Menelaus was a king of Sparta in Greek mythology, husband of Helen. He was one of the main characters involved in the Trojan War. His parents were Atreus and Aerope, while his brother was Agamemnon who ruled over the city of Mycenae.
When Menelaus and Agamemnon were still young, their father clashed with his brother Thyestes, as to who would be the king of Mycenae. In the end, Thyestes emerged victorious, helped by his son Aegisthus who murdered Atreus. The murder of their father made Menelaus and Agamemnon flee from the city and seek refuge in the courts of nearby regions. Some time later, when they thought everything had been prepared for an attack, the two brothers returned to Mycenae, and helped by King Tyndareus of Sparta, dethroned Thyestes and Agamemnon became the new ruler.
Tyndareus had a step-daughter called Helen, and many suitors had arrived at the court of Sparta to ask her in marriage. They all offered gifts to Tyndareus, who did not accept any of them, nor did they drive them away, for fear of causing a diplomatic episode. The cunning Odysseus stepped in and told Tyndareus of his plan to solve the issue. All of the suitors had to give a vow to protect the future husband of Helen in any dispute, and they would then draw lots to determine the lucky person to marry her. So it happened and Menelaus drew the lucky straw. Menelaus and Helen got married and ascended to the throne of Sparta when Tyndareus and his wife Leda decided to step down. The couple had a daughter called Hermione, and some other accounts also mentioned three sons; Aithiolas, Maraphius and Pleisthenes.
Later, during the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, the goddess of strife Eris, angry for not being invited, threw a golden apple with the inscription "to the fairest one" amidst the guests. Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena quarreled over who should get the apple and asked the prince of Troy, Paris, to be the judge. The three goddesses offered him glorious gifts, but in the end the prince gave the apple to Aphrodite, who had promised him the most beautiful woman in the world. Thus, Aphrodite helped him kidnap Helen (other versions say they eloped). Infuriated, Menelaus invoked the oath that had been taken by all the suitors of Helen, and assisted by his brother, set sail for Troy, thus setting in motion the events that culminated in the Trojan War.
After the end of the war, there are different versions of what happened when the couple reunited. They all say, though, that Menelaus initially wanted to kill Helen for leaving him for Paris; he changed his mind though when he saw her weeping in sorrow, or shredding her robes thus uncovering her beautiful body for him to see.
Once back in Sparta, the life of the couple was strained by the events of the war. Menelaus kept thinking of the lives lost during those years, while he also regretted that they did not have a male heir.
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