Fragmentary Friday: Odysseus’ Weak Wooing of Helen

Hesiodic Catalogue of Women, Fr. 198 MW (=154C Most) 2-9

“From Ithaca the sacred force of Odysseus came to woo,
The son of Laertes who knows many well made plans.
He did not ever send any gifts for the thin-ankled girl,
For he knew in his heart that fair Menelaos would conquer
For he was the best of Achaeans in wealth.
But he sent messages to Sparta, always,
To horse-taming Kastor and prize-winning Polydeukes

ἐκ δ’ ᾿Ιθάκης ἐμνᾶτο ᾿Οδυσσῆος ἱερὴ ἴς,
υἱὸς Λαέρταο πολύκροτα μήδεα εἰδώς.
δῶρα μὲν οὔ ποτ’ ἔπεμπε τανισφύρου εἵνεκα κούρης·
ἤιδεε γὰρ κατὰ θυμὸν ὅτι ξανθὸς Μενέλαος
νικήσει, κτήνωι γὰρ ᾿Αχαιῶν φέρτατος ἦεν·
ἀγγελίην δ’ αἰεὶ Λακεδαίμονάδε προΐαλλεν
Κάστορί θ̣’ ἱπποδάμ̣ω̣ι̣ καὶ ἀεθλοφόρωι Πολυδεύκει.


Some of the longer fragments of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women deal with the wooing of Helen. While later traditions offer various explanations for why Menelaos prevailed, several fragments isolate one feature of her future bridegroom:

Hesiod, Fr.204 85-57

“But everyone
The son of Atreus, war-loving Menelaus conquered
Because he brought the most [gifts]….”
… ἀλ̣λ̣’ ἄ̣[ρα πάντας
᾿Ατρε[ίδ]ης ν̣[ίκησε]ν ἀρηΐφιλος Μενέλαος
πλεῖ̣[στ]α πορών…

Hes. Fr. 203

“The Olympian gave bravery to the descendants of Aiakos,
Brains to the offspring of Amythaon, and wealth to the sons of Atreus.”

ἀλκὴν μὲν γὰρ ἔδωκεν ᾿Ολύμπιος Αἰακίδηισι,
νοῦν δ’ ᾿Αμυθαονίδαις, πλοῦτον δ’ ἔπορ’ ᾿Ατρεΐδηισι.

Aiakos was the father of Peleus and Telamon, making him the grandfather of Achilles and Ajax. The descendants of Amythaon were prophets through his son Melampous. The sons of Atreus were Agamemnon and Menelaos.

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