Abstract – The Bridge from Heaven To Helen: Reconciling the Divine and Human Forms of Helen

L.L. Clader, in her illuminating analysis of Helen’s cultic origins in Helen: The Evolution from Divine to Heroic in Greek Epic Tradition (1976), argues for the construction of a bridge between the divine Helen of cult and the ‘humanized’ Helen of epic narrative. For nearly 40 years, we have been building that bridge, and I will expand Clader’s excellent formulations to not only reconcile the cultic Helen with later Classical representations, but also to trace Helen’s surprising religious dimension in selected modern receptions. I will begin by examining the Makron vase (Early 5th century, Boston, MFA) as an illustration of Helen’s nature as a contested site for notions of marriage, sexuality, and violence. This will be key to my further examination of aspects of Helen’s cult, as researched by Hooker (1980) and Larson (1995) in their work on the Spartan Menelaion. I will then segue to Helen’s religious aspects as they survive—in traces—in Gorgias’ Encomium of Helen and Euripides’ Helen; each of these texts comments implicitly on Helen’s “fallen goddess” state. The religious resonances in Helen’s nature also find an outlet in texts by 20th century authors: H.D.’s Helen in Egypt and C.S. Lewis’ “After Ten Years.” I will conclude by exploring these two authors’ works, which refigure and thereby revivify Helen’s original cultic nature.

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