, except for the Spartanettes – seriously, they weren’t happy.
And this folks, is yet another reason why my picture remains on the dart boards of every Freshman English teacher out there!
And though the details may be incomplete and somewhat simplified, you’ll probably not forget the story of when Helen met Paris.