Reviled and Ostracised: the Plight of Women

‘Well behaved women rarely make history.’
Eleanor Roosevelt

Imagine yourself sitting in a magnificent citadel and outside you can hear the roar of men as they charge at each other. The ringing of swords as they clash. The thunder of hooves as horse drawn chariots race across the plain of Troy. The whistling of arrows jettisoned into the air. The cries of men as they are stabbed, slashed, pierced and hacked. The ground covered with dead bodies. The stench of blood, urine and loosened bowels suffocates and billows into the air. Ten long years you have listened and watched the decimation of human life. What could you have done? What should have you done?

Helen of Troy Lord Frederick Leighton Wikimedia
Helen of Troy
Lord Frederick Leighton

Helen’s role in the Iliad is such a small part yet had a significant impact on the story. She became the embodiment of how men perceived women, a way to stifle and render them into subservient roles. Helen (women) was a possession, as depicted by Paris who, guaranteed by Aphrodite’s promise, to possess the most beautiful woman. And by Odysseus who manipulated the Greek leaders into forming an ‘alliance’ if anything was to happen to Helen when Menelaos was chosen to be her husband.

Regardless the real reason for the war (I will discuss that point in my summation of the Iliad), Helen was reviled and blamed for the destruction of Troy and Trojans and for causing the battle. How does one reconcile with such hostility? I don’t expect one could, nor would you be made to forget it either. In the Odyssey, Helen does come across as meek, mild and obedient. Mission accomplished. ‘This, women folk,’ declares the bard and subsequent playwrights, ‘is how you should behave!’

In the scenes Helen does appear, she is:
‘Helen… sat down on it [bed] but refused to look her husband [Paris] in the face and attacked him.’ Book 3, Lines 428

‘I wish I had chosen to die in misery before I came here with your son.’ Book 3, Line 174

Acknowledges the compassion of Hektor and Priam:
‘Hektor, dearest to me of all my Trojan brothers… I never heard a single harsh or spiteful word from you.’ Book 24, Lines 763 & 767
‘[Priam] was the soul of kindness.’ Book 24, 770

Ancient Sparta Wikipedia
Ancient Sparta

Should Helen bear the weight of responsibility for the war? Of course not, she was the scapegoat. Should we feel sorry for her? That’s a tougher question to answer. It comes down to whether she was a willing participant or a victim. I wrote a short story The Curse of Troy, told from Helen’s point of view and based on a little known factoid penned by Herodotos in his Histories. On his fact finding mission while in Egypt, the priests told him Helen never was in Troy. She had spent the ten years in Memphis. Is it true? It’s plausible. As Winston Churchill states:
‘History is written by the victors’

Is Helen a victim or did she willing leave with Paris? What are your thoughts? Love to hear from you.

Thank you for visiting and reading.

Further reading:
Helen – did the ancient historians get it right or were they wrong? 
Scapegoat or Femme Fatale 


Accursed Women
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Add Yours
  1. Aquileana

    Cara Luciana,
    This was certainly a very well penned post, clever and ready-witted… Your approach, based on a genre perspective may lead us to cultural and social surroundings of the Ancient Greek Society…

    It is interesting that that Helen’ role in the Iliad is different from the one she plays in The Odyssey, and I appreciate that you have highlighted that as I didn’t have that difference in mind…

    As to your insights I agree with you when you say that Helen was a possession of men somehow (Menelaus and Odysseus, respectively, judging for Homer’s books)…

    I also think she was a scapegoat.

    On a further point, I believe that was more a passive victim than a willing participant…
    But, this is interesting… As also a goddess (woman) is involved in Paris decision during the judgement that involved Hera, Athena and Aphrodite…Being Aphrodite the receiver of the Golden Apple, she would give Paris the best woman in return!…
    Aphrodite was certainly a sort of trouble maker, a the goddess of discord, maybe the same way that Eris was previously in this same myth!. So, according to this, one thing is sure: Eris, Aphrodite and Helen might be as guilty or even more than Prince Paris of Troy.

    Best wishes and thanks for this great reading, Luciana,
    Aquileana 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • cav12

      Ciao Aquileana,
      I totally agree Helen was a passive participant in this event and unwilling player. Her story is an example of women and their subservient role during that time and thereafter.

      It is an intriguing story once you start stripping away the many layers of the themes and messages.

      Thank you ever so much for your brilliant insight.

      Luciana 😀


  2. jameswhoddinott

    I really like how you have connected the past with the present through Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote. I agree she is not responsible for the war. She was viewed as property and owned by or as Paris was promised to ‘possess’ the most beautiful woman. The story of Helen of Troy has always be one that captures people’s hearts and is often seen as this romantic tale with the Trojan Horse the battle for the love of a beautiful woman and not from the point of view of Helen or with the true understanding of Paris’s intentions as you have discussed in a previous article

    Thanks for bringing this perspective to this story.

    Liked by 2 people

    • cav12

      It is odd how the Iliad is considered a Romance story yet there’s hardly anything romantic about it. For me the story highlights economics, power and subterfuge on many levels.

      As always, am very grateful for your wonderful comments James 😀


  3. Christy Birmingham

    I really enjoy how you take the book and encourage us to question it. Helen as a possession has sadly been a pattern we’ve seen in women’s history (fiction and non-fiction). I see her being the way she is in the story because she is unhappy with the way she is treated by men and likely she would have shared those same feelings with other females. On a more positive note, I have started reading “Accursed Women” and am enjoying the book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • cav12

      I am so pleased you are enjoy the book Christy 😀

      As to Helen, it is my belief this was a turning point in history where men wanted to sever ties with the matriarchal ‘goddesses’ and bolster their importance and power. The parallel story of the gods is a wonderful example of supplanting the ‘mother goddess’ and replacing her with the powerful figure of Zeus, King of the gods and man.

      Thank you so much for a wonderful and insightful comment 😀


  4. Linnea Tanner

    Hi Luciana,

    This was another thought-provoking article on your series of heroes and heroines from Homer’s Iliad. It is fascinating that you wrote The Curse of Troy from Helen’s point of view which was based on a little known factoid penned by Herodotos in his Histories. His finding mission while in Egypt, where the priests told him Helen never was in Troy, seems credible. Ultimately, war is about power though other more more alluring motives for going to war are presented to win favor from political supports.

    Thanks for sharing your insight into your fabulous articles about The Iliad.

    Best wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

    • cav12

      Hi Linnea,

      I thought it was time for Helen to tell her side of the story and Herodotos’ little aside was brilliant. It provided me with enough inspiration to write Helen’s version of events.

      You are so right, war is about power and this is ever so prevalent given the current situation in Syria and Gaza. Let’s hope common sense prevails.

      Thank you ever so much for your awesome comment.
      PS: Thank you for reblogging my post too! 😀


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