Classics 430: Greek and Roman Mythology

Reading on Helen and the Guilt of Stolen Women

I. From Aeschylus, Agamemnon (trans. Lloyd-Jones)

lines 436-455

(The Choros Speaks)

And Ares, the gold-changer of bodies
and holder of the scales in the battle of the spear
from Ilium [1] sends to their dear ones
heavy gold dust that has felt the fire,
dust bitterly bewailed; with ashes
that were once men he loads the urns, easily stowed.
And they lament them, praising this man
as skilled in battle,
and that as having died a noble death amid the slaughter—
"for the sake of another man's wife."[2]
These are the words they mutter low;
and over them comes grief with resentment
against the champions of justice, the Atreidae.
But the men where they fell about the wall
in al their beauty occupy
their tombs in Ilium's earth;
and the enemy land covers its occupiers.


[1] Ilium = Troy
[2] this is Helen—it is for the sake of regaining Helen that the combined Greek army fought at Troy and so many lives were lost.

II.  From Stesichorus (A sixth-century BCE Greek poet):

We have Stesichorus' 'Palinode' (this is a recantation, or rejection, of the Myth of Helen going to Troy) in Plato's Phaedrus 243a: "For those who have sinned in the telling of myths there is an ancient purification, known not to Homer but to Stesichorus: when he was blinded because of his slander of Helen he was not unaware of the reason like Homer, but being devoted to the Muses recognized the cause and immediately wrote,

                           That story is not true.
                           You [Helen] never sailed in the benched ships.
                           You never went to the city of Troy."

III.  A Few Other Sources:

Plato, in his Republic 9.586c: "...just as Helen's phantom, according to Stesichorus, was fought over by the warriors at Troy in
ignorance of the truth."

Isocrates recounts the same story in his Helen 64: "She [Helen] displayed her power to the poet Stesichorus also: for when at the beginning of his song
he uttered a blasphemy against her, he stood up deprived of his sight; but when he had realized the cause of his plight and had composed the Palinode,
as it is called, she restored him to his original conditon."