Fathers Who Cheat Have Daughters Who Cheat: On Helen and Clytemnestra

Ever wondered why Helen left Menelaos or why her sister cheated on Agamemnon (other than the obvious)? Ancient poetry traced it back to a sin of their father: Schol. Ad Euripides’ Orestes 249):

“Stesichorus says that when Tyndareus was sacrificing to the gods he overlooked Aphrodite. For this reason, the angry goddess made his daughters thrice and twice married abandoners of husbands. The segment reads like this:

“Because when Tyndareus was sacrificing to all the gods
He neglected only the gentle-giving Kyprian
She was enraged and she made the daughters of Tyndareus
Twice and thrice married deserters of husbands.”

A fragment of Hesiod agrees with this (fr. 176):

“Smile-loving Aphrodite
Was enraged when she saw them: then she hung bad fame upon them.
After that, Timandra abandoned Ekhemos and left;
She went to Phyleus who was dear to the holy gods.
And so Klytemnestra abandoned shining Agamemnon
To lie alongside Aigisthos as she chose a lesser husband;
In the same way, Helen shamed the marriage-bed of fair Menelaos…”

Στησίχορός φησιν ὡς θύων τοῖς θεοῖς Τυνδάρεως ᾿Αφροδίτης ἐπελάθετο• διὸ ὀργισθεῖσαν τὴν θεὸν διγάμους τε καὶ τριγάμους καὶ λειψάνδρους αὐτοῦ τὰς θυγατέρας ποιῆσαι. ἔχει δὲ ἡ χρῆσις οὕτως [frg. 26]•
‘οὕνεκά ποτε Τυνδάρεως
ῥέζων πᾶσι θεοῖς μόνης λάθετ’ ἠπιοδώρου
Κύπριδος, κείνα δὲ Τυνδάρεω κούραις
χολωσαμένη διγάμους τε καὶ τριγάμους τίθησι
καὶ λιπεσάνορας’.

καὶ ῾Ησίοδος δέ [frg. 117]•
τῆισιν δὲ φιλομμειδὴς ᾿Αφροδίτη
ἠγάσθη προσιδοῦσα, κακῆι δέ σφ’ ἔμβαλε φήμηι.
Τιμάνδρη μὲν ἔπειτ’ ῎Εχεμον προλιποῦσ’ ἐβεβήκει,
ἵκετο δ’ ἐς Φυλῆα φίλον μακάρεσσι θεοῖσιν•
ὣς δὲ Κλυταιμνήστρη <προ>λιποῦσ’ ᾿Αγαμέμνονα δῖον
Αἰγίσθῳ παρέλεκτο, καὶ εἵλετο χείρον’ ἀκοίτην.
ὣς δ’ ῾Ελένη ᾔσχυνε λέχος ξανθοῦ Μενελάου…

This passage provides an explanation for why the daughters of Tyndareus—Helen and Andromache—were unfaithful: it was Aphrodite’s game from the beginning because their father did not worship her correctly. A few interesting aspects here: first, Helen is “thrice-married” because after Paris dies, she marries Deiphobus (although some accounts associate her with Theseus too). Second, Hesiod’s fragmentary poems seems to be in the process of cataloging women who leave their husbands.

The first woman in the tale is Timandra, who, according to only this passage, was a third daughter of Tyndareus who left her husband Ekhemos, a king of Arcadia. They had a son together, named Leodocus before she eloped with Phyleus. In another fragment from Hesiod (fr. 23) we learn more about the family of Tyndareus and Leda:

“After climbing into the lush bed of Tyndareus
Well-tressed Leda, as fair as the rays of the moon,
Gave birth to Timandra, cow-eyed Klytemnestra,
And Phylonoe whose body was most like the immortal goddesses.
Her…the arrow bearing goddesss
Made immortal and ageless for all days.”

ἣ μὲν [Τυνδαρέου θαλερὸν λέχο]ς εἰσαναβᾶσα
Λήδη ἐ̣[υπλόκαμος ἰκέλη φαέεσσ]ι σελήνης
γείνατ[ο Τιμάνδρην τε Κλυταιμήστρ]ην τε βοῶπ[ιν
Φυλο̣[νόην θ’ ἣ εἶδος ἐρήριστ’ ἀθαν]άτηισι.
τ̣ὴ̣ν[ ἰο]χέαιρα,
θῆκ[εν δ’ ἀθάνατον καὶ ἀγήραον ἤ]ματα πάντ̣[α. (7-12)

Later on in the same fragment –after hearing about the marriage and children of Klytemnestra—we learn about Timandra:

“Ekhemos made Timandra his blooming wife,
The man who was the lord of all Tegea and Arcadia, wealthy in sheep,
A rich man who was dear to the gods.
She bore to him Laodakos, the horse-taming shepherd of the host,
After she was subdued by golden Aphrodite.”

Τιμάνδρην δ’ ῎Εχεμος θαλερὴν ποιήσατ’ ἄκοιτιν,
ὃς πάσης Τεγ[έης ἠδ’ ᾿Αρκαδίης] πολυμήλου
ἀφνειὸς ἤνασ[σε, φίλος μακάρεσσι θ]ε̣ο[ῖ]σ̣ιν•
ἥ οἱ Λαόδοκον̣ μ[εγαλήτορα ποιμέν]α̣ λαῶν
γ]είνα[θ]’ ὑποδμη[θεῖσα διὰ] χρυσῆν ᾿Αφ[ροδίτην (28-31)

This section of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women seems to be mentioning only Leda’s children with Tyndareus and not those possibly fathered by Zeus (Helen, Kastor, Polydeukes). But we hear nothing of the future of Leda’s attractive daughter Phylonoe (also spelled Philonoe) other than that Artemis made her immortal. The ancient sources? Nothing at all to explain this.

Here’s what Apollodorus has to say about the sisters (3.126):

“The sons of Ikarios and the Naiad nymph Periboia were Thoas, Damasippos, Imeusimos, Aletes, Perileôs, and a daughter Penelope, whom Odysseus married. Tyndareus and Lêda had Timandra, whom Ekhemos married, and Klytemnestra, whom Agamemnon married, and also Pylonoê, whom Artemis made immortal.”

᾿Ικαρίου μὲν οὖν καὶ Περιβοίας νύμφης νηίδος Θόας Δαμάσιππος ᾿Ιμεύσιμος ᾿Αλήτης Περίλεως, καὶ θυγάτηρ Πηνελόπη, ἣν ἔγημεν ᾿Οδυσσεύς· Τυνδάρεω δὲ καὶ

Λήδας Τιμάνδρα, ἣν ῎Εχεμος ἔγημε, καὶ Κλυταιμνήστρα, ἣν ἔγημεν ᾿Αγαμέμνων, ἔτι τε Φυλονόη, ἣν ῎Αρτεμις ἀθάνατον ἐποίησε.

Apart from the appearance in the fragment from Hesiod, the only other mention of Phylonoê in classical literature is in the work of the early Christian philosopher and apologist, Athenagoras of Athens (3rd Century CE) who wrote works to Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus defending Christianity.

In his Legativo sive Suppliatio pro Christianis he writes of how to foreigners it may seem laughable if “a Lakedaimonian honors Zeus-Agamemnon or Phylonoê, the daughter of Tyndareus.” (ὁ δὲ Λακεδαιμόνιος ᾿Αγαμέμνονα Δία καὶ Φυλονόην τὴν Τυνδάρεω θυγατέρα καὶ τεννηνοδίαν † σέβει, 1.1.6).

But there is no other information about why Phylonoê was made immortal or what her cult-rites (if they existed were like).  Now, given the motifs usually associated with Artemis and the story told by Hesiod about the daughters of Tyndareus and their curse, the following scenario is possible. Perhaps Phylonoê, conscious of the curse, dedicated herself to Artemis and was saved from her sisters’ fate before her first marriage.

If we return to that passage from Hesiod (fr. 23) we can see just how much is reconstructed. Below is the text with and without the supplements

ἣ μὲν [Τυνδαρέου θαλερὸν λέχο]ς εἰσαναβᾶσα                     7
Λήδη ἐ̣[υπλόκαμος ἰκέλη φαέεσσ]ι σελήνης                        8
γείνατ[ο Τιμάνδρην τε Κλυταιμήστρ]ην τε βοῶπ[ιν              9
Φυλο̣[νόην θ’ ἣ εἶδος ἐρήριστ’ ἀθαν]άτηισι.                     10
τ̣ὴ̣ν[                             ἰο]χέαιρα,                    11
θῆκ[εν δ’ ἀθάνατον καὶ ἀγήραον ἤ]ματα πάντ̣[α.                 12

ἣ μὲν [                                               ]ς εἰσαναβᾶσα                     7
Λήδη ἐ̣[                                              ]ι σελήνης                         8
γείνατ[                                              ]ην τε βοῶπ[ιν                     9
Φυλο̣[                                                 ]άτηισι.                           10
τ̣ὴ̣ν[                             ἰο]χέαιρα,                                              11
θῆκ[                                                   ]ματα πάντ̣[α.                     12

 

It is clear that without the passage from Apollodorus and the slight bit from Athenagoras, there wouldn’t be too much to go on here. The reconstruction of line 12 seems fairly safe based on the classic formula used there (note line 24 in the same fragment: θῆκεν δ’ ἀθάνατο[ν καὶ ἀγήρ]αον ἤμα[τα πάντα). Line seven is a rather decent restoration based on Leda in the next line. Line 11 seems like I might need at least a name for the goddess (although, this is not necessary, see line 21 in the same fragment: εἴδω[λον· αὐτὴν δ’ ἐλαφηβό]λο̣ς ἰοχέαιρα) leaving room for some allusion to what transpired to earn Phylonoê immortality.

But the whole passage seems a bit strange to me because it proceeds with a mirrored catalogue: the daughters are listed (A) Timandra, (B) Klytemnestra and (C) Phylonoê. The following elaborations are (C) Pholonoê 10-12, (B) Klytemnestra, 13-30, (A) Timandra, 31-36. This puts the most elaborated story in the middle, as well as offering a mirrored tale. I need to think more about this and talk to those who know more than I do, but this passage and its story is one of the few things from classical myth that doesn’t seem to have even a feeble explanation.

3 thoughts on “Fathers Who Cheat Have Daughters Who Cheat: On Helen and Clytemnestra

  1. Virgil T. Morant

    On the matter of feeblest of explanations, it is interesting to note that St. Athenagoras of Athens (the Apologist, as we call him), I have just learned, while commemorated in the hagiography of the Orthodox Church, has no biographical note on the Greek Orthodox Web site (which is that of my own Archdiocese): <http://www.goarch.org/chapel/main_view?D=7/24/2016&gt;. Yet no man remembered that same poor man, I suppose. Well, I myself should have to consider the pagan sources here a bit more, but anyway I found the Orthodox Christian connection interesting.

  2. palaiophron

    Heads up – you have Andromache listed as one of Tyndareus’ daughters: “This passage provides an explanation for why the daughters of Tyndareus—Helen and ***Andromache***—were unfaithful…”

    Your suggestion that Phylonoe was saved by devoting herself to Artemis may have something to it, as it is consistent with the theme throughout the myths that Aphrodite and Artemis are, in effect, opposing forces. I am thinking, in particular, about Hippolytus’ devotion to Artemis which so provokes Aphrodite’s rage. But other than some this idle observation, I find the problem to be a real stumper!

  3. Pingback: Classical Mythology, Day 15 – Classical Mythology

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