The Cause of All Great Wars

To follow up yesterday’s post about Helen’s Consent

Athenaios, Deipnosophists, 13, 10, 560b

“[It is clear] that the greatest wars also happened because of women. The Trojan War happened because of Helen; the Plague because of Chryseis; Achilles’ rage because of Briseis; and the War called the Sacred War, as Duris claims in the second book of his histories, by another married woman from Thebes who was kidnapped by some Phocian. This war also lasted ten years and in the tenth when Philip allied himself with the Thebes it ended. Then the Thebans took and held Phokis.”

… ὅτι καὶ οἱ μέγιστοι πόλεμοι διὰ γυναῖκας ἐγένοντο· ὁ ᾽Ιλιακὸς δι᾽ ῾Ελένην, ὁ λοιμὸς διὰ Χρυσηίδα, ᾽Αχιλλέως μῆνις διὰ Βρισηίδα· καὶ ὁ ἱερὸς δὲ καλούμενος πόλεμος δι᾽ ἑτέραν γαμετήν, φησὶν Δοῦρις ἐν δευτέραι ῾Ιστοριῶν, Θηβαίαν γένος, ὄνομα Θεανώ, ἁρπασθεῖσαν ὑπὸ Φωκέως τινός. δεκαετὴς δὲ καὶ οὗτος γενόμενος τῶι δεκάτωι ἔτει Φιλίππου συμμαχήσαντος πέρας ἐσχεν· τότε γὰρ εἷλον οἱ Θηβαῖοι τὴν Φωκίδα.

Herodotus, 1.2-4

“This is how the Persians say that Io came to Egypt—and not the story the Greeks tell—and this was the first transgression. After that, they claim some Greeks—and they can’t name them—went to Tyre and kidnapped Europê, the daughter of the king. These men would have been Cretans. At this point, the score was even. But then the Greeks were at fault for a second crime. For the Greeks sailed in a great ship to Aia, the Kolkhian, city and to the river Phasis.

Once they finished why they went there, they left, but they also kidnapped Medea, the king’s daughter. When the king sent a herald to Greece demanding recompense for the abduction and asking for his daughter to be returned, the Greeks answered that they would give nothing to the Kolhkians since they had not received anything for the abduction of Io.

In the next generation after that, they say that Priam’s son Alexandros, once he heard about these things, wanted to steal a wife for himself from Greece because he was absolutely certain he would face no penalties since the earlier men hadn’t. When he kidnapped Helen as he did, it seemed right at first for the Greeks to send messengers to demand her return and recompense for the abduction. When the Greeks made these demands, the Trojans brought up the abduction of Medeia and the fact that the Greeks were demanding from others the very things they themselves were not willing to give or repay.

Up to that point of time, the whole matter was only kidnapping on either side. But the Greeks were more to blame after this since they were the first to lead an army to Asia before anyone led one against Europe. As the Persians claim, they believe it is the work of unjust men to kidnap women, but the act of fools to rush off to avenge women who have been abducted. Wise men have no time for raped women, since it is clear they they would not have been abducted if they had not been willing themselves.

They claim that the men of Asia make no big deal when women are abducted while the Greeks, all because of one Lakedaimonian woman, raised a great army, went to Asia, and destroyed Priam’s power. Since that time, they consider Greece their enemy.”

οὕτω μὲν Ἰοῦν ἐς Αἴγυπτον ἀπικέσθαι λέγουσι Πέρσαι, οὐκ ὡς Ἕλληνές, καὶ τῶν ἀδικημάτων πρῶτον τοῦτο ἄρξαι. μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα Ἑλλήνων τινάς οὐ γὰρ ἔχουσι τοὔνομα ἀπηγήσασθαι φασὶ τῆς Φοινίκης ἐς Τύρονπροσσχόντας ἁρπάσαι τοῦ βασιλέος τὴν θυγατέρα Εὐρώπην. εἴησαν δ᾽ ἄνοὗτοι Κρῆτες. ταῦτα μὲν δὴ ἴσα πρὸς ἴσα σφι γενέσθαι, μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα Ἕλληνας αἰτίους τῆς δευτέρης ἀδικίης γενέσθαι: [2] καταπλώσαντας γὰρμακρῇ νηί ἐς Αἶαν τε τὴν Κολχίδα καὶ ἐπὶ Φᾶσιν ποταμόν, ἐνθεῦτεν, διαπρηξαμένους καὶ τἄλλα τῶν εἵνεκεν ἀπίκατο, ἁρπάσαι τοῦ βασιλέος τὴν θυγατέρα Μηδείην. [3] πέμψαντά δὲ τὸν Κόλχων βασιλέα ἐς τὴν Ἑλλάδα κήρυκα αἰτέειν τε δίκας τῆς ἁρπαγῆς καὶ ἀπαιτέειν τὴν θυγατέρα.τοὺς δὲ ὑποκρίνασθαι ὡς οὐδὲ ἐκεῖνοι Ἰοῦς τῆς Ἀργείης ἔδοσάν σφι δίκαςτῆς ἁρπαγῆς: οὐδὲ ὤν αὐτοὶ δώσειν ἐκείνοισι.

δευτέρῃ δὲ λέγουσι γενεῇ μετὰ ταῦτα Ἀλέξανδρον τὸν Πριάμου, ἀκηκοόταταῦτα, ἐθελῆσαί οἱ ἐκ τῆς Ἑλλάδος δι᾽ ἁρπαγῆς γενέσθαι γυναῖκα, ἐπιστάμενον πάντως ὅτι οὐ δώσει δίκας. οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐκείνους διδόναι. [2]οὕτω δὴ ἁρπάσαντος αὐτοῦ Ἑλένην, τοῖσι Ἕλλησι δόξαι πρῶτὸνπέμψαντας ἀγγέλους ἀπαιτέειν τε Ἑλένην καὶ δίκας τῆς ἁρπαγῆς αἰτέειν. τοὺς δέ, προϊσχομένων ταῦτα, προφέρειν σφι Μηδείης τὴν ἁρπαγήν, ὡς οὐδόντες αὐτοὶ δίκας οὐδὲ ἐκδόντες ἀπαιτεόντων βουλοίατό σφι παρ᾽ ἄλλωνδίκας γίνεσθαι.

μέχρι μὲν ὤν τούτου ἁρπαγάς μούνας εἶναι παρ᾽ ἀλλήλων, τὸ δὲ ἀπὸτούτου Ἕλληνας δὴ μεγάλως αἰτίους γενέσθαι: προτέρους γὰρ ἄρξαι στρατεύεσθαι ἐς τὴν Ἀσίην ἢ σφέας ἐς τὴν Εὐρώπην. [2] τὸ μέν νυνἁρπάζειν γυναῖκας ἀνδρῶν ἀδίκων νομίζειν ἔργον εἶναι, τὸ δὲἁρπασθεισέων σπουδήν ποιήσασθαι τιμωρέειν ἀνοήτων, τὸ δὲ μηδεμίανὤρην ἔχειν ἁρπασθεισέων σωφρόνων: δῆλα γὰρ δὴ ὅτι, εἰ μὴ αὐταὶἐβούλοντο, οὐκ ἂν ἡρπάζοντο. [3] σφέας μὲν δὴ τοὺς ἐκ τῆς Ἀσίης λέγουσιΠέρσαι ἁρπαζομενέων τῶν γυναικῶν λόγον οὐδένα ποιήσασθαι, Ἕλληναςδὲ Λακεδαιμονίης εἵνεκεν γυναικὸς στόλον μέγαν συναγεῖραι καὶ ἔπειταἐλθόντας ἐς τὴν Ἀσίην τὴν Πριάμου δύναμιν κατελεῖν. [4] ἀπὸ τούτου αἰεὶἡγήσασθαι τὸ Ἑλληνικὸν σφίσι εἶναι πολέμιον.

Note: much of the language in this passage referring to abduction and kidnapping could also be translated as rape. I left the language more anodyne to reflect what seems to be Herodotus’ own dismissal or ignorance of the women’s experience.

File:Helen of Sparta boards a ship for Troy fresco from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii.jpg
Helen boards a boat: House of the Tragic Poet, Pompei

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