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Helen of Troy: The Version of Herodotus

An Air Warrior who has published over a100 short stories and 8 books on fiction,5 novels, and 4 books on military history

helen-of-troy-the-version-of-herodotus

Background

The tale of Helen of Troy is well known. By all accounts, it is a true story and the man who gave it to posterity was the blind poet Homer. The popular tale is that Helen the Greek Queen eloped with Paris the Prince of Troy and that led to the Trojan war. Paris was the younger son of the king of Troy and he was on a peace mission to the Greeks when he was shipwrecked and landed on the beach where Helen the wife of King Menelaus met him. She nursed him and the two fell in love. Later she eloped with Paris. The Greeks were furious and launched an invasion of Troy.

This is the classical version of the tale. There is however a second version that is attributed to Herodotus. Herodotus, (born 484 BCE-430-420 BCE), was a Greek author and considered the father of history. He is famous for his narrative history of the Greek- Persian wars.

The version of Herodotus is of great interest and has a significant difference from the classical version

helen-of-troy-the-version-of-herodotus

Version of Herodotus

Researchers have come across the writings of Herodotus. He in all probability lived about 300 years after Homer Herodotus is a much-respected figure in world history and he in his Book2 of the Histories depicts an entirely different scenario of the love of Paris and Helen.

The first part of the Iliad and the history by Herodotus are synonymous. The tale of Paris being shipwrecked and falling in love and eloping are similar to the Iliad. His account corroborates the shipwreck and the Queen nursing him on the beach. He mentions their infatuation and subsequent elopement. This has been colorfully depicted in many Hollywood films.

Herodotus' version differs in the second part from the classical narrative. The infatuated lovers sailed in the ship sent by the king of Troy but as per Herodotus, the ship carrying Paris and Helen ran into a sea storm of immense proportion.

Storm and Egypt

Herodotus mentions that this great storm threw Paris off course and he was forced to reach the coast of Egypt. This was not what he wanted but the storm forced him to reach the Egyptian coast. When Paris reached the Egyptian coast some of his slaves and servants revolted against him and informed the King at Memphis, Proteus that a Trojan stranger has come from Greece where he has abducted a beautiful queen and stolen treasures.

Proteus immediately had Paris arrested and brought before him in court along with Helen. After due deliberation, he was convinced that the complaint was correct. He ordered Paris to leave Egypt and kept Helen and the treasure back in Egypt, till such time king Menelaus could come and claim his right.

As proof of this, Herodotus mentions that there is a temple at Memphis dedicated to Helen, the Spartan queen, who was a resident for some time in Egypt. As per Herodotus Homer knew of the true tale but gave it a romantic tint as an imaginative writer will do. Herodotus mentions that he had visited the temple and met the priests there who had vouchsafed that the temple was dedicated to Helen and not Aphrodite.

Here is the twist to the tale. When the Greek army reached Troy and asked for the return of Helen, they received a reply that there was no Helen, as she was in Egypt. The Greeks did not believe the Trojan king and thus resolved to go to war. Herodotus argues that when the Trojan king replied that there was no Helen. He was speaking the truth. If Helen was really there he would have handed her to Menelaus to avoid war.


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Epilogue

Herodotus believes that the version written by him is the correct version. Historians are still debating the stories. But there are many who go with the version of Homer. It is much more romantic. I have a point, it is unlikely that the war would continue for 10 years if Helen was not in Troy. At some stage, the Greeks would have got the information that Helen was in Egypt, and the war would've stopped. The incident of the Trojan horse and Ulysses is true. In the tale narrated by Homer, I find it a little difficult to reconcile to the fact that Menelaus and Helen reconciled. After all, she had spent 10 years with Paris and it looks a little out of place that they had no progeny.

But all said and done the tale of the Trojan War and the elopement of Helen with Paris is one of the great romances that have enlivened the lives of millions all over the world as an example of true love and passion.

There is another story of the love affair of the Greek princess Helen, the daughter of Seleucus Niketar with the Indian king Chandragupta in 320 BC. Seleucus had become king of the Eastern Greek empire after the death of Alexander.

The tale of Paris and Helen, the Spartan Queen holds center stage. Hollywood has made many movies on this epic. The latest movie 'Troy' with Brad Pitt is wonderful to watch.


Comments

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 13, 2021:

Thanks, John, it's always a pleasure to interact with you.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on March 13, 2021:

A very interesting article MG. Helen, Paris an Troy. A classic tale. Not sure which version I prefer.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 13, 2021:

Ravi, old myths can be real. Thanks

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 13, 2021:

Thanks, Chitra, nice you commented.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 13, 2021:

Thanks, Pamela, so nice that you commented.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 13, 2021:

Yes, Clive, it happens all the time.

Clive Williams from Jamaica on March 13, 2021:

All this over a woman?

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 13, 2021:

I have absolutely no idea which version is accurate. I only knew the Homer version, but reading your informative article makes me question what I believed. This is a good article, MG, and I'm sorry I have no idea which version is correct.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on March 13, 2021:

Great article and I enjoyed reading it.

Reminded me of my college days, when I had read this. Both the versions are great.

Thank you for sharing.

Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on March 13, 2021:

Interesting article MG. There has always been a controversy about Helen of Troy. While historians believe she was merely a pawn in the war games, others believe she was a cunning scheming lady who brought the destruction of Troy. We might never ever know the truth.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 13, 2021:

Liz, sweet of you to have given your opinion

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 13, 2021:

Thank you, Tom, how is life treating you?

Liz Westwood from UK on March 12, 2021:

This takes me back to my classical studies of many years ago. You do a great comparison of the two versions and give interesting background to the tale. I could do with another option on the vote, as I can not decide between the two.

tom on March 12, 2021:

herodotus is father of history

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 12, 2021:

Dear Jennifer, Thanks for commenting

Jennifer on March 12, 2021:

Lovely tale but I will go with the version of Herodotus.

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