The Center for Hellenic Studies

Did the Helen of the Homeric Odyssey ever go to Troy?

Guy Smoot
It is my contention that the Homeric Odyssey deliberately problematizes the crucial question of whether Helen went to Troy: it neither clearly asserts it, nor clearly denies it, but leaves a contemporary audience with the hermeneutic freedom to imagine either scenario. The Odyssey positions itself between the Homeric Iliad in which Helen appears to be present at Troy and the tradition first attested in Stesichorus, according to which she never went to Priam’s citadel. On the one hand, the Odyssey undermines the credibility of Helen’s presence at Troy through the unreliability of her only two witnesses: the first one, Helen herself, prefaces the story of her putative presence at Troy with an extremely odd question, reminiscent of Hesiodic poetry: “should I lie or tell the truth?” [1] ; the second witness, Menelaos, does not even say that he saw Helen at Troy, only that he heard her from within the Trojan Horse imitating the voice of the wives of Achaean heroes. On the other hand, neither Odysseus, nor Nestor not even Menelaos, in their detailed accounts of their departures from Troy, ever mention the presence of Helen there: one would think that they would have at least made a passing reference to her recovery, the casus belli. The first time Helen makes an appearance in the Odyssean narrative, reference is made instead to her voyage to Egypt, which is precisely the place where Stesichorus, Herodotus and Euripides claim the real Helen was whisked away when Paris attempted to abduct her in Sparta.
According to this alternative tradition, Helen never went to Troy:
Οὐκ ἔστ’ ἔτυμος λόγος οὗτος,
οὐδ’ ἔβας ἐν νηυσὶν εὐσέλμοις,
οὐδ’ ἵκεο πέργαμα Τροίας· [2]
This account is not true
You did not board well-benched ships
You did not go to the fortress of Troy
ὥσπερ τὸ τῆς Ἑλένης εἴδωλον ὑπὸ τῶν ἐν Τροίᾳ Στησίχορός φησι γενέσθαι περιμάχητον ἀγνοίᾳ τοῦ ἀληθοῦς; [3]
Just as Helen’s image was fought over by those at Troy, says Stesichorus, in ignorance of the truth
This departure from the Iliadic account [4] is seldom regarded as contemporaneous in origin with it and hastily dismissed as “Post-Homeric.” One assumes that the myth of Helen’s phantom is merely a reactionary, regional invention designed to exculpate Helen of her guilt in cuckolding her husband—Paris stole away from Sparta with a double of Menelaos’ wife. Such is Marcel Detienne’s point of view who pursues the nexus between Stesichorus, Magna Graecia and the Pythagoreans: to him, the myth of Helen’s phantom is “une invention pythagoricienne,” under which Theagenes of Rhegium’s allegorical apologies of Homer would also be subsumed. [5]
But the priority of the Homeric epics over non-Homeric Preclassical accounts, in terms of both chronology and authority, is losing credibility among an increasing number of scholars. [6] Trigger-happy critics prone to dismiss “late” texts as being based upon unverifiable speculative evidence in terms of content for earlier periods disregard the important fact that the very issue of dating the Homeric poems is a thorny, complicated question that involves a great deal of speculation. A number of eminent scholars place the major compositional period of the Homeric period in the very same time period as the earlier poets of archaic Greek poetry: the 7th century BCE. [7] If proven correct, the very notion of “post-Homeric” would not only be notionally false, it would be so literally as well. Thus, the melic songmaker Alkman might have belonged to the same generation as Homer—or the Homeric school as I’d prefer to say.
Even in cases in which chronological priority is ascertainable, e.g. the Homeric Iliad versus Pindar’s Odes, utmost caution should be exercised against overusing and misusing the tag “post-Homeric,” which, though literally correct in certain cases and certain cases only, carries with it connotations that are absolutely false in terms of implicit assumptions. One generally assumes that the contents of any given “post-Homeric” account is “post-Homeric” itself and reveals the flavor of either the new age or the new poet: nevertheless, the meter, the language, the formulas and the themes of such later compositions may very well predate the lifetime of the composer. Much of what the epic (and melic) poet does is combine and recombine elements of traditional material. The chronologically Post-Homeric Pindar displays many features that are Pre-Homeric in both content and form. [8]
There are many reasons not to think that Stesichorus ‘invented’ the myth of Helen’s absence from Troy and/or vicarious presence there. First of all, both the Iliad and the Odyssey provide examples of eidola, so the idea of a major character of Greek epic having a double is not new. In the former, the Achaeans and the Trojans fight over a fake double of Aineias fashioned by Apollo (Iliad 5.445-454), thus representing a potential precedent within the Iliad itself for the basic pattern of Achaeans and Trojans fighting over someone’s phantom. [9] Even scholars like Martin West who call into question the ‘authenticity’ of book 5 of the Iliad will recognize that the pattern of doubling and fake identities pervades the narrative outside of book 5: throughout, gods become the eidola of mortal characters: Poseidon takes on the shape of Thoas in book 13, Athena that of Deiphobos in book 22, etc. Even in instances in which no real doubling takes place, the suspicion that an enemy or stranger is a god in disguise is very common. Doubling also takes place on a symbolic or functional level, as between a primary warrior and his therapon, e.g. between Achilles and Patroklos. [10]
In the Odyssey 11.601-604, the archetypal hero Herakles is bilocal and split in two entities: his reembodied self is in Olympus, but his ghost [eidolon] at the same time is in Hades. The claim that the passage was interpolated has little merit, and even if it were the case, it would hardly affect the question of diachrony, as surely the putative interpolator would not have interpolated the idea of a double of Herakles in Hades without a serious tradition behind it. Even in the Iliad, a double of Zeus himself is conceptualized in Hades in the reference to a Ζεύς καταχθόνιος “Zeus of the Underworld,” who is associated with Persephone (9.456), and obviously equated with Hades the personified god of the underworld.
Second, the saga of the Trojan War in Preclassical Greece must be read through the lens of another popular saga, with which it interacted, and to which it arguably owes a great deal: [11] the saga of a Proto-Peloponnesian War. In this saga, the same beautiful woman—Helen—is abducted, and two brothers from the Peloponnese lead an army to the land where she is held captive; they besiege the city and demand her restitution. The two brothers are then told by the besieged that they do not have Helen, and that she is held captive in another city. The region in question is not the Troad, but Attica. The two brothers are Helen’s own brothers, the Tyndarids Castor and Pollux, not the Atreids Agamemnon and Menelaos. One of the two cities under siege is not Troy, but Athens. “Both myths have the same structure.” [12]
The attestation for this Proto-Peloponnesian saga is as early as it gets: Alkman, [13] the Cypria [14] and the Chest of Cypselus. [15] Foreknowledge of it is implied by Iliad 3.144, whether or not it was a post-Ionian Athenian addition to the text. [16] The extreme antiquity and erstwhile popularity of a Proto-Peloponnesian war in oral poetry in ancient Greece is further substantiated by the death of the last legendary king of Athens, Kodros: to save his city from a siege by the Peloponnesians, he sacrificed himself in obedience with the oracle at Delphi. [17] This alternative saga in which the inhabitants of a city under siege by two brothers from the Peloponnese deny that Helen is held in their city [18] provides a structural model and chronological precedent for Herodotus’ subsequent 5th century account of the Trojan War who relates that the Trojans denied to the Achaeans that Helen was among them.
Cultic evidence provides a third reason for not thinking that Stesichorus invented the story of Helen’s image. For better or worse, Helen is mostly remembered as the central female figure of the Trojan War: the success of the Homeric Iliad has immortalized Helen in the collective memory of Western civilization, but its very success has obscured one’s understanding of what she appears to have once signified in Greek religion and cult, which one tends to overlook or dismiss as irrelevant to the Helen of Greek epic, despite the obvious fact that the latter emerged from the former, and not the reverse. Investigations into this Helen of Greek cult, as led by Martin Nilsson [19] and more recently Michael Janda, [20] point to her status as an actual goddess displaying close affinities with female deities embodying the cycle of light and life, notably the pair Demeter and Persephone, also known as τὼ θεώ “the two deities.” Pertinently, the same title is also given to Helen’s own brothers the Dioscuri: together, they typify the antinomy of mortality and immortality, just as the mother-daughter unit Demeter / Persephone typifies the doubleness of the same archetypal figure in whom the antinomy of life and death cohabitates either at the same time or in succession.
Comparable to the mortal fate of her brother Castor, Helen’s (or her double’s) imprisonment in Troy has been compared to Persephone’s cyclical imprisonment in Hades. In many Archaic Greek vases, Paris’ depiction hardly differs from that of the psychopomic god Hermes, as if Paris were leading the daughter of Zeus to the underworld. Similarly, the chorus’ narration of Persephone’s abduction in Euripides’ Helen, though strange at first blush, has been understood as the narrator’s equating Persephone and Helen with each other. [21] Helen’s ties to Persephone are further revealed by the structrual parallel between Theseus’ and Peirithoos’ abduction of Helen and their attempted abduction of Persephone.
Martin West construes Helen’s imprisonment and voyage to Egypt as an aetiological myth for the disappearance and emigration of a solar deity in the winter time to the southern latitudes. Finally, as a goddess attested in Greek cult, Helen is prone to being duplicated because the tendency for the duplication of female deities is very strong in Ancient Greece: this is the conclusion of Deborah Lyons’ research, as epitomized by the title of her book's fifth chapter "the Goddess and her Doubles." [22] Most famous and structurally analogous, Hera’s double Nephele ‘cloud’, fashioned by Zeus, tricks the mortal king Ixion into thinking that he was able to get away with raping the queen of the gods. [23]
A fourth reason not to think that Stesichorus invented the story of Helen’s eidolon and/or absence from Troy finds support in Indo-European studies. As early as 1928, Vittore Pisani was the first modern scholar to look outside of Greece towards the snow-crested mountains of the Punjab for valuable comparative evidence. Grounds for comparative research among the linguistically related Indo-European cultures is vindicated by an incontrovertible body of data showing that they share institutional and religious features as well as specific poetic formulae. [24] Pisani noticed a number of striking similarities between the figure of Helen in Greece and Saranyu in the Rg Veda, including the common feature of their εἲδωλα. The genetic connection between the two figures has since been endorsed by Otto Skutsch [25] and Peter Jackson. [26] The key passage is RV 10.17.1-2:
tvaṣṭā̍ duhi̱tre va̍ha̱tuṁ kṛ̍ṇo̱tītī̱daṁ viśva̱ṁ bhuva̍na̱ṁ same̍ti |
ya̱masya̍ mā̱tā pa̍ryu̱hyamā̍nā ma̱ho jā̱yā viva̍svato nanāśa ||
apā̍gūhanna̱mṛtā̱ṁ martye̍bhyaḥ kṛ̱tvī sava̍rṇāmadadu̱rviva̍svate |
u̱tāśvinā̍vabhara̱dyattadāsī̱daja̍hādu̱ dvā mi̍thu̱nā sa̍ra̱ṇyūḥ ||
pū̱ṣā tve̱taścyā̍vayatu̱ pra vi̱dvānana̍ṣṭapaśu̱rbhuva̍nasya go̱pāḥ |
Fashioner [Tvastr] prepares a wedding for his daughter, the whole world comes together
Twin’s [Yama’s] mother, spouse of great Shining [Vivasvant], disappeared. They hid her away from mortals, having made a double of her and given it to Shining. What she became bore the two Equines [the Aśvin], then she abandoned the two pairs of twins—Saranyu.
Though deliberately enigmatic, as is typical of Rg Vedic style, [27] key elements and connections are ascertainable in this text dated to the 11-10th century BCE. In both Greece and India, 1) the two figures are immediate relatives (sister or mother) of the most important twins in the mythologies of Greece and India respectively, the Dioscuri and the Aśvin; 2) this triad is hippomorphic and/or has strong affinities with horses [28] ; 3) Saranyu/Helen disappear and are reported missing, their husbands look for them; 4) a solar component and temporal cycles underpin the myths of both figures [29] ; 5) Helen’s/Saranyu’s husband is mortal; she is not; 6) despite or because of the archaic Laconian inscription FΕΛΕΝΑ, Saranyu and Helen most likely share the same etymology *S(w)elen- [30] ; 7) Saranyu/Helen disappear and are separated from their twin relatives; 8) Saranyu/Helen both have εἲδωλα. As Doniger avers, “Saranyu, Helen [...] are all reflections of the same shared story.“ [31]
A fifth reason for not thinking that Stesichorus invented the story of Helen’s double is simply the fact that he was reportedly not the first author to mention it: acording to the scholiast on Lycophron 822, “Hesiod was the first to introduce Helen’s eidolon” (πρω̃τος ‛Ησίοδος περὶ τη̃ς ‛Ελένης τὸ είδωλον παρήγαγε). Merkelbach and West assign this to Hesiod’s Fragmenta Dubia (358), but their grounds for skepticism are shaky in light of the aforementioned four reasons. Moreover, as Gregory Nagy has argued, [32] one may construe the Hesiodic label (and the alternative Homeric label as well) not so much as reflecting a historical author as the crystallization and canonization of oral epic traditions that either seek or have attained Panhellenic prestige. Thus, the scholiast’s assertion that Hesiod was the first to introduce Helen’s double may simply mean that this story had once been widespread in early archaic Greece.
In keeping with standard narratives on the Trojan War, the Odyssey displays awareness that Greeks and Trojans died at Troy for the sake of Helen. Odysseus mentions it on two occasions: first, when he is caught in a sea storm sent by Poseidon (5.306-310 τρὶς μάκαρες Δαναοὶ καὶ τετράκις, οἳ τότ’ ὄλοντο / Τροίῃ ἐν εὐρείῃ, χάριν Ἀτρεΐδῃσι φέροντες “thrice blessed Danaans and four times, who then died at Troy the broad, doing a favor to the Atreids”); second, as he encounters Agamemnon’s psukhe in Hades (11.435-439: Ἑλένης μὲν ἀπωλόμεθ’ εἵνεκα πολλοί “for the sake of Helen, many of us were destroyed”). Needless to say, echoes of Helen’s role as the cause of the Trojan War are found in many other texts ranging from the Homeric Iliad to Classical Athenian Tragedy.
And yet, Odysseus himself never says in his own epic that he ever saw Helen at Troy. Nor do any of the two surviving witnesses of the war, Nestor and Menelaos, in their narrations to Telemachus. Nestor spends a total of sixty seven lines detailing his final days in Troy and his departure homeward, but never does he say a word of the Achaeans or more specifically Menelaos ever retrieving Helen, on account of whom so many men died (3.102-169):
τὸν δ’ ἠμείβετ’ ἔπειτα Γερήνιος ἱππότα Νέστωρ·
“ὦ φίλ’, ἐπεί μ’ ἔμνησας ὀϊζύος, ἣν ἐν ἐκείνῳ
δήμῳ ἀνέτλημεν μένος ἄσχετοι υἷες Ἀχαιῶν,
ἠμὲν ὅσα ξὺν νηυσὶν ἐπ’ ἠεροειδέα πόντον (105)
πλαζόμενοι κατὰ ληΐδ’, ὅπῃ ἄρξειεν Ἀχιλλεύς,
ἠδ’ ὅσα καὶ περὶ ἄστυ μέγα Πριάμοιο ἄνακτος
μαρνάμεθ’· ἔνθα δ’ ἔπειτα κατέκταθεν ὅσσοι ἄριστοι·
ἔνθα μὲν Αἴας κεῖται ἀρήϊος, ἔνθα δ’ Ἀχιλλεύς,
ἔνθα δὲ Πάτροκλος, θεόφιν μήστωρ ἀτάλαντος, (110)
ἔνθα δ’ ἐμὸς φίλος υἱός, ἅμα κρατερὸς καὶ ἀταρβής,
Ἀντίλοχος, περὶ μὲν θείειν ταχὺς ἠδὲ μαχητής·
ἄλλα τε πόλλ’ ἐπὶ τοῖς πάθομεν κακά· τίς κεν ἐκεῖνα
πάντα γε μυθήσαιτο καταθνητῶν ἀνθρώπων;
οὐδ’ εἰ πεντάετές γε καὶ ἑξάετες παραμίμνων (115)
ἐξερέοις, ὅσα κεῖθι πάθον κακὰ δῖοι Ἀχαιοί·
πρίν κεν ἀνιηθεὶς σὴν πατρίδα γαῖαν ἵκοιο.
εἰνάετες γάρ σφιν κακὰ ῥάπτομεν ἀμφιέποντες
παντοίοισι δόλοισι, μόγις δ’ ἐτέλεσσε Κρονίων.
ἔνθ’ οὔ τίς ποτε μῆτιν ὁμοιωθήμεναι ἄντην (120)
ἤθελ’, ἐπεὶ μάλα πολλὸν ἐνίκα δῖος Ὀδυσσεὺς
παντοίοισι δόλοισι, πατὴρ τεός, εἰ ἐτεόν γε
κείνου ἔκγονός ἐσσι· σέβας μ’ ἔχει εἰσορόωντα.
ἦ τοι γὰρ μῦθοί γε ἐοικότες, οὐδέ κε φαίης
ἄνδρα νεώτερον ὧδε ἐοικότα μυθήσασθαι. (125)
ἔνθ’ ἦ τοι εἷος μὲν ἐγὼ καὶ δῖος Ὀδυσσεὺς
οὔτε ποτ’ εἰν ἀγορῇ δίχ’ ἐβάζομεν οὔτ’ ἐνὶ βουλῇ,
ἀλλ’ ἕνα θυμὸν ἔχοντε νόῳ καὶ ἐπίφρονι βουλῇ
φραζόμεθ’ Ἀργείοισιν ὅπως ὄχ’ ἄριστα γένοιτο.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ Πριάμοιο πόλιν διεπέρσαμεν αἰπήν, (130)
[βῆμεν δ’ ἐν νήεσσι, θεὸς δ’ ἐκέδασσεν Ἀχαιούς,]
καὶ τότε δὴ Ζεὺς λυγρὸν ἐνὶ φρεσὶ μήδετο νόστον
Ἀργείοισ’, ἐπεὶ οὔ τι νοήμονες οὐδὲ δίκαιοι
πάντες ἔσαν· τῶ σφεων πολέες κακὸν οἶτον ἐπέσπον
μήνιος ἐξ ὀλοῆς γλαυκώπιδος ὀβριμοπάτρης, (135)
ἥ τ’ ἔριν Ἀτρεΐδῃσι μετ’ ἀμφοτέροισιν ἔθηκε.
τὼ δὲ καλεσσαμένω ἀγορὴν ἐς πάντας Ἀχαιούς,
μάψ, ἀτὰρ οὐ κατὰ κόσμον, ἐς ἠέλιον καταδύντα, —
οἱ δ’ ἦλθον οἴνῳ βεβαρηότες υἷες Ἀχαιῶν, —
μῦθον μυθείσθην, τοῦ εἵνεκα λαὸν ἄγειραν. (140)
ἔνθ’ ἦ τοι Μενέλαος ἀνώγει πάντας Ἀχαιοὺς
νόστου μιμνῄσκεσθαι ἐπ’ εὐρέα νῶτα θαλάσσης·
οὐδ’ Ἀγαμέμνονι πάμπαν ἑήνδανε· βούλετο γάρ ῥα
λαὸν ἐρυκακέειν ῥέξαι θ’ ἱερὰς ἑκατόμβας,
ὡς τὸν Ἀθηναίης δεινὸν χόλον ἐξακέσαιτο, (145)
νήπιος, οὐδὲ τὸ ᾔδη, ὃ οὐ πείσεσθαι ἔμελλεν·
οὐ γάρ τ’ αἶψα θεῶν τρέπεται νόος αἰὲν ἐόντων.
ὣς τὼ μὲν χαλεποῖσιν ἀμειβομένω ἐπέεσσιν
ἕστασαν· οἱ δ’ ἀνόρουσαν ἐϋκνήμιδες Ἀχαιοὶ
ἠχῇ θεσπεσίῃ, δίχα δέ σφισιν ἥνδανε βουλή. (150)
νύκτα μὲν ἀέσαμεν χαλεπὰ φρεσὶν ὁρμαίνοντες
ἀλλήλοισ’· ἐπὶ γὰρ Ζεὺς ἤρτυε πῆμα κακοῖο·
ἠῶθεν δ’ οἱ μὲν νέας ἕλκομεν εἰς ἅλα δῖαν
κτήματά τ’ ἐντιθέμεσθα βαθυζώνους τε γυναῖκας.
ἡμίσεες δ’ ἄρα λαοὶ ἐρητύοντο μένοντες (155)
αὖθι παρ’ Ἀτρεΐδῃ Ἀγαμέμνονι, ποιμένι λαῶν·
ἡμίσεες δ’ ἀναβάντες ἐλαύνομεν· αἱ δὲ μάλ’ ὦκα
ἔπλεον, ἐστόρεσεν δὲ θεὸς μεγακήτεα πόντον.
ἐς Τένεδον δ’ ἐλθόντες ἐρέξαμεν ἱρὰ θεοῖσιν,
οἴκαδε ἱέμενοι· Ζεὺς δ’ οὔ πω μήδετο νόστον, (160)
σχέτλιος, ὅς ῥ’ ἔριν ὦρσε κακὴν ἔπι δεύτερον αὖτις.
οἱ μὲν ἀποστρέψαντες ἔβαν νέας ἀμφιελίσσας
ἀμφ’ Ὀδυσῆα ἄνακτα δαΐφρονα ποικιλομήτην,
αὖτις ἐπ’ Ἀτρεΐδῃ Ἀγαμέμνονι ἦρα φέροντες·
αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ σὺν νηυσὶν ἀολλέσιν, αἵ μοι ἕποντο, (165)
φεῦγον, ἐπεὶ γίνωσκον, ὃ δὴ κακὰ μήδετο δαίμων.
φεῦγε δὲ Τυδέος υἱὸς ἀρήϊος, ὦρσε δ’ ἑταίρους.
ὀψὲ δὲ δὴ μετὰ νῶϊ κίε ξανθὸς Μενέλαος,
ἐν Λέσβῳ δ’ ἔκιχεν δολιχὸν πλόον ὁρμαίνοντας,
And then the Elderian [Gerenian] horseman Reterner [33] [Nestor] replied:
“friend, since you recall to mind the sorrows, which
we unconquerable sons of the Achers [Achaeans] endured in that land,
What we endured with our ships on the misty sea
In search of plunder, following Achewatic’s [Achilles’ [34] ] command,
And all the things over which we fought round the great city of lord Ransomee [Priam [35] ]
And there the best among us were cut down,
There Fame-of-the-Fathers [Patroklos], councilor equal to the gods,
There fell my dear son as well, mighty and fearless,
Ambush-Substitute [Antilochus], who excelled at running and fighting.
And many other things we suffered there—bad. Who, among mortal men,
Could tell everything? Not even if you stayed here for five or six years questioning me how many horrors the resplendent sons of the Achers [Achaeans] suffered there would be enough before you gave up and returned to your homeland.
For nine years we continuously planned their destruction
With all sorts of stratagems, but the son of Cronus barely gave completion to our endeavors,
No one ever before could have wished to match our cunning,
Since resplendent Woedious [Odysseus] prevailed once and for all
With all sorts of stratagems—your father--if indeed it is true that you are
His offspring: wonder seizes me as I gaze upon you.
And your speech is very similar to his, one would never have thought that a young man could speak so similarly. The truth is, resplendent Woedious [Odysseus] and I
Never disagreed either in the assembly or in the council,
But with one mind in spirit and purpose
We signified to the Lucent [Argives] the best course of action.
But after we thoroughly sacked the steep city of Ransomee [Priam],
Then Skyer [Zeus] conceived in his mind a sorrowful homecoming
For the Lucent [Argives], since not all were reasonable
Or just; many of them bore a sad destiny on account of
The destructive wrath of the Owl-Vision daughter of the Thundering Father,
Who brought about discord between the two Intrepidsons.
And the two brothers summoned all of the Achers [Achaeans]
Back, but not in the proper manner—as the sun was setting,
And they came heavy with wine, the sons of the Achers,
And the two recounted the account as to why they gathered the army
Setarmy [Menelaos] enjoined all the Achers [Achaeans] to seek their homecoming
On the broad back of the sea.
But this did not at all please Primesetter [Agamemnon;] for he wished to hold
The army back and sacrifice sacred hecatombs,
Hoping that he would placate Athena’s ghastly anger,
Fool, little did he know that she would not be persuaded:
For the minds of gods eternally being are not quickly easily changed.
Thus the two of them quarreled exchanging indignant
Words; and the well-greaved Achers [Achaeans] made wondrous
Noise; split were their opinions. We spent the night
Turning these unpleasant things in our minds; for Skyer,
Moreover, was hatching a grievous disaster
At dawn, some of us drew our ships into the resplendent brine
We put our possessions and deep-girdled women on board
Half of the army remained and was held back
By Intrepidson Primesetter [Agamemnon], herdsman of the host.
We the other half raised the anchor and scooted off; some of us
Sailed very swiftly, and God smoothed the monster-bearing expanse.
Landing in Tenedos, we sacrificed sacrifices to the gods,
With the hope of returning home; but Skyer did not yet plan our homecoming,
Harsh one. He aroused again yet a second quarrel.
Some of them turned back and boarded the curved ships
Led by the battle-minded astute lord Woedious [Odysseus],
Doing a favor to Intrepidson Primesetter;
But I fled with the company of ships that followed me
Since I knew the divinity was devising disasters.
So did Tydeus’ martial son flee, and he too roused his companions.
After a long time, blond Setarmy [Menelaos] joined us
And reached us in Lesbos driven by his long sails
The old wise man places great emphasis on the suffering and deaths, which the sons of the Achaians underwent at Troy, and yet fails to mention Helen, even when he goes out of his way to refer specifically to their capture of women: κτήματά τ’ ἐντιθέμεσθα βαθυζώνους τε γυναῖκας “We put our possessions and deep-girdled women on board.” This omission is all the more troubling on the part of Nestor, because some hundred lines later, he resumes the narration of his nostos and tells how he and Menelaos escaped, again without ever mentioning Helen either (3.276-303):
"ἡμεῖς μὲν γὰρ ἅμα πλέομεν Τροίηθεν ἰόντες,
Ἀτρεΐδης καὶ ἐγώ, φίλα εἰδότες ἀλλήλοισιν·
ἀλλ᾽ ὅτε Σούνιον ἱρὸν ἀφικόμεθ᾽, ἄκρον Ἀθηνέων,
ἔνθα κυβερνήτην Μενελάου Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων
οἷς ἀγανοῖς βελέεσσιν ἐποιχόμενος κατέπεφνε,
πηδάλιον μετὰ χερσὶ θεούσης νηὸς ἔχοντα,
Φρόντιν Ὀνητορίδην, ὃς ἐκαίνυτο φῦλ᾽ ἀνθρώπων
νῆα κυβερνῆσαι, ὁπότε σπέρχοιεν ἄελλαι.
ὣς ὁ μὲν ἔνθα κατέσχετ᾽, ἐπειγόμενός περ ὁδοῖο,
ὄφρ᾽ ἕταρον θάπτοι καὶ ἐπὶ κτέρεα κτερίσειεν.
ἀλλ᾽ ὅτε δὴ καὶ κεῖνος ἰὼν ἐπὶ οἴνοπα πόντον
ἐν νηυσὶ γλαφυρῇσι Μαλειάων ὄρος αἰπὺ
ἷξε θέων, τότε δὴ στυγερὴν ὁδὸν εὐρύοπα Ζεὺς
ἐφράσατο, λιγέων δ᾽ ἀνέμων ἐπ᾽ ἀυτμένα χεῦε,
κύματά τε τροφέοντο πελώρια, ἶσα ὄρεσσιν.
ἔνθα διατμήξας τὰς μὲν Κρήτῃ ἐπέλασσεν,
ἧχι Κύδωνες ἔναιον Ἰαρδάνου ἀμφὶ ῥέεθρα.
ἔστι δέ τις λισσὴ αἰπεῖά τε εἰς ἅλα πέτρη
ἐσχατιῇ Γόρτυνος ἐν ἠεροειδέι πόντῳ·
ἔνθα Νότος μέγα κῦμα ποτὶ σκαιὸν ῥίον ὠθεῖ,
ἐς Φαιστόν, μικρὸς δὲ λίθος μέγα κῦμ᾽ ἀποέργει.
αἱ μὲν ἄρ᾽ ἔνθ᾽ ἦλθον, σπουδῇ δ᾽ ἤλυξαν ὄλεθρον
ἄνδρες, ἀτὰρ νῆάς γε ποτὶ σπιλάδεσσιν ἔαξαν
κύματ᾽· ἀτὰρ τὰς πέντε νέας κυανοπρῳρείους
Αἰγύπτῳ ἐπέλασσε φέρων ἄνεμός τε καὶ ὕδωρ.
ὣς ὁ μὲν ἔνθα πολὺν βίοτον καὶ χρυσὸν ἀγείρων
ἠλᾶτο ξὺν νηυσὶ κατ᾽ ἀλλοθρόους ἀνθρώπους·
τόφρα δὲ ταῦτ᾽ Αἴγισθος ἐμήσατο οἴκοθι λυγρά.
For the two of us sailed together from Bruiseland [Troy [36] ],
Intrepidson [the son of Atreus [37] ] and I, holding each other dear.
But when we reached holy Sounion, the headland of the Athenians,
Irradiating [Phoebus] Apollo drew near and struck down with his gentle shafts
Setarmy’s [Menelaos’ [38] ] helmsman who held the rudder of the swift ship with his hands
Attention [Phrontis] the son of the Helper [Onetor] was his name, who
excelled among the tribes of men for steering ships, whenever the gale blew.
Thus, he was held back, though eager for his journey,
So that he could bury his companion and perform the burial rites.
But when he arrived in haste over the wine-colored sea
At steep mount Malea on his hollow ships,
wide-seeing/loud-sounding Skyer [Zeus] showed him
A heinous path, and poured upon him the blast of the shrill winds and waves,
Swollen and huge, equal to mountains.
Then he scattered our company of ships, sending some to Crete,
Where the Kydonians lived around the streams of Iardanos.
There is a smooth, steep rock in the sea
On the border of Gortyn in the misty sea:
Where the south wind drives the large wave toward the headland on the left
Toward Phaistos, and a small rock keeps the large wave away
Some of the ships came there, and the men hardly avoided destruction
As the waves dashed the ships against the waves
Borne by the wind and the water, the five dark-prowed ships drew near Egypt.
Gather there much livelihood and gold,
He wandered there with his ships among foreign-speaking men
Meanwhile, Goatskinnen [Aegisthus] was devising baneful plans at home.
In these additional twenty eight lines, Nestor remains silent about Helen, but the last two, which he devotes to summarizing Menelaos’ own journey, go beyond the time they spent together and anticipate future events, either revealing Nestor’s prophetic powers or a post-nostos meeting between Nestor and Menelaos during which the latter told the former about his adventures after the two split. What is interesting, though, in this argument from silence, is Nestor’s prediction that Menelaos will amass great wealth in the lands of Egypt and beyond. Given the traditional collocation of Helen and wealth in epic poetry, (Ἑλένην καὶ κτήμαθ’ ἅμ’ αὐτῇ “Helen and her treasures” [39] ), Nestor’s prediction could be construed by a contemporary audience as an elliptical allusion to Menelaos’ finding his wife in Egypt: where Menelaos finds wealth, Menelaos finds his wife. This could explain why he never mentioned her at Troy in the first place.
While the three survivors of the Trojan War in the Odyssey miss every single opportunity to say that they saw Helen at Troy or recovered her from there, the narrative also undermines the credibility of the only two witnesses who allude to her presence at Troy by making them unreliable. The first witness, Helen herself, makes her appearance for the first time in the Odyssey in the context of the narrator asserting her former sojourn in Egypt. Almost as a sort of ironic warning, the very first sentences Helen then utters problematizes the truth of verbal claims, including her own (4.138-140).
She does not just ask Menelaos who the two men are, she asks her husband who they claim to be (εὐχετόωνται), thus drawing attention to the relativity of the word and the potential gap between claimed identity and real identity, which is precisely the problem of Helen’s phantom. It is also the problem of Helen’s own candor: as the subsequent text will reveal, Helen the daughter of Zeus has the gift of supernatural knowledge in the Odyssey, thinks more quickly than her husband and knows how to answer questions before he can even start formulating a response in his mind: for Helen to ask slow-witted Menelaos whether they know who their visitors claim to be makes for a humorous passage. In fact, she does not even give him a chance to answer her rhetorical question, because she will provide the answer herself.
Helen has hardly drawn attention to the potential gap between truth and words when she ups the ante in the most dramatic possible way in the following line—her second sentence in the Odyssey: “should I lie or tell the truth?” (ψεύσομαι ἦ ἔτυμον ἐρέω). Like the other daughters of Zeus her sisters the Muses in the Hesiodic Theogony, Helen proclaims that truth is only an option and highlights the significance of her impulses in her decision making. The two texts share formulaic and thematic analogies:We may list a) ἴδμεν / ἴδμεν, b) ψεύσομαι / ψεύδεα, c) εὐχετόωνται / λέγειν, d) ἔτυμον / ἀληθέα and e) κέλεται δέ με θυμός / εὖτ’ ἐθέλωμεν. [40] We will find more junctures between the Odyssean Helen and the Muses in a moment.
If it was not obvious enough that Helen’s initial inquiry about Telemachus’ and Peisistratus’ identities was rhetorical, her second question “should I lie or tell the truth?” makes it crystal clear that anything she says might be false, either immediately in what follows or throughout the rest of Book 4, the occasion of Telemachus’ visit to Sparta. As to what follows immediately, Helen says that she marvels at Telemachus’ beauty (σέβας μ᾽ ἔχει εἰσορόωσαν: 4.142), but we have no reason to doubt her sincerity here given the traditional association between youth and beauty and Helen’s own history of falling in love with handsome, ephebic visitors at Sparta. [41] So her immediate lie must lie in the extensive analogies, which she claims to find between Odysseus’ and Telemachus’ physiques: Odysseus was not known for being tall and handsome, and Menelaos’ response to Helen’s likening the son to the father suggests that she lied about their supposed shared appearances. [42]
More significantly for our purposes, Helen’s prelusive “should I lie or tell the truth?” (ψεύσομαι ἦ ἔτυμον ἐρέω;) contaminates the entirety of her speeches in Book 4 of the Odyssey, so that she cannot be considered to be a reliable witness of her presence at Troy. The reliability of her testimony is further undermined by the drug that she mixes into the drink of her husband and their two young guests (4.230). The omniscient narrator’s characterization of Helen’s potion as “a dissolver of all grief and anger, and agent of forgetting all bad things” (νηπενθές τ᾽ ἄχολόν τε, κακῶν ἐπίληθον ἁπάντων: 4.230) sends the audience yet a third signal that anything she claims must be taken with a grain of salt. Here again too in Helen’s second speech, the narrator takes care to remind the audience of Helen’s former presence in Egypt by specifying that she obtained her potion from the Egyptian queen Polydamna (4.228-229); similarly, Helen’s first speech in the Odyssey was also preceded by the narrator’s reminder that she had been in Egypt.
The only other witness in the Odyssey of Helen’s presence at Troy besides her very own problematic testimony is her husband Menelaos (4.272-288):
ἵππῳ ἔνι ξεστῷ, ἵν᾽ ἐνήμεθα πάντες ἄριστοι
Ἀργείων Τρώεσσι φόνον καὶ κῆρα φέροντες.
ἦλθες ἔπειτα σὺ κεῖσε: κελευσέμεναι δέ ς᾽ ἔμελλε
δαίμων, ὃς Τρώεσσιν ἐβούλετο κῦδος ὀρέξαι:
καί τοι Δηΐφοβος θεοείκελος ἕσπετ᾽ ἰούσῃ.
τρὶς δὲ περίστειξας κοῖλον λόχον ἀμφαφόωσα,
ἐκ δ᾽ ὀνομακλήδην Δαναῶν ὀνόμαζες ἀρίστους,
πάντων Ἀργείων φωνὴν ἴσκους᾽ ἀλόχοισιν.
αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ καὶ Τυδεΐδης καὶ δῖος Ὀδυσσεὺς
ἥμενοι ἐν μέσσοισιν ἀκούσαμεν ὡς ἐβόησας.
νῶι μὲν ἀμφοτέρω μενεήναμεν ὁρμηθέντε
ἢ ἐξελθέμεναι, ἢ ἔνδοθεν αἶψ᾽ ὑπακοῦσαι:
ἀλλ᾽ Ὀδυσεὺς κατέρυκε καὶ ἔσχεθεν ἱεμένω περ.
ἔνθ᾽ ἄλλοι μὲν πάντες ἀκὴν ἔσαν υἷες Ἀχαιῶν,
Ἄντικλος δὲ σέ γ᾽ οἶος ἀμείψασθαι ἐπέεσσιν
ἤθελεν. ἀλλ᾽ Ὀδυσεὺς ἐπὶ μάστακα χερσὶ πίεζεν
νωλεμέως κρατερῇσι, σάωσε δὲ πάντας Ἀχαιούς:
The carved horse, in which we sat, all of us best of the Lucent [Argives]
Bearing slaughter and doom to the Bruisans [Trojans].
Thither you [Helen] came, you were urged on
By a divinity, who wished to extend glory to the Bruisans;
And Battleterror [Deiphobos] the Godlike went along with you,
Thrice you circled the hollow ambush touching it,
And you called by name the best of the Donaans [Danaans]
Imitating the voice of the wives of all the Lucent,
Tydeuson and I and resplendent Woedious
Sitting in the middle heard how you shouted
The two of us burned with the desire either to react
And rush out, or reply at once from inside:
But Woedious restrained us, so we stopped, eager though we were.
Then all the others stayed quiet, sons of the Achers,
Rumorresponder-Callback [Antiklos] alone wished to answer you
With words, but Woedious firmly pressed his jaws shut
With his strong hands, and saved all the Achers.
Tellingly, Menelaos does not even say that he saw Helen, rather that 1) he heard her (ἀκούσαμεν: 4.281) from within the Trojan horse (ἵππῳ ἔνι ξεστῷ: 4.272 & ἔνδοθεν 282); 2) imitating the voices of Argive women (πάντων Ἀργείων φωνὴν ἴσκουσ᾽ ἀλόχοισιν: 4.279), 3) in order to trick them into believing that they had returned home so that they would give themselves away and die at the hands of the Trojans. Earlier, we detected formulaic and thematic analogies between Helen’s very first sentences in the Odyssey and the Muses of the Hesiodic Theogony regarding their shared aptitude at prevarication. Now, the alleged scene of Menelaos hearing Helen at Troy, not seeing Helen at Troy, as she attempts to pass off as real that which is false, points back to the Muses. Let us turn to Iliad 2.484-486:
ἔσπετε νῦν μοι Μοῦσαι Ὀλύμπια δώματ᾽ ἔχουσαι:
ὑμεῖς γὰρ θεαί ἐστε πάρεστέ τε ἴστέ τε πάντα,
ἡμεῖς δὲ κλέος οἶον ἀκούομεν οὐδέ τι ἴδμεν:
Follow me now Muses owning Olympian homes
For you are goddesses, always there and know all things,
But we can only hear rumors and we don’t know.
As we put the pieces of the puzzle together, the Odyssean Helen is cast as a deceptive Muse (or even Siren), who no longer charms and deceives with her sight, but with her voice. We may add to this nexus the close parallel between the Hesiodic Muses’ role in bringing “about the oblivion of misfortunes and the cessation of cares” (λησμοσύνην τε κακῶν ἄμπαυμά τε μερμηράων: Theogony 55) and Helen’s drug, which as we saw above, “dissolves all grief , anger, and enables men to forget all problems” (νηπενθές τ᾽ ἄχολόν τε, κακῶν ἐπίληθον ἁπάντων: Odyssey 4.230). What is more, an emphasis on human consumption is common to the description of the Muses in the Theogony who address mortals as γαστέρες ‘stomachs’ (55) and that of Helen who hands her guests and her spouse a special potion at a banquet.
Whereas the Iliad and the Theogony speak of the Muses’ potential for making false things seem true, the Odyssey actually shows a Muse of sorts put to practice this negative potential. But how far does Helen’s deceit go? Could her deceit extend to her very own identity? A beautiful woman at Troy, the cause of the war, who fools Argive heroes into thinking that she is their wife—would inevitably conjure up the story of Helen’s phantom to a Homeric audience in Preclassical Athens.
It might be useful to recap the reasons for not trusting Menelaos’ testimony concerning Helen’s presence at Troy: a) he is speaking under the influence, so anything he says could be false; b) Menelaos never says that he saw Helen at Troy, only heard Helen at Troy; c) the numerous commonalities tying the Odyssean Helen to the Muses clue the audience in as to the deficiency of hearing in relation to seeing: the failure to see evinces that what is merely heard in this case is false; d) this putative Helen convincing Argive heroes that she is their wife, though she is not, brings to mind the story of “the false Helen” or Helen’s phantom.
To these four reasons, we may add two additional ones: Menelaos typifies the figure of the cuckold; in folklore and popular culture, cuckolds are naïve and easy to beguile. [43] Such a portrait fits Menelaos in the Homeric poems, in particular in Book 4 of the Odyssey, in which he comes across as a friendly dimwit. A sixth reason to question Menelaos’ testimony is his source for the claim that Helen was the one imitating the voice of Argive women. How does he know, since he was inside the Trojan Horse? Presumably, crafty, percipient Odysseus told him, since Odysseus is reportedly the one who told all the other Achaean warriors in the horse to keep quiet and not respond to Helen’s mimetic voice.
But several problems remain, if we assume for the sake of the argument that Odysseus was Menelaos’ source: a) Menelaos being slow-witted and simple-minded might have misunderstood Odysseus; b) Odysseus is a liar and as such could have lied about his claim that it was Helen ipse who tried to trick the Achaeans. Within the context of the Odyssey, a good incentive for Odysseus to allege Helen’s treachery and guilt is his desire for self-glorification and valorization in terms of the supposed contrast between the fidelity of his own wife Penelope and the infidelity of all other Danaan wives left behind. Part of the reason for Odysseus’ alleged katabasis in book 11 of the Odyssey—questionably narrated by Odysseus himself not by the Homeric narrator—is to highlight the contrast between Agamemnon’s miserable status as a cuckold slain in the most humiliating circumstances and Odysseus’ distinguished status as the one whose wife remained virtuous and loyal. The foil of a whorish, treacherous Helen benefits Odysseus’ own kleos. c) The claim that Deiphobos—Priam’s son and Helen’s most recent husband—accompanied Helen around the Trojan Horse (τοι Δηΐφοβος θεοείκελος ἕσπετ᾽ ἰούσῃ: 4.276) makes for a logical inconsistency: for had he known that the horse housed Achaean warriors, he would have immediately alerted his fellow Trojans of the peril to the city.
The symbolic figure of Antiklos in the Trojan Horse, literally “Rumor Responder / Callback” functions as a double of Menelaos and all the other Argive heroes inside the Trojan Horse: the transparency of his name and the redundancy of his presence—Odysseus restrains him from responding to Helen’s imitation just as he had already restrained Menelaos and Diomedes from responding—can be seen as subtle clues that the story of Helen’s very own presence at Troy may have merely been a rumor: absent the confirmation of sight, one should perhaps not respond to rumors, and believe in them.
According to legend, Helen punished Stesichorus by blinding him for alleging that he had slandered her, but restored his sight when he recanted in his palinode his earlier claim that she had actually betrayed her husband and gone to Troy. Further, legend has it that Homer’s blindness was a result of his having slandered Helen: unlike Stesichorus, however, Homer refused to retract his claim that Helen went to Troy, so he remained deprived of sight. [44] The basis for the story of Homer’s blindness, I would argue, is predicated on Helen’s unproblematized presence at Troy in the Iliad, not on Helen’s problematized presence at Troy in the Odyssey: Helen makes many more appearances in the Iliad than in the Odyssey, and the narrative setting of the former is Troy itself, not the occasional remembrance of Troy as in the latter.
I suggest that the blindness of the Achaean men inside the Trojan Horse in the Odyssey may serve as an allegory for the blindness of an audience fooled by accounts, “rumors” of Helen’s presence at Troy, as in the Iliad: like the legendary author of the Iliad, the men inside the Trojan Horse are deprived of sight and set in ironic opposition with the Odyssey’s narrator and audience who know that what they hear is not what they think, but merely Helen’s imitation. Thus, the Homeric Odyssey can be read as a palinode of sorts in relation to the Homeric Iliad. Unlike Stesichorus’ palinode, however, in which Helen’s presence at Troy is unambiguously denied, the Odyssey is playfully ambivalent about it and unobtrusive enough with the allegorical nature of its palinode and the questionability of its witnesses that the myth of Homer’s continued blindness would persist through the ages, blared abroad by the louder trumpets of the Iliad.


Odysseus’, Nestor’s and Menelaos’ failures to mention that they saw or found Helen at Troy, combined with the fact that the only two witnesses of her presence are highly untrustworthy and problematic, warrant the conclusion that the Homeric Odyssey casts serious doubts on the version attested in the Homeric Iliad whereby Zeus’ daughter was detained in Troy. Though never explicit about denying Helen’s presence in Priam’s citadel, the text reminds listeners of the non-Iliadic version(s) according to which the real Helen was taken to Egypt while her double was taken to Troy by Paris, as Helen first makes her appearance in the Odyssey reminiscing about her sojourn in Egypt. Noteworthy is also the fact that the Odyssey’s narrator never intervenes in the text to corroborate Helen’s erstwhile presence at Troy; on the other hand, the narrator is careful to interject prefatory comments on Helen’s erstwhile presence in Egypt whenever Helen is given a chance to speak.
Thus, the Homeric Odyssey presents a position on the question of Helen’s presence at Troy that is intermediary between that of the Homeric Iliad—in which she is quite clearly present—and that of non-Homeric accounts, in which she never went to Troy: Greek audiences of the Homeric Odyssey in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE could choose to interpret the narrative whichever way they were inclined.
Support for the antiquity of the myth of Helen’s eidolon may be found in a) the attestation of the phenomemon itself and of identity doubling more generally in Homeric poetry; b) the numerous striking typological parallels embedded in a coeval or even pre-Homeric epic, that of a Proto-Peloponnesian War involving the siege of a city for the sake of Helen’s recovery; c) the cultic origins of Helen; and d) comparative evidence from other areas of the Indo-European family, most notably the figure of Saranyu in Vedic India.
Be that as it may, it might be ill-advised to posit the chronological priority of the story of Helen’s eidolon at Troy over that of her actual presence there if one supports a heterogeneous, syncretistic origin of the figure of Helen [45] and if one further objects that the inherent multiformity of oral literature makes the question a moot point. [46] If one were to follow, however, the Indo-European thread of Helen’s myth while acknowledging the possibility that other threads also made their contributions, and if one could further show that multiformity only allows a limited spectrum of competing variants from one period to another in the history of a myth, the question could then be raised why the Homeric Iliad departed from the tradition by making Helen present at Troy.
It could very well be that the Iliad’s silence about Helen’s phantom has much to do with the position and the short span of the events, which it narrates and extracts from the larger Trojan War saga: Paris’ visit to Sparta, the sack of Troy and Menelaos’ voyage to Egypt are outside the narrative bounds of the Iliad. Furthermore, as the epic refocuses on Achilles and his losses of Briseis and Patroklos rather than Menelaos’ loss of Helen, there is little need for the poem to assert either the authenticity or fakeness of Helen’s persona: such a matter would not interest the Iliad’s main plot and might better be left unsaid. Regardless, Helen’s authenticity in the Iliad cannot be proven on the grounds that its Helen regrets betraying her former husband and misses her homeland in Sparta because her phantom would have acted in the same way and simply copied the same memories and emotions as her original: presumably, the eidolon, which Menelaos took away from Troy in Euripides’ Helen, reminisced about the past too and conversed with her putative husband in the exact same way as the real Helen would have.
A future avenue of research would be to investigate whether it is possible to reconcile Helen’s alleged nighttime encounter with Odysseus at Troy in the Odyssey with the account of Helen’s eidolon. [47] Odysseus is most famously known for stealing into the ramparts of Troy at night and carrying off the Palladium, the sacred statue of Athena, the possession of which is critical to victory over the enemy. [48] One could conceive of the goddess’s statue as the goddess’s eidolon. [49] To the extent that Helen was worshipped as a goddess in many parts of Greece [50] and that she too bore the title Διὸς θυγάτηρ “daughter of Zeus” in common with Athena, it may very well be that the crucial possession of the palladium for victory in the Trojan War and the hypothetical retrieval of Helen’s double from Troy are ultimately multiforms of the same myth. [51]

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[ back ] 1. ψεύσομαι ἦ ἔτυμον ἐρέω; (Odyssey 4.140).
[ back ] 2. Plato's Phaedrus 243a.
[ back ] 3. Plato, Republic 9.586c
[ back ] 4. Despite the fact that the peploi Helen wears, which Alexandros brought back from Phoenicia, sets her in the same typology as the peplos worn by statues, images of goddesses.
[ back ] 5. La légende pythagoricienne d'Hélène 1957:129-152.
[ back ] 6. Lowenstam 1997 & Burgess 2001.
[ back ] 7. M.L. West personal communication 2009, Yale Conference on Indo-European Poetry.
[ back ] 8. Nagy 1974; Watkins 2002.
[ back ] 9. Even scholars like Martin West who call into question the ‘authenticity’ of book 5 of the Iliad will recognize that the pattern of doubling and fake identities pervades the narrative outside of book 5: throughout, gods become the eidola of mortal characters (Poseidon takes on the shape of Thoas in book 13, Athena that of Deiphobos in book 22), and even in instances in which no real doubling takes place, the suspicion that an enemy or stranger is a god in disguise is very common.
[ back ] 10. Burkert 1985; Nagy 2005.
[ back ] 11. Forthcoming, my doctoral dissertation The Poetics of Ethnicity in the Homeric Iliad.
[ back ] 12. Hall 2000:92. He further notes “The earliest dedications to Agamemnon [in Lakonia] date to the last quarter of the sixth century (thus predating by more than two centuries the earliest inscribed dedications to Agamemnon at the so-called "Agamemnoneion' near Mykenai). Agamemnon's rootedness in Sparta would also explain an incident described by Herodotos. Immediately prior to the Persian invasion of Greece, the Spartans sent an embassy to Gelon, the tyrant of Syracuse, seeking assistance. Gelon accepted, but only on the condition that he would assume the supreme command of the Greek defence, to which the Spartan envoy Syagros exclaimed, 'The Pelopid Agamemnon would wail greatly if he learned that the Spartans had been robbed of hegemony by Gelon and the Syracusans." Finally, the theme of the two brothers Agamemnon and Menelaos launching an expedition to rescue Helen is remarkably similar to the Lakonian myth of the abduction of Helen by Theseus and her rescue by her brothers, the Dioskouroi, first attested in the Iliou Persis. Both myths conform to the same structure: the hostess is abducted by the guest and rescued by her brothers (-in-law).”The similarities and the overlaps between the Dioscuri and Atreids are such that they can be regarded as having originated in the same prototype.
[ back ] 13. Alkman fr. 22, PMG mentions the siege of the Ἀσαναίων πόλιν “the city of the Athenians”; the early archaic poet is remembered by several epitomizers, first Schol. A Hom. Il. 3.242 (i 153 Dindorf).: Ἑλένη ἁρπασθεῖσα ὑπὸ Ὰλεξάνδρου ... προτέρως ὐπὸ Θησέως ἡρπασθη ... διὰ γὰρ τὴν τότε γενομένην ἁρπαγὴν Ἂφιδνα πόλις Ὰττικῆς πορθεῖται καὶ τιτρώσκεται Κάστωρ ὑπὸ Ἀφίδνου τοῦ τότε βασιλέως κατὰ τὸν δεξιὸν μηρόν. Οἱ δὲ ∆ιόσκουροι Θησέως μὴ τυχόντες λαφυραγωγοῦσι τὰς Ἀθήνας. ἡ ἱστορία παρὰ τοῖς Πολεμωνίοις ἢ τοῖς Κυκλικοῖς καὶ ἀπὸ μέρους παρὰ Ὰλκμᾶνι τῷ λυρικῷ. [ back ] Also Pausanias 1.41.4: Μεγαρέως δὲ Τίμαλκον παῖδα τίς μὲν ἐς Ἄφιδναν ἐλθεῖν μετὰ τῶν ∆ιοσκούρων ἔγραψε; πῶς δ’ ἂν ἀφικόμενος ἀναιρεθῆναι νομίζοιτο ὑπὸ Θησέως, ὅπου καὶ Ἀλκμὰν ποιήσας ᾆσμα ἐς τοὺς ∆ιοσκούρους, ὡς Ἀθήνας ἕλοιεν καὶ τὴν Θησέως ἀγάγοιεν μητέρα αἰχμάλωτον, ὅμως Θησέα φησὶν αὐτὸν ἀπεῖναι;
[ back ] 14. Cypria F 12 (EGF). For a reevaluation of the dating of the Cypria, see Burgess 2001.
[ back ] 15. Pausanias 5.19.3. The Chest of Cypselus is dated between the early 7th century and 582 BCE
[ back ] 16. Theseus’ mother Aithre the daughter of Pittheus is mentioned at Iliad 3.144 as one of Helen’s two maids at Troy.
[ back ] 17. For sources, see RE.
[ back ] 18. For the details, see Plutarch’s Theseus.
[ back ] 19. Nilsson 1972.
[ back ] 20. Janda 2000.
[ back ] 21. See Allan’s 2008 commentary.
[ back ] 22. Lyons 1997
[ back ] 23. Pindar, Olympian 2,21-48, Pherekydes FGrH3 F 51, etc.
[ back ] 24. Schmitt 1967
[ back ] 25. Skutsch 1987
[ back ] 26. Jackson 2006: 72
[ back ] 27. See Doniger 1999.
[ back ] 28. Tyndareos made Helen’s former suitors swear an oath to protect her marriage with Menelaos by having them walk between a horse cut in two. The sacrifice of a horse is rare in ancient Greece, but it could point to Helen’s equine affinities (pace De Armond 2009:98): the Trojan Horse, which housed many of the same Achaean suitors, may very well be cultically related. See Ward 1968.
[ back ] 29. For Helen, see M.L. West Immortal Helen recently endorsed by Hunter 2006:160; also Clader and Boedeker on Helen’s hypostasis of Aphrodite, herself a hypostasis of the Indo-European Dawn goddess.
[ back ] 30. See Skutsch 1987 and the appendix on the etymology of Helen.
[ back ] 31. Doniger 1999:60
[ back ] 32. Nagy 1992:36ff
[ back ] 33. I endorse Alexander Forte’s ultimate derivation of Nestor’s name from the root *nes-, which in Mycenean Greek may have still retained the original meaning “turn.” It could have both a transitive and intransitive meaning: transitively, *Nes-tor functions as a shepherd (as of the people) who ‘turns’ his flock / re-turns his flock (or people) back home [from danger], hence the intermediate and connotative meaning ‘Savior’ thoroughly discussed and evinced by Frame 1978 & 2009. Intransitively, *Nes-tor could also mean “he who re-turns [home]” or “he who is saved.” I invented the modified translation and spelling ‘Reterner’ on the basis of a) ‘Returner’, changing the middle –u- vowel to –e- to reproduce the perceived umlaut in Homeric Greek of the name N-e-stor with an epsilon in relation to the noun n-o-stos with an omicron—the perceived connection with the verb neomai itself may have been less strong because of the intervocalic disappearance of the sigma; b) the resultant spelling ‘Reterner’ seems to contain the root of ‘eternal’, suggesting that Nestor escapes death (at Troy and perhaps forever), and pertains to the solar connotations of the root *nes- which implies the pattern of the sun’s eternal returns (‘eternally returning at dawn’, figuratively ‘making it back home safely’). The etymology of Nestor’s name also survives in a number of features and mythical deeds of the hero (see Frame 1978 & 2009 and Forte forthcoming).
[ back ] 34. Regardless of Achilles’ ultimate etymology, Nagy 1979 shows that the Iliad provides multiple instances in which the epic analyzes the hero’s name as *Akhi-laos “the grief of the armed host”; further adducing the cult of Demeter Akhai(i)a, clearly a Demeter grieving over the loss of her daughter (see Farnell 1907:71), he posits that the very name of the Achaeans was associated with ἄχος ‘grief’, hence my quasi homophonous/homograpic translation ‘Acher’ for ‘Achaean’. Additionally to this meaning, I have found evidence in my MA thesis the Mitoses of Achilles 2008 that the Iliad further associates Achilles with the Acheloios, which was originally a synonym of the cosmic river Ocean: Achilles’ connection to Thetis, the separate existence of non-epic Achilles associated with water (e.g. an Achilles son of Zeus and the Lamia in Ptolemy Chennus 190), the ubiquity of the root *akh- in Greek hydronyms (e.g. In-akhos, etc.), have led Sakellariou 2009 to posit the triple kinship of ‘Achaean’, ‘Achilles’—the Achaean hero par excellence—and the river ‘Acheloios’. See also D’Alessio 2004.
[ back ] 35. Apollodorus 2.6.4 specifies that Priam’s original name was Podarkes, in accordance with the Iliad’s own statement, but further specifies that his name was changed to Priam because his sister Hesione had bought him back—πρίαμαι in Greek—from Herakles who had sacked Troy and made him captive. I have noticed that the first occurrence of Priam’s name in the Iliad is in the context of a ransom: that of Chryseis. This, and the fact that the epic also ends ring-compositionally with another ransom—that of Hector as Whitman 1958 observed—suggest that Apollodorus and other such post-Homeric authors did not invent the connection of Priam’s name with πρίαμαι: it was already embedded in the Homeric tradition. Regardless of Priam’s actual etymology, which cannot be reconstructed without taking his Aeolic form Perramos into account, his name was understood as “the Ransomed man” in the Homeric tradition.
[ back ] 36. ‘Trojan’ and ‘Troy’ in Greek Τρώς, Τρωσ-ί, Τρῶ-ες, Τρω-ΐα (besides Τροία) is homophonous with the verb τι-τρώσ-κω ‘to wound’ and its paradigm τρώ-ω, τρώ-σω, "ἔ-τρωσ-α, etc. The land of Troy was thus interpretable as “Bruiseland.”
[ back ] 37. Atreus, already attested in Linear B, is clearly derived from ἀτρεής and ἄτρεστος ‘untrembling’, ‘fearless’. My translation ‘Intrepid’ preserves the same Indo-European etymology and construction. I choose to translate the patronymic suffix –ides in English as the suffix –son in English, despite its contemporary inconcinnity and lack of productivity, to distinguish it from the Greek circumlocution υἱός + genitive “son OF”, hence my translation “Intrepidson” for Ἀτρεΐδης in which I also deliberately avoid including genitive –s.
[ back ] 38. Mene-laos and Aga-memn-on share the same root or the semblance of the same root, like many mythical twins (Ward 1968). Frame 2009:223:fn127 found that Odyssey 3.155–156, which is included in our passage, construes Menelaos as “he who reminds the warfolk” (men- qua ‘remind’) and Agamemnon as “he who waits” (men- qua ‘wait’). I agree. In other contexts, however, in the early phase during which the names of the two brothers crystallized, I would suggest that the whole range of meaning of the root *men- was deliberately intended depending on the context: a basic meaning for both brothers was “incite,” which is a fundamental attribute of warlords, as they give orders and commands to their subordinates, hence Mene-laos qua “he who sets the army in motion” and Aga-memnon “the great one who sets in motion.” At the same time, because *men- paradoxically may have an antithetical meaning “withstand, remain, wait,” a lexeme in English capturing the same semantic antinomies must be sought: I found that ‘set’ is ambivalent enough to capture both meanings: 1) ‘set’ qua “set up,” ‘organize’, “set in motion” and 2) ‘set’ qua ‘tarry’, ‘settle’ and even ‘set back’. My proposed translations ‘Setarmy’ for Menelaos and ‘Primesetter’ for Agamemnon are semantically ambivalent, but the ambivalence is deliberate, because it was also the case in Ancient Greek.
[ back ] 39. Iliad 3.70; 3.285; 3.458; 22.114
[ back ] 40. Famously, Odyssey 19.203, which is the narrator’s comment on the Cretan stories Odysseus tells his wife even more narrowly mirrors the Hesiodic passage: ἴσκε ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγων ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα “he knew how to tell many lies that seemed true.”
[ back ] 41. Arguably, Telemachus’ visit to Sparta constitutes a renewed threat to Menealos’ marriage to Helen. Like the youthful Apollonian figure of Paris, Tele-machus too “he who fights from afar” threatens to whisk Helen away from her husband. The repeated comparisons in the Odyssey of Helen’s beauty to that of the virginal Artemis analogize her to a maiden sought by suitors. Interestingly, in the Iliad, Helen is called a numphe “bride” precisely before the duel between Paris and Menelaos, as if she were an unwedded maiden over whom suitors vie. Paris was not the only guest whom Menelaos graciously received: Idomeneus too frequently went to Sparta, and presumably had his way with Helen, unbeknownst to the Atreid. A fragment of Simonides says that the Cretan king was in love with Helen. In the Odyssey, I would suggest that the drug, which Helen mixes into Telemachus’ drink can be regarded, inter alia, as a love potion meant to seduce Telemachus: this reading accords well with her telling the youth of her washing the thighs of her father Odysseus at Troy, without ever explaining why she would wash his thighs in the first place. Her washing Odysseus’ thighs can be read as a euphemism for her having had sex with Odysseus: alluding to it in front of Telemachus is a way of inviting him to do the same. While the drug may be read as a love potion in Telemachus’ beverage, it can be read as one that enhances the naivete of her ever yet unsuspecting, good-hearted husband.
[ back ] 42. In multiple passages in the Odyssey, Odysseus’ paternity of Telemachus is called into question, suggesting the possibility that Telemachus might be illegitimate. Like son, like father: as is frequently found in folklore, sons repeat the qualities of their fathers. It so happens that the three Athenian Tragedians at one point or another describe Odysseus as the illegitimate son of Laertes, claiming that Odysseus’ real father was Sisyphus. Moreover, Helen’s immediate lie is likely to be about Telemachus’ physical resemblance to Odysseus because the latter was known to be unattractive—by Helen’s own admission in the Iliad’s Teikhoskopia 3.210-224. Additional evidence for Helen’s insincerity concerning Telemachus’ physical resemblance to Odysseus is Menelaos’ own naïve rejoinder, in which he seems to invent the memory of a resemblance between the father and the putative son only after Helen tells him they look alike: ‘οὕτω νῦν καὶ ἐγὼ νοέω, γύναι, ὡς σὺ ἐίσκεις (“that’s right, now I see the resemblance, as you do”).
[ back ] 43. Millington & Sinclair 1992:3ff. The authors also point out the correlation between the woman’s sterility and her cuckolded spouse: it so happens that Hermione is said to be Helen’s only daughter in the Iliad (3.175), and the Odyssey mentions no other children she and Menelaos had.
[ back ] 44. Life of Homer 6.51-57
[ back ] 45. As does Edmunds 2007, though I must disagree with his rejection of any Indo-European antecedents.
[ back ] 46. Lord 2000.
[ back ] 47. I thank Dan Bertoni, Tiffany Jensen and Heather Zhuang for their feedback and suggestions.
[ back ] 48. Despite sources claiming that that the theft of the Palladium was a prerequisite to the Fall of Troy (Schol Il. 6.311; Antisthen. Od. 3; Plaut. Bacch. 953ff, Ovid Met. 13.339, Servius ad Aen. 2.13, Suidas under Palladion), Iliupersis PEG I fr. 1 asserts that the Palladium was still in the city after the Achaeans had started occupying the city. This early version could represent a missing link between the accounts of retrieving Helen’s eidolon from Troy and the necessary theft of the Palladium.
[ back ] 49. See Lyons 1996 “the Agalma of the Goddess and the Eidolon of her Priestess: Doubling and Exchange.”
[ back ] 50. Clader 1976
[ back ] 51. In his most recent book, Douglas Frame 2009:341ff made the case that Athena’s identity in Geometric and early Archaic Greece was not yet restricted to that of the eternal virgin warrior goddess, as she later was in Classical Greece, but that she rather embodied the different stages of the divine feminine from virgin, to bride, to married woman like Hera in several parts of Greece in Pausanias’ own day and age. Likewise, the repeated comparisons of Helen’s beauty to that of Artemis in the Odyssey might point to her earlier association with a variety of stages in a woman’s life cycles: like Hera, Helen too may have annually recovered her virginity in certain rituals, thus drawing her closer to what became the virginal Athena.