April 2, 2016 at 1:00 pm #753
Imagine you are a mythographer, such as the 2nd century BCE scholar Apollodorus, compiling lists and biographies of various figures from mythology, and you are working on encyclopedia entry about Helen. Examine the account presented in Homer’s Odyssey Book 4, where Telemachus meets with Helen and Menelaus on his journey to find his father Odysseus. You may find particularly interesting the part in which Menelaus describes his own nostos and asks Proteus about the nostoi of his fellow Greeks. (Click here for a free downloadable copy of The Ancient Hero in 24 Hours Sourcebook, which includes Odyssey Scroll iv.)
In 300-400 words, describe how you as mythographer would reconcile the Odyssey‘s account of what happens to Helen after the Trojan War with what happens to her according to Euripides’ Orestes. In other words, how do these stories interconnect and how can they coexist? Further, how do the accounts of the Odyssey and the Orestes play color your view of Euripides’ Helen play? Do these versions change your perspective on the Helen?
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April 5, 2016 at 6:10 pm #771
After reading Euripides’ The Helen just prior to Orestes, I am left confused by Helen’s character. There is a major switch up on Helen’s actions and the way she is perceived in Orestes that counteracts the Helen we see in The Helen. Helen goes back to her old ways, manipulative and relying on the gods to get her out of everything. She also goes back to not saying much and being the temptress she is. I was initially confused because I didn’t even think it was the same Helen. The only good that I see in Helen that is different from the Helen that is portrayed in the Helen and also even the Odyssey is she actually has accountability for her part in the Trojan War. She feels remorse and understands that the Argive people are infuriated with her for actions during the Trojan War. This is part of the reason she takes a back seat in the play because she is scared of what they will do to her so she doesn’t appear much in the play until Pylades devises the plan to kill her. Helen has many variations in her character when it comes to the Odyssey, the Helen and Orestes but her character reaches her final place in Orestes when Apollo takes her to the sky to be amongst the Gods, giving her some type of peace and closure from the chaos she has gone throughout these plays.
The Helen almost seems fake to me know because her character seems fake compared to other plays. The Helen is the only play that shows that side of Helen that isn’t manipulative and a temptress while the others, including the Odyssey and Orestes, show that she is indeed that type of person. At first when reading it I thought maybe she was just misunderstood and that not the real Helen, but after seeing that this is the only instance that she acts like that it makes the Helen seem like a facade and almost like Helen was just putting on a show. I am less inclined to believe Helen and also I doubt whether the story in the Helen is 100% true. My perception of the Helen has been changed drastically because I see the pattern of her behavior and so it is harder to believe that the one play that shows her in a better light is the actual truth.
April 5, 2016 at 10:22 pm #784
In Homer’s Odyssey, Helen is depicted as happy and well off wife. She presents herself as a respectable host when Telemachus arrives, and there isn’t much reference to her past mistakes or any of the trouble she has caused. Overall, Helen appears to be painted in a positive light
On the other hand, in Euripides’ Orestes, Helen’s character takes on a very different role. Aside from Menelaus, who adores her, most of the cast detests her. She is despised by Orestes, Pylades, and Electra, thus prompting the plot to murder her. Many others dislike her as well, including the Phrygian and the chorus women. This is evident in lines 1360-1364 in which the chorus says, “God’s vengeance on Helen, justice crashing from heaven! Justice for Helen who made all Hellas mourn, mourn for her lover’s sake.” It is clear that most of the other characters hold Helen responsible for their own losses and misfortunes and believe her death will make things right.
Although early in the play Electra is quoted in lines 18-20 describing Helen as someone, “whom the Gods in heaven themselves despise” it is the Gods that save her in the end. Apollo relays that Zeus commanded her to be saved from Orestes’ and thus she ascends to be with the Gods in heaven. He also says the God’s are responsible for driving the Greeks and Phrygians to war over Helen’s beauty and that she is not at fault. I find this conclusion very perplexing. It is as if Helen escaped death based solely on her beauty.
Neither Orestes nor the Odyssey has changed my view of who Helen really is. Both of these stories seem to lack much convincing information concerning why Helen is the way she is. I believe that this lack of background is the only reason they can coexist. Rather, I most identify Helen with the way she is described in Euripides’ Helen. This account seems to offer the most complete explanation of Helen’s story and provides enough details to satisfy my questions about her.
April 5, 2016 at 11:40 pm #792
Trying to arrange the events of all three plays in chronological order would be difficult given the different attitudes of characters and directions of plots. However, if I were to attempt to list the plays in chronological order I would choose: Euripides’ Helen, Book 4 of Homer’s Odyssey, then Euripides’ Orestes. However, like I said in my journal last week, to believe Helen would make the stories of the Odyssey and Orestes even more tragic. Book 4 of Homer’s Odyssey and Euripides’ Orestes are similar in their depictions of Helen’s character and made no reference to her and Menelaus’ escape from Egypt. In both plays, Helen is depicted as sneaky, untrustworthy, and is generally loathed by the public. This sentiment is seen throughout many of the plays we have read surrounding the Trojan War. However, when you look at Euripides’ Helen you are given another view of Helen’s character. Here she laments over the grief she has caused, and proves her loyalty to Greece and her husband. Though this story does paint Helen in a positive light, it is one story out of many and could be seen to some as the exception and not the rule.
Personally, I liked Helen and felt like it did change my view of her role in the Trojan War. If Orestes could blame Apollo for his crime then why couldn’t Helen do the same? On the other hand, groupthink is very real and it is easy to see why entire cities hated her. The numerous authors of Greek literature can lead to multiple interpretations of the same event which can lead to confusion for the audience. When we first started reading about the Trojan War, I was not a fan of Helen. Now that we have read more plays, I cannot say that I am a fan of her now, but I am able to see things from her side and empathize.
April 6, 2016 at 8:20 pm #812
After reading both Helen and Orestes, Helen’s character still confuses me. The Helen in Euripide’s Helen was much more likeable than the one in Orestes. In Orestes, Helen was depicted as her old self: one that is manipulative, selfish, and “blameless.” This account of Helen is similar to the one in the Homer’s epic poems and Euripides’ other works, especially Trojan Women. Because this play takes place after the events of Helen, I am confused on the characteristics of the “real” Helen. I wonder if she’s the manipulative and cunning Helen of the Iliad, and the Odyssey or is she the sweet and faithful Helen of Helen.
It is hard to reconcile these two accounts of Helen because they are so different. However, if I had to piece together a reason for the change in character, I would write that Helen was always a manipulative person, constantly relying on the gods for help. When the phantom Helen was created by Hera, she was created to directly mimic her characteristics. However, while being in Egypt for so long, Helen’s characteristics change for the better. After she’s been in the company of Menelaus and the other Achaeans for so long, she goes back to her natural personality traits.
It is very hard, as stated, to reconcile these two Helens because they are two completely different people. One is also much more likeable than the other. In Helen I found myself feeling sorry for Helen and wanting her to have a happy ending with Menelaus. In Orestes, however, I found myself disliking Helen like I did for every other work we’ve read that included he. It’s very interesting how Euripides wrote both Helen and Orestes yet his depictions of Helen are so different from each other. They are in such stark contrast that it’s difficult to imagine them being written by the same person.
April 11, 2016 at 6:28 pm #830
It seems nearly impossible to put the events of all three works in a chronological order, so it appears to me that all three could be in the same canon in a realistic way. To go further into this idea of chronology, Orestes would have to be the final events of Helen’s life as she is placed among the stars in it. This would not allow Helen to have returned home with Menelaus to host Telemachus, as it is portrayed in The Odyssey.
But while the events of the three plays contradict one another, the character of Helen throughout the three works does not necessarily contradict each other. The Helen of The Odyssey was a humble housewife whose past was not really mentioned at all, this coincides very well with Euripides’ Helen, as the Helen in that play had no part in the Trojan War except in name. So, she would have no reason to be anything but a happily wedded wife to Menelaus, and her ‘past’ would not have been mentioned because it was not really her past or her fault. The Helen in Helen and the one in Orestes do not seem to contradict one another all that much either. Helen in Orestes reveals that she was too ashamed to visit her sister’s grave for fear of how the Argives would treat her. She does show some remorse, however, which may reveal that this Helen was different from the others. But, this could be explained that she feels remorse for all of the Greeks that died because of her name, not because of her actions.
The Odyssey and Orestes shape my understanding of the character of Helen by making her seem like a much more rounded character. By understanding Helen to be the same character in all three pieces, I see the different works to just be different ways of viewing Helen. Helen being the play to tell Helen’s side of the story, Orestes being the play to tell how most Greeks viewed Helen, and The Odyssey being the epic poem that tells how Helen’s kingdom viewed her.
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