April 2, 2016 at 12:59 pm #752
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 11:15 pm #791
After reading the different stories Helen’s character is perceived differently. After reading Euripides’, Orestes, Helen was described similar to the other books compared to The Helen. In Odyssey, Helen is happy and well off wife.There isn’t much reference to her past mistakes or any of the trouble she has caused. Helen appears to be shown in a positive light. Orestes, Helen’s character takes on a very different role , besides Melanus who loves her most of the characters despise her and plan to murder her. In the other stories she seemed very self centered , manipulative and relied on the god’s to solve her problems. In Helen she was described as a completely different person she showed remorse for what was happening and seemed like a different Helen then what we have seen in other plays . She is taken to the sky by Apollo allowing her to have closure and from her crazy life she lived in Orestes . In these stories they show different perspectives of Helen and tells the stories differently. Each one has a purpose for the audience teaching them different things and allowing them to see things from different views. In Helen, Helen seemed fake and almost like a different Helen compared to the other ones we have seen. I felt like she was fake or not the real Helen in the play because in the other stories she was described as the same type of person and in Helen she was described completely different. I felt like that wasn’t true and she was still manipulative like she was in the other stories but the Helen we read about in Helen was a different one because she showed a side we never saw from her before. It as just hard for me to believe and to understand that the Helen in Helen is the same one after reading about her in the other books and she is perceived so differently . I feel like there would be more than one book showing her good side if it was the real Helen. Reading about Helen in Orestes compared to reading about her in Helen I never really changed my perspective of her . I thought of her the same throughout all of the stories m, but after reading of her in Helen i just didn’t seem to think she was the same Helen as she was in the other stories.
April 6, 2016 at 12:12 am #796
Helen is portrayed in various ways throughout the works of Euripides, so much so, it is hard to decide which account is to believe. While she is pegged as the cause of the Trojan War and the most hated woman in the world in works such as Orestes and The Trojan Women, she is painted in a better light in the Odyssey and the Helen. In fact, The Odyssey fails to mention her role in the Trojan War, that countless Greeks and Trojans fought and died in her honor. Rather, The Odyssey tells of the wonderful homecoming of Menelaus and Helen, relating stories of their experience as if they live happily ever-after. Helen is very welcoming and warm when she invites Telemachus into her home. Similarly, we feel a soft spot for Helen in the Helen. In The Helen, she is extremely remorseful and it is in this account that it’s revealed that the Helen present during the Trojan War was nothing but a ghost, sent by Hera while the real Helen hid away in Egypt for the duration of the war. In contrast, the Helen that is pictured in Orestes and The Trojan Women and pretty much every other account relating to Helen and the Trojan War is very manipulative and self-absorbed. She expresses very little remorse, as if she is completely unaware and unbothered that numerous people have fought and died on her behalf. This is the account of Helen I put the most stock in. My logic? It’s simply because their are more characters and stories corroborating this depiction of her than not. It is hard to believe in a sensitive and regretful Helen when there is little proof, especially when the only other person corroborating this view is Menelaus, and obvious bias. For this reason, I stand by my position that the true Helen is the Helen that is manipulative and unconcerned with anyone but herself.
April 7, 2016 at 12:41 am #828
Sorry this is late, I had a hell of a week. Enjoy!
Helen as a character has a large tendency to change entirely based off which text is being explored at the time. It cannot even be agreed upon on weather Helen was at Troy or not, if we are to listen to the Helen of Euripides, Helen. Her fluidity as a character gives her cause to end up in the stars (where Apollo places her) because she essentially becomes a myth. A mythographer would notice Helen, and her ever changing story, the mystery behind who she was as a character, and would reconcile her as a legend, a mythical woman. The mythos within the Greek world does not necessarily remain static, depending on what is being read, characters both mortal and god alike change entirely during even basic accounts. This trend is represented through Helen, in every account we have read thus far. Melding these accounts together to find some form of coherency seems an injustice to the mythos of Helen within the ancient Greek world, and Euripides tradition of tragedy.
The Odyssey is able to show Helen as the loving wife of Menelaus, who had a change of heart late into her time at Troy. Helen speaks to Menelaus with affection and even shows concern towards the heroes she does not even know (though she soon guesses). Helen is portrayed as a matronly figure that cares deeply about those around her and their well being, denouncing her own actions, and praising those of Telemachos. She even drugs everyone so they may relax and have a great party. What’s not to love about the Helen we read in the Odyssey?
In contrast Euripides’ Orestes, portrays Helen as the kind of fickle and unapologetic character I feel she needs to be. Helen is both blunt and crude towards Electra, and barely shows remorse for her actions. Helen’s first words in Orestes are a cut to both Electra, and Orestes. Offhandedly remarking that Electra hasn’t been married, while commenting on the shunning of Orestes, veiled in a “compliment”. If concern is shed from Helen here, it is only for her own skin. The Orestes account holds that Helen left with Paris, changed her mind, and came back with Menelaus (only after the winds turned in the Argives favor). The chorus of Orestes (the women of Argos) despise Helen; to the point of chanting, “Helen from Hell, Helen from Hell” basically condemning her at every chance given.
Linking these two accounts together could be as easy as making up a timeline, where Telemachos has arrived during the time where Orestes and Electra are plotting against Menelaus and Helen. Perhaps between the departure of Hermione (towards the grave of Clytemnestra) and when the brother and sister attempt to kill Helen, only for her to be tossed into the stars after Telemachos and company leave Sparta.
With these two versions of Helen in mind, Euripides’ Helen paints our vixen as a much more apologetic and guilt ridden woman, who seems completely aware of the power that comes with her beauty. Though here Helen’s shadow does the damage, Helen is still hurt and ashamed that it was in her likeness that this destruction came about. The Odyssey and Orestes don’t entirely change my view on Helen, as I don’t see them all as the same woman. It is just as easy for me to accept Helen as a fickle, manipulative woman in Orestes, as it is to read Helen as the caring, misunderstood, victim of vanity games between the gods, within the Helen mythos. The Helen almost needs to be different, needs to be fluid, and needs to escape our total understanding; for her to find a place within the stars. A mere continuitious mortal, no matter how beautiful, cannot simply end up with the gods. The versatility of Helen is what makes her such a great character to read, and for ancient bards to explore.
April 7, 2016 at 1:21 pm #829
Stephanie De Los SantosParticipant
We’ve talked extensively about how she is perceived differently, and though I will discuss a bit more about Euripides and his perception of her, I will also talk about the audience’s perception of her.
I think it’s important to remember that Euripides and his audience are Athenians. They will have strong opinions about Helen, who (until Helen) is an ultimate symbol of Sparta and all that they represent. Helen was presented, in general, as a terrible person. Throughout all of the plays, Helen is referenced as a whore, as a disobedient piece of property, as the cause of the war, and the bringer of ALL of the pain and suffering caused by the war. I do agree with Sierra that in Helen, her character had a “fakeness” about her that made her whole character seem ingenuine and her lamentations inauthentic. Euripides, at this point, is known to play with the ideas of social norms and go against the grain of social acceptance. He liked to challenge long standing ideas and generally accepted concepts, such as the agency of women, the intentions of leaders, the roles of the Gods, etc. Because of this, his perceptions are hard to decipher, or to even attempt to infer.
However, I think the perceptions of the audiences may be a bit easier to understand. The audiences of these plays will be probably drunk, tired, all males, and most of them will not be very educated. The general perception of her will be negative. The question here is how will they perceive it? Will they believe this story of Helen? Will they believe that Helen had no part in this war? Probably not. I think the audience will also perceive this inauthentic version of her. They might read is as laughable. But they might also see this as the ultimate greek-lawyer speech that only someone as deeply corrupted and terrible as Helen might be capable of.
I think as a mythographer, part of that job comes hand-in-hand with accepting that these stories existed and were told as they needed to be told at that time. In other words, the stories existed to serve different needs to different people, whether it be in warning to be careful who you trust, or as a reminder that to coexist, we need to be accepting and fair to others, or simply as a reinforcement of a cultural strength to keep the “in” group together.
April 26, 2016 at 11:38 pm #839
To say the least, the accounts of Helen are all over the place, but one thing that remains constant is that she grieves for the deaths of lives lost. In particular, the Helen in Orestes only gets talking time in relation to honoring her sister after death, where she finally decides it is best to send her daughter Hermione, who would most adequately show her respect without dishonoring her sister’s name. In the same light, the Helen of The Odyssey, weeps when Menelaus reflects on the events of Troy. Perhaps what is most jarring about both of these accounts is the fact that Helen continues life in such a removed fashion. In Homer’s account, she drugs herself and the others around her, which allows her and those in her house to continue to live despite all of the loss that lingers around the Trojan War. Meanwhile, in Euripides Apollos sums up her fate:
Go your ways, and honour Peace, most fair of goddesses; I, meantime, will escort Helen to the mansions of Zeus, soon as I reach the star-lit firmament. There, seated side by side with Hera and Hebe, the bride of Heracles, she shall be honoured by men with drink-offerings as a goddess for ever, sharing with those Zeus-born sons of Tyndareus their empire o’er the sea, for the good of mariners.
In other words, Helen is essentially made a goddess, which shows that her divinity was true and in a sense, lifts her of blame. If I were at mythographer, I would recognize that all accounts of Helen absolve her of blame and reward her for her suffering and her ruined name, as even in Helen, Euripides makes a heroine of Helen instead of a villain.
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