Helen through the ages
In some parts of Greece, she was revered as a goddess. Indeed, the early stories are extremely vague but the poet Stesichorus , who lived around BC, purportedly slandered Helen — and was struck blind after doing so. The story goes that he recovered his sight after he denied that Helen ever went to Troy.
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According to this source:. The people of Asia made no matter of the seizure of their women. The Greeks, however, for the sake of [Helen], recruited a great army, then came to Asia, and destroyed the power of Priam. Beyond antiquity, many have continued to struggle with the enigmatic Helen.
Indeed, the Greek commander Diomedes states: In many ways, the painting focuses on the image of Helen as an impossibly beautiful mortal. Her hair is golden, and she is draped in elaborately decorated apparel.
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Upon closer inspection, however, viewers will see that Helen has a purpled left cheek. Is Rossetti suggesting that Paris struck his new bride, stealing her away by force?
Helen is also depicted, however, before a blazing city, while pointing to a locket that depicts a flaming torch. She appears to be saying that it is she who is responsible for this conflagration.
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It is worth bearing in mind that Helen is not always envisioned as a guilty, destructive force. The majority of responses to Helen since the Iliad nonetheless have centred on the issue of her culpability. As the film Troy shows, Trojan War narratives still tend to pivot on Helen and her tempestuous romance with Paris.
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This, of course, fits into a much wider historical picture, in which women and their bodies have been used as a trope through which to explore issues such as warfare, violence and temptation — in some ways, she is another Eve, a temptress who led the great men of the day astray and set the Near East on fire. There have been echoes of this throughout time, from medieval witches being blamed — and burned — for corrupting society to the recent debate over the burkini ban in France.
In succumbing to the narrative of Helen and her role in the bloodshed, we also miss the opportunity to explore more fruitful lines of inquiry. 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.
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