Achilles Missed out on Helen Because He Was At School (Hes. Cat. fr. 204.86-93)

The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women tells the story of of Helen’s suitors, explaining that Menelaos won Helen’s hand because of the magnitude of his wealth. The fragment, however, does not stop there. No! It has to explain why Achilles didn’t win Helen’s hand:

Fr. 204.86-93

“Atreus’ war-loving son Menelaos conquered everyone
Because he gave the most gifts. Kheiron took Peleus’ son
of swift feet to wooded Pelion, that most exceptional of men,
when he was still a child. War-loving Menelaos wouldn’t have defeated him
nor would any other Mortal man on the earth who was wooing
Helen if swift Achilles had come upon her when she was still a maiden
As he returned home from Pelion.
But, as it turned out, war-loving Menelaos got her first.”

᾿Ατρε[ίδ]ης ν̣[ίκησε]ν ἀρηΐφιλος Μενέλαος
πλεῖ̣[στ]α πορών. Χε̣ί̣ρων δ’ ἐν Πηλίωι ὑλήεντι
Πηλείδην ἐκ̣ό̣μιζε πόδας ταχύν, ἔξοχον ἀνδρῶν,
παῖδ’ ἔτ’ ἐόν[τ’·] οὐ γάρ μιν ἀρηΐφιλος Μενέλαος
νίκησ’ οὐδέ τις ἄλλος ἐπιχθονίων ἀνθρώπων
μνηστεύων ῾Ελένην, εἴ μιν κίχε παρθένον οὖσαν
οἴκαδε νοστήσας ἐκ Πηλίου ὠκὺς ᾿Αχιλλεύς.
ἀλλ’ ἄρα τὴν πρίν γ’ ἔσχεν ἀρηΐφιλος Μενέλαος·

In other traditions Achilles actually is a suitor. (Pausanias 3.24; Euripides’, Helen 98-99; see Ormand, The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women and Archaic Greece, 2014, 149-150 and 198-201). Hesiod, however, finds it necessary to explain why he is sidelined from this game…

Black figure vase. Achilles, as a boy with a dog, between his father Peleus and the centaur Cheiron
eleus (left) entrusts his son Achilles (centre) to Centaur Chiron (right). White-ground black-figured lekythos by the Edinburgh Painter, ca. 500 BC. From Eretria. National Archaeological Museum in Athens, 1150.


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