Helen’s Consent: A Scholion on the Difference between the Iliad and the Odyssey

Homer, Iliad 2.350–356

“I say that the over-powering son of Kronos assented
On that day when the Argives took to the fast-faring ships
Bringing murder and death to the Trojans,
Showing clear and favorable signs by flashing lightning.
So let no one be compelled to return home,
Before each one has taken a Trojan wife to bed
As payback for the struggles and moans of Helen”

φημὶ γὰρ οὖν κατανεῦσαι ὑπερμενέα Κρονίωνα
ἤματι τῷ ὅτε νηυσὶν ἐν ὠκυπόροισιν ἔβαινον
᾿Αργεῖοι Τρώεσσι φόνον καὶ κῆρα φέροντες
ἀστράπτων ἐπιδέξι’ ἐναίσιμα σήματα φαίνων.
τὼ μή τις πρὶν ἐπειγέσθω οἶκον δὲ νέεσθαι
πρίν τινα πὰρ Τρώων ἀλόχῳ κατακοιμηθῆναι,
τίσασθαι δ’ ῾Ελένης ὁρμήματά τε στοναχάς τε.

Schol. A ad Hom. Il. 2.356ex

[To pay back the struggles and moans of Helen]: “The separatists say that the poet of the Iliad presents Helen as enduring it badly and groaning because of the trauma of rape by Alexander while the poet of the Odyssey presents her as willing.

This is because they do not understand that the account is not from her perspective, but that we need to understand that it is from outside her perspective, that she is the object. So, there is the interpretation that it is is necessary to take vengeance in exchange for how we have groaned and suffered about Helen.”

τίσασθαι δ’ ῾Ελένης <ὁρμήματά τε στοναχάς τε>: πρὸς τοὺς Χωρίζοντας· ἔφασαν (fr. 1 K.) γὰρ τὸν μὲν τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος ποιητὴν δυσανασχετοῦσαν συνιστάνειν καὶ στένουσαν διὰ τὸ βίᾳ  ἀπῆχθαι ὑπὸ τοῦ ᾿Αλεξάνδρου, τὸν δὲ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας ἑκοῦσαν, οὐ νοοῦντες ὅτι οὐκ ἔστιν ἐπ’ αὐτῆς ὁ λόγος, ἀλλ’ ἔξωθεν πρόθεσιν τὴν περί δεῖ λαβεῖν, ἵν’ ᾖ περὶ ῾Ελένης. καὶ ἔστιν ὁ λόγος, τιμωρίαν λαβεῖν ἀνθ’ ὧν ἐστενάξαμεν καὶ ἐμεριμνήσαμεν περὶ ῾Ελένης· παραλειπτικὸς γὰρ προθέσεών ἐστιν ὁ ποιητής.

The debate here, then, seems to be whether Helen is the actor behind the ὁρμήματά τε στοναχάς τε or the reason the ὁρμήματά τε στοναχάς τε are experienced by others. What I find more interesting in this passage is the assertion that ancient scholars split the authorship of the epics based on whether Helen seems a willing participant or not. Also not to be overlooked here: Nestor is rallying the troops by telling them they won’t go home until each of them “lies alongside” (κατακοιμηθῆναι) a wife of a Trojan.

(Most of our information about the separatists comes from scholia attributed to Aristarchus. There are eleven direct mentions of the scholiasts in Erbse’s edition.)

File:Helen of Sparta boards a ship for Troy fresco from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii.jpg
Fresco from Pompeii, Helen Boards the Ship to Troy

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