Helen’s Serving Girl Wrote the First Greek Sex Manual

 

I received the first passage this morning as a gift from one of my students. I am so very proud.

From the Suda

Astuanassa: A handmaid of Helen, Menelaos’ wife. She first discovered positions for intercourse and wrote On Sexual Positions. Philainis and Elephantinê rivaled her in this later—they were women who danced out these sorts of wanton acts.

Ἀστυάνασσα, Ἑλένης τῆς Μενελάου θεράπαινα: ἥτις πρώτη τὰς ἐν τῇ συνουσίᾳ κατακλίσεις εὗρε καὶ ἔγραψε περὶ σχημάτων συνουσιαστικῶν: ἣν ὕστερον παρεζήλωσαν Φιλαινὶς καὶ Ἐλεφαντίνη, αἱ τὰ τοιαῦτα ἐξορχησάμεναι ἀσελγήματα.

Photius Bibl. 190.149a 27-30

We have learned about this embroidered girdle, that Hera took it from Aphrodite and gave it to Helen. Her handmaid Astuanassa stole it but Aphrodite took it back from her again.

Περὶ τοῦ κεστοῦ ἱμάντος ὡς λάβοιμὲν αὐτὸν ῞Ηρα παρὰ ᾿Αφροδίτης, δοίη δ’ ῾Ελένῃ, κλέψοι δ’ αὐτὸν ἡ ῾Ελένης θεράπαινα ᾿Αστυάνασσα, ἀφέλοι δ’ αὐτὸν ἐξ αὐτῆς πάλιν ᾿Αφροδίτη.

Hesychius, sv. Astuanassa

Astuanassa: A handmaiden of Helen and the first to discover Aphrodite and her licentious positions.

᾿Αστυάνασσα· ῾Ελένης θεράπαινα ἥτις πρώτη ἐξεῦρεν ᾿Αφροδίτην καὶ ἀκόλαστα σχήματα

Image result for Ancient Greek Helen vase

As is largely unsurprising from the perspective of Greek misogyny, excessive interest in sexual behavior is projected a female quality. Expertise beyond interest is made the province of female ‘professionals’ (slaves) who may act as scapegoats and marginal figures for the corruption of both men and women. There is a combination of such interest with an excessive emphasis on eating (and eating really well) in Athenaeus where the pleasures of the body are combined.

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 8.335c

“Dear men, even though I have great admiration for Chrysippus as the leader of the Stoa, I praise him even more because he ranks Arkhestratos, well-known for his Science of Cooking along with Philainis who is credited with a licentious screed about sexual matters—even though the iambic poet of Samos, Aiskhriôn, claims that Polycrates the sophist started this slander of her when she was really quite chaste. The lines go like this:

“I, Philainis, circulated among men
Lie here thanks to great old age.
Don’t laugh, foolish sailor, as your trace the cape
Nor make me a target of mockery or insult
For, by Zeus and his sons in Hell
I was never a slut with men nor a public whore.
Polykrates, Athenian by birth,
A bit clever with words and with a nasty tongue,
Wrote what he wrote. I don’t know anything about it.”

But the most amazing Chrysippus combines in the fifth book of his On Goodness and Pleasure that both “the books of Philianis and the Gastronomiai of Arkhestratos and forces of erotic and sexual nature, and in the same way slave-girls who are expert at these kinds of movements and positions and who are engaged in their practice.” He adds that they learn this type of material completely and then thoroughly possess what has been written on these topics by Philainis and Arkhestratos and those who have written on similar topics. Similarly, in his seventh book, he says ‘As you cannot wholly learn the works of Philianis and Arkhestratos’ Gastronomia because they do have something to offer for living better.’ “

Χρύσιππον δ᾿, ἄνδρες φίλοι, τὸν τῆς στοᾶς ἡγεμόνα κατὰ πολλὰ θαυμάζων ἔτι μᾶλλον ἐπαινῶ τὸν πολυθρύλητον ἐπὶ τῇ Ὀψολογίᾳ Ἀρχέστρατον αἰεί ποτε μετὰ Φιλαινίδος κατατάττοντα, εἰς ἣν ἀναφέρεται τὸ περὶ ἀφροδισίων ἀκόλαστον cσύγγραμμα, ὅπερ φησὶ | ποιῆσαι Αἰσχρίων ὁ Σάμιος ἰαμβοποιὸς Πολυκράτη τὸν σοφιστὴν ἐπὶ διαβολῇ τῆς ἀνθρώπου σωφρονεστάτης γενομένης. ἔχει δὲ οὕτως τὰ ἰαμβεῖα·

ἐγὼ Φιλαινὶς ἡ ᾿πίβωτος ἀνθρώποις
ἐνταῦθα γήρᾳ τῷ μακρῷ κεκοίμημαι.
μή μ᾿, ὦ μάταιε ναῦτα, τὴν ἄκραν κάμπτων
χλεύην τε ποιεῦ καὶ γέλωτα καὶ λάσθην.
ὐ γὰρ μὰ τὸν Ζῆν᾿, οὐ μὰ τοὺς κάτω κούρους, |
dοὐκ ἦν ἐς ἄνδρας μάχλος οὐδὲ δημώδης.
Πολυκράτης δὲ τὴν γενὴν Ἀθηναῖος,
λόγων τι παιπάλημα καὶ κακὴ γλῶσσα,
ἔγραψεν οἷ᾿ ἔγραψ᾿· ἐγὼ γὰρ οὐκ οἶδα.

ἀλλ᾿ οὖν ὅ γε θαυμασιώτατος Χρύσιππος ἐν τῷ πέμπτῳ Περὶ τοῦ Καλοῦ καὶ τῆς Ἡδονῆς φησι· καὶ βιβλία τά τε Φιλαινίδος καὶ τὴν τοῦ Ἀρχεστράτου Γαστρονομίαν καὶ δυνάμεις ἐρωτικὰς καὶ συνουσιαστικάς, ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ τὰς θεραπαίνας ἐμπείρους τοιῶνδε κινήσεών τε καὶ σχημάτων καὶ περὶ τὴν eτούτων μελέτην γινομένας. καὶ πάλιν· ἐκμανθάνειν | τ᾿ αὐτοὺς τὰ τοιαῦτα καὶ κτᾶσθαι τὰ περὶ τούτων γεγραμμένα Φιλαινίδι καὶ Ἀρχεστράτῳ καὶ τοῖς τὰ ὅμοια γράψασιν. κἀν τῷ ἑβδόμῳ δέ φησι· καθάπερ γὰρ οὐκ ἐκμανθάνειν τὰ Φιλαινίδος καὶ τὴν Ἀρχεστράτου Γαστρονομίαν ἔστιν ὡς φέροντά τι πρὸς τὸ ζῆν ἄμεινον.

Cities and Women With the Same Name: The Ever-Clever Menelaos

The scene: Menelaos has been shipwrecked in Egypt. He left Helen—the fake one sent to Troy before the beginning of the war—in a cave for safekeeping before coming to town. Outside the house of Proteus, he meets an old servant who tells him that Proeteus’ son is not home, but that Helen, Zeus’ daughter from Sparta, is inside. Menelaos is dumfounded.

Euripides, Helen 483–499

‘What am I saying? What can I say? I am learning
terrible troubles on top of my old ones.
If I brought my wife, captured from Troy,
When I came here and she is safe in a cave,
Then someone else has the same name as my wife
And lives in this house here.
But this old lady said that she is the child of Zeus.
Is there some dude named Zeus who lives
On the banks of the Nile? There’s only one in heaven.
Where on earth is there a Sparta except where
The steams flow from only one lovely-reeded Eurotas?

Does the famous Tyndareion name have a twin?
Is there any place with the same name as Lakedaimon
Or Troy? I don’t know what to say.
Many things, I guess, over the great earth
have the same names: cities named the same,
Women named the same. Nothing should be surprising.”

Με. τί φῶ; τί λέξω; συμφορὰς γὰρ ἀθλίας
ἐκ τῶν πάροιθε τὰς παρεστώσας κλύω,
εἰ τὴν μὲν αἱρεθεῖσαν ἐκ Τροίας ἄγων
ἥκω δάμαρτα καὶ κατ’ ἄντρα σώιζεται,
ὄνομα δὲ ταὐτὸν τῆς ἐμῆς ἔχουσά τις
δάμαρτος ἄλλη τοισίδ’ ἐνναίει δόμοις.
Διὸς δ’ ἔλεξε παῖδά νιν πεφυκέναι·
ἀλλ’ ἦ τις ἔστι Ζηνὸς ὄνομ’ ἔχων ἀνὴρ
Νείλου παρ’ ὄχθας; εἶς γὰρ ὅ γε κατ’ οὐρανόν.
Σπάρτη δὲ ποῦ γῆς ἐστι πλὴν ἵνα ῥοαὶ
τοῦ καλλιδόνακός εἰσιν Εὐρώτα μόνον;
διπλοῦν δὲ Τυνδάρειον ὄνομα κλήιζεται,
Λακεδαίμονος δὲ γαῖά τις ξυνώνυμος
Τροίας τ’; ἐγὼ μὲν οὐκ ἔχω τί χρὴ λέγειν.
πολλοὶ γάρ, ὡς εἴξασιν, ἐν πολλῆι χθονὶ
ὀνόματα ταὔτ’ ἔχουσι καὶ πόλις πόλει
γυνὴ γυναικί τ’· οὐδὲν οὖν θαυμαστέον.

Image result for Ancient Greek Menelaus

Everyone Lies about Helen

Gorgias, Defense of Helen 1-2

“Kosmos for a city is a good-population; for a body it is beauty; for a soul, wisdom. For a deed, excellence; and for a word, truth. The opposition of these things would be akosmia. It is right, on the one hand, to honor a man and a woman and a deed and a city and a deed worthy of praise with praise and to lay reproach on the unworthy. For it is equally mistaken and ignorant to rebuke the praiseworthy and praise things worthy of rebuke.

It is thus necessary for the same man to speak truly and refute those who reproach Helen, a woman about whom the belief from what the poets say and the fame of her name are univocal and single-minded, that memory of sufferings. I want, by giving some reckoning in speech, to relieve her of being badly spoken, and, once I demonstrate and show that those who reproach her are liars, to protect the truth from ignorance”

(1) Κόσμος πόλει μὲν εὐανδρία, σώματι δὲ κάλλος, ψυχῆι δὲ σοφία, πράγματι δὲ ἀρετή, λόγωι δὲ ἀλήθεια· τὰ δὲ ἐναντία τούτων ἀκοσμία. ἄνδρα δὲ καὶ γυναῖκα καὶ λόγον καὶ ἔργον καὶ πόλιν καὶ πρᾶγμα χρὴ τὸ μὲν ἄξιον ἐπαίνου ἐπαίνωι τιμᾶν, τῶι δὲ ἀναξίωι μῶμον ἐπιτιθέναι· ἴση γὰρ ἁμαρτία καὶ ἀμαθία μέμφεσθαί τε τὰ ἐπαινετὰ καὶ ἐπαινεῖν τὰ μωμητά.

(2) τοῦ δ’ αὐτοῦ ἀνδρὸς λέξαι τε τὸ δέον ὀρθῶς καὶ ἐλέγξαι *** τοὺς μεμφομένους ῾Ελένην, γυναῖκα περὶ ἧς ὁμόφωνος καὶ ὁμόψυχος γέγονεν ἥ τε τῶν ποιητῶν ἀκουσάντων πίστις ἥ τε τοῦ ὀνόματος φήμη, ὃ τῶν συμφορῶν μνήμη γέγονεν. ἐγὼ δὲ βούλομαι λογισμόν τινα τῶι λόγωι δοὺς τὴν μὲν κακῶς ἀκούουσαν παῦσαι τῆς αἰτίας, τοὺς δὲ μεμφομένους ψευδομένους ἐπιδείξας καὶ δείξας τἀληθὲς [ἢ] παῦσαι τῆς ἀμαθίας.

Image result for Ancient Greek Helen Vase

“A Contest of Steel Itself”: Untranslatable Euripides

For a few lines in the second choral ode from Euripides’ Helen, the fine Bryn Mawr Commentary (J. W. Ambrose and A. D. Wooley 1992) almost give up: “Virtually untranslatable.

BrynMawr

Here is the full passage where Helen sings (348-359)

Ελ. σὲ γὰρ ἐκάλεσα, σὲ δὲ κατόμοσα
τὸν ὑδρόεντι δόνακι χλωρὸν
Εὐρώταν, θανόντος
εἰ βάξις ἔτυμος ἀνδρὸς
†ἅδε μοι τί τάδ’ ἀσύνετα†,
φόνιον αἰώρημα
διὰ δέρας ὀρέξομαι,
ἢ ξιφοκτόνον διωγμὸν
αἱμορρύτου σφαγᾶς
αὐτοσίδαρον ἔσω πελάσω διὰ σαρκὸς ἅμιλλαν,
θῦμα τριζύγοις θεαῖσι
τῶι τε σήραγγας ῎Ι-
δας ἐνίζοντι Πριαμί-
δαι ποτ’ ἀμφὶ βουστάθμους.

“I call on you, I swear on you,
Eurotas, green with watery reed,
If the report of my husband dying
Is true—and how could I misunderstand these things?—
Then, I will stretch around my neck
A murderous noose.
Or, I will bring home
The sword-death mission
Of blood-flowing slaughter.
A contest of steel itself through my flesh,
A sacrifice to the three-yoked goddesses
And to Priam’s son sitting in the Idaian cave
Near the cow-folds.”

William Allan in his Cambridge commentary (2008) is a bit more circumspect:

Allan.jpg

Earlier, (in disputed lines, deleted for sense and propriety more than anything else) Helen compares forms of suicide (298-302). This passage seems to correspond well to the contemplation and expansion of slaughter above.

“It is best to die? How could I not die well?
Hanging high in the air is improper,
It is thought unmannerly even by slaves.
Stabbing has something noble and fine about it.
It is a short time to gain freedom from life”

[θανεῖν κράτιστον· πῶς θάνοιμ’ ἂν οὖν καλῶς;
ἀσχήμονες μὲν ἀγχόναι μετάρσιοι,
κἀν τοῖσι δούλοις δυσπρεπὲς νομίζεται·
σφαγαὶ δ’ ἔχουσιν εὐγενές τι καὶ καλόν,
σμικρὸν δ’ ὁ καιρὸς †ἄρτ’† ἀπαλλάξαι βίου.]

Image result for Ancient Greek Helen sculpture

“If Misfortune is Beautiful…” Helen on The Trojan War

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.

16–36

“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….

 

Attic red-figure krater c. 450–440 BC (ParisLouvre)

Destroyer, Born on the Ground, Pitiable: Etymologies for Helen

In a choral ode from Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, we find a folk etymology implied for Helen’s name. Where I have translated “killer”, the Greek has versions of the aorist of αἵρεω (εἶλον) which, without its augment looks like the beginning of Helen’s name (ἑλ-).

 Aeschylus, Agamemnon 684-696

“Whoever pronounced a name
So thoroughly true?
Wasn’t it someone we’d not see
Guiding the tongue with luck
From a foreknowledge of fate?
Who named the spear-bride,
Struggled-over woman
Helen?
For, appropriately,
That ship-killer [hele-nas], man-killer [hel-andros]
City-killer [hele-ptolis], sailed
From her fine-spun, curtains
On the breath of great Zephyr
and many-manned bands
Of shield-bearers followed
The vanished journey struck
By the oars to the banks
Of leafy Simois
For a bloody strife.”

Χο. τίς ποτ’ ὠνόμαξεν ὧδ’
ἐς τὸ πᾶν ἐτητύμως—
μή τις ὅντιν’ οὐχ ὁρῶ-
μεν προνοί-
αισι τοῦ πεπρωμένου
γλῶσσαν ἐν τύχᾳ νέμων; —τὰν
δορίγαμβρον ἀμφινεικῆ
θ’ ῾Ελέναν; ἐπεὶ πρεπόντως
ἑλένας, ἕλανδρος, ἑλέ-
πτολις, ἐκ τῶν ἁβροπήνων
προκαλυμμάτων ἔπλευσε
Ζεφύρου γίγαντος αὔρᾳ,
πολύανδροί
τε φεράσπιδες κυναγοὶ
κατ’ ἴχνος πλατᾶν ἄφαντον
κελσάντων Σιμόεντος
ἀκτὰς ἐπ’ ἀεξιφύλλους
δι’ ἔριν αἱματόεσσαν.

Ancient etymologies do not follow this Aeschylean play.

Etym. Gudianum

“Helenê. From attracting [helkein] many to her beauty. Or it is from helô, helkuô, she is the one who drags young men to her personal beauty. Or it comes from Hellas [Greece]. Or it comes from being born on the ground [helos].”

     ῾Ελένη· … ἀπὸ τοῦ πολλοὺς ἕλκειν ἐν τῷ κάλλει αὐτῆς· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ἕλω, τὸ ἑλκύω, ἡ πρὸς τὸ ἴδιον κάλλος ἑλκύουσα τοὺς νέους ἀνθρώπους· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ῾Ελλάς· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ἐν ἕλει γεγεννῆσθαι.

Etym.  Magnum

“Helenê: A heroine. From helô, helkuô, she is the one who drags young men to her personal beauty. Or it comes from Hellas [Greece]. Or it comes from being born on the ground [helos]. Or because she was thrown in a marshy [helôdei] place by Tyndareus once she obtained some divine prescience and she was taken back up by Leda. Helenê was named from pity [heleos].”

     ῾Ελένη: ῾Η ἡρωΐς· παρὰ τὸ ἕλω, τὸ ἑλκύω, ἡ πρὸς τὸ ἴδιον κάλλος ἕλκουσα τοὺς ἀνθρώπους· διὰ τὸ πολλοὺς ἑλεῖν τῷ κάλλει· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ῾Ελλάς· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ἐν ἕλει γεγενῆσθαι, ἡ ὑπὸ τοῦ Τυνδάρεω ἐν ἑλώδει τόπῳ ῥιφθεῖσα, θείας δέ τινος προνοίας τυχοῦσα, καὶ ἀναληφθεῖσα ὑπὸ Λήδας. ᾿Εκ τοῦ ἕλους οὖν ῾Ελένη ὠνομάσθη.

Modern linguistics show that Helen’s name is just really hard to figure out.

Some Modern Material

In Lakonia, Helen was original spelled with a digamma. (And this may have extended to Corinth and Chalcidice too Cf. R. Wachter Non-Attic Vase Inscriptions 2001, §251).

74 Von Kamptz 1958, 136 suggests that her name is a “cognate of σέλας” to evoke a sense of “shining”, as in her beauty. Cf. Kanavou 2015, 72

Vedic Saranyu: Skutsch 1987, 189; Puhvel 1987, 141–143 (The initial breathing in Greek often points to a lost initial *s but the digamma in certain dialects confuses this) The Vedic name means swift. The PIE root suggested here is *suel-.

Helen has variously been suggested as coming from a vegetation goddess (see Helena Dendritis, Paus. 3.19.9–10; Herodotus 6.61; cf. Skutsch 1987) or a goddess of light.

 

Image result for Ancient Greek Helen

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.

hoplites

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.

Fathers Who Cheat Have Daughters Who Cheat: On Helen and Clytemnestra

Ever wondered why Helen left Menelaos or why her sister cheated on Agamemnon (other than the obvious)? Ancient poetry traced it back to a sin of their father: Schol. Ad Euripides’ Orestes 249):

“Stesichorus says that when Tyndareus was sacrificing to the gods he overlooked Aphrodite. For this reason, the angry goddess made his daughters thrice and twice married abandoners of husbands. The segment reads like this:

“Because when Tyndareus was sacrificing to all the gods
He neglected only the gentle-giving Kyprian
She was enraged and she made the daughters of Tyndareus
Twice and thrice married deserters of husbands.”

A fragment of Hesiod agrees with this (fr. 176):

“Smile-loving Aphrodite
Was enraged when she saw them: then she hung bad fame upon them.
After that, Timandra abandoned Ekhemos and left;
She went to Phyleus who was dear to the holy gods.
And so Klytemnestra abandoned shining Agamemnon
To lie alongside Aigisthos as she chose a lesser husband;
In the same way, Helen shamed the marriage-bed of fair Menelaos…”

Στησίχορός φησιν ὡς θύων τοῖς θεοῖς Τυνδάρεως ᾿Αφροδίτης ἐπελάθετο• διὸ ὀργισθεῖσαν τὴν θεὸν διγάμους τε καὶ τριγάμους καὶ λειψάνδρους αὐτοῦ τὰς θυγατέρας ποιῆσαι. ἔχει δὲ ἡ χρῆσις οὕτως [frg. 26]•
‘οὕνεκά ποτε Τυνδάρεως
ῥέζων πᾶσι θεοῖς μόνης λάθετ’ ἠπιοδώρου
Κύπριδος, κείνα δὲ Τυνδάρεω κούραις
χολωσαμένη διγάμους τε καὶ τριγάμους τίθησι
καὶ λιπεσάνορας’.

καὶ ῾Ησίοδος δέ [frg. 117]•
τῆισιν δὲ φιλομμειδὴς ᾿Αφροδίτη
ἠγάσθη προσιδοῦσα, κακῆι δέ σφ’ ἔμβαλε φήμηι.
Τιμάνδρη μὲν ἔπειτ’ ῎Εχεμον προλιποῦσ’ ἐβεβήκει,
ἵκετο δ’ ἐς Φυλῆα φίλον μακάρεσσι θεοῖσιν•
ὣς δὲ Κλυταιμνήστρη <προ>λιποῦσ’ ᾿Αγαμέμνονα δῖον
Αἰγίσθῳ παρέλεκτο, καὶ εἵλετο χείρον’ ἀκοίτην.
ὣς δ’ ῾Ελένη ᾔσχυνε λέχος ξανθοῦ Μενελάου…

This passage provides an explanation for why the daughters of Tyndareus—Helen and Andromache—were unfaithful: it was Aphrodite’s game from the beginning because their father did not worship her correctly. A few interesting aspects here: first, Helen is “thrice-married” because after Paris dies, she marries Deiphobus (although some accounts associate her with Theseus too). Second, Hesiod’s fragmentary poems seems to be in the process of cataloging women who leave their husbands.

The first woman in the tale is Timandra, who, according to only this passage, was a third daughter of Tyndareus who left her husband Ekhemos, a king of Arcadia. They had a son together, named Leodocus before she eloped with Phyleus. In another fragment from Hesiod (fr. 23) we learn more about the family of Tyndareus and Leda:

“After climbing into the lush bed of Tyndareus
Well-tressed Leda, as fair as the rays of the moon,
Gave birth to Timandra, cow-eyed Klytemnestra,
And Phylonoe whose body was most like the immortal goddesses.
Her…the arrow bearing goddesss
Made immortal and ageless for all days.”

ἣ μὲν [Τυνδαρέου θαλερὸν λέχο]ς εἰσαναβᾶσα
Λήδη ἐ̣[υπλόκαμος ἰκέλη φαέεσσ]ι σελήνης
γείνατ[ο Τιμάνδρην τε Κλυταιμήστρ]ην τε βοῶπ[ιν
Φυλο̣[νόην θ’ ἣ εἶδος ἐρήριστ’ ἀθαν]άτηισι.
τ̣ὴ̣ν[ ἰο]χέαιρα,
θῆκ[εν δ’ ἀθάνατον καὶ ἀγήραον ἤ]ματα πάντ̣[α. (7-12)

Later on in the same fragment –after hearing about the marriage and children of Klytemnestra—we learn about Timandra:

“Ekhemos made Timandra his blooming wife,
The man who was the lord of all Tegea and Arcadia, wealthy in sheep,
A rich man who was dear to the gods.
She bore to him Laodakos, the horse-taming shepherd of the host,
After she was subdued by golden Aphrodite.”

Τιμάνδρην δ’ ῎Εχεμος θαλερὴν ποιήσατ’ ἄκοιτιν,
ὃς πάσης Τεγ[έης ἠδ’ ᾿Αρκαδίης] πολυμήλου
ἀφνειὸς ἤνασ[σε, φίλος μακάρεσσι θ]ε̣ο[ῖ]σ̣ιν•
ἥ οἱ Λαόδοκον̣ μ[εγαλήτορα ποιμέν]α̣ λαῶν
γ]είνα[θ]’ ὑποδμη[θεῖσα διὰ] χρυσῆν ᾿Αφ[ροδίτην (28-31)

This section of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women seems to be mentioning only Leda’s children with Tyndareus and not those possibly fathered by Zeus (Helen, Kastor, Polydeukes). But we hear nothing of the future of Leda’s attractive daughter Phylonoe (also spelled Philonoe) other than that Artemis made her immortal. The ancient sources? Nothing at all to explain this.

Continue reading “Fathers Who Cheat Have Daughters Who Cheat: On Helen and Clytemnestra”

Fragmentary Friday: Nemesis, Helen’s Other Mother

Pausanias, 1.33.7

“The Greeks claim that Nemesis was Helen’s mother and that Leda nursed her and raised her.”

Ἑλένῃ Νέμεσιν μητέρα εἶναι λέγουσιν Ἕλληνες, Λήδαν δὲ μαστὸν ἐπισχεῖν αὐτῇ καὶ θρέψαι

Scholia to Lykophron 88

“Zeus made himself look like a swan and joined Nemesis near the river Ocean. From this union, she laid an egg which Leda received, warmed, and then bore Helen and the Dioscouri”

κύκνῳ ἀπεικασθεὶς ὁ Ζεὺς Νεμέσει τῇ ᾿Ωκεανοῦ συνῆλθεν, ἐξ ἧς γεννᾶται ᾠόν, ὅπερ λαβοῦσα ἡ Λήδα ἐθέρμαινε καὶ ἔτεκε τὴν ῾Ελένην καὶ τοὺς Διοσκούρους.

Scholia to Callimachus’s Hymns 3.232

“Ramnos is a deme in Attica where Zeus slept with Nemesis who then produced an egg which Leda found, warmed and which produced in turn the Dioscuri and Helen.”

<῾Ραμνουσίδι:> ῾Ραμνοῦς δῆμος ᾿Αττικῆς, ἔνθα τῇ Νεμέσει ὁ Ζεὺς συνεκαθεύδησεν, ἥτις ἔτεκεν ᾠόν, ὅπερ εὑροῦσα ἡ Λήδα ἐθέρμανε καὶ ἐξέβαλε τοὺς Διοσκούρους καὶ τὴν ῾Ελένην.

Leda egg

The fragmentary poem from the  epic cycle dubbed the Cypria was attributed to lesser known poets like Stasinus and Hegesias by ancient authors. Its name, however, comes from the fact that it was largely believed to be composed in Cyprus (or by a Cypriot poet traveling abroad).

The first fragment of the poem tends to be its most well-known since it places the Trojan War in a context of global discussion and echoes the Iliad in making this all part of Zeus’ plan. But the ninth fragment has some frightening details. First, it alleges that Helen is not the daughter of Zeus and Leda (of the swan scene) but instead is the offspring of Zeus and the unwilling goddess Nemesis. Second, it shows Zeus pursuing her all over the earth no matter what form she took.

Cypria, Fr. 9 Benarbé [fr 10. West 2013]

“After them [he?] bore a wonder to mortals, a third child Helen—
Fine-haired Nemesis gave birth to her after having sex
With Zeus, the king of the gods, under forceful compulsion.
For she was not willing to have sex with Kronos’ son
Father Zeus, since her mind rushed with shame and opposition [nemesis].
She fled over the earth and the dark, barren sea,
But Zeus pursued her—and he longed to catch her in his heart.
At one time along the waves of the much-resounding sea,
He broke through the water as she took the form of a fish—
At another he followed her through the river Ocean to the ends of the earth.
Again, across the much-nourishing land. She became all the terrible
Beasts, the many the land raises up, in trying to escape him.”

τοὺς δὲ μέτα τριτάτην ῾Ελένην τέκε θαῦμα βροτοῖσι·
τήν ποτε καλλίκομος Νέμεσις φιλότητι μιγεῖσα
Ζηνὶ θεῶν βασιλῆϊ τέκε κρατερῆς ὑπ’ ἀνάγκης·
φεῦγε γὰρ οὐδ’ ἔθελεν μιχθήμεναι ἐν φιλότητι
πατρὶ Διὶ Κρονίωνι· ἐτείρετο γὰρ φρένας αἰδοῖ
καὶ νεμέσει· κατὰ γῆν δὲ καὶ ἀτρύγετον μέλαν ὕδωρ
φεῦγε, Ζεὺς δ’ ἐδίωκε—λαβεῖν δ’ ἐλιλαίετο θυμῶι—
ἄλλοτε μὲν κατὰ κῦμα πολυφλοίσβοιο θαλάσσης
ἰχθύι εἰδομένην πόντον πολὺν ἐξοροθύνων,
ἄλλοτ’ ἀν’ ᾿Ωκεανὸν ποταμὸν καὶ πείρατα γαίης,
ἄλλοτ’ ἀν’ ἤπειρον πολυβώλακα· γίγνετο δ’ αἰνὰ
θηρί’, ὅσ’ ἤπειρος πολλὰ τρέφει, ὄφρα φύγοι νιν.

As West (2013, 81-83) points out, there is some motif transference going on here in the fragment. For one, in many testimonia Thetis is said to change shapes to elude Peleus. In addition, we know the popular account of Zeus changing into a swan [or goose] to seduce Leda. Finally, Nemesis—as a concept and less as a character—is often associated with Helen’s behavior. She receives “nemesis and shame” for her actions. Much of this may linger in the mythopoetic background when the leaders of the Trojans declare upon seeing her again in the Iliad “there’s no nemesis for the Trojans and Achaeans, that they suffered pain for so long for this kind of woman….” (οὐ νέμεσις Τρῶας καὶ ἐϋκνήμιδας ᾿Αχαιοὺς
τοιῇδ’ ἀμφὶ γυναικὶ πολὺν χρόνον ἄλγεα πάσχειν).

But other accounts have Zeus changing to match Nemesis as well. Apollodorus (3.10.7) attempts to harmonize the two accounts:

“Some allege that Helen is the daughter of Nemesis and Zeus and that when she was fleeing Zeus’ sexual advance she changed her shape into a goose and that Zeus matched her and approached her as a swan. She produced an egg from this intercourse—people say that some shepherd found this egg in a thicket, fetched it and gave it to Leda who placed it in a box where she guarded it. When, after some time, it hatched and produced Helen, Leda raised her as her own daughter.”

λέγουσι δὲ ἔνιοι Νεμέσεως ῾Ελένην εἶναι καὶ Διός. ταύτην γὰρ τὴν Διὸς φεύγουσαν συνουσίαν εἰς χῆνα τὴν μορφὴν μεταβαλεῖν, ὁμοιωθέντα δὲ καὶ Δία κύκνῳ συνελθεῖν· τὴν δὲ ᾠὸν ἐκ τῆς συνουσίας ἀποτεκεῖν, τοῦτο δὲ ἐν τοῖς ἄλσεσιν εὑρόντα τινὰ ποιμένα Λήδᾳ κομίσαντα δοῦναι, τὴν δὲ καταθεμένην εἰς λάρνακα φυλάσσειν, καὶ χρόνῳ καθήκοντι γεννηθεῖσαν ῾Ελένην ὡς ἐξ αὑτῆς θυγατέρα τρέφειν…

Helen

Re-post for #MythMonth: Helen’s Ghost

Homer, Iliad 3.3.146-160

 

The men who were near Priam, Panthoos, Thymoites
Lampos, Klutios, and Hiketaôn, the descendent of Ares,
Were Oukalegôn and Antênôr, two intelligent men.
The council of elders sat there on the Skaian gates
Slowed by old age, but still fine public speakers
Something like cicadas who sit on the leaf
Of a tree trailing along their lily-thin voices.
When they saw Helen approaching the wall,
They addressed each other with winged words:
“There’s no reason to criticize the Trojans and well-greaved Achaeans
For suffering pain for so long for this woman.
She has the terrible appearance of the immortal goddesses.
But, even though she is like this, let her return in the ships,
To prevent more pain from being left for our children.”
Οἳ δ’ ἀμφὶ Πρίαμον καὶ Πάνθοον ἠδὲ Θυμοίτην
Λάμπόν τε Κλυτίον θ’ ῾Ικετάονά τ’ ὄζον ῎Αρηος
Οὐκαλέγων τε καὶ ᾿Αντήνωρ πεπνυμένω ἄμφω
ἥατο δημογέροντες ἐπὶ Σκαιῇσι πύλῃσι,
γήραϊ δὴ πολέμοιο πεπαυμένοι, ἀλλ’ ἀγορηταὶ
ἐσθλοί, τεττίγεσσιν ἐοικότες οἵ τε καθ’ ὕλην
δενδρέῳ ἐφεζόμενοι ὄπα λειριόεσσαν ἱεῖσι·
τοῖοι ἄρα Τρώων ἡγήτορες ἧντ’ ἐπὶ πύργῳ.
οἳ δ’ ὡς οὖν εἴδονθ’ ῾Ελένην ἐπὶ πύργον ἰοῦσαν,
ἦκα πρὸς ἀλλήλους ἔπεα πτερόεντ’ ἀγόρευον·
οὐ νέμεσις Τρῶας καὶ ἐϋκνήμιδας ᾿Αχαιοὺς
τοιῇδ’ ἀμφὶ γυναικὶ πολὺν χρόνον ἄλγεα πάσχειν·
αἰνῶς ἀθανάτῃσι θεῇς εἰς ὦπα ἔοικεν·
ἀλλὰ καὶ ὧς τοίη περ ἐοῦσ’ ἐν νηυσὶ νεέσθω,
μηδ’ ἡμῖν τεκέεσσί τ’ ὀπίσσω πῆμα λίποιτο.

This passage is famous for showing the marginalization of the Trojan elders and for acting as a preface to the famous (and sometimes thought illogical) “viewing from the walls” (Teikhoskopia) when Helen names the Greek warriors for Priam (even though they’ve been fighting before Troy for 9 years). The elders essentially say, yeah, we get it, she’s hot. But, in the wisdom brought by old age, they insist she isn’t worth it.

Perhaps the Trojan elders understand better the insanity of lust than Herodotus (2.110):

“If Helen really were in Ilium, they would have given her back to the Greeks whether Paris wanted them to or not. Priam was not so out of his mind, nor were his other subjects, that they would want to risk their own bodies and children and the city itself just so that Paris could sleep with Helen.”

εἰ ἦν Ἑλένη ἐν Ἰλίῳ, ἀποδοθῆναι ἂν αὐτὴν τοῖσι Ἕλλησι ἤτοι ἑκόντος γε ἢ ἀέκοντοςἈλεξάνδρου. οὐ γὰρ δὴ οὕτω γε φρενοβλαβὴς ἦν ὁ Πρίαμος οὐδὲ οἱ ἄλλοι οἱ προσήκοντες αὐτῷ, ὥστε τοῖσι σφετέροισι σώμασι καὶ τοῖσι τέκνοισι καὶ τῇ πόλι κινδυνεύειν ἐβούλοντο, ὅκως Ἀλέξανδρος Ἑλένῃ συνοικέῃ.

Of course, arguing about Helen was a central part of early Greek responses to myth. Helen received a great deal of blame for the Trojan War,even though from the beginning it is clear that the gods were using her for their own plans. (Her father was blamed by some for her infidelity.) In the Classical period, debating Helen’s fault was an established rhetorical practice. But one of the earlier and more creative responses about the whole affair was a “Shaggy” defense: it wasn’t her! It was someone who looked like her:

“This is not the true tale:
You never went in the well-benched ships
You did not go to the towers of Troy…
[It is a fault in Homer that
He put Helen in Troy
And not her image only;
It is a fault in Hesiod
In another: there are two, differing
Recantations and this is the beginning.
Come here, dance loving goddess;
Golden-winged, maiden,
As Khamaileôn put it.
Stesichorus himself says that
an image [eidolon] went to troy
and that Helen stayed back
with Prôteus…”

οὐκ ἔστ’ ἔτυμος λόγος οὗτος,
οὐδ’ ἔβας ἐν νηυσὶν ἐυσσέλμοις
οὐδ’ ἵκεο πέργαμα Τροίας,
[ μέμ-
φεται τὸν ῞Ομηρο[ν ὅτι ῾Ε-
λέ]νην ἐποίησεν ἐν Τ[ροίαι
καὶ οὐ τὸ εἴδωλον αὐτῆ[ς, ἔν
τε τ[ῆι] ἑτέραι τὸν ῾Ησίοδ[ον
μέμ[φετ]αι· διτταὶ γάρ εἰσι πα-
λινωιδλλάττουσαι, καὶ ἔ-
στιν ἡ μὲν ἀρχή· δεῦρ’ αὖ-
τε θεὰ φιλόμολπε, τῆς δέ·
χρυσόπτερε παρθένε, ὡς
ἀνέγραψε Χαμαιλέων· αὐ-
τὸ[ς δ]έ φησ[ιν ὁ] Στησίχορο[ς
τὸ μὲν ε[ἴδωλο]ν ἐλθεῖ[ν ἐς
Τροίαν τὴν δ’ ῾Ελένην π[αρὰ
τῶι Πρωτεῖ καταμεῖν[αι· …

Herodotus tells this story too. But Hesiod blames the whole thing on Helen’s father’s infidelity.