‘Well behaved women rarely make history.’
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’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
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.