Helen of Troy | Part 1

Priam was King of Troy in Phrygia. One night, his wife, who was about to deliver, had a dream.

In the dream, she saw a burning faggot come out of her womb and set fire to the city of Troy and the forests on the mountain of Ida. She awoke screaming and told her husband what she had seen in her dream.

Priam had many sons, of whom Aesacus was a seer who could foretell things. So Priam sent for him and told him about the dream.

“The one who is about to be born will be the ruin of Troy,” the seer said. “Kill him at birth to avert the danger.”

One day, just before nightfall, Priam’s wife gave birth to a male child. Priam should have killed the child according to the advice of Aeacus. But he put the responsibility on Agelaus, his chief herdsman, who lived on Mount Ida with the flocks. Agelaus went to Troy at Priam’s command, learned the King’s wish, and returned with the babe.

Agelaus found himself incapable of killing the helpless babe. So he left it on the peak to die of exposure and went home. But the babe did not die. A she-bear suckled the babe and kept it alive, protecting it from heat and cold.

When five days later. Agelaus went to the peak. He was astonished to see the babe alive and thriving. He thought it was a warning; the child was destined to live.

He waited till the she-bear left the child, took it in his wallet and brought it home. Because the child was brought in a wallet, he came to be called Paris.

Paris grew up into an intelligent, handsome and sturdy lad. As the herdsman’s lad, he was of the rank of an enslaved person, but there was nothing of the enslaved person about him.

He was still a child when a band of robbers stole his cattle. Single-handedly, Paris attacked and routed the robbers and got back his cattle.

He was fond of setting his bulls to fight one another. He used to crown the winner with flowers and the loser with straw. If he found one of his bulls de- feating all the rest in his flock, he would set him against bulls belonging to other communities and offer a reward of a golden crown to the bull which could defeat his own.

While Paris looked after the flocks on Mount Ida, a particular incident occurred in the gods’ abode.

Several gods and goddesses were present at a marriage feast when Eris, the Goddess of Strife, threw a golden apple amongst the guests. The apple was inscribed, “For the Fairest.”

Hera, Athene and Aphrodite claimed the apple, and there was a dispute between them as to which one was the fairest.

None could decide which one of the three was the fairest. So they went to Almighty Zeus and asked him to choose the dis- put between them.

“I will not give a decision,” Zeus told them. “Go to Paris on Mount Ida and ask him to give his judgment.”

Paris was herding his cattle on the highest peak of Ida when the three goddesses, Hera, Athene and Aphrodite, went to him. They gave him the golden apple and said, “Paris, you are handsome and wise. We want you to judge which of us is the fairest and give her this apple. This is the wish of Almighty Zeus!”

“I am a common herdsman,” Paris replied. “What do I know of divine beauty? What you ask for is beyond me. If you do not mind, I can cut this apple into three equal pieces, and you can each have a bit. “

“No, no!” they protested. You cannot disobey Zeus. You will be in trouble.”

“Well,” said Paris, “I shall judge between you. But it would be best if you abode by my judgment. The others, against whom I may judge in my ignorance, should not vent their anger on me. As a mortal being, I may err.”

The three goddesses agreed to abide by his decision.

“So long as all the three of you are before me, I cannot assess anyone’s beauty,” Paris told them. “Go out of my sight and then come to me singly, one after the other.”

Accordingly, they went away, and Hera came to him first.

“Paris,” she said as she turned around so that he could examine her beauty, “If you judge me the fairest, I will make you lord of Asia. You shall be the richest man in the world.”

“Excuse me,” Paris told her, “I cannot be bribed. “

After Hera departed, Athene arrived.

“Paris,” she said, “if you award me the apple, I will make you victorious in all battles. You shall be the most handsome and wisest man in the world.”

“I am a humble herdsman, lady,” Paris replied. “What have I got to do with battles ?”

Aphrodite was the last to come before Paris.

“O Paris,” she said, “you are the most handsome man in Phrygia! You are fit to marry Helen, the daughter of the King of Sparta, the most beautiful woman in the world.”

“I never heard of her,” Paris said

“Never heard of Helen?” Aphrodite asked him in surprise. “Why, all the princes of Greece came wooing her. But she married Menelaus, brother of the High King Agamemnon. You can have her if you want.” “How is that possible?” Paris asked the goddess. “You said that she was married!”

“What of it?” Aphrodite asked, laughing. “I can make her fall in love with you when she sets eyes on you. Then she will be ready to leave her home, husband, and everything and follow you anywhere!”

“Is Helen so beautiful?” Paris asked her.

“Why,” Aphrodite replied, “I should say that she is not inferior to me in beauty.”

“Well, will you swear that you will manage to make her my wife?” Paris asked.

Aphrodite swore, and Paris gave her the golden apple. Naturally, the other two goddesses were very angry with Paris. But they had promised to abide by his decision, and they had to contain their anger.

Helen was indeed a wonderful and graceful woman. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leda. She was reputed to have been hatched out of a swan’s egg. Tyndareus, the King of Sparta, brought her up as his daughter.

When Helen grew to womanhood, all the princes of Greece went to Sparta with gifts as her suitors. Among them were Diomedes, Menelaus, Ajax, Odys- seus and others. Odysseus alone went empty-handed. He knew that he would never get the chance to marry Helen.

Tyndareus was in a fix. He could not give Helen to anyone because, if he did, the others might begin quarrelling. So he did not decide against any suitor or accept anyone’s gifts.

Odysseus, who knew he had no chance, made a proposition to Tyndareus. “I know you are in a great fix,” he said. “If you help me in an affair, I will tell you how to get out of the fix. “

“What is the help you want from me?” Tyndareus asked Odysseus. “And how do you propose to get me out of my present trouble?”

“Help me to marry Penelope, daughter of your brother, Icari- us,” Odysseus said. “I will tell you how to find a husband for your daughter without enraging the other suitors.”

“I shall get you, Penelope, for a wife. Tell me what I should do about Helen,” Tyndareus asked Odysseus.

“Send for all the suitors of Helen and make them swear that they would go to the aid of her future husband against those who may resent his fortune. Then Helen can safely marry anyone,” Odysseus said.

Tyndareus liked this suggestion very much.

He sent for all the Greeks and said to them, “You have all come to marry Helen. But she can marry only one among you. When she marries him, anyone from among the rest may try to attack him. Should that happen, you must swear that you will all go to the help of Helen’s husband.”

All the suitors took oath as suggested by Tyndareus. Then Menelaus was selected as Helen’s husband, and they were married. Sometime later, Tyndareus died, and Menelaus became King of Sparta.

Penelope, the daughter of Icarius, was married to Odysseus in Sparta when Helen’s marriage took place.

Icarius told Odysseus, “I cannot live away from my daughter. Please stay here in Sparta!” But Odysseus refused.

He put Penelope in his chariot and began to ride away to Ithaca. Icarius, like a madman, ran behind the chariot, crying, “O, my daughter! Do not leave me! Do not go away from me!”

After a time, Odysseus got irritated.

He turned to his wife and said, “What is all this? Either come with me or return to your father!”

Penelope did not say anything. For a reply, she pulled the veil over her face.

Now Icarius realised that his daughter’s duty was to go to her husband’s place. When this incident occurred, he got his daughter’s statue erected. Even today, the figure, Modesty, can be seen about four miles from Sparta.

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