Part 2 out of 2
Then she arose and silently as Sleep,
Unseen she follow'd the slow-rolling wain,
Beneath an ashen sky that 'gan to weep,
Too heavy laden with the latter rain;
And all the folk of Troy upon the plain
She found, all gather'd round a funeral pyre,
And thereon lay her son, her darling slain,
The goodly Corythus, her heart's desire!
Among the spices and fair robes he lay,
His arm beneath his head, as though he slept.
For so the Goddess wrought that no decay,
No loathly thing about his body crept;
And all the people look'd on him and wept,
And, weeping, Paris lit the pine-wood dry,
And lo, a rainy wind arose and swept
The flame and fragrance far into the sky.
But when the force of flame was burning low,
Then did they drench the pyre with ruddy wine,
And the white bones of Corythus bestow
Within a gold cruse, wrought with many a sign,
And wrapp'd the cruse about with linen fine
And bare it to the tomb: when, lo, the wild
OEnone sprang, with burning eyes divine,
And shriek'd unto the slayer of her child:
"Oh Thou, that like a God art sire and slayer,
That like a God, dost give and take away!
Methinks that even now I hear the prayer
Thou shalt beseech me with, some later day;
When all the world to thy dim eyes grow grey,
And thou shalt crave thy healing at my hand,
Then gladly will I mock, and say thee nay,
And watch thine hours run down like running sand!
"Yea, thou shalt die, and leave thy love behind,
And little shall she love thy memory!
But, oh ye foolish people, deaf and blind,
What Death is coming on you from the sea?"
Then all men turned, and lo, upon the lee
Of Tenedos, beneath the driving rain,
The countless Argive ships were racing free,
The wind and oarsmen speeding them amain.
Then from the barrow and the burial,
Back like a bursting torrent all men fled
Back to the city and the sacred wall.
But Paris stood, and lifted not his head.
Alone he stood, and brooded o'er the dead,
As broods a lion, when a shaft hath flown,
And through the strong heart of his mate hath sped,
Then will he face the hunters all alone.
But soon the voice of men on the sea-sand
Came round him; and he turned, and gazed, and lo!
The Argive ships were dashing on the strand:
Then stealthily did Paris bend his bow,
And on the string he laid a shaft of woe,
And drew it to the point, and aim'd it well.
Singing it sped, and through a shield did go,
And from his barque Protesilaus fell.
Half gladdened by the omen, through the plain
Went Paris to the walls and mighty gate,
And little heeded he that arrowy rain
The Argive bowmen shower'd in helpless hate.
Nay; not yet feather'd was the shaft of Fate,
His bane, the gift of mighty Heracles
To Philoctetes, lying desolate,
Within a far off island of the seas.
BOOK V--THE WAR
The war round Troy, and how many brave men fell, and chiefly
Sarpedon, Patroclus, Hector, Memnon, and Achilles. The coming of the
Amazon, and the wounding of Paris, and his death, and concerning the
good end that OEnone made.
For ten long years the Argive leaguer lay
Round Priam's folk, and wrought them many woes,
While, as a lion crouch'd above his prey,
The Trojans yet made head against their foes;
And as the swift sea-water ebbs and flows
Between the Straits of Helle and the main,
Even so the tide of battle sank and rose,
And fill'd with waifs of war the Ilian plain.
And horse on horse was driven, as wave on wave;
Like rain upon the deep the arrows fell,
And like the wind, the war-cry of the brave
Rang out above the battle's ebb and swell,
And long the tale of slain, and sad to tell;
Yet seem'd the end scarce nearer than of yore
When nine years pass'd and still the citadel
Frown'd on the Argive huts beside the shore.
And still the watchers on the city's crown
Afar from sacred Ilios might spy
The flame from many a fallen subject town
Flare on the starry verges of the sky,
And still from rich Maeonia came the cry
Of cities sack'd where'er Achilles led.
Yet none the more men deem'd the end was nigh
While knightly Hector fought unvanquished.
But ever as each dawn bore grief afar,
And further back, wax'd Paris glad and gay,
And on the fringes of the cloud of war
His arrows, like the lightning, still would play;
Yet fled he Menelaus on a day,
And there had died, but Aphrodite's power
Him in a golden cloud did safe convey
Within the walls of Helen's fragrant bower.
But she, in longing for her lord and home,
And scorn of her wild lover, did withdraw
From all men's eyes: but in the night would roam
Till drowsy watchmen of the city saw
A shadowy shape that chill'd the night with awe,
Treading the battlements; and like a ghost,
She stretch'd her lovely arms without a flaw,
In shame and longing, to the Argive host.
But all day long within her bower she wept,
Still dreaming of the dames renown'd of old,
Whom hate or love of the Immortals swept
Within the toils of Ate manifold;
And most she loved the ancient tales that told
How the great Gods, at length to pity stirr'd,
Changed Niobe upon the mountains cold,
To a cold stone; and Procne to a bird,
And Myrrha to an incense-breathing tree; -
"And ah," she murmur'd, "that the Gods were kind,
And bade the Harpies lay their hands on me,
And bear me with the currents of the wind
To the dim end of all things, and the blind
Land where the Ocean turneth in his bed:
Then should I leave mine evil days behind,
And Sleep should fold his wings above my head."
And once she heard a Trojan woman bless
The fair-haired Menelaus, her good lord,
As brave among brave men, not merciless,
Not swift to slay the captives of his sword,
Nor wont was he to win the gold abhorr'd
Of them that sell their captives over sea,
And Helen sighed, and bless'd her for that word,
"Yet will he ne'er be merciful to me!"
In no wise found she comfort; to abide
In Ilios was to dwell with shame and fear,
And if unto the Argive host she hied,
Then should she die by him that was most dear.
And still the days dragg'd on with bitter cheer,
Till even the great Gods had little joy,
So fast their children fell beneath the spear,
Below the windy battlements of Troy.
Yet many a prince of south lands, or of east,
For dark Cassandra's love came trooping in,
And Priam made them merry at the feast,
And all night long they dream'd of wars to win,
And with the morning hurl'd into the din,
And cried their lady's name for battle-cry,
And won no more than this: for Paris' sin,
By Diomede's or Aias' hand to die.
But for one hour within the night of woes
The hope of Troy burn'd steadfast as a star;
When strife among the Argive lords arose,
And dread Achilles held him from the war;
Yea, and Apollo from his golden car
And silver bow his shafts of evil sped,
And all the plain was darken'd, near and far,
With smoke above the pyres of heroes dead.
And many a time through vapour of that smoke
The shafts of Troy fell fast; and on the plain
All night the Trojan watch fires burn'd and broke
Like evil stars athwart a mist of rain.
And through the arms and blood, and through the slain,
Like wolves among the fragments of the fight,
Crept spies to slay whoe'er forgat his pain
One hour, and fell on slumber in the night.
And once, when wounded chiefs their tents did keep,
And only Aias might his weapons wield,
Came Hector with his host, and smiting deep,
Brake bow and spear, brake axe and glaive and shield,
Bulwark and battlement must rend and yield,
And by the ships he smote the foe and cast
Fire on the ships; and o'er the stricken field,
The Trojans saw that flame arise at last!
But when Achilles saw the soaring flame,
And knew the ships in peril, suddenly
A change upon his wrathful spirit came,
Nor will'd he that the Danaans should die:
But call'd his Myrmidons, and with a cry
They follow'd where, like foam on a sea-wave
Patroclus' crest was dancing, white and high,
Above the tide that back the Trojans drave.
But like a rock amid the shifting sands,
And changing springs, and tumult of the deep,
Sarpedon stood, till 'neath Patroclus' hands,
Smitten he fell; then Death and gentle Sleep
Bare him from forth the battle to the steep
Where shines his castle o'er the Lycian dell;
There hath he burial due, while all folk weep
Around the kindly Prince that loved them well.
Not unavenged he fell, nor all alone
To Hades did his soul indignant fly,
For soon was keen Patroclus overthrown
By Hector, and the God of archery;
And Hector stripp'd his shining panoply,
Bright arms Achilles lent: ah! naked then,
Forgetful wholly of his chivalry,
Patroclus lay, nor heard the strife of men.
Then Hector from the war a little space
Withdrew, and clad him in Achilles' gear,
And braced the gleaming helmet on his face,
And donn'd the corslet, and that mighty spear
He grasped--the lance that makes the boldest fear;
And home his comrades bare his arms of gold,
Those Priam once had worn, his father dear,
But in his father's arms he waxed not old!
Then round Patroclus' body, like a tide
That storms the swollen outlet of a stream
When the winds blow, and the rains fall, and wide
The river runs, and white the breakers gleam, -
Trojans and Argives battled till the beam
Of Helios was sinking to the wave,
And now they near'd the ships: yet few could deem
That arms of Argos might the body save.
But even then the tidings sore were borne
To great Achilles, of Patroclus dead,
And all his goodly raiment hath he torn,
And cast the dust upon his golden head,
And many a tear and bitter did he shed.
Ay; there by his own sword had he been slain,
But swift his Goddess-mother, Thetis, sped
Forth with her lovely sea-nymphs from the main.
For, as a mother when her young child calls
Hearkens to that, and hath no other care:
So Thetis, from her green and windless halls
Rose, at the first word of Achilles' prayer,
To comfort him, and promise gifts of fair
New armour wrought by an immortal hand;
Then like a silver cloud she scaled the air,
Where bright the dwellings of Olympus stand.
But, as a beacon from a 'leaguer'd town
Within a sea-girt isle, leaps suddenly,
A cloud by day; but when the sun goes down,
The tongues of fire flash out, and soar on high,
To summon warlike men that dwell thereby
And bid them bring a rescue over-seas, -
So now Athene sent a flame to fly
From brow and temples of Aeacides.
Then all unarm'd he sped, and through the throng,
He pass'd to the dyke's edge, beyond the wall,
Nor leap'd the ranks of fighting men among,
But shouted clearer than the clarion's call
When foes on a beleaguer'd city fall.
Three times he cried, and terror fell on these
That heard him; and the Trojans, one and all,
Fled from that shouting of Aeacides.
Backward the Trojans reel'd in headlong flight,
Chariots and men, and left their bravest slain;
And the sun fell; hut Troy through all the night
Watch'd by her fires upon the Ilian plain,
For Hector did the sacred walls disdain
Of Ilios; nor knew that he should stand
Ere night return'd, and burial crave in vain,
Unarm'd, forsaken, at Achilles' hand.
But all that night within his chamber high
Hephaestus made his iron anvils ring;
And, ere the dawn, had wrought a panoply,
The goodliest ever worn by mortal king.
This to the Argive camp did Thetis bring,
And when her child had proved it, like the star
That heralds day, he went forth summoning
The host Achaean to delight of war.
And as a mountain torrent leaves its bed,
And seaward sweeps the toils of men in spate,
Or as a forest-fire, that overhead
Burns in the boughs, a thing insatiate,
So raged the fierce Achilles in his hate;
And Xanthus, angry for his Trojans slain,
Brake forth, while fire and wind made desolate
What war and wave had spared upon the plain.
Now through the fume and vapour of the smoke
Between the wind's voice and the water's cry,
The battle shouting of the Trojans broke,
And reached the Ilian walls confusedly,
But over soon the folk that watch'd might spy
Thin broken bands that fled, avoiding death,
Yet many a man beneath the spear must die,
Ere by the sacred gateway they drew breath.
And as when fire doth on a forest fall
And hot winds bear it raging in its flight,
And beechen boughs, and pines are ruin'd all,
So raged Achilles' anger in that fight;
And many an empty car, with none to smite
The madden'd horses, o'er the bridge of war
Was wildly whirled, and many a maid's delight
That day to the red wolves was dearer far.
* * * * *
Some Muse that loved not Troy hath done thee wrong,
Homer! who whisper'd thee that Hector fled
Thrice round the sacred walls he kept so long;
Nay, when he saw his people vanquished
Alone he stood for Troy; alone he sped
One moment, to the struggle of the spear,
And, by the Gods deserted, fell and bled,
A warrior stainless of reproach and fear.
Then all the people from the battlement
Beheld what dreadful things Achilles wrought,
For on the body his revenge he spent,
The anger of the high Gods heeding nought,
To whom was Hector dearest, while he fought,
Of all the Trojan men that were their joy,
But now no more their favour might be bought
By savour of his hecatombs in Troy.
So for twelve days rejoiced the Argive host,
And now Patroclus hath to Hades won,
But Hector naked lay, and still his ghost
Must wail where waters of Cocytus run;
Till Priam did what no man born hath done,
Who dared to pass among the Argive bands,
And clasp'd the knees of him that slew his son,
And kiss'd his awful homicidal hands.
At such a price was Hector's body sent
To Ilios, where the women wail'd him shrill;
And Helen's sorrow brake into lament
As bursts a lake the barriers of a hill,
For lost, lost, lost was that one friend who still
Stood by her with kind speech and gentle heart,
The sword of war, pure faith, and steadfast will,
That strove to keep all evil things apart.
* * * * *
And so men buried Hector. But they came,
The Amazons, from frozen fields afar.
A match for heroes in the dreadful game
Of spears, the darlings of the God of War,
Whose coming was to Priam dearer far
Than light to him that is a long while blind,
When leech's hand hath taen away the bar
That vex'd him, or the healing God is kind;
And Troy was glad, and with the morning light
The Amazons went forth to slay and slay;
And wondrously they drave the foe in flight,
Until the Sun had wander'd half his way;
But when he stoop'd to twilight and the grey
Hour when men loose the steer beneath the yoke,
No more Achilles held him from the fray,
But dreadful through the women's ranks he broke.
Then comes eclipse upon the crescent shield,
And death on them that bear it, and they fall
One here, one there, about the stricken field,
As in that art, of Love memorial,
Which moulders on the holy Carian wall.
Ay, still we see, still love, still pity there
The warrior-maids, so brave, so god-like tall,
In Time's despite imperishably fair.
But, as a dove that braves a falcon, stood
Penthesilea, wrath outcasting fear,
Or as a hind, that in the darkling wood
Withstands a lion for her younglings dear;
So stood the girl before Achilles' spear;
In vain, for singing from his hand it sped,
And crash'd through shield and breastplate till the sheer
Cold bronze drank blood, and down the queen fell dead.
Then from her locks the helm Achilles tore
And boasted o'er the slain; but lo, the face
Of her thus lying in the dust and gore
Seem'd lovelier than is the maiden grace
Of Artemis, when weary from the chase,
She sleepeth in a haunted dell unknown.
And all the Argives marvell'd for a space,
But most Achilles made a heavy moan:
And in his heart there came the weary thought
Of all that was, and all that might have been,
Of all the sorrow that his sword had wrought,
Of Death that now drew near him: of the green
Vales of Larissa, where, with such a queen,
With such a love as now his spear had slain,
He had been happy, who must wind the skein
Of grievous wars, and ne'er be glad again.
Yea, now wax'd Fate half weary of her game,
And had no care but aye to kill and kill,
And many young kings to the battle came,
And of that joy they quickly had their fill,
And last came Memnon: and the Trojans still
Took heart, like wearied mariners that see
(Long toss'd on unknown waves at the winds' will)
Through clouds the gleaming crest of Helike.
For Memnon was the child of the bright Dawn,
A Goddess wedded to a mortal king,
Who dwells for ever on the shores withdrawn
That border on the land of sun-rising;
And he was nurtured nigh the sacred spring
That is the hidden fountain of all seas,
By them that in the Gods' own garden sing,
The lily-maidens call'd Hesperides.
But him the child of Thetis in the fight
Met on a windy winter day, when high
The dust was whirled, and wrapp'd them like the night
That falleth on the mountains stealthily
When the floods come, and down their courses dry
The torrents roar, and lightning flasheth far:
So rang, so shone their harness terribly
Beneath the blinding thunder-cloud of war.
Then the Dawn shudder'd on her golden throne,
And called unto the West Wind, and he blew
And brake the cloud asunder; and alone
Achilles stood, but Memnon, smitten through,
Lay beautiful amid the dreadful dew
Of battle, and a deathless heart was fain
Of tears, to Gods impossible, that drew
From mortal hearts a little of their pain.
But now, their leader slain, the Trojans fled,
And fierce Achilles drove them in his hate,
Avenging still his dear Patroclus dead,
Nor knew the hour with his own doom was great,
Nor trembled, standing in the Scaean gate,
Where ancient prophecy foretold his fall;
Then suddenly there sped the bolt of Fate,
And smote Achilles by the Ilian wall:
From Paris' bow it sped, and even there,
Even as he grasp'd the skirts of victory,
Achilles fell, nor any man might dare
From forth the Trojan gateway to draw nigh;
But, as the woodmen watch a lion die,
Pierced with the hunter's arrow, nor come near
Till Death hath veil'd his eyelids utterly,
Even so the Trojans held aloof in fear.
But there his fellows on his wondrous shield
Laid the fair body of Achilles slain,
And sadly bare him through the trampled field,
And lo! the deathless maidens of the main
Rose up, with Thetis, from the windy plain,
And round the dead man beautiful they cried,
Lamenting, and with melancholy strain
The sweet-voiced Muses mournfully replied.
Yea, Muses and Sea-maidens sang his dirge,
And mightily the chant arose and shrill,
And wondrous echoes answer'd from the surge
Of the grey sea, and from the holy hill
Of Ida; and the heavy clouds and chill
Were gathering like mourners, sad and slow,
And Zeus did thunder mightily, and fill
The dells and glades of Ida deep with snow.
Now Paris was not sated with the fame
And rich reward Troy gave his archery;
But o'er the wine he boasted that the game
That very night he deem'd to win, or die;
"For scarce their watch the tempest will defy,"
He said, "and all undream'd of might we go,
And fall upon the Argives where they lie,
Unseen, unheard, amid the silent snow."
So, flush'd with wine, and clad in raiment white
Above their mail, the young men follow'd him,
Their guide a fading camp-fire in the night,
And the sea's moaning in the distance dim.
And still with eddying snow the air did swim,
And darkly did they wend they knew not where,
White in that cursed night: an army grim,
'Wilder'd with wine, and blind with whirling air.
There was an outcast in the Argive host,
One Philoctetes; whom Odysseus' wile,
(For, save he help'd, the Leaguer all was lost,)
Drew from his lair within the Lemnian isle.
But him the people, as a leper vile,
Hated, and drave to a lone hut afar,
For wounded sore was he, and many a while
His cries would wake the host foredone with war.
Now Philoctetes was an archer wight;
But in his quiver had he little store
Of arrows tipp'd with bronze, and feather'd bright;
Nay, his were blue with mould, and fretted o'er
With many a spell Melampus wrought of yore,
Singing above his task a song of bane;
And they were venom'd with the Centaur's gore,
And tipp'd with bones of men a long while slain.
This wretch for very pain might seldom sleep,
And that night slept not: in the moaning blast
He deem'd the dead about his hut did creep,
And silently he rose, and round him cast
His raiment foul, and from the door he pass'd,
And peer'd into the night, and soothly heard
A whisper'd voice; then gripp'd his arrows fast
And strung his bow, and cried a bitter word:
"Art thou a gibbering ghost with war outworn,
And thy faint life in Hades not begun?
Art thou a man that holdst my grief in scorn,
And yet dost live, and look upon the sun?
If man,--methinks thy pleasant days are done,
And thou shalt writhe in torment worse than mine;
If ghost,--new pain in Hades hast thou won,
And there with double woe shalt surely pine."
He spake, and drew the string, and sent a shaft
At venture through the midnight and the snow,
A little while he listen'd, then he laugh'd
Within himself, a dreadful laugh and low;
For over well the answer did he know
That midnight gave his message, the sharp cry
And armour rattling on a fallen foe
That now was learning what it is to die.
Then Philoctetes crawl'd into his den
And hugg'd himself against the bitter cold,
While round their leader came the Trojan men
And bound his wound, and bare him o'er the wold,
Back to the lights of Ilios; but the gold
Of Dawn was breaking on the mountains white,
Or ere they won within the guarded fold,
Long 'wilder'd in the tempest and the night.
And through the gate, and through the silent street,
And houses where men dream'd of war no more,
The bearers wander'd with their weary feet,
And Paris to his high-roof'd house they bore.
But vainly leeches on his wound did pore,
And vain was Argive Helen's magic song,
Ah, vain her healing hands, and all her lore,
To help the life that wrought her endless wrong.
Slow pass'd the fever'd hours, until the grey
Cold light was paling, and a sullen glow
Of livid yellow crown'd the dying day,
And brooded on the wastes of mournful snow.
Then Paris whisper'd faintly, "I must go
And face that wild wood-maiden of the hill;
For none but she can win from overthrow
Troy's life, and mine that guards it, if she will."
So through the dumb white meadows, deep with snow,
They bore him on a pallet shrouded white,
And sore they dreaded lest an ambush'd foe
Should hear him moan, or mark the moving light
That waved before their footsteps in the night;
And much they joy'd when Ida's knees were won,
And 'neath the pines upon an upland height,
They watch'd the star that heraldeth the sun.
For under woven branches of the pine,
The soft dry needles like a carpet spread,
And high above the arching boughs did shine
In frosty fret of silver, that the red
New dawn fired into gold-work overhead:
Within that vale where Paris oft had been
With fair OEnone, ere the hills he fled
To be the sinful lover of a Queen.
Not here they found OEnone: "Nay, not here,"
Said Paris, faint and low, "shall she be found;
Nay, bear me up the mountain, where the drear
Winds walk for ever on a haunted ground.
Methinks I hear her sighing in their sound;
Or some God calls me there, a dying man.
Perchance my latest journeying is bound
Back where the sorrow of my life began."
They reach'd the gateway of that highest glen
And halted, wond'ring what the end should be;
But Paris whisper'd Helen, while his men
Fell back: "Here judged I Gods, here shalt thou see
What judgment mine old love will pass on me.
But hide thee here; thou soon the end shalt know,
Whether the Gods at length will set thee free
From that old net they wove so long ago."
Ah, there with wide snows round her like a pall,
OEnone crouch'd in sable robes; as still
As Winter brooding o'er the Summer's fall,
Or Niobe upon her haunted hill,
A woman changed to stone by grief, where chill
The rain-drops fall like tears, and the wind sighs:
And Paris deem'd he saw a deadly will
Unmoved in wild OEnone's frozen eyes.
"Nay, prayer to her were vain as prayer to Fate,"
He murmur'd, almost glad that it was so,
Like some sick man that need no longer wait,
But his pain lulls as Death draws near his woe.
And Paris beckon'd to his men, and slow
They bore him dying from that fatal place,
And did not turn again, and did not know
The soft repentance on OEnone's face.
But Paris spake to Helen: "Long ago,
Dear, we were glad, who never more shall be
Together, where the west winds fainter blow
Round that Elysian island of the sea,
Where Zeus from evil days shall set thee free.
Nay, kiss me once, it is a weary while,
Ten weary years since thou hast smiled on me,
But, Helen, say good-bye, with thine old smile!"
And as the dying sunset through the rain
Will flush with rosy glow a mountain height,
Even so, at his last smile, a blush again
Pass'd over Helen's face, so changed and white;
And through her tears she smiled, his last delight,
The last of pleasant life he knew, for grey
The veil of darkness gather'd, and the night
Closed o'er his head, and Paris pass'd away.
Then for one hour in Helen's heart re-born,
Awoke the fatal love that was of old,
Ere she knew all, and the cold cheeks outworn,
She kiss'd, she kiss'd the hair of wasted gold,
The hands that ne'er her body should enfold;
Then slow she follow'd where the bearers led,
Follow'd dead Paris through the frozen wold
Back to the town where all men wish'd her dead.
Perchance it was a sin, I know not, this!
Howe'er it be, she had a woman's heart,
And not without a tear, without a kiss,
Without some strange new birth of the old smart,
From her old love of the brief days could part
For ever; though the dead meet, ne'er shall they
Meet, and be glad by Aphrodite's art,
Whose souls have wander'd each its several way.
* * * * * *
And now was come the day when on a pyre
Men laid fair Paris, in a broider'd pall,
And fragrant spices cast into the fire,
And round the flame slew many an Argive thrall.
When, like a ghost, there came among them all,
A woman, once beheld by them of yore,
When first through storm and driving rain the tall
Black ships of Argos dash'd upon the shore.
Not now in wrath OEnone came; but fair
Like a young bride when nigh her bliss she knows,
And in the soft night of her fallen hair
Shone flowers like stars, more white than Ida's snows,
And scarce men dared to look on her, of those
The pyre that guarded; suddenly she came,
And sprang upon the pyre, and shrill arose
Her song of death, like incense through the flame.
And still the song, and still the flame went up,
But when the flame wax'd fierce, the singing died;
And soon with red wine from a golden cup
Priests drench'd the pyre; but no man might divide
The ashes of the Bridegroom from the Bride.
Nay, they were wedded, and at rest again,
As in those old days on the mountain-side,
Before the promise of their youth was vain.
BOOK VI--THE SACK OF TROY. THE RETURN OF HELEN
The sack of Troy, and of how Menelaus would have let stone Helen, but
Aphrodite saved her, and made them at one again, and how they came
home to Lacedaemon, and of their translation to Elysium.
There came a day, when Trojan spies beheld
How, o'er the Argive leaguer, all the air
Was pure of smoke, no battle-din there swell'd,
Nor any clarion-call was sounding there!
Yea, of the serried ships the strand was bare,
And sea and shore were still, as long ago
When Ilios knew not Helen, and the fair
Sweet face that makes immortal all her woe.
So for a space the watchers on the wall
Were silent, wond'ring what these things might mean.
But, at the last, sent messengers to call
Priam, and all the elders, and the lean
Remnant of goodly chiefs, that once had been
The shield and stay of Ilios, and her joy,
Nor yet despair'd, but trusted Gods unseen,
And cast their spears, and shed their blood for Troy.
They came, the more part grey, grown early old,
In war and plague; but with them was the young
Coroebus, that but late had left the fold
And flocks of sheep Maeonian hills among,
And valiantly his lot with Priam flung,
For love of a lost cause and a fair face, -
The eyes that once the God of Pytho sung,
That now look'd darkly to the slaughter-place.
Now while the elders kept their long debate,
Coroebus stole unheeded to his band,
And led a handful by a postern gate
Across the plain, across the barren land
Where once the happy vines were wont to stand,
And 'mid the clusters once did maidens sing, -
But now the plain was waste on every hand,
Though here and there a flower would breathe of Spring.
So swift across the trampled battle-field
Unchallenged still, but wary, did they pass,
By many a broken spear or shatter'd shield
That in Fate's hour appointed faithless was:
Only the heron cried from the morass
By Xanthus' side, and ravens, and the grey
Wolves left their feasting in the tangled grass,
Grudging; and loiter'd, nor fled far away.
There lurk'd no spears in the high river-banks,
No ambush by the cairns of men outworn,
But empty stood the huts, in dismal ranks,
Where men through all these many years had borne
Fierce summer, and the biting winter's scorn;
And here a sword was left, and there a bow,
But ruinous seem'd all things and forlorn,
As in some camp forsaken long ago.
Gorged wolves crept round the altars, and did eat
The flesh of victims that the priests had slain,
And wild dogs fought above the sacred meat
Late offer'd to the deathless Gods in vain,
By men that, for reward of all their pain,
Must haul the ropes, and weary at the oar,
Or, drowning, clutch at foam amid the main,
Nor win their haven on the Argive shore.
Not long the young men marvell'd at the sight,
But grasping one a sword, and one the spear
Aias, or Tydeus' son, had borne in fight,
They sped, and fill'd the town with merry cheer,
For folk were quick the happy news to hear,
And pour'd through all the gates into the plain,
Rejoicing as they wander'd far and near,
O'er the long Argive toils endured in vain.
Ah, sweet it was, without the city walls,
To hear the doves coo, and the finches sing;
Ah, sweet, to twine their true-loves coronals
Of woven wind-flowers, and each fragrant thing
That blossoms in the footsteps of the spring;
And sweet, to lie, forgetful of their grief,
Where violets trail by waters wandering,
And the wild fig-tree putteth forth his leaf!
Now while they wander'd as they would, they found
A wondrous thing: a marvel of man's skill,
That stood within a vale of hollow ground,
And bulk'd scarce smaller than the bitter-hill, -
The common barrow that the dead men fill
Who died in the long leaguer,--not of earth,
Was this new portent, but of tree, and still
The Trojans stood, and marvell'd 'mid their mirth.
Ay, much they wonder'd what this thing might be,
Shaped like a Horse it was; and many a stain
There show'd upon the mighty beams of tree,
For some with fire were blacken'd, some with rain
Were dank and dark amid white planks of plane,
New cut among the trees that now were few
On wasted Ida; but men gazed in vain,
Nor truth thereof for all their searching knew.
At length they deem'd it was a sacred thing,
Vow'd to Poseidon, monarch of the deep,
And that herewith the Argives pray'd the King
Of wind and wave to lull the seas to sleep;
So this, they cried, within the sacred keep
Of Troy must rest, memorial of the war;
And sturdily they haled it up the steep,
And dragg'd the monster to their walls afar.
All day they wrought: and children crown'd with flowers
Laid light hands on the ropes; old men would ply
Their feeble force; so through the merry hours
They toil'd, midst laughter and sweet minstrelsy,
And late they drew the great Horse to the high
Crest of the hill, and wide the tall gates swang;
But thrice, for all their force, it stood thereby
Unmoved, and thrice like smitten armour rang.
Natheless they wrought their will; then altar fires
The Trojans built, and did the Gods implore
To grant fulfilment of all glad desires.
But from the cups the wine they might not pour,
The flesh upon the spits did writhe and roar,
The smoke grew red as blood, and many a limb
Of victims leap'd upon the temple floor,
Trembling; and groans amid the chapels dim
Rang low, and from the fair Gods' images
And from their eyes, dropp'd sweat and many a tear;
The walls with blood were dripping, and on these
That sacrificed, came horror and great fear;
The holy laurels to Apollo dear
Beside his temple faded suddenly,
And wild wolves from the mountains drew anear,
And ravens through the temples seem'd to fly.
Yet still the men of Troy were glad at heart,
And o'er strange meat they revell'd, like folk fey,
Though each would shudder if he glanced apart,
For round their knees the mists were gather'd grey,
Like shrouds on men that Hell-ward take their way;
But merrily withal they feasted thus,
And laugh'd with crooked lips, and oft would say
Some evil-sounding word and ominous.
And Hecuba among her children spake,
"Let each man choose the meat he liketh best,
For bread no more together shall we break.
Nay, soon from all my labour must I rest,
But eat ye well, and drink the red wine, lest
Ye blame my house-wifery among men dead."
And all they took her saying for a jest,
And sweetly did they laugh at that she said.
Then, like a raven on the of night,
The wild Cassandra flitted far and near,
Still crying, "Gather, gather for the fight,
And brace the helmet on, and grasp the spear,
For lo, the legions of the Night are here!"
So shriek'd the dreadful prophetess divine.
But all men mock'd, and were of merry cheer;
Safe as the Gods they deem'd them, o'er their wine.
For now with minstrelsy the air was sweet,
The soft spring air, and thick with incense smoke;
And bands of happy dancers down the street
Flew from the flower-crown'd doors, and wheel'd, and broke;
And loving words the youths and maidens spoke,
For Aphrodite did their hearts beguile,
As when beneath grey cavern or green oak
The shepherd men and maidens meet and smile.
No guard they set, for truly to them all
Did Love and slumber seem exceeding good;
There was no watch by open gate nor wall,
No sentinel by Pallas' image stood;
But silence grew, as in an autumn wood
When tempests die, and the vex'd boughs have ease,
And wind and sunlight fade, and soft the mood
Of sacred twilight falls upon the trees.
Then the stars cross'd the zenith, and there came
On Troy that hour when slumber is most deep,
But any man that watch'd had seen a flame
Spring from the tall crest of the Trojan keep;
While from the belly of the Horse did leap
Men arm'd, and to the gates went stealthily,
While up the rocky way to Ilios creep
The Argives, new return'd across the sea.
Now when the silence broke, and in that hour
When first the dawn of war was blazing red,
There came a light in Helen's fragrant bower,
As on that evil night before she fled
From Lacedaemon and her marriage bed;
And Helen in great fear lay still and cold,
For Aphrodite stood above her head,
And spake in that sweet voice she knew of old:
"Beloved one that dost not love me, wake!
Helen, the night is over, the dawn is near,
And safely shalt thou fare with me, and take
Thy way through fire and blood, and have no fear:
A little hour, and ended is the drear
Tale of thy sorrow and thy wandering.
Nay, long hast thou to live in happy cheer,
By fair Eurotas, with thy lord, the King."
Then Helen rose, and in a cloud of gold,
Unseen amid the vapour of the fire,
Did Aphrodite veil her, fold on fold;
And through the darkness, thronged with faces dire,
And o'er men's bodies fallen in a mire
Of new spilt blood and wine, the twain did go
Where Lust and Hate were mingled in desire,
And dreams and death were blended in one woe.
Fire and the foe were masters now: the sky
Flared like the dawn of that last day of all,
When men for pity to the sea shall cry,
And vainly on the mountain tops shall call
To fall and end the horror in their fall;
And through the vapour dreadful things saw they,
The maidens leaping from the city wall,
The sleeping children murder'd where they lay.
Yea, cries like those that make the hills of Hell
Ring and re-echo, sounded through the night,
The screams of burning horses, and the yell
Of young men leaping naked into fight,
And shrill the women shriek'd, as in their flight
Shriek the wild cranes, when overhead they spy
Between the dusky cloud-land and the bright
Blue air, an eagle stooping from the sky.
And now the red glare of the burning shone
On deeds so dire the pure Gods might not bear,
Save Ares only, long to look thereon,
But with a cloud they darken'd all the air.
And, even then, within the temple fair
Of chaste Athene, did Cassandra cower,
And cried aloud an unavailing prayer;
For Aias was the master in that hour.
Man's lust won what a God's love might not win,
And heroes trembled, and the temple floor
Shook, when one cry went up into the din,
And shamed the night to silence; then the roar
Of war and fire wax'd great as heretofore,
Till each roof fell, and every palace gate
Was shatter'd, and the King's blood shed; nor more
Remain'd to do, for Troy was desolate.
Then dawn drew near, and changed to clouds of rose
The dreadful smoke that clung to Ida's head;
But Ilios was ashes, and the foes
Had left the embers and the plunder'd dead;
And down the steep they drove the prey, and sped
Back to the swift ships, with a captive train, -
While Menelaus, slow, with drooping head,
Follow'd, like one lamenting, through the plain.
Where death might seem the surest, by the gate
Of Priam, where the spears raged, and the tall
Towers on the foe were falling, sought he fate
To look on Helen once, and then to fall,
Nor see with living eyes the end of all,
What time the host their vengeance should fulfil,
And cast her from the cliff below the wall,
Or burn her body on the windy hill.
But Helen found he never, where the flame
Sprang to the roofs, and Helen ne'er he found
Where flock'd the wretched women in their shame
The helpless altars of the Gods around,
Nor lurk'd she in deep chambers underground,
Where the priests trembled o'er their hidden gold,
Nor where the armed feet of foes resound
In shrines to silence consecrate of old.
So wounded to his hut and wearily
Came Menelaus; and he bow'd his head
Beneath the lintel neither fair nor high;
And, lo! Queen Helen lay upon his bed,
Flush'd like a child in sleep, and rosy-red,
And at his footstep did she wake and smile,
And spake: "My lord, how hath thy hunting sped,
Methinks that I have slept a weary while!"
For Aphrodite made the past unknown
To Helen, as of old, when in the dew
Of that fair dawn the net was round her thrown:
Nay, now no memory of Troy brake through
The mist that veil'd from her sweet eyes and blue
The dreadful days and deeds all over-past,
And gladly did she greet her lord anew,
And gladly would her arms have round him cast.
Then leap'd she up in terror, for he stood
Before her, like a lion of the wild,
His rusted armour all bestain'd with blood,
His mighty hands with blood of men defiled,
And strange was all she saw: the spears, the piled
Raw skins of slaughter'd beasts with many a stain;
And low he spake, and bitterly he smiled,
"The hunt is ended, and the spoil is ta'en."
No more he spake; for certainly he deem'd
That Aphrodite brought her to that place,
And that of her loved archer Helen dream'd,
Of Paris; at that thought the mood of grace
Died in him, and he hated her fair face,
And bound her hard, not slacking for her tears;
Then silently departed for a space,
To seek the ruthless counsel of his peers.
Now all the Kings were feasting in much joy,
Seated or couch'd upon the carpets fair
That late had strown the palace floors of Troy,
And lovely Trojan ladies served them there,
And meat from off the spits young princes bare;
But Menelaus burst among them all,
Strange, 'mid their revelry, and did not spare,
But bade the Kings a sudden council call.
To mar their feast the Kings had little will,
Yet did they as he bade, in grudging wise,
And heralds call'd the host unto the hill
Heap'd of sharp stones, where ancient Ilus lies.
And forth the people flock'd, as throng'd as flies
That buzz about the milking-pails in spring,
When life awakens under April skies,
And birds from dawning into twilight sing.
Then Helen through the camp was driven and thrust,
Till even the Trojan women cried in glee,
"Ah, where is she in whom thou put'st thy trust,
The Queen of love and laughter, where is she?
Behold the last gift that she giveth thee,
Thou of the many loves! to die alone,
And round thy flesh for robes of price to be
The cold close-clinging raiment of sharp stone."
Ah, slowly through that trodden field and bare
They pass'd, where scarce the daffodil might spring,
For war had wasted all, but in the air
High overhead the mounting lark did sing;
Then all the army gather'd in a ring
Round Helen, round their torment, trapp'd at last,
And many took up mighty stones to fling
From shards and flints on Ilus' barrow cast.
Then Menelaus to the people spoke,
And swift his wing'd words came as whirling snow,
"Oh ye that overlong have borne the yoke,
Behold the very fountain of your woe!
For her ye left your dear homes long ago,
On Argive valley or Boeotian plain;
But now the black ships rot from stern to prow,
Who knows if ye shall see your own again?
"Ay, and if home ye win, ye yet may find,
Ye that the winds waft, and the waters bear
To Argos! ye are quite gone out of mind;
Your fathers, dear and old, dishonour'd there;
Your children deem you dead, and will not share
Their lands with you; on mainland or on isle,
Strange men are wooing now the women fair,
And love doth lightly woman's heart beguile.
"These sorrows hath this woman wrought alone:
So fall upon her straightway that she die,
And clothe her beauty in a cloak of stone!"
He spake, and truly deem'd to hear her cry
And see the sharp flints straight and deadly fly;
But each man stood and mused on Helen's face,
And her undream'd-of beauty, brought so nigh
On that bleak plain, within that ruin'd place.
And as in far off days that were to be,
The sense of their own sin did men constrain,
That they must leave the sinful woman free
Who, by their law, had verily been slain,
So Helen's beauty made their anger vain,
And one by one his gather'd flints let fall;
And like men shamed they stole across the plain,
Back to the swift ships and their festival.
But Menelaus look'd on her and said,
"Hath no man then condemn'd thee,--is there none
To shed thy blood for all that thou hast shed,
To wreak on thee the wrongs that thou hast done.
Nay, as mine own soul liveth, there is one
That will not set thy barren beauty free,
But slay thee to Poseidon and the Sun
Before a ship Achaian takes the sea!"
Therewith he drew his sharp sword from his thigh
As one intent to slay her: but behold,
A sudden marvel shone across the sky!
A cloud of rosy fire, a flood of gold,
And Aphrodite came from forth the fold
Of wondrous mist, and sudden at her feet
Lotus and crocus on the trampled wold
Brake, and the slender hyacinth was sweet.
Then fell the point that never bloodless fell
When spear bit harness in the battle din,
For Aphrodite spake, and like a spell
Wrought her sweet voice persuasive, till within
His heart there lived no memory of sin,
No thirst for vengeance more, but all grew plain,
And wrath was molten in desire to win
The golden heart of Helen once again.
Then Aphrodite vanish'd as the day
Passes, and leaves the darkling earth behind;
And overhead the April sky was grey,
But Helen's arms about her lord were twined,
And his round her as clingingly and kind,
As when sweet vines and ivy in the spring
Join their glad leaves, nor tempests may unbind
The woven boughs, so lovingly they cling.
* * * *
Noon long was over-past, but sacred night
Beheld them not upon the Ilian shore;
Nay, for about the waning of the light
Their swift ships wander'd on the waters hoar,
Nor stay'd they the Olympians to adore,
So eagerly they left that cursed land,
But many a toil, and tempests great and sore,
Befell them ere they won the Argive strand.
To Cyprus and Phoenicia wandering
They came, and many a ship, and many a man
They lost, and perish'd many a precious thing
While bare before the stormy North they ran,
And further far than when their quest began
From Argos did they seem,--a weary while, -
Becalm'd in sultry seas Egyptian,
A long day's voyage from the mouths of Nile.
But there the Gods had pity on them, and there
The ancient Proteus taught them how to flee
From that so distant deep,--the fowls of air
Scarce in one year can measure out that sea;
Yet first within Aegyptus must they be,
And hecatombs must offer,--quickly then
The Gods abated of their jealousy,
Wherewith they scourge the negligence of men.
And strong and fair the south wind blew, and fleet
Their voyaging, so merrily they fled
To win that haven where the waters sweet
Of clear Eurotas with the brine are wed,
And swift their chariots and their horses sped
To pleasant Lacedaemon, lying low
Grey in the shade of sunset, but the head
Of tall Taygetus like fire did glow.
And what but this is sweet: at last to win
The fields of home, that change not while we change;
To hear the birds their ancient song begin;
To wander by the well-loved streams that range
Where not one pool, one moss-clad stone is strange,
Nor seem we older than long years ago,
Though now beneath the grey roof of the grange
The children dwell of them we used to know?
Came there no trouble in the later days
To mar the life of Helen, when the old
Crowns and dominions perish'd, and the blaze
Lit by returning Heraclidae roll'd
Through every vale and every happy fold
Of all the Argive land? Nay, peacefully
Did Menelaus and the Queen behold
The counted years of mortal life go by.
"Death ends all tales," but this he endeth not;
They grew not grey within the valley fair
Of hollow Lacedaemon, but were brought
To Rhadamanthus of the golden hair,
Beyond the wide world's end; ah never there
Comes storm nor snow; all grief is left behind,
And men immortal, in enchanted air,
Breathe the cool current of the Western wind.
But Helen was a Saint in Heathendom,
A kinder Aphrodite; without fear
Maidens and lovers to her shrine would come
In fair Therapnae, by the waters clear
Of swift Eurotas; gently did she hear
All prayers of love, and not unheeded came
The broken supplication, and the tear
Of man or maiden overweigh'd with shame.
O'er Helen's shrine the grass is growing green,
In desolate Therapnae; none the less
Her sweet face now unworshipp'd and unseen
Abides the symbol of all loveliness,
Of Beauty ever stainless in the stress
Of warring lusts and fears;--and still divine,
Still ready with immortal peace to bless
Them that with pure hearts worship at her shrine.
[In this story in rhyme of the fortunes of Helen, the theory that she
was an unwilling victim of the Gods has been preferred. Many of the
descriptions of manners are versified from the Iliad and the Odyssey.
The description of the events after the death of Hector, and the
account of the sack of Troy, is chiefly borrowed from Quintus
The character and history of Helen of Troy have been conceived of in
very different ways by poets and mythologists. In attempting to
trace the chief current of ancient traditions about Helen, we cannot
really get further back than the Homeric poems, the Iliad and
Odyssey. Philological conjecture may assure us that Helen, like most
of the characters of old romance, is "merely the Dawn," or Light, or
some other bright being carried away by Paris, who represents Night,
or Winter, or the Cloud, or some other power of darkness. Without
discussing these ideas, it may be said that the Greek poets (at all
events before allegorical explanations of mythology came in, about
five hundred years before Christ) regarded Helen simply as a woman of
wonderful beauty. Homer was not thinking of the Dawn, or the Cloud
when he described Helen among the Elders on the Ilian walls, or
repeated her lament over the dead body of Hector. The Homeric poems
are our oldest literary documents about Helen, but it is probable
enough that the poet has modified and purified more ancient
traditions which still survive in various fragments of Greek legend.
In Homer Helen is always the daughter of Zeus. Isocrates tells us
("Helena," 211 b) that "while many of the demigods were children of
Zeus, he thought the paternity of none of his daughters worth
claiming, save that of Helen only." In Homer, then, Helen is the
daughter of Zeus, but Homer says nothing of the famous legend which
makes Zeus assume the form of a swan to woo the mother of Helen.
Unhomeric as this myth is, we may regard it as extremely ancient.
Very similar tales of pursuit and metamorphosis, for amatory or other
purposes, among the old legends of Wales, and in the "Arabian
Nights," as well as in the myths of Australians and Red Indians.
Again, the belief that different families of mankind descend from
animals, as from the Swan, or from gods in the shape of animals, is
found in every quarter of the world, and among the rudest races.
Many Australian natives of to-day claim descent, like the royal house
of Sparta, from the Swan. The Greek myths hesitated as to whether
Nemesis or Leda was the bride of the Swan. Homer only mentions Leda
among "the wives and daughters of mighty men," whose ghosts Odysseus
beheld in Hades: "And I saw Leda, the famous bedfellow of Tyndareus,
who bare to Tyndareus two sons, hardy of heart, Castor, tamer of
steeds, and the boxer Polydeuces." These heroes Helen, in the Iliad
(iii. 238), describes as her mother's sons. Thus, if Homer has any
distinct view on the subject, he holds that Leda is the mother of
Helen by Zeus, of the Dioscuri by Tyndareus.
Greek ideas as to the character of Helen varied with the various
moods of Greek literature. Homer's own ideas about his heroine are
probably best expressed in the words with which Priam greets her as
she appears among the assembled elders, who are watching the Argive
heroes from the wall of Troy: --"In nowise, dear child, do I blame
thee; nay, the Gods are to blame, who have roused against me the
woful war of the Achaeans." Homer, like Priam, throws the guilt of
Helen on the Gods, but it is not very easy to understand exactly what
he means by saying "the Gods are to blame." In the first place,
Homer avoids the psychological problems in which modern poetry
revels, by attributing almost all changes of the moods of men to
divine inspiration. Thus when Achilles, in a famous passage of the
first book of the Iliad, puts up his half-drawn sword in the sheath,
and does not slay Agamemnon, Homer assigns his repentance to the
direct influence of Athene. Again, he says in the Odyssey, about
Clytemnestra, that "she would none of the foul deed;" that is of the
love of Aegisthus, till "the doom of the Gods bound her to her ruin."
So far the same excuse is made for the murderous Clytemnestra as for
the amiable Helen. Again, Homer is, in the strictest sense, and in
strong contrast to the Greek tragedians and to Virgil, a chivalrous
poet. It would probably be impossible to find a passage in which he
speaks harshly or censoriously of the conduct of any fair and noble
lady. The sordid treachery of Eriphyle, who sold her lord for gold,
wins for her the epithet "hateful;" and Achilles, in a moment of
strong grief, applies a term of abhorrence to Helen. But Homer is
too chivalrous to judge the life of any lady, and only shows the
other side of the chivalrous character--its cruelty to persons not of
noble birth--in describing the "foul death" of the waiting women of
Penelope. "God forbid that I should take these women's lives by a
clean death," says Telemachus (Odyssey, xxii. 462). So "about all
their necks nooses were cast that they might die by the death most
pitiful. And they writhed with their feet for a little space, but
for no long while." In trying to understand Homer's estimate of
Helen, therefore, we must make allowance for his theory of divine
intervention, and for his chivalrous judgment of ladies. But there
are two passages in the Iliad which may be taken as indicating
Homer's opinion that Helen was literally a victim, an unwilling
victim, of Aphrodite, and that she was carried away by force a
captive from Lacedaemon. These passages are in the Iliad, ii. 356,
590. In the former text Nestor says, "let none be eager to return
home ere he has couched with a Trojan's wife, and AVENGED THE
LONGINGS AND SORROWS OF HELEN"--[Greek text which cannot be
reproduced.] It is thus that Mr. Gladstone, a notable champion of
Helen's, would render this passage, and the same interpretation was
favoured by the ancient "Separatists" (Chorizontes), who wished to
prove that the Iliad and Odyssey were by different authors; but many
authorities prefer to translate "to avenge our labours and sorrows
for Helen's sake"--"to avenge all that we have endured in the attempt
to win back Helen." Thus the evidence of this passage is ambiguous.
The fairer way to seek for Homer's real view of Helen is to examine
all the passages in which she occurs. The result will be something
like this:- Homer sees in Helen a being of the rarest personal charm
and grace of character; a woman who imputes to herself guilt much
greater than the real measure of her offence. She is ever gentle
except with the Goddess who betrayed her, and the unworthy lover
whose lot she is compelled to share. Against them her helpless anger
breaks out in flashes of eloquent scorn. Homer was apparently
acquainted with the myth of Helen's capture by Theseus, a myth
illustrated in the decorations of the coffer of Cypselus. But we
first see Helen, the cause of the war, when Menelaus and Paris are
about to fight their duel for her sake, in the tenth year of the
Leaguer (Iliad, iii. 121). Iris is sent to summon Helen to the
walls. She finds Helen in her chamber, weaving at a mighty loom, and
embroidering on tapestry the adventures of the siege--the battles of
horse-taming Trojans and bronze-clad Achaeans. The message of Iris
renews in Helen's heart "a sweet desire for her lord and her own
city, and them that begat her;" so, draped in silvery white, Helen
goes with her three maidens to the walls. There, above the gate,
like some king in the Old Testament, Paris sits among his
counsellors, and they are all amazed at Helen's beauty; "no marvel is
it that Trojans and Achaeans suffer long and weary toils for such a
woman, so wondrous like to the immortal goddesses." Then Priam,
assuring Helen that he holds her blameless, bids her name to him her
kinsfolk and the other Achaean warriors. In her reply, Helen
displays that grace of penitence which is certainly not often found
in ancient literature:- "Would that evil death had been my choice,
when I followed thy son, and left my bridal bower and my kin, and my
daughter dear, and the maidens of like age with me." Agamemnon she
calls, "the husband's brother of me shameless; alas, that such an one
should be." She names many of the warriors, but misses her brothers
Castor and Polydeuces, "own brothers of mine, one mother bare us.
Either they followed not from pleasant Lacedaemon, or hither they
followed in swift ships, but now they have no heart to go down into
the battle for dread of the shame and many reproaches that are mine."
"So spake she, but already the life-giving earth did cover them,
there in Lacedaemon, in their own dear country."
Menelaus and Paris fought out their duel, the Trojan was discomfited,
but was rescued from death and carried to Helen's bower by Aphrodite.
Then the Goddess came in disguise to seek Helen on the wall, and
force her back into the arms of her defeated lover. Helen turned on
the Goddess with an abruptness and a force of sarcasm and invective
which seem quite foreign to her gentle nature. "Wilt thou take me
further yet to some city of Phrygia or pleasant Maeonia, if there any
man is dear to thee . . . Nay, go thyself and sit down by Paris, and
forswear the paths of the Gods, but ever lament for him and cherish
him, till he make thee his wife, yea, or perchance his slave, but to
him will I never go." But this anger of Helen is soon overcome by
fear, when the Goddess, in turn, waxes wrathful, and Helen is
literally driven by threats--"for the daughter of Zeus was afraid,"--
into the arms of Paris. Yet even so she taunts her lover with his
cowardice, a cowardice which she never really condones. In the sixth
book of the Iliad she has been urging him to return to the war. She
then expresses her penitence to Hector, "would that the fury of the
wind had borne me afar to the mountains, or the wave of the roaring
sea--ere ever these ill deeds were done!" In this passage too, she
prophesies that her fortunes will be [Greek text] famous in the
songs, good or evil, of men unborn. In the last book of the Iliad we
meet Helen once more, as she laments over the dead body of Hector.
"'Never, in all the twenty years since I came hither, have I heard
from thee one taunt or one evil word: nay, but if any other rebuked
me in the halls, any one of my husband's brothers, or of their
sisters, or their wives, or the mother of my husband (but the king
was ever gentle to me as a father), then wouldst thou restrain them
with thy loving kindness and thy gentle speech.' So spake she;
In the Odyssey, Helen is once more in Lacedaemon, the honoured but
still penitent wife of Menelaus. How they became reconciled (an
extremely difficult point in the story), there is nothing in Homer to
Sir John Lubbock has conjectured that in the morals of the heroic age
Helen was not really regarded as guilty. She was lawfully married,
by "capture," to Paris. Unfortunately for this theory there is
abundant proof that, in the heroic age, wives were nominally BOUGHT
for so many cattle, or given as a reward for great services. There
is no sign of marriage by capture, and, again, marriage by capture is
a savage institution which applies to unmarried women, not to women
already wedded, as Helen was to Menelaus. Perhaps the oldest
evidence we have for opinion about the later relations of Helen and
Menelaus, is derived from Pausanias's (174. AD.) description of the
Chest of Cypselus. This ancient coffer, a work of the seventh
century, B.C, was still preserved at Olympia, in the time of
Pausanias. On one of the bands of cedar or of ivory, was represented
(Pausanias, v. 18), "Menelaus with a sword in his hand, rushing on to
kill Helen--clearly at the sacking of Ilios." How Menelaus passed
from a desire to kill Helen to his absolute complacency in the
Odyssey, Homer does not tell us. According to a statement attributed
to Stesichorus (635, 554, B.C.?), the army of the Achaeans purposed
to stone Helen, but was overawed and compelled to relent by her
extraordinary beauty: "when they beheld her, they cast down their
stones on the ground." It may be conjectured that the reconciliation
followed this futile attempt at punishing a daughter of Zeus. Homer,
then, leaves us without information about the adventures of Helen,
between the sack of Tiny and the reconciliation with Menelaus. He
hints that she was married to Deiphobus, after the death of Paris,
and alludes to the tradition that she mimicked the voices of the
wives of the heroes, and so nearly tempted them to leave their ambush
in the wooden horse. But in the fourth book of the Odyssey, when
Telemachus visits Lacedaemon, he finds Helen the honoured wife of
Menelaus, rich in the marvellous gifts bestowed on her, in her
wanderings from Troy, by the princes of Egypt.
"While yet he pondered these things in his mind and in his heart,
Helen came forth from her fragrant vaulted chamber, like Artemis of
the golden arrows; and with her came Adraste and set for her the
well-wrought chair, and Alcippe bare a rug of soft wool, and Phylo
bare a silver basket which Alcandre gave her, the wife of Polybus,
who dwelt in Thebes of Egypt, where is the chiefest store of wealth
in the houses. He gave two silver baths to Menelaus, and tripods
twain, and ten talents of gold. And besides all this, his wife
bestowed on Helen lovely gifts; a golden distaff did she give, and a
silver basket with wheels beneath, and the rims thereof were finished
with gold. This it was that the handmaid Phylo bare and set beside
her, filled with dressed yarn, and across it was laid a distaff
charged with wool of violet blue. So Helen sat her down in the
chair, and beneath was a footstool for the feet."
When the host and guests begin to weep the ready tears of the heroic
age over the sorrows of the past, and dread of the dim future, Helen
comforts them with a magical potion.
"Then Helen, daughter of Zeus, turned to new thoughts. Presently she
cast a drug into the wine whereof they drank, a drug to lull all pain
and anger, and bring forgetfulness of every sorrow. Whoso should
drink a draught thereof, when it is mingled in the bowl, on that day
he would let no tear fall down his cheeks, not though his mother and
his father died, not though men slew his brother or dear son with the
sword before his face, and his own eyes beheld it. Medicines of such
virtue and so helpful had the daughter of Zeus, which Polydamna, the
wife of Thon, had given her, a woman of Egypt, where Earth the grain-
giver yields herbs in greatest plenty, many that are healing in the
cup, and many baneful."
So Telemachus was kindly entertained by Helen and Menelaus, and when
he left them it was not without a gift.
"And Helen stood by the coffers wherein were her robes of curious
needlework which she herself had wrought. Then Helen, the fair lady,
lifted one and brought it out, the widest and most beautifully
embroidered of all, and it shone like a star, and lay far beneath the
Presently, we read, "Helen of the fair face came up with the robe in
her hands, and spake: 'Lo! I too give thee this gift, dear child, a
memorial of the hands of Helen, for thy bride to wear upon the day of
thy desire, even of thy marriage. But meanwhile let it lie with thy
mother in her chamber. And may joy go with thee to thy well-builded
house, and thine own country.'"
Helen's last words, in Homer, are words of good omen, her prophecy to
Telemachus that Odysseus shall return home after long wanderings, and
take vengeance on the rovers. We see Helen no more, but Homer does
not leave us in doubt as to her later fortunes. He quotes the
prophecy which Proteus, the ancient one of the sea, delivered to
"But thou, Menelaus, son of Zeus, art not ordained to die and meet
thy fate in Argos, the pasture-land of horses, but the deathless gods
will convey thee to the Elysian plain and the world's end, where is
Rhadamanthus of the fair hair, where life is easiest for men. No
snow is there, nor yet great storm, nor any rain; but alway ocean
sendeth forth the breeze of the shrill West to blow cool on men:
yea, for thou hast Helen to wife, and thereby they deem thee to be
son of Zeus."
We must believe, with Isocrates, that Helen was translated, with her
lord, to that field of Elysium, "where falls not hail, or rain, or
any snow." This version of the end of Helen's history we have
adopted, but many other legends were known in Greece. Pausanias
tells us that, in a battle between the Crotoniats and the Locrians,
one Leonymus charged the empty space in the Locrian line, which was
entrusted to the care of the ghost of Aias. Leonymus was wounded by
the invisible spear of the hero, and could not be healed of the hurt.
The Delphian oracle bade him seek the Isle of Leuke in the Euxine
Sea, where Aias would appear to him, and heal him. When Leonymus
returned from Leuke he told how Achilles dwelt there with his ancient
comrades, and how he was now wedded to Helen of Troy. Yet the local
tradition of Lacedaemon showed the sepulchre of Helen in Therapnae.
According to a Rhodian legend (adopted by the author of the "Epic of
Hades"), Helen was banished from Sparta by the sons of Menelaus, came
wandering to Rhodes, and was there strangled by the servants of the
queen Polyxo, who thus avenged the death of her husband at Troy. It
is certain, as we learn both from Herodotus (vi. 61) and from
Isocrates, that Helen was worshipped in Therapnae. In the days of
Ariston the king, a deformed child was daily brought by her nurse to
the shrine of Helen. And it is said that, as the nurse was leaving
the shrine, a woman appeared unto her, and asked what she bore in her
arms, who said, "she bore a child." Then the woman said, "show it to
me," which the nurse refused, for the parents of the child had
forbidden that she should be seen of any. But the woman straitly
commanding that the child should be shown, and the other beholding
her eagerness, at length the nurse showed the child, and the woman
caressed its face and said, "she shall be the fairest woman in
Sparta." And from that day the fashion of its countenance was
changed, "and the child became the fairest of all the Spartan women."
It is a characteristic of Greek literature that, with the rise of
democracy, the old epic conception of the ancient heroes altered. We
can scarcely recognize the Odysseus of Homer in the Odysseus of
Sophocles. The kings are regarded by the tragedians with some of the
distrust and hatred which the unconstitutional tyrants of Athens had
aroused. Just as the later chansons de geste of France, the poems
written in an age of feudal opposition to central authority, degraded
heroes like Charles, so rhetorical, republican, and sophistical
Greece put its quibbles into the lips of Agamemnon and Helen, and
slandered the stainless and fearless Patroclus and Achilles.
The Helen of Euripides, in the "Troades," is a pettifogging sophist,
who pleads her cause to Menelaus with rhetorical artifice. In the
"Helena," again, Euripides quite deserts the Homeric traditions, and
adopts the late myths which denied that Helen ever went to Troy. She
remained in Egypt, and Achaeans and Trojans fought for a mere shadow,
formed by the Gods out of clouds and wind. In the "Cyclops" of
Euripides, a satirical drama, the cynical giant is allowed to speak
of Helen in a strain of coarse banter. Perhaps the essay of
Isocrates on Helen may be regarded as a kind of answer to the attacks
of several speakers in the works of the tragedians. Isocrates
defends Helen simply on the plea of her beauty: "To Heracles Zeus
gave strength, to Helen beauty, which naturally rules over even
strength itself." Beauty, he declares, the Gods themselves consider
the noblest thing in the world, as the Goddesses showed when they
contended for the prize of loveliness. And so marvellous, says
Isocrates, was the beauty of Helen, that for her glory Zeus did not
spare his beloved son, Sarpedon; and Thetis saw Achilles die, and the
Dawn bewailed her Memnon. "Beauty has raised more mortals to
immortality than all the other virtues together." And that Helen is
now a Goddess, Isocrates proves by the fact that the sacrifices
offered to her in Therapnae, are such as are given, not to heroes,
but to immortal Gods.
When Rome took up the legends of Greece, she did so in no chivalrous
spirit. Few poets are less chivalrous than Virgil; no hero has less
of chivalry than his pious and tearful Aeneas. In the second book of
the Aeneid, the pious one finds Helen hiding in the shrine of Vesta,
and determines to slay "the common curse of Troy and of her own
country." There is no glory, he admits, in murdering a woman:-
Extinxisse nefas tamen et sumpsisse merentis
Laudabor poenas, animumqne explesse juvabit
Ultricis flammae, et cineres satiasse meorum.
But Venus appears and rescues the unworthy lover of Dido from the
crowning infamy which he contemplates. Hundreds of years later,
Helen found a worthier poet in Quintus Smyrnaeus, who in a late age
sang the swan-song of Greek epic minstrelsy. It is thus that (in the
fourth century A.D.) Quintus describes Helen, as she is led with the
captive women of Ilios, to the ships of the Achaeans:- "Now Helen
lamented not, but shame dwelt in her dark eyes, and reddened her
lovely cheeks, . . . while around her the people marvelled as they
beheld the flawless grace and winsome beauty of the woman, and none
dared upbraid her with secret taunt or open rebuke. Nay, as she had
been a Goddess they beheld her gladly, for dear and desired was she
in their sight. And as when their own country appeareth to men long
wandering on the sea, and they, being escaped from death and the
deep, gladly put forth their hands to greet their own native place;
even so all the Danaans were glad at the sight of her, and had no
more memory of all their woful toil, and the din of war: such a
spirit did Cytherea put into their hearts, out of favour to fair
Helen and father Zeus." Thus Quintus makes amends for the trivial
verses in which Coluthus describes the flight of a frivolous Helen
with an effeminate Paris.
To follow the fortunes of Helen through the middle ages would demand
much space and considerable research. The poets who read Dares
Phrygius believed, with the scholar of Dr. Faustus, that "Helen of
Greece was the admirablest lady that ever lived." When English
poetry first found the secret of perfect music, her sweetest numbers
were offered by Marlowe at the shrine of Helen. The speech of
Faustus is almost too hackneyed to be quoted, and altogether too
beautiful to be omitted:-
Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium!
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
Her lips suck forth my soul! see where it flies;
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again;
Here will I dwell, for heaven is in those lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena.
* * *
Oh thou art fairer than the evening air
Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars.
The loves of Faustus and Helen are readily allegorized into the
passion of the Renaissance for classical beauty, the passion to which
all that is not beauty seemed very dross. This is the idea of the
second part of "Faust," in which Helen once more became, as she
prophesied in the Iliad, a song in the mouths of later men. Almost
her latest apparition in English poetry, is in the "Hellenics" of
Landor. The sweetness of the character of Helen; the tragedy of the
death of Corythus by the hand of his father Paris; and the
omnipotence of beauty and charm which triumph over the wrath of
Menelaus, are the subjects of Landor's verse. But Helen, as a woman,
has hardly found a nobler praise, in three thousand years, than
Helen, as a child, has received from Mr. Swinburne in "Atalanta in
Calydon." Meleager is the speaker:-
Even such (for sailing hither I saw far hence,
And where Eurotas hollows his moist rock
Nigh Sparta, with a strenuous-hearted stream)
Even such I saw their sisters; one swan-white,
The little Helen, and less fair than she
Fair Clytemnestra, grave as pasturing fawns
Who feed and fear some arrow; but at whiles,
As one smitten with love or wrung with joy,
She laughs and lightens with her eyes, and then
Weeps; whereat Helen, having laughed, weeps too,
And the other chides her, and she being chid speaks naught,
But cheeks and lips and eyelids kisses her
Laughing, so fare they, as in their bloomless bud
And full of unblown life, the blood of gods.
There is all the irony of Fate in Althaeas' reply
Sweet days befall them and good loves and lords,
Tender and temperate honours of the hearths,
Peace, and a perfect life and blameless bed.