Cuckold, Fool or Manhood Takes a Hit

‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.’
The Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:2-17

When it comes to infidelity, there will be always the one who’d been wronged and they’ll want retribution. After all, they have been morally and emotionally offended by the betrayal. And who can blame them? In the case of the King of Sparta, it was never made clear whether his wife was abducted or had left of her own accord. Regardless of how or why, justice was sought with the combined armed forces of Greece. Whether Helen was innocent in this whole epic affair was not a consideration, she was blamed for ‘leaving’ her husband and baby daughter.

Menelaus Giacomo Brogi circa 1881 Vatican Museum Wikipedia

Menelaus
Giacomo Brogi circa 1881
Vatican Museum
Wikipedia

Menelaos has been described as having red hair, well-built and a fairly able warrior. There isn’t much to allude to his personality other than what is given in the Iliad and Odyssey. We can draw these conclusions; he was loyal, brave, eloquent and hot tempered. I do question whether he loved his wife and wonder if she wasn’t the ‘most beautiful woman in the world’ if he’d behave differently. Fact: women were a possession, an object for the sole purpose of procreation.

Menelaos became king of Sparta by default as no woman could take the mantel and rule. So when Helen ‘left’ was pride the primary reason to declare war on Ilios? I believe other factors contributed and will address my reasons in the final post when this series is completed. Let’s put aside the oath that was made to compel the kings of Akhaia to go to war if anything was to happen to Helen. What would Menelaos thought when he returned home and learnt what happened? One: how dare a foreign prince who he welcomed in ‘guest friendship’ come to his home and take his wife; two: Did his wife leave willing or was she taken; three: If she left of own her free will, why? Four: did she seduce the prince? From Menelaos’ reaction, I would surmise he believed she not only seduced Paris, she also left of her own free will. Not that he would admit it and so messengers were sent to the various kings saying she was taken.

Menelaos on the battlefield after he killed Peisander:
‘…you insolent Trojans, always spoiling for a fight! Not that you are amateurs in other forms of abusive and shameful behaviour. Look at how you abused me, you dirty dogs, when you broke the laws of hospitality… You stole my wife and sailed away with her and much of my wealth for no reason at all…’
Iliad, Book 13: Lines 620-628

Menelaos intends to strike Helen; struck by her beauty, he drops his swords. A flying Eros and Aphrodite (on the left) watch the scene. ca. 450-440 Louvre Museum Wikipedia

Menelaos intends to strike Helen; struck by her beauty, he drops his swords. A flying Eros and Aphrodite (on the left) watch the scene.
ca. 450-440
Louvre Museum
Wikipedia

A righteous man stripped of his dignity and status as the one who married the most beautiful woman, has his vengeance. Menelaos’ indignation evident as he rallies the troops ready for battle, “eager to take revenge for all the sweat and tears Helen had caused them.” (Book 2; Lines 589-590) The most interesting thing about Menelaos he wasn’t present when the princes’ petitioned for Helen’s hand in marriage, his brother Agamemnon spoke for him. What does that say about the relationship between Menelaos and his brother? He was cuckold, first by his brother and then by marrying Helen, a woman all men wanted to possess.

What are your thoughts? Do you believe Menelaos was a victim of his predicament or was he a willing participant? As always, I look forward to your comments.

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Further reading:
Menelaus Greek Mythology Index
Menelaus Greek Mythology Link
Menelaus Hellenica World

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8 thoughts on “Cuckold, Fool or Manhood Takes a Hit

  1. Myths are a great way for us to question real life situations from the outside looking in and apply them to real life situations. always beleved we can never control other peolples actions but we can control our own. So in the case of Menelaos his choice was free will.

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    • You are quite right, we are in control of our actions. Though I do think Menelaos didn’t have much say in the decision, his brother Agamemnon pushed for the war.

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  2. I’m not really sure what to think. It would be a lot more helpful if we knew whether Helen left willingly or was abducted. Of course, my 21st-century views are likely coloring my perception of the story! I don’t have the impression that Menelaus was a great “prize” as a husband. And I don’t view personal matters as a good reason to launch a war. Even today, though, many wouldn’t agree with me!

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    • That, my friend, is the million dollar question or perhaps billion dollars. I daresay that’s what Priam’s wealth may be valued. It leaves more questions than answers, which I guess for us as authors it allows a creative liberty ;D

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  3. I would say Menelaos was he a willing participant as trojans abused him… And as you have highlighted not only by the trojans but by
    Helen (his wife) and by Agamemnon (his brother). The initial departure of “The Iliad” reminds me of Shakespeare “Hamlet”… I think there are some resemblances as regard to Yocasta and Prince Hamlet´s aunt… Am I right?…
    A very interesting post, as per usual, Luciana.

    Best wishes, Aquileana 😛

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    • Shakespeare did base many of his plays on historical events and would say influenced by Homer’s poem. Been a while since I have read Hamlet, too many years to count. I will have to re-read 😀
      Thanks Aquileana

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