April 2, 2016 at 12:59 pm #751
Imagine you are a mythographer, such as the 2nd century BCE scholar Apollodorus, compiling lists and biographies of various figures from mythology, and you are working on encyclopedia entry about Helen. Examine the account presented in Homer’s Odyssey Book 4, where Telemachus meets with Helen and Menelaus on his journey to find his father Odysseus. You may find particularly interesting the part in which Menelaus describes his own nostos and asks Proteus about the nostoi of his fellow Greeks. (Click here for a free downloadable copy of The Ancient Hero in 24 Hours Sourcebook, which includes Odyssey Scroll iv.)
In 300-400 words, describe how you as mythographer would reconcile the Odyssey‘s account of what happens to Helen after the Trojan War with what happens to her according to Euripides’ Orestes. In other words, how do these stories interconnect and how can they coexist? Further, how do the accounts of the Odyssey and the Orestes play color your view of Euripides’ Helen play? Do these versions change your perspective on the Helen?
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April 5, 2016 at 3:55 pm #767
The mystery and contradiction surrounding Helen continues as we dive into Orestes and Book IV of The Odyssey! In this case, the stories told of Helen were likely to have taken place a couple of decades after the end of the Trojan War. I’m assuming this based on the fact that Orestes was only a baby in Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, and in Book IV of The Odyssey, Helen recognizes Telemachus as all grown up after having not seen him since he was just a baby with Odysseus before he left for the war.
Book IV of The Odyssey continues what seems to be the overwhelming tendency to portray Helen as manipulative, carefree, and completely responsible for the Trojan War. Yet another example of this is when she openly describes her manipulation and treachery during the Trojan war when talking to Telemachus. Helen does this by describing her role in allowing Odysseus to sneak into Troy; of course this was after she had grown tired of being there (possibly after realizing the war was shifting towards Argos). Helen also drugs her visitor’s drinks without them knowing it all the while flaunting the spoils of war within her home.
The Orestes version of Helen is very interesting to me for many reasons because it continues Euripides theme of defending her. In Orestes, Helen appears very aware of the hurt she has caused everyone in the Trojan War. The perfect example of this empathy is shown when she refuses to go out into public to visit Clytemnestra’s grave, she instead asks Electra to do it for her in fear of causing more hurt to those in the public who view her in a negative light (which is pretty much everyone in Orestes). The real kicker in Orestes is when the divine once again plays a large role in Helen’s life. Just as the gods intervened in Helen when Helen was whisked away to Egypt, Helen is miraculously saved by Apollo just before having her throat slit by Orestes.
The events surrounding Helen in Orestes certainly help to back up the belief that she is at the will of the gods and had nothing to do with the war since it was out of her control. In Euripides’ versions of Helen in Orestes and Helen, it would be easy for her to lash out at everyone’s hatred for her; instead she shows empathy for her perceived role in the Trojan War. The description of Helen in Orestes only serves to further solidify Euripides earlier characterization in Helen in that she is not as much to blame as many would think.
April 5, 2016 at 8:51 pm #779
Ambiguity prevails as we read Orestes and Book 4 of the Odyssey. Helen is presented in an interesting array of behavioral and character perspectives, per usual. I say this because as we’ve transgressed I’ve constantly changed my opinion of several characters but most of all Helen. One minute she is the vile, scheming, and selfish women who has the power of unimaginable beauty but uses it for pure evil and greed. Next she is simply a victim and a puppet on a string of the puppet master Gods in Olympus. As we read in between the lines of Orestes and The Odyssey Book 4 there is an apparent time skip. Telemachus is far more mature when he meets with Helen. Orestes was only an infant during the time his eldest sister, Iphigenia, was sacrificed.
The Odyssey Book 4 maintains the popular opinion that Helen is evil and conflicted with her own gain. She is her “usual” self in this story. She flaunts on about how she aided Odysseus in sneaking into Troy. She also describes several other despicable acts such as drugging her house guest and showing off her spoils of the war. On the other hand Euripides defends Helen, per usual! Here she is found acknowledging the huge foot print she has made in the pain and suffering of all of Argos. She is terrified of what the city will do to her if they happen to see her out in public. So she sends Hermione out to pour Libations on Clytemnestra’s tomb. To make matters more ambiguous or confusing, the God Phoebus Apollo suddenly appears and tells Orestes to abandon his plan of killing Hermione, burning the house, trying to kill Helen (Obviously this is out of the question because he has rescued her) etc. Apollo gives Orestes a whole new life by taking blame for the death of Clytemnestra which he by far is guilty of. Apparently no questions are asked when a God kills, or at least when it is proven publically.
Apollo comes through and spins the entire story in another direction, once again. Now Helen is free and clear any guilt and even deified as a star in the constellation beside Hera herself! Is that justice or Euripides version of “all is well that ends well”? Even Pylades is fortunate to be able to marry Electra now, which Orestes had promised him; but seemed feeble at the time. These transgressions truly defend Helen and clear her, and Orestes, of any blame. I can’t believe that Helen has experienced no death or even a mere injury at this point! When the servant who escaped Orestes ran out and told the story of what had just happened, I quickly saw the punch line of Helen escaping coming; very cliché Mr. Euripides. However that may be what he intended all along. This reconciles Helens innocence and integrity as never having actually did anything wrong.
April 5, 2016 at 9:18 pm #780
The biggest issue I have had with reading the Greek dramas this semester is the uncoordinated character of Helen. We have seen her character shift in Book IV of the Odyssey, Orestes, and Helen. In Book IV, Helen is portray and being conniving, deceitful, and the reason why the Trojan War is taking place. During the celebrations of the marriages of their children, Helen boasts to Telemachus about the way in which she helped Odysseus sneak into Troy dressed as a beggar. This is the Helen I had accepted.
To throw out the entire depiction that Homer has created of Helen, Euripides’ Helen shows Helen as a completely different person. In Helen, Euripides paints a picture of Helen as being heartbroken by what she has caused. She blames her beauty as being the center of her downfall. He even takes it a step further as to make it as if she was never actually Troy and the Trojan War was caused by deceitful actions taken by the Gods to protect Helen. This is the day I threw the book across the room and gave up on life, as I knew it.
Euripides continues on attempting to gain sympathy for Helen in his writing of Orestes. Being that Orestes was a baby at the beginning of the Trojan War, it is safe to say that this play takes place many years after is has ended. Throughout the duration of the play, Helen is both mourning the lost of her sister and accepting blame for being the cause of the Trojan War (if you missed the memo we are back to saying that she was actually there). She is ashamed of what she has done and refuses to allow herself to be seen by others in order to avoid their scrutiny. What I didn’t agree with was the act that after everything she had done, when her dead is finally written into the play she is taken to be among the Gods because they finally want to remember the Zeus is actually her father and not Tyndareus.
With all of that said, and my tainted perspective of Helen over these four plays, the only way that these stories interconnect is Helen taking responsibility for the fall of Troy. They can only coexist if Orestes comes before the Odyssey in a sequence of events. By then Helen may have had a change of hard and is proud that she was able to help Menelaus defeat Troy and claim his glory.
April 5, 2016 at 11:46 pm #793
I would say that my perception of Helen is a compare and contrast of the 3 stories the odyssey, Euripides Helen, and Orentes. In the Odyssey book 4 Helen seems to be a good-natured person wishing happiness and well being too her allies. I feel she is made to look like the Odysseus the way the Greeks see him, as clever and brilliant. Her relationships with Odysseus is one of and ally as when he was disguised as a beggar and she didn’t reveal his identity until he was safe. She was still made to seem mischievous, but not treacherous. I would say that Helen is neutral towards Odysseus.
The Helen described in the Euripides Helen provides a completely different perspective. Helen has a perfect excuse for all that she is accused of, and debatably none of it is her fault. It was the phantom Helen. The gods kidnapped her. Some similarities could be that how Helen shows loyalty to menuales by being willing to let him kill her if Theciseds kills him may be the same type of loyalty she shows to Odysseus when she doesn’t revel his identity. I feel that the fact that Helen would rather let Menelaus kill her than marry Theriode shows that she treasures marriage. Which may be why Hera was willing to help hen project her marriage, by keeping the real Helen away from Paris. In these two stories Helen still has the same deceptive traits, but like I said is made to seem more of a girl who gets into trouble than the women who left her husband and started a ten year long war. In the Orentes Helen is an evil woman to the point where no one would miss her. Plyades brings up the idea of killing Helen in order either persuade Menelaus into helping him or least to get back at Menelaus. I see this as hypocrically. Even though ornetes may have felt justified in killing his mother he was still a little remorseful. However they talk about killing Helen with no qualms what so ever. I also think that Helen being spirited away to heaven in the end may carry mortals versus gods theme. Arguably it is entirely the god’s fault this whole war started. They victimized Helen and left her to bear the bad reputation and hatred of both he Greeks and the Trojans. They were the ones of abducted her and left the phantom Helen in her place. Yet they took their sweet time bringing her up to heaven/mt.opluymps thus protecting her.
April 5, 2016 at 11:55 pm #795
In the Troy saga, many writers take their stab, at their interpretation of how the war is generally described. Some writers include, the great, Homer, and another playwrighter, Euripides. In Euripides’ books, he takes a part of the story that we think we know, and flips, or mixes it. A constant theme, or character that is constantly “flipped” is the main attraction and “cause” of the war; Helen. Between Homer, and Euripides’ depictions, Helen is depicted in different ways. Some ways she is for the Greeks, others she is not; some ways she is seen as a strategizer, and other times she seems clueless; in one version she is real, and in Troy; in another she is not real (in Troy), and instead has been camping out in Egypt for a bit.
In Homer’s account, after the fall of Troy, Helen was going to be put to death when she got back home, but Menelaus decided not to kill her, and instead is letting her live again, with him, compared to Euripides’ Helen in Orestes. This Helen does not seem to be worried about possibly being executed when she arrived home, and a greater plot twist happens in the playwright; Helen is whisked away by Apollo right before she is sought after to be killed. This shows that in Homer’s account, Helen is made to be put into fear for her life, and later rescued by having the sympathy of her husband, and Euripides’ version she has no fear for her life, and she is later taken away through divine action at the end of the play, and no one knows if she actually returns to Sparta.
Both accounts can coexist because they still place Helen on the side of the audience not liking her because she is thought to have been the cause of the war, and the cause of grief. They both also put Menelaus leaving Troy, with Helen in hand. The only big reason why they would not be able to exist in the same dimension is because it is not made clear whether or not Helen made it back to Sparta, in Orestes.
The Helen that is depicted in the character-titled story by Euripides is actually way different than the Helens that have been portrayed. She never actually goes to Troy, so therefore she is seen, by the audience to be loyal to her husband, and she even pledges that she would die by his side, if Menelaus was to be found out by the Egyptian king, so this version of Helen puts her in a better,loyal, honest light.
April 6, 2016 at 7:25 pm #811
In book four Helen seemed to have some feeling left from the past. She helps Odysseys into Troy as a beggar and does not reveal his identity. We see a Helen that we meet in Euripides peace “Helen” when she cares about her people and friends.
Just as Euripides does in Helen were he is defending Helen, he keeps doing it in Orestes. I believe it must be a couple a years after Helen has been rescued by Menelaus as some characters has aged a lot from when she left. Even though Helen is not participating much in this book, she still manage to show her resource for all that has happened and all the pain she has cost. Again she is being shown as a gentle person who cares about people and don’t want to hurt anybody. We are now back at Argos and we found out that Helen is being blamed by many for the deaths of many fathers, brothers and sons. This makes it hard for her to show her face but she still wants to do good by what she has caused.
As I said before Euripides is trying to defend Helen again, because she does not deserve to be treated like this. He does this in a way by using the gods, as Apollo saves her from being killed.
April 6, 2016 at 11:40 pm #827
As a fictitious mythographer, I would reconcile Euripides’ version of Helen in Orestes and Homer’s version of her in the Odyssey by putting the two in separate timelines as there is no way to have Helen in Sparta as Homer has her if she dies first in Argos before ever reaching Sparta.
In Homer’s version, Helen grieves over her part in the Trojan War and the deaths it caused, the only major difference I can tell from the Orestes version of her, though still blames the gods – mainly Aphrodite – for having put her in such a situation when she was a faithful and loving wife to Menelaos, the Homeric spelling of Menelaus. She admits to having been in Troy during the time of the war and even having met Odysseus at the time of her supposed imprisonment. Helen seems more remorseful and subdued through the eyes of those around her.
In the Orestes’ version of Helen, she is shown through her interactions as someone who tries to connect to others by listening to their plight and warming them to her before asking for favors she’s too afraid to do. She blames her own plight on madness from the gods, claiming such as she did not see her now deceased sister before departing. Others in this story have no pity for her and call her many degrading names and titles behind her back and some to her face. Here, she is shown as someone fearful of her position but unremorseful of her previous actions that made her more rich than she already was, as also shown in Homer’s version though remorseful there.
These two versions are also hard to reconcile with Euripides’ version of Helen in Helen. Homer’s version does make it to Egypt with Menelaos and comes back with many riches from Polybos and other Egyptians, while in Helen the both of them had to escape with little advance planning. That version of Helen also admits to having been in Troy during the War itself and was recognized by Odysseus while there. The Orestes’ version of Helen also admits to having been in Troy during the War though claiming her actions on madness driven by the gods. For me, there is no reconciling these three very different versions of Helen, and as mythographer, would have to claim that at least two were made up for historical fiction amusement or point driving.
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