Helen’s Consent: A Scholion on the Difference between the Iliad and the Odyssey

Homer, Iliad 2.350–356

“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”

φημὶ γὰρ οὖν κατανεῦσαι ὑπερμενέα Κρονίωνα
ἤματι τῷ ὅτε νηυσὶν ἐν ὠκυπόροισιν ἔβαινον
᾿Αργεῖοι Τρώεσσι φόνον καὶ κῆρα φέροντες
ἀστράπτων ἐπιδέξι’ ἐναίσιμα σήματα φαίνων.
τὼ μή τις πρὶν ἐπειγέσθω οἶκον δὲ νέεσθαι
πρίν τινα πὰρ Τρώων ἀλόχῳ κατακοιμηθῆναι,
τίσασθαι δ’ ῾Ελένης ὁρμήματά τε στοναχάς τε.

Schol. A ad Hom. Il. 2.356ex

[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.”

τίσασθαι δ’ ῾Ελένης <ὁρμήματά τε στοναχάς τε>: πρὸς τοὺς Χωρίζοντας· ἔφασαν (fr. 1 K.) γὰρ τὸν μὲν τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος ποιητὴν δυσανασχετοῦσαν συνιστάνειν καὶ στένουσαν διὰ τὸ βίᾳ  ἀπῆχθαι ὑπὸ τοῦ ᾿Αλεξάνδρου, τὸν δὲ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας ἑκοῦσαν, οὐ νοοῦντες ὅτι οὐκ ἔστιν ἐπ’ αὐτῆς ὁ λόγος, ἀλλ’ ἔξωθεν πρόθεσιν τὴν περί δεῖ λαβεῖν, ἵν’ ᾖ περὶ ῾Ελένης. καὶ ἔστιν ὁ λόγος, τιμωρίαν λαβεῖν ἀνθ’ ὧν ἐστενάξαμεν καὶ ἐμεριμνήσαμεν περὶ ῾Ελένης· παραλειπτικὸς γὰρ προθέσεών ἐστιν ὁ ποιητής.

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.)

File:Helen of Sparta boards a ship for Troy fresco from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii.jpg
Fresco from Pompeii, Helen Boards the Ship to Troy

Anarchy and the Sacrifice of Polyxena

From Euripides’ Hecuba, 604-608

“You, go and tell the Argives this—
That no one should touch her, that they should keep
The mob from my child. In the great mass of the army
The ungoverned mob, the anarchic fleet,
They’re stronger than fire: and evil is not doing anything evil”

σὺ δ’ ἐλθὲ καὶ σήμηνον ᾿Αργείοις τάδε,
μὴ θιγγάνειν μοι μηδέν’ ἀλλ’ εἴργειν ὄχλον
τῆς παιδός. ἔν τοι μυρίωι στρατεύματι
ἀκόλαστος ὄχλος ναυτική τ’ ἀναρχία
κρείσσων πυρός, κακὸς δ’ ὁ μή τι δρῶν κακόν.

In Euripides’ play, Hecuba laments the sacrifice of her daughter Polyxena at Achilles’ grave. According to some traditions, Achilles’ ghost told the Greeks that they wouldn’t make it safely home unless they sacrificed her. (Her sacrifice mirrors that of Iphigenia at the beginning of the war.)

Although the scene does not appear in Homer, it does appear in early Greek art.

Mid-sixth century BCE

Proclus mentions this in his Chrestomathia (“after burning the city of troy, they sacrificed Polyxena at Achilles’ grave”; ἔπειτα ἐμπρήσαντες τὴν πόλιν / Πολυξένην σφαγιάζουσιν ἐπὶ τὸν τοῦ ᾿Αχιλλέως τάφον). And this is typically assumed as occurring in the lost epic poem the Iliou Persis. Lykophron (line 323) alleges that Achilles had wanted to marry Polyxena—and, according to West (2013, 242-3), it may have been during negotiations with Priam to do so that Paris got the chance to shoot Achilles in the foot.

Late 6th Century BCE Sarcophagus Relief


During the late archaic age and early classical age, Polyxena started appearing in images with Troilus. It is during this episode that some stories may have had Achilles fall in love with her. You know, before or after he killed her brother,

West also notes that the name Polyxena (“many a stranger”, “very hospitable”, “much-hospitality”) may have connoted promiscuity. He refers specifically to Pindar fr. 122:

“Young women of much hospitality, handmaidens
Of Persuasion in wealthy Corinth….

Α′ Πολύξεναι νεάνιδες, ἀμφίπολοι
Πειθοῦς ἐν ἀφνειῷ Κορίνθῳ,

The women addressed in this fragment are allegedly temple prostitutes.