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

Last week, we posted a part of the Catalogue of Women with the catalogue 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…

“What’s this got to do with Helen?” Four Passages from Euripides Iphigenia at Aulis

“…It isn’t right that
A well-born man change his ways when attempting great deeds:
No, he should at that moment be steadfast, especially to his friends
Since a men is most able to help his friends when he does well.”

…ἄνδρα δ᾽ οὐ χρεὼν
τὸν ἀγαθὸν πράσσοντα μεγάλα τοὺς τρόπους μεθιστάναι,
ἀλλὰ καὶ βέβαιον εἶναι τότε μάλιστα τοῖς φίλοις,
ἡνίκ᾽ ὠφελεῖν μάλιστα δυνατός ἐστιν εὐτυχῶν.

This sounds nice and sententious. But remember that Menelaos is trying to convince Agamemnon to kill his daughter.

494: “What does your daughter have to do with Helen?”

…τί δ’ ῾Ελένης παρθένωι τῆι σῆι μέτα;

Agamemnon: “The offspring of Sisyphus knows everything.”
Menelaos: “There is no way that Odysseus will hurt you and me.”
Agamemnon: “He has always been clever with the mob.”
Menelaos: “He is a slave to public favor, a terrible evil.?

Αγ. τὸ Σισύφειον σπέρμα πάντ’ οἶδεν τάδε.
Με. οὐκ ἔστ’ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ὅτι σὲ κἀμὲ πημανεῖ.
Αγ. ποικίλος ἀεὶ πέφυκε τοῦ τ’ ὄχλου μέτα.
Με. φιλοτιμίαι μὲν ἐνέχεται, δεινῶι κακῶι.


“Men have different natures;
They have different ways. But acting rightly
Always stands out.
The preparation of education
points the way to virtue.
For it is a mark of wisdom to feel shame
and it brings the transformative grace
of seeing through its judgment
what is right; it is reputation that grants
an ageless glory to your life.”

διάφοροι δὲ φύσεις βροτῶν,
διάφοροι δὲ τρόποι· τὸ δ’ ὀρ-
θῶς ἐσθλὸν σαφὲς αἰεί·
τροφαί θ’ αἱ παιδευόμεναι
μέγα φέρουσ’ ἐς τὰν ἀρετάν·
τό τε γὰρ αἰδεῖσθαι σοφία,
†τάν τ’ ἐξαλλάσσουσαν ἔχει
χάριν ὑπὸ γνώμας ἐσορᾶν†
τὸ δέον, ἔνθα δόξα φέρει
κλέος ἀγήρατον βιοτᾶι.

Fragmentary Friday: Why Did Menelaos Win Helen’s Hand? Money.

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…

Hesiod, fr. 198 2-6

“The sacred strength of Odysseus wooed her too,
the son of Laertes who understood clear things.
He did not send any gifts for the sake of the slender-ankled girl.
for he knew in his mind that fair Menelaos
would prevail, since he was the best of the Achaians in property.”

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·

It seems that the wealth of the Atreids was a motif contrasted with the qualities of other families:

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.

Nelly knew this answer. I am sure of it:

Ovid, Heroides 8.105-116 (Hermione Writes to Orestes)

“When the Titan pushes higher his shining stallions,
I enjoy more freedom in my miserable sadness;
When night hides me wailing and weeping
In my bedroom, and I have stretched out on a hateful bed,
My eyes fill with swelling tears instead of sleep
And I retreat from my husband as I would from an enemy.
I am often this thunderstruck and unmindful of place
after I have touched Scyrian limbs with an ignorant hand.
But when I understand the sin, I leave the body touched by evil
And I know that I have unclean hands.
Often, Orestes’ name leaves my mouth instead of Neoptolemus
And an error of speech is the omen I love.”

cum tamen altus equis Titan radiantibus instant,
perfruor infelix liberiore malo;
nox ubi me thalamis ululantem et acerba gementem
condidit in maesto procubuique toro,
pro somno lacrimis oculi funguntur obortis
quaque licet fugio sicut ab hoste viro.
saepe malis stupeo rerumque oblita locique
ignara tetigi Scyria membra manu;
utque nefas sensi, male corpora tacta relinquo
et mihi pollutas credor habere manus.
saepe Neoptolemi pro nomine nomen Orestis
exit, et errorem vocis ut omen amo.

Hermione, daughter of Helen and Menelaos, was in some accounts married to Neoptolemus (Achilles’ son) even though Orestes (her cousin and son of Agamemnon) loved her. The conflict between Orestes and Neoptolemus over her, a sort of proxy for the strife between their fathers, continues in most accounts until Orestes arranges for the murder of his adversary. In this poem, Hermione writes to her cousin from her unhappy marriage with Neoptolemus (Scyrian, because he was born on Scyrus!).

Kypria, Fragment 17 (18W) (Athenaeus, Deipnosophists)

“Menelaus, the best thing the gods made to scatter the cares of mortal men is wine”

οἶνόν τοι, Μενέλαε, θεοὶ ποίησαν ἄριστον

θνητοῖς ἀνθρώποισιν ἀποσκεδάσαι μελεδῶνας.



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