Helen of Troy

Helen of Troy - Digital illustration by Tom Leedy


Regardless of whether Helen was abducted or complicit in leaving Menelaus and Sparta for Paris and Troy, the ancient poets and their audience agreed on one thing - she was the embodiment of a fierce and dangerous beauty.  Although descriptions of her physical appearance are few or none in the literary sources, Homer refers to her as "Helen, the shining among women" and at least offers a brief statement in the Iliad describing the effect of her presence;  prior to single combat between Menelaus and Paris (for Helen and for victory in the war), she approaches King Priam and his chiefs high on the Scaean gate of Troy, overlooking the battlefield:


                                                    "Surely there is no blame on Trojans and strong-greaved Achaeans

                                                      if for long time they suffer hardship for a woman like this one.

                                                      Terrible is the likeness of her face to immortal goddesses."

                                                                                                                      Translation by George Chapman


                                                      "There sat the seniors of the Trojan race

                                                       (Old Priam's chiefs, and most in Priam's grace)

                                                                                          * * *

                                                       These, when the Spartan queen approached the tower,

                                                       In secret own'd resistless beauty's power:

                                                       They cried, 'No wonder such celestial charms

                                                       For nine long years have set the world in arms;

                                                       What winning graces!  What majestic mien!

                                                       She moves a goddess, and she looks a queen!

                                                       Yet hence, O Heaven, convey that fatal face,

                                                       And from destruction save the Trojan race.' "

                                                                                                                    Translation by Alexander Pope