Helen of Troy

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Painting of Helen of Troy by Evelyn De Morgan (1898).

Helen of Troy (Ancient Greek: Ἑλένη Helénē), also known as beautiful Helen, Helen of Argos, or Helen of Sparta, was a figure in Greek mythology said to have been the most beautiful woman in the world. She was believed to have been the daughter of Zeus and Leda, and was the sister of Clytemnestra, Castor and Pollux, Philonoe, Phoebe and Timandra. She was married to King Menelaus of Sparta who became by her the father of Hermione, and, according to others, of Nicostratus also. Her abduction by Paris of Troy was the most immediate cause of the Trojan War.

Quotes by Helen[edit]

  • Clearly the rest I behold of the dark-ey’d sons of Achaia;
    Known to me well are the faces of all; their names I remember;
    Two, two only remain, whom I see not among the commanders,
    Castor fleet in the car—Polydeukes brave with the cestus—
    Own dear brethren of mine—one parent lov’d us as infants.
    Are they not here in the host, from the shores of lov’d Lacedæmon,
    Or, tho’ they came with the rest in ships that bound thro’ the waters,
    Dare they not enter the fight or stand in the council of Heroes
    All for fear of the shame and the taunts my crime has awaken’d?
      So said she;—they long since in Earth’s soft arms were reposing,
    There, in their own dear land, their Father-land, Lacedæmon.
    • Homer, Iliad, III, 234-244. Helen from the Walls of Troy looking for her Brothers
    • Edward Craven Hawtrey, Translations of two passages of the Iliad and of a fragment of Kallinos (1847)
    • Cited in: Matthew Arnold, On Translating Homer (1861)

Quotes about Helen[edit]

  • And, as in well-growne woods, on trees, cold spinie Grashoppers
    Sit chirping, and send voices out, that scarce can pierce our eares,
    For softnesse, and their weake faint sounds: So (talking on the towre)
    These Seniors of the people sate: who when they saw the powre
    Of beautie, in the Queene ascend; even those cold-spirited Peeres,
    Those wise, and almost witherd men, found this heate in their yeares;
    That they were forc’t (though whispering) to say; what man can blame
    The Greekes, and Troians to endure, for so admir’d a Dame,
    So many miseries, and so long? In her sweet countenance shine
    Lookes like the Goddesses: and yet (though never so divine)
    Before we boast, unjustly still, of her enforced prise,
    And justly suffer for her sake, with all our progenies,
    Labor, and ruine; let her go: the profit of our land
    Must passe the beautie. Thus, though these could beare so fit a hand
    On their affections; yet when all their gravest powers were usde;
    They could not chuse but welcome her; and rather they accusde
    The Gods, then beautie; for thus spake the most fam’d king of Troy;
    Come, loved daughter, sit by me, and take the worthy joy
    Of thy first husbands sight; old friends, and Princes neare allyed:
    And name me some of these brave Greekes, so manly beautified.
    Come: do not thinke, I lay the warres, endur’d by us, on thee;
    The Gods have sent them, and the teares, in which they swumme to me.
    • Homer, Iliad, III, 150-165. Helen and the elders
    • George Chapman, tr., The Whole Works of Homer (1616)
  • Like as the rising morning shows a grateful lightening,
    When sacred night is past and winter now lets loose the spring,
    So glittering Helen showed among the maids, lusty and tall,
    As is the furrow in a field that far outstretcheth all,
    Or in a garden is a Cypress tree, or in a trace
    A steed of Thessaly, so she to Sparta was a grace,
    No damsel with such works as she her baskets used to fill,
    Nor in diverse coloured web a woof of greater skill
    Doth cut from off the loom: nor hath such songs and lays
    Unto her dainty harp, in Dian’s and Minerva’s praise,
    As Helen hath, in whose bright eyes all Loves and Graces be.
    O fair, O lovely maid, a matron now is made of thee;
    But we will every spring unto the leaves in meadows go
    To gather garlands sweet, and there not with a little woe,
    Will often think of thee, O Helen, as the suckling lambs
    Desire the strouting bags and presence of their tender dams;
    We all betimes for thee a wreath of Melitoe will knit,
    And on a shady plane for thee will safely fasten it,
    And all betimes for thee, under a shady plane below,
    Out of a silver box the sweetest ointment will bestow,
    And letters shall be written in the bark that men may see
    And read, ‘Do humble reverence, for I am Helen’s tree.’
    • Sir Edward Dyer, "Helen’s Epithalamium"
  • Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships,
    And burnt the topless towers of Ilium—
    Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.—
        [Kisses her.]
    Her lips suck forth my soul: see, where it flies!—
    Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.
    Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips,
    And all is dross that is not Helena.
    I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
    Instead of Troy, shall Wertenberg be sack’d;
    And I will combat with weak Menelaus,
    And wear thy colours on my plumed crest;
    Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heel,
    And then return to Helen for a kiss.
    O, thou art fairer than the evening air
    Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars;
    Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter
    When he appear’d to hapless Semele;
    More lovely than the monarch of the sky
    In wanton Arethusa’s azur’d arms;
    And none but thou shalt be my paramour!
  • Dust hath closde Helens eye.
    • Thomas Nashe, "In Time of Pestilence, 1593"
    • Summer’s Last Will and Testament (1600)
  •   I should have rather guess’d that here
      Another brood of Helens were
    Begot by Jove upon the playnes
    Watchd by some Læda of the Swans.
    • Thomas Randolph, "On Sixe Cambridge Lasses", &c.
    • Worc. Coll. Oxf. MS. 346 (c. 1640)
  • Past ruin’d Ilion Helen lives,
      Alcestis rises from the shades;
    Verse calls them forth; ’tis verse that gives
      Immortal youth to mortal maids.
  • Helen, thy beauty is to me
      Like those Nicèan barks of yore
    That gently, o’er a perfumed sea,
      The weary way-worn wanderer bore
      To his own native shore.
    On desperate seas long wont to roam,
      Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
    Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
      To the glory that was Greece,
    And the grandeur that was Rome.
    Lo, in yon brilliant window-niche
      How statue-like I see thee stand,
      The agate lamp within thy hand,
    Ah! Psyche, from the regions which
      Are holy land!
    • Edgar Allen Poe, "To Helen" (1831, revised 1845)
    • Variants: st. 2: "To the beauty of fair Greece, / And the grandeur of old Rome." (1831); st. 3: "in that little window-niche", "The folded scroll within thy hand—", "A Psyche"
  •         Thais led the Way,
            To light him to his Prey,
    And, like another Hellen, fir’d another Troy.
  • Why should I blame her that she filled my days
    With misery, or that she would of late
    Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
    Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
    Had they but courage equal to desire?
    What could have made her peaceful with a mind
    That nobleness made simple as a fire,
    With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
    That is not natural in an age like this,
    Being high and solitary and most stern?
    Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
    Was there another Troy for her to burn?

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