This semester I am reading Euripides’ Helen with my advanced Greek students. The opening speech presents Helen herself on stage retelling the “alternate-fact” version of the Trojan War (told as well by Stesichorus and Herodotus) that she herself never went to Troy. This monologue is pretty amusing, both for the plays of meaning presented within it and the playful treatment of the Trojan War tradition.
“The land of my father is not nameless,
Sparta, nor my father Tyndareus. And, indeed, there is
a certain story that Zeus flew to my mother Leda
after he took the form of a swan, a bird,
when he completed this ‘bedding’ deceptively
under the pretext of fleeing an eagle, if the story is true.
I am called Helen. And I should tell you the evils
I have suffered. Three goddesses went to the folds
O Mt. Ida to Alexander about their beauty,
Hera, the Kyprian, and the Zeus-born maiden,
Because they wanted him to complete a judgement of their ‘form’.
My beauty–if misfortune is beautiful–
Is what the Kyprian offered, for Alexander to marry,
In order to win. After Idaian Paris left the cow-stall
He went to Sparta seeking my bed.
But Hera, miffed because she did not defeat the goddesses,
Made my bed with Alexander an empty thing.
She did not give me, but instead, she made
A breathing ghost like me, crafting it from the sky,
For tyrant Priam’s son. He seemed to have me,
And it was an empty thing, because he did not have me….”
ἡμῖν δὲ γῆ μὲν πατρὶς οὐκ ἀνώνυμος
Σπάρτη, πατὴρ δὲ Τυνδάρεως· ἔστιν δὲ δὴ
λόγος τις ὡς Ζεὺς μητέρ’ ἔπτατ’ εἰς ἐμὴν
Λήδαν κύκνου μορφώματ’ ὄρνιθος λαβών,
ὃς δόλιον εὐνὴν ἐξέπραξ’ ὑπ’ αἰετοῦ
δίωγμα φεύγων, εἰ σαφὴς οὗτος λόγος·
῾Ελένη δ’ ἐκλήθην. ἃ δὲ πεπόνθαμεν κακὰ
λέγοιμ’ ἄν. ἦλθον τρεῖς θεαὶ κάλλους πέρι
᾿Ιδαῖον ἐς κευθμῶν’ ᾿Αλέξανδρον πάρα,
῞Ηρα Κύπρις τε διογενής τε παρθένος,
μορφῆς θέλουσαι διαπεράνασθαι κρίσιν.
τοὐμὸν δὲ κάλλος, εἰ καλὸν τὸ δυστυχές,
Κύπρις προτείνασ’ ὡς ᾿Αλέξανδρος γαμεῖ,
νικᾶι. λιπὼν δὲ βούσταθμ’ ᾿Ιδαῖος Πάρις
Σπάρτην ἀφίκεθ’ ὡς ἐμὸν σχήσων λέχος.
῞Ηρα δὲ μεμφθεῖσ’ οὕνεκ’ οὐ νικᾶι θεὰς
ἐξηνέμωσε τἄμ’ ᾿Αλεξάνδρωι λέχη,
δίδωσι δ’ οὐκ ἔμ’ ἀλλ’ ὁμοιώσασ’ ἐμοὶ
εἴδωλον ἔμπνουν οὐρανοῦ ξυνθεῖσ’ ἄπο
Πριάμου τυράννου παιδί· καὶ δοκεῖ μ’ ἔχειν,
κενὴν δόκησιν, οὐκ ἔχων….
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