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Together, in the spur of the moment, they ran. The walls they enclosed themselves in, along with all of Troy, protected them as the ships launched and war erupted. Helen of Troy’s story of love and deceit inspired authors, such as Homer and Tisias, to write about the war caused by one woman and her act of betrayal towards her husband. As history goes and passes, questions arise as to whom exactly was Helen of Troy, and was she even real.
Is the story true about the women who had “the face that launched a thousand ships” or is the mythological legend narrated as a make-believe tale expressed by the authors of past millennia?
The epic tale of Helen of Troy has been told for three thousand years, since 1200 B.C.E. Before the 19th century, Helen of Troy was thought of as a myth written by the Roman author, Virgil, in the _Aeneid,_ and the Greek poet, Homer, in the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_.
However, in the late 1800’s, an archaeologist discovered the lost city of Troy in Turkey. The discovery not only supported the writings of Homer and Virgil, but was based off clues from Homer. Maps of Turkey show evidential proof of Troy and its location. There are three main aspects of the existence of Troy, Sparta, and maybe even Helen herself: literacy, historical, and archaeological.
Exactly, who was Helen of Troy? There are three main versions of Helen of Troy: mythological Helen of Troy, goddess Helen, the daughter of Zeus, and Helen the historical figure.
In myths, Helen of Troy can be found as the heroine in epics. In Homer’s Iliad, she was the main cause of the Trojan War. As a goddess, it’s only natural that Helen would have sanctuaries made for her. Sanctuaries could be found in ancient Greece, Palestine, Sicily, Turkey (where Troy was said to be located), and Egypt. Helen was thought of as a divine figure because she represented beauty, sexual attraction, and the troubling power of women. If one were to examine and research Helen’s entire story, he or she would discover that her story relates to the events that occurred during the Bronze Age. Real or not, Helen of Troy had a tremendous impact on the lives of people that knew of her.
In Greek mythology, Helen of Troy was the daughter of the god, Zeus, and the mortal human being, Leda. When Helen’s parents came across each other, Zeus was in the form of a swan and was being chased by an eagle. They collided into one another, and soon they began to fall in love and had a child. Leda’s baby came from an egg, in which Helen was hatched. Even as a child, Helen was the fairest in all of Greece. One day, she was captured by Theseus, an Athenian who pledged he would wed the daughter of Zeus. Helen’s twin brothers, Castor and Pollex, had to rescue her and take her back to Sparta. When Helen got older, she was still the fairest and was wanted by all the men, but she married Menelaus who then became the king of Sparta.
Some years later, Paris, a Trojan prince, was promised Helen by the Greek goddess, Aphrodite. He traveled to Sparta to receive his bride, even though she was already betrothed. Paris seduced Helen, and he escorted her back to Troy with him. When Menelaus noticed his wife had departed, he implored that his brother, Agamemnon, guide the Greek army to attack Troy retrieve Helen. The Spartans and the Trojans fought a decade war in which the Trojans conquered the Spartans and prevailed throughout the battles. Paris perished after the Spartan capture of Greece, and Helen advanced towards Menelaus, where they were reunited.
Based off Greek mythology, Homer writes an epic piece, the _Iliad,_ which is recognized as one of the two, first works of Western literature that agrees with the teachings of ancient Greek mythology. Although, scholars are uncertain if it truly was Homer that wrote the _Iliad_, all credit, so far, belongs to him. The _Iliad_ tells the story of the Trojan War and mainly focuses on the characters Achilles and Hector, but it also informs one about the story of Helen of Troy. The story goes as such: Helen was the wife of Menelaus, the king of Sparta, but when the Trojans arrived in Greece to notarize the treaty between the Spartans and Trojans, she was seduced by Paris, the prince of Troy.
Helen could have either been persuaded by Paris or set by her own motivations to leave Menelaus and her daughter Hermione, but she departed with Paris to his homeland of Troy. When Helen and Paris left, Menelaus launched his ships to have Helen returned to him. The act of sending out the ships, caused Trojans and Spartans to break their treaty and go to battle, therefore, the Trojan War began. Although Homer was the primary writer about Helen, he was not the only one to do so.
Along with Homer’s epic poem, a 6th century B.C.E. lyric poet named Stesichorus wrote two versions of Helen of Troy. Stesichorus was born as Tisias or Teisias in Sicily, and he invented the choral “heroic hymn”. One of the two stories he wrote about Helen was fact, _Palinodia,_ and one was fiction, _Phaedrus_. Stesichorus first wrote the false story about Helen of Troy. In his writings, he stated that not only did Helen of Sparta not reach Troy, but that the gods sent a phantom of her in her place. Helen and Paris ended up in Egypt, where they stayed there as guests of King Proteus. After the war, Menelaus and Helen reunited in Egypt. When his story was finished, Stesichorus was struck blind. He then wrote the traditional story of Helen of Troy that was inspired by Homer, and he gained back his sight after the accepted story was complete. Homer and Stesichorus are just two of the many literary composers who wrote about the accounts of Helen of Troy.
The exact location of Troy has been the search of many geologists and archaeologists’ interests, and other believers of the city. With the help of Homer, geological investigators pursue the search for the ancient city.
In May of 1873, an archaeologist by the name of Heinrich Schliemann discovered the Troy, or Truva, in Turkey. Using the Iliad as a guide to find the lost city of Troy, Schliemann found a village in Hissarlik that’s location matched Homer’s writings.
The geographical features described by Homer were generally in an accurate location. When Schliemann found Troy in the village Hissarlik, there was a hill next to it where he found the hidden treasure. In Hissarlik, the distance from the Aegean Sea was accurate to Homer’s writings and Mount Ida was visible. The grounds around the walls of the city were flat to the point where someone could run around them.
Through excavating, untold mysteries can be uncovered as one learns about what type of city Troy was. Troy was not just one city but several cities stacked on top of the other. When one would fail or be brought down, a new structure would be built above it. There were twelve recorded cities of Troy one built right on top of the other. Homeric Troy, or Troy VII, dated around 1325 B.C.E. to 1990 B.C.E. and was in ruins sometime from 1200 B.C.E. to 1990 B.C.E. The remains of Troy postwar were in a terrible state. It was obvious Troy VII was destroyed in a conflict that arose among the different territories. The buildings were demolished inside and outside of the city.
While excavating and exploring this newly found site, Schliemann and his wife saw glinting copper from the side of a shaft. When Schliemann climbed down, he was facing in the direction of the wall, which seemed to have a copper jug hidden inside it. After carving it out, Schilemann and his wife saw that the inside of the jug was filled with golden earrings, necklaces, and pots of gold and silver. Along with the common jewelry and gold findings, were two gold diadems, crowns worn to show royalty, that only a queen or princess, such as Helen, would wear.
Archaeologists now know the dates of the attack of the city because of the imported goods from the Mycenaean were declining. If the attackers were Mycenaean, it would not be a surprise that the number of Mycenaean pottery imported into the city would decrease while other imported pottery was consistent. If trading was happening, there must have been people during that time.
Searching through the debris, numerous human remains were discovered. A human skull was found inside the southern gate of Ancient Troy. A lower jawbone, from an adult male, was found in the rubble of what was previously the foundation of a residence outside the city. An entire skeleton was also exposed on the surface of the stratum of ancient foundations. These bones not only prove that Troy was a habitation, but that its former residents were unable or insufficient to withstand their opponents and were all murdered or enslaved. If there were any survivors of the final assault on Troy VII, they would have buried their deceased, unlike an adversary, who would be unconcerned with its enemy’s lifeless body completely.
The location of what geographers and archaeologists believe is Troy fits the description of what was told in the writings of ancient writers. The location of the artifacts uncovered, match the weapons that the Ancient Greeks had used. The Greeks used bronze arrowheads as their tools of weaponry during battle. While excavating the remnants of the forts and city of Troy, three bronze arrowheads were discovered. Two were in the forts and one was in the city.
According to scientists, Homer’s description of the Trojan battlefield was accurate. When the scientists drilled sediments in North Western Turkey to map the coastline of the city that stood 2,000 years ago, their findings corresponded with Homer’s description. “It has to be taken seriously that the Homeric picture of the fighting at Troy is in close accord with the geological findings,” John Luce stated. When mapping the coastline, the scientists noticed that the coastline was pushed back from the buildup of silt deposits. They decided to drill 70 meters of the flood-plain surface and they found marine materials, or seashells. As they drilled south, they concluded that the Aegean Sea coastline had been backed up.
The story of Helen of Troy may have been misinterpreted rather than overall false because of the cultures and traditions of both the Spartan and Trojan civilizations. Both societies practiced marriage by abduction, the act of stealing a women and marrying her without her having any say. Because of rivalry, women were stolen and forced to marry. During Helen’s childhood, she was abducted by Theseus and was almost forced to marry him had it not been for her protective brothers. When she was older and already married to Menelaus, she was seduced by Paris and married him. When the war was over, she went back to Menelaus rather than stay in Troy. If Helen wanted to be with Paris, she did not show her affection by grieving over him, but instead went back to her previous husband and original homeland.
There are many fictitious and factual conclusions that one can imagine about the true story of Helen of Troy. Helen has been portrayed as many different people: a goddess to look up to and worship, a mythological beauty that caused a tremendous war, a representative of the women who suffered through marriage by abduction, and even just an actual historical figure. As archaeologists, geologists, and historians strive to find clues as to who truly was Helen of Troy, one can only acquire from what one already acknowledges.
Moltenbrey, Karen. “Myth Making”. Computer Graphics World Vol.26, Issue 6.Jun 2003.California Offset Printers, Inc.
Belles. “Homer’s Iliad”. Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid. 2008.http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/ Quarters/2471/Troy.html
Means, Richard. “Homer: The Epics”. Homer. Jan 2006. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct= true&db=ulh&AN=19625259&site=ehost-live
http://www.in2greece.com. 2/24/2007. Web mistress V.E.K. Sandels. 5/3/08.
Foley, Helene. Homeric Hymns to Demeter. Princeton University Press. 1994.
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