It’s been another one of those weeks in the world of Wanderer, and it’s looking to be a few more days before the current storm breaks, but I’ll do my best to catch up a bit in the near future. Not like there’s a lack of things to talk about.
As our series on the well and not-so-well behaved women throughout history inexorably approaches its conclusion, I thought it might be illuminating (or at least kind of fun) to take today’s excursion into the negative side of things to look at a woman who is not really a historical figure except insofar as a cross-cultural legend can be considered a form of history. Today’s subject is the woman whose face launched a thousand ships, Helen of Troy.
Now I will preface this account by acknowledging that, as a fictional character, Helen’s story varies depending on who is telling it (though that’s not really all that different from actual historical figures). Depending on when any given account of the Trojan War was written, the Greeks might be the good guys and Helen might be a victim of an abduction pining for her valiant husband, or the Trojans might be the heroes (as they were seen particularly in Shakespeare’s time) and Helen could be performing blood orgy rituals over the battlefield. But from my reading of the legends and accounts and occasional bad Brad Pitt movies, the amalgamation of the story that seems to comprise the majority account goes like this: young and beautiful Helen is married to old Menelaus, king of Sparta, after a competition to win her hand in marriage. Part of the requirements of entering this competition was that everyone agreed that whoever won Helen, everyone else would defend that guy’s claim to her. So Menelaus won and pretty much everybody in Greece was honor-bound to make sure nobody bird-dogged him. Well, then there was this little beta punk Paris, prince of Troy, who wasn’t part of this deal. Some accounts have Paris abducting Helen, but the vast majority have Helen either being seduced and running off with Paris, or not exactly being an unwilling abductee. So apparently being the queen of Sparta wasn’t good enough for Helen, especially not after pretty-boy Paris came knocking.
The Greeks and the Trojans weren’t exactly the best of pals anyway, so when Menelaus went to call in the favors of everyone who signed up to try to win Helen in the first place, despite the fact that this was kind of a loose interpretation of their original agreement, all of Greece united behind Menelaus’ brother Agamemnon in the first recorded historical occurrence of “bros before hoes” as an international relations policy. The Greeks were led by champions like Achilles, Ajax, and Odysseus, while on the Trojan side of the field their headliner was Paris’ older brother and supreme manly-man in every sense of the word, Hector. Again according to most accounts, Hector reamed out his kid brother for bringing Helen to Troy and tried on several occasions to get him to just send her back before the babaghanoush hit the fan, but again ran into that “Greeks and Trojans aren’t buddies” thing or Paris just plain refused–and in most accounts Helen was either begging or (usually) sweet-talking Paris not to listen to Hector and send her back. So the Trojan War ensues, during which countless Greeks and Trojans are butchered on the battlefield, Achilles’ best buddy Patroclus goes out and fights in his place when Achilles gets to acting like a prima donna and as a result Hector takes Patroclus out, Achilles subsequently gets royally pissed off and goes out and wastes Hector, and from there it’s pretty much all downhill for the Trojans–and that’s before you get to the monumental act of stupid in falling for the Trojan Horse. According to most accounts, it’s metrosexual Paris who manages to finally bring down the rampaging Achilles with a poisoned arrow to the calf (of all the prissy girly-man weapons for a prince to use…) but the tides of battle are too far gone to turn, the Greeks overrun Troy and raze it to the ground, and Helen is taken back to Greece. Through all of this, Helen is either indifferent to the suffering taking place on her behalf or, in some accounts, is actively reveling in it.
The moral of the story is, even the greatest civilizations in the world, even heroes descended from the gods themselves, can be brought to ruin and death by the vanity and selfishness of a badly behaved woman.
The saga continues next week, just a few more installments to go.