“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”
[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.”
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.)
“Women know everything, even how Zeus married Hera.”
Homer has, “They traveled together to bed, avoiding their parents’ notice”. Aristokles in his work “On the Cults of Hermione”, provides something of an odd tale about the marriage of Zeus and Hera. For, as the story goes, Zeus was planning on having sex with Hera when he noticed that she was separated from the other gods. Because he did not want to be obvious and did not want to be seen by her, he changed his appearance into a cuckoo and was waiting on a mountain which was first called Thornax but is now just called Cuckoo.
Zeus made a terrible storm on that day and when Hera was going toward the mountain alone, she stopped at the very place where there is currently a temple to Hera Teleia. The cuckoo, flew down and sat on her lap when he saw her, shivering and freezing because of the weather. Hera saw the bird and pitied him and covered him with her cloak. Then Zeus suddenly transformed his appearance and grabbed a hold of Hera. Because she was refusing him due to their mother, he promised that he would marry her.
Among the Argives, who honor the goddess the most of all the Greeks, the cult image of Hera sits in the temple on a throne holding a scepter in one hand on which a cuckoo is seated.”
Pausanias (2.17.4) describes a statue in a temple to Hera outside of Corinth:
“The statue of Hera—extraordinarily huge—sits on a throne made of gold and ivory, a work of Polykleitos. She has a crown embossed with Graces and the Seasons and carries in one hand a pomegranate fruit and in the other a scepter. I must pass over the reason for the pomegranate, since the tale is protected by sacred rite. But people say that the cuckoo bird sitting on the scepter is Zeus: because he was in love with Hera when she was a maiden and turned himself into this bird which she hunted to have as a pet. I record this story as much as the others of the gods which I offer incredulously—but I record them still.”
“In these halls, I [Andromache] produced this male child / after sleeping with Achilles’ son, my master]:
One source says that she bore only one son to Neoptolemos while others say that there were three: Pyrrhos, Molossos, Aiakos and a daughter named Troas. Lysimachus, in the second volume of his On Homecomings, writes that Proxenos and Nikomedes the Akanthian report in Macedonian Matters that Andromache gave birth to those who were just mentioned, and from Leonassa, Kleodaios’ daughter, [he fathered?] Argos, Pergamos, Pandaros, Dorieus, Genyos, Danae and Eurylockus. They also say that Pyrrhos received the kingdom from his father and that the country was named Mossia to give honor to Molossos.”
“Phylarkhos claims that Thetis went to Hephaistos on Olympos so that he might create weapons for Achilles and that he did it. But, because Hephaistos was lusting after Thetis, he said he would not give them to her unless she had sex with him. She promised him that she would, but that she only wanted to try on the weapons first, so she could see if the gear he had made was fit for Achilles. She was actually the same size as him.
Once Hephaistos agreed on this, Thetis armed herself and fled. Because he was incapable of grabbing her, he took a hammer and hit Thetis in the ankle. Injured in this way, she went to Thessaly and healed in the city that is called Thetideion after her.”
“A poor man named Skadasos used to live in Leuktra (which is a village in the land of the Thespians). He had two daughters who were named Hippo and Milêtia or, as some say, Thenô and Euksippê. Skedasos was a good man and solicitous of strangers, even though he did not have much. When two Spartan youths came to him, he welcomed them happily. Although they were lusting after the maidens, they were hindered from bold action by the good character of the father. On the next day, they went to Delphi. The same road laid before them.
So, after they got an oracle from the god about which they were in need, they returned homeward again, traveling through Boiotia and returning to the home of Skedasos. But he did not happen to be in Leuktra at the time. Still, the daughters welcomed the strangers in the family’s usual manner. But when the youths found them alone, they raped the girls. When they noticed that the girls were taking the offense pretty badly, they killed them and rid themselves of the burden by throwing the bodies in a well.
When Skedasos returned and did not see his daughters, he discovered that everything else he left behind was safe. He was at a loss over the affair until a certain dog kept pawing at him and often ran up to him and from him back to the well. From this he figured it out, and he raised his daughters’ corpses up from the well. Once he learned from his neighbors that they had seen those Spartans on the previous day and returning again on the next one, he attributed the deed to them because they were constantly praising the girls on the earlier day and counting as blessed the men they would marry.
He went to Sparta in order to take his case to the Ephors. When he was near Argos, because night overtook him, he stayed in an inn. There was another old man in the same inn who was from the city of Oreus in the region of Hestiaia. After Skedasos heard him groaning and cursing the Spartans, he asked him what evil he had suffered at their hands. He explained that he was a Spartan subject and that after Aristodemos was sent to Oreus as a governor, he proved himself to be very cruel and lawless.
He explained, “He lusted after my son. When he couldn’t persuade him, he attempted to rape him and abduct him from the wrestling school. Because the teacher was preventing him and there were many young men helping, Aristodemos retreated out of necessity. But on the following day, he outfitted a trireme, kidnapped the boy and sailed to the opposite shore where he was trying to rape the boy. He killed him because he was fighting back. After returned, he threw a dinner party.” The old man continued, “Once I learned of what happened and took care of the body, I went to Sparta and met with the Ephors. But they showed this no concern.”
Hearing these things, Skedasos lost heart because he was imagining that the Spartans would ignore his case as well. But he did explain his own misfortune to the stranger in turn. The man was advising him not to meet with the Ephors but just to return to Boiotia and build a tomb for his daughters. Skedasos, nevertheless, was not persuaded, but he went to Sparta to meet with the Ephors. When they did not pay attention, he went to the kings and then went up and wept before each of the citizens. When he gained nothing else, he was rushing through the city raising his hands to the sun. Then he was striking his fists on the ground and calling on the Furies. Finally, he killed himself.”
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.”
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.”
The tale I usually tell my myth students is that Helen was kidnapped as a baby by Theseus and returned fairly young as well. According to Pausanias, the Argives (and some poets) told a rather different story about her.
“Near the shrine of the Lords is the temple of Eilêthuia, set up by Helen when Theseus was passing through to the Thesprotians with Peirthoos after Aphidna was captured by the Dioskouri and Helen was being taken to Lakedaimon. Some say that she was pregnant and that she gave birth in Argos and then built the temple of Eilêthuia but that she gave the child she bore to Klytemnestra—for she was already married to Agamemnon—and that she married Menelaos after these events. The poets Euphorion of Khalkis and Alexandros of Pleurôn have written poems on this matter; before them still, Stesikhoros of Himeria also agrees with the Argives that Iphigenia was Theseus’ daughter.”