Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Helen from Philip's Encyclopedia

In Greek legend, the beautiful daughter of Leda and Zeus. She married Menelaus, King of Sparta, but was carried off by Paris, Prince of Troy, thus provoking the Trojan War.

Summary Article: Helen
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

in Greek mythology, the most beautiful of women; daughter of Leda and Zeus, and sister of Castor and Pollux and Clytemnestra. While still a young girl Helen was abducted to Attica by Theseus and Polydeuces, but Castor and Pollux rescued her. Later, when she was courted by the greatest heroes and chieftains of Greece, her foster father, Tyndareus, fearful of their jealousies, demanded that each suitor swear to defend the rights of the man Helen chose. She then married Menelaus, who, when Paris carried her off to Troy, reminded her former suitors of their oath. They then recruited an army and defeated the Trojans in the Trojan War.

Some legends say that Paris forcibly abducted Helen; others that she fell in love with him and went willingly. In one peculiar account, originating in Stesichorus and used by Euripides, Helen was rescued by Proteus in Egypt, who substituted in her stead a phantom that sailed to Troy with Paris. Proteus then cared for Helen until Menelaus finally claimed her. In the Iliad and Odyssey, Helen becomes Paris' wife but is in sympathy with the Greeks. She is easily reconciled with Menelaus after the war, and they return to a peaceful life at Sparta.

There are several other accounts of the story of Helen. Some say that after she and Menelaus returned to Greece, Orestes vengefully tried to kill her but that Zeus deified her. She bore Menelaus one daughter, Hermione, and, by some accounts, a son, Pleisthenes. Helen had cults in Sparta and elsewhere and is considered by some scholars to be a “faded” goddess—perhaps an ancient fertility goddess—who became a mortal woman.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles

Full text Article Helen
Dictionary of Classical Mythology

“Helen of Troy”, “the face that launched a thousand ships”, and the most beautiful woman that ever lived. She was the daughter of ZEUS, and her moth

Full text Article Helen
Britannica Concise Encyclopedia

In Greek mythology, the most beautiful woman in Greece, who was the indirect cause of the Trojan War. She was a daughter of Zeus, either by Leda or

Full text Article Trojan War
Britannica Concise Encyclopedia

Mostly legendary conflict between the Greeks and the people of Troy in western Asia Minor. It was dated by later Greeks to the 12th or 13th century

See more from Credo