Can anyone tell me why Helen of Troy and for that matter the whole of Homer’s immortal classic ‘The Iliad’ is depicted so shabbily in films? The story is invariably turned roundabout and one wonders if the filmmakers are illiterate or even analphabetic. Take for example ‘Troy’ starring Brad Pitt as Achilles. There is the impossible, or shall I say the ridiculous, scenario of Hector killing Menelaus almost at the beginning. Could there be anything further from truth? The other evening I watched ‘Helen of Troy’ on the prestigious ‘History Channel’ on T.V. Achilles, the ultimate Greek hero, the leader of the Myrmidons, is depicted as a bloodthirsty monster who offers his services to the High King Agamemnon docilely and kills Hector by fraud. What happened to the celebrated quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles? Furthermore to add insult to injury, Helen was shown being ravished by the victorious Greek soldiers in full view of the aghast Menelaus. Homer did certainly not mention any unholy traffic with Helen’s vulva during the sack of Troy.
Helen was the most beautiful woman on Earth and was happily married to Menelaus, the king of Sparta. Menelaus was the younger brother of Agamemnon, the Commander-in-chief of the fleet that sailed for Troy. The Greeks, at least the aristocracy, led an easy carefree life much like the Kennedys of the nineteen sixties. Paris, the Prince of Troy, stayed in Menelaus’ palace as a royal guest. But it was preordained that Paris shall have Helen as a bedmate. Long ago he had judged who, among the three immortals, Hera, Athene and Aphrodite, was the most beautiful. Aphrodite bribed Paris that if he chose her the winner she will see to it that Paris would marry the most beautiful woman on Earth. The seeds were already sown and only the harvest remained to be reaped. Paris eloped with Helen for Troy: Helen was a willing accomplice, an adulteress.
The Greeks assembled in strength under Agamemnon’s command and a mighty flotilla sailed the seas for Troy – a thousand ships in all. Achilles, the son of King Peleus and the sea goddess Thetis, was the greatest warrior of his day; he was vulnerable only at his heels. This war would have been over a lot sooner had it not been for the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles, the two headstrong men. It was this quarrel that made the war linger for ten years. The quarrel, otherwise known as the wrath of Achilles, was over a woman. The Greeks camping on Trojan soil had gone on marauding raids on nearby Trojan countryside. The war booty was divided among the Greek champions. Breisis, a ravishing virgin fell to Achilles’ lot and Chreisis, daughter of a priest of Apollo, was given to Agamemnon. However Apollo was furious with the Greeks for showing disrespect to his priest and harrowed the Greek army. A meeting of the Greek chieftains was called and in the highly emotional atmosphere of the assembly Agamemnon snatched Breisis from Achilles after returning Chreisis to her father. The sulking Achilles refused to take any further part in the battle. He called his mother, the goddess Thetis, to influence Zeus to plague the Greeks in the war so that Agamemnon will be forced to see his mistake and return Breisis to placate him. Zeus kept his word and the Greeks lost all hope of returning victorious. Hector, the Trojan general, simply ran amok and the Greeks ran helter skelter from his assaults. The Greeks were in dire straits to save their ships. Patroclus, the friend and nephew of Achilles donned Achilles divine armour and led the Myrmidons against Hector. There was a massive change in the fortunes of war as the Greeks once again fought with vigour when they saw Patroclus leading the army of Achilles’. The Greeks mistook him for Achilles.
Hector confusing Patroclus for Achilles joined battle and it was soon over. Patroclus was slain and the Trojans denuded his body of the armour of Achilles. The embattled veteran of the Greeks, Odysseus, somehow brought the corpse back to the Greek camp.
Achilles was full of remorse and he arranged a grand funeral for his close friend. His mother went to the divine smithy Hephaestus to make Achilles new armour, which Hephaestus promptly complied.
The morrow saw the battle royal. The single combat between Achilles and Hector commenced in front of the gates of Troy. Hector knew his days were over and he thrice made an attempt to head for the gates and thrice he was pushed away by the pursuing Achilles. At last Achilles drove his javelin through Hector’s chest and the Trojan general lay spread-eagled on the soil of Troy. Achilles next split Hector’s tendons at the ankle and tied a leather thong to it, tied it to his chariot and dragged his corpse thrice round the walls of Troy and headed for his tent on the shore.
The whole battle was watched by the royal house of Troy from the ramparts and Andromache, the widow of Hector fainted at the sight. As night fell Agamemnon, in disguise, approached Achilles in his tent and ransomed Hector’s body and took it to Troy for a decent funeral.
A truce was declared for seven days when the Greeks arranged fore the funeral of Patroclus and the Trojans did the same for Hector.
When the war resumed Achilles was shot by an arrow by Paris [some say it was the god Apollo] and the arrow hit the only vulnerable part of his anatomy, that is his ankle, and Achilles perished in glory and eternal fame.
Later Paris met his end when he was killed by the Greek chieftain, Philoctetes, a son of the fabled Hercules. As Helen lost her paramour, she was now wooed by the two remaining sons of King Priam: Deiphobus and Helenus. Helen was not keen to marry any more but she was forcibly married to Deiphobus [a rape probably].
The fall of Troy was soon to follow. One fine day the Greeks sailed away in their ships leaving a huge wooden horse behind. What it stood for no one knew. Some said it was a dedication to Apollo or Athene, others claimed it was a memorial for the slain Greek soldiers. The Trojans dragged the horse within their city by partly dismantling their gates. It was a night of celebration as they thought the war was over. But as night fell the hidden trap door of the wooden horse was opened by the Greek soldiers hiding inside and they promptly signaled their comrades sheltering in a nearby island. And the massacre began. Almost everyone of fighting age was put to the sword.
Agamemnon raided Priam’s palace and dispatched Priam with a javelin thrust. He took Priam’s daughter Cassandra, a prophetess of some merit, as his concubine and sailed for home. Menelaus killed Deiphobus who was distracted by Helen, for which Menelaus forgave her. He took Helen and reached Sparta safely and ruled for a long time. They were still there when Odysseus’ son Telemachus went to Sparta to enquire about his illustrious father and they gave him a royal welcome.
So where do we get the highly improbable story of Menelaus’ death in the Trojan War? Where indeed do we find Helen being violated by the Greek soldiers at the sack of Troy? Surely many women were debauched as it happens in any war and many were carried away as war booties. But Helen being ravished by the common Greek soldier is simply fantastic.
Helen died a natural death in her beloved Sparta, and as far mythology goes she was married afterwards to Achilles who was reposing in the Elysian Fields on the Black Sea. Many mariners vouched for the fact that they had seen the two immortals making merry and singing ‘The Iliad’ to the relentless waves of the sea.