Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 142

Helen’s suitors.

A daughter of Jupiter and Leda (whom Jove had courted in the guise of a snow-white swan), Helen had many suitors who ardently strove to win her favor. The noblest, bravest, and best came to woo and hoped to win; but all were left in suspense, as the maiden did not show any preference, and refused to make known her choice.

Tyndareus, Helen’s stepfather, thinking the rejected suitors might attempt to steal her away from any husband she selected, proposed that all the candidates for her hand should take a solemn oath, binding themselves to respect the marital rights of the favored suitor, and help him regain possession of his wife should any one venture to kidnap her.

“This was cause
To Tyndarus her father of much doubt,
To give, or not to give her, and how best
To make good fortune his: at length this thought
Occurr’d, that each to each the wooers give
Their oath, and plight their hands, and on the flames
Pour the libations, and with solemn vows
Bind their firm faith that him, who should obtain
The virgin for his bride, they all would aid;
If any dar’d to seize and bear her off,
And drive by force her husband from her bed,
All would unite in arms, and lay his town,
Greek or Barbaric, level with the ground.”
Euripides (Potter’s tr.).

All agreed to this proposal, the oath was taken, and Helen, whose deliberations had come to an end, bestowed her hand upon Menelaus, King of Sparta.

Abduction of Helen.

[312] On his arrival at Sparta, in Lacedæmonia, Paris was received with graceful hospitality by Menelaus and Helen. He had not sojourned there many days, however, before the king was called away from home, and departed, confiding to his wife the care of entertaining his princely guest. During his absence, Paris, urged by Venus, courted Helen so successfully, that she finally consented to elope with him, and allowed herself to be borne away in triumph to Troy.

“Then from her husband’s stranger-sheltering home
He tempted Helen o’er the ocean foam.”
Coluthus (Elton’s tr.).
Preparations for war.

Menelaus, on his return from Crete, discovered his guest’s treachery, and swore never to rest satisfied until he had recovered his truant wife, and punished her seducer. Messengers were sent in haste in every direction, to summon Helen’s former suitors to keep their oath, and join Menelaus at Aulis with men and weapons. All came promptly at his call except Ulysses, King of Ithaca, who, to console himself for Helen’s refusal of his suit, had married her cousin, Penelope, and had now no dearer wish than to linger by her side and admire his infant son, Telemachus.

Ulysses feigns madness.

In the presence of the messenger Palamedes, Ulysses feigned insanity, hoping thereby to elude the tedious journey to Troy; but the messenger was not so easily duped, and cleverly determined to ascertain the truth by stratagem. One day, therefore, when the king was plowing the seashore with an ox and horse harnessed together, and sowing this strange field with salt, Palamedes placed the babe Telemachus in the furrow, directly in front of the plow, and marked how skillfully Ulysses turned his ill-assorted team aside to avoid harming his heir. This action sufficed to prove to Palamedes that the king had not lost all control of his senses, and enabled him to force Ulysses to obey Menelaus’ summons.