“UNHAPPILY EVER AFTER?” THE PROBLEM OF HELEN IN ODYSSEY 4

A. Doyle

Abstract


Book 4 of Homer’s Odyssey contains two μύθοι (stories) which reveal two, different “Helens”: the first “Helen” is a self-portrait, Helen tells her guests a story about her encounter with Odysseus at Troy. The second “Helen” is revealed in a counter story told straight after hers by her husband Menelaus. This counter tale reveals how Helen nearly succeeded in betraying the Greek soldiers hidden in the Trojan horse. In Helen’s story, she saves Odysseus’ life and her silence and complicity result in Trojan losses. In Menelaus’ story she threatens Odysseus’ life as well as those others hidden inside the Horse almost bringing about the downfall of the Greeks and the victory of the Trojans and thus reversing the outcome of the Trojan War.

The questions to be asked are these: what is the purpose of these two portrayals of Helen? Indeed what is Helen doing in the Odyssey at all, after all, “The Iliad was Helen’s poem; the Odyssey is Penelope’s”?1 Why are we given this glimpse into the unquiet life of the reunited husband and wife and what does it portend, if anything, for the homecoming of Odysseus and his reunion with Penelope? This article examines the House of Sparta episode, and in particular its “Helen” stories, in an attempt to answer the above questions.


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7445/55-0-13

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ISSN 2079-2883 (online); ISSN 0303-1896 (print)

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