‘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.
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
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.