HELEN IN HOMER’S ILIAD
This paper highlights on the character of Helen in Homer’s Iliad. Helen is generally described as the epitome of beauty. It is very pertinent to analyse the character of Helen from various perspectives. The research design adopted here is analytical. Primary and secondary data collection method is used.
Key Words: Annihilation, Troy, Culpability
Introduction: Appreciating female beauty is a part of world culture. Writers from various periods and nations have enriched the literary world with description of women’s physical beauty. Epic poems are not exceptions here. Whether it is Sita in the Ramayana,Draupadi in The Mahabharata, Penelope in the Odyssey or Helen in the Iliad- they all are portrayed as the chief female protagonists who have enamoured the readers with their beauties for ages.The influence of Helen’s beauty can be realized in Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, in which Faustus utters the famous lines:
“Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss:
Her lips suck forth my soul; see, where it flies!-
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again. Here will I dwell,
For Heaven is in these lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena!”
In another word, it can be said that there is power in woman’s beauty. Helen was the reason of annihilation of the city of Troy. The Trojan war took place as a result of the elopement of Helen with Paris. But here it is interesting to see what other role Helen plays in the whole story.
Helen as a female protagonist in Homer’s Iliad:-Homer’s Iliad covers the end period of the Trojan war. The epic is about conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon, and about the battle that took place between the Greeks and the Trojan. The battle of Troy happened due to the abduction of Helen, wife of Manaelaus, who is the brother of Agamemnon, by the Trojan prince Paris. It is a story of deceitfulness, as Helen is a mother and a wife. Apparently, Helen is a morally degraded woman.
“…… Helen actually went to Troy, then her extramarital relation with Paris, and thus her lack of her female sexual loyalty open up other interpretations of her character ,Helen can be compared to the (other) quintessential “bad” woman of the Trojan war (and of its aftermath),Agamemnon’s wife Clystemnestra. She is one of the only other women who has extramarital affairs.
Helen appears only a few times in the epic.
“Helen of Trojan appears only 6 times in the Iliad, four of which are in the third book, one appearance in Book VI, and a final appearance in the last (24th) book .The first and the last appearance are specified in the title of Roisman’s article.”
Helen is seen realizing the loss of lives in the war. She also regrets because of the unmanly character of Paris. She also once says that she prefers Hector to Paris. She is also seen being aware of the discussion among the women folk in the city if she goes to the bed- chamber of the Paris. Ironically Helen is Paris’ wife, living with him for a long period of nine years.
In some of epic poems, women play vital roles . In Milton’s Paradise Lost we find Eve, in Ramayana, Sita , in Mahabharata, Draupadi, in Iliad , Helen and in Odyssesy, Penelope. Sometimes this female role is destructive. Infidelity is a human error. But Helen’s infidelity led to the destruction of Troy. Sita ’s abduction led to the destruction of Lanka. Draupadi’s Vastraharana led to the fall of the Kauravas. It is only Penelope in Iliad is an exception.
Helen’s character resemble’s Eve. Eve ate the forbidden apple and paved the way for “Fall of Mankind”. Helen’s culpability became the reason of bloodshed and death of many Greek and Trojan heroes. In Aeschylus’ play ‘Agamemnon’, Helen is described as the destroyer of men, cities and ships. Shakespeare in his Troilus and Cressida depicts Helen as ‘insipid dunderhead’.
However, Helen’s remorse and realization of sufferings and deaths caused by the war begs our reconsiderations of views on her. We can end up with the following lines from Jan Haywood’s “Was Helen really to blame for the Trojan war or just a scapegoat?” ,
“For Helen’s story is one that should lead us to question why it is that women have so often been made scapegoats in times of warfare, crisis and great political change. Only then might we break free from the question of whether or not Helen was to blame for the Trojan war and start asking what role the men who carried the swords and spears played.”
1. To study the role of Helen in Iliad
2. An ethical approach to the character of Helen