Helen of Troy was a Greek demigod, daughter of Zeus and the mortal Leda. She was the the wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta, with whom she had a daughter named Hermione. Her abduction by Paris brought about the Trojan War. Helen was said to be the most beautiful woman in the world, sometimes even more beautiful than Aphrodite.
Birth and Early Life
Zeus had taken the form of a swan and caused an eagle to chase him through the air; the god eventually sought shelter in the arms of Leda, wife of King Tyndareus of Sparta, afterwhich he assumed his mortal form and lied with her. Leda, as a result of this encounter, laid two eggs, with Helen and her brother, Polydeuces, emerging from the first one, and Castor, Cyltemnastra, Timandra and Phylonoe (the children Leda had sired with Tyndareus), coming out of the other.
Helen was only twelve years old when Theseus, the elderly king of Athens, and his friend Pirithoüs, king of the Lapiths, arrived in Sparta and kidnapped her (the two men had been seeking to marry a daughter of Zeus, with Theseus choosing Helen and Pirithoüs choosing Persephone, queen of the Underworld); since Helen was not yet of marriageable age, Theseus decided to keep her until she was old enough to marry. Before he and Pirithoüs set off for the Underworld, Theseus hid Helen away in the town of Aphidnai, northwest of Athens, and assigned his mother, Aethra, to keep watch after her.
The secret of Helen's location was eventually leaked out, however, and her brothers, Castor and Polydeuces, set out to retrieve her. The two arrived in Attica, first seizing Athens and then making their way to Aphidnai, where they recovered their sister; while in Attica, the two brothers exacted vengeance against Theseus by giving the throne of Athens to Menestheus, a descendant of Erechtheus, one of the early Athenian kings. (Theseus' sons, Akamas and Demophon, had fled to Euboea and took refuge with Elephenor, king of the Abantes). They also captured Theseus' mother, Aethra, and took her with them back to Sparta, where she would serve Helen as her handmaiden.
Judgement of Paris
When the Nereid Thetis, was set to marry the mortal hero Peleus, all of the gods and goddesses were invited to attend, with the only exception being Eris, as she was the goddess of discord. In revenge, during the wedding party, Eris tossed a golden apple into the room, marked “for the fairest” on it, leading to a quarrel between three goddesses who had laid claim to the apple — namely Athena, Hera and Aphrodite. Zeus was unwilling to judge which of the goddesses should recieve the apple lest he anger them, and so he sent for Hermes, instructing him to tell the first farmer he found to judge them.
Hermes eventually came across a young shepherd named Paris, son of the Trojan king Priam, afterwhich Zeus sent Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite down to Paris, so he would judge which of the goddesses was “the fairest” and which one would receive the apple. Each of the goddesses tried to persuade Paris to pick them by saying that if he picked one of them, they would reward him with a gift:
- Hera offered him the rulership of Asia and Europe if she was chosen.
- Athena offered to give him, his family, and Troy many battle skills that would allow them to overcome their enemies in war if she was picked.
- Aphrodite offered to give him the most beautiful woman in the world (Helen of Troy) if she was picked.
After listening to each of their offers, Paris chose Aphrodite and awarded her the apple, though this angered Athena and Hera, who vowed that Paris had made enemies of them. Paris then proceeded to sail to Sparta and, with Aphrodite's help, abducted Helen, incurring the wrath of Menelaus, Helen's husband. Menelaus could call on the support of all the former suitors of Helen to help him wage war against Troy, and so the Trojan War was underway. Ten years into the conflict, Paris was killed and after the Greeks sacked Troy, Helen was found and reclaimed.
Accounts differ as to what exactly happened to Helen after the war:
- Some say that after she died, she was brought up to Mount Olympus by Zeus.
- Some say she was later hanged by the Furies.
- According to Euripides' play, Helen, she never made it to Troy, as Hera, in order to take revenge from Aphrodite, had Hermes kidnap Helen and bring her to Egypt; the goddess made a fake Helen who accompanied Paris to Troy. After the war was over, Menelaus lost his ship and landed in Egypt, where he found the real Helen; Menelaus he would've taken Helen back with him to Sparta, but Theoclymenus, the king of Egypt, wished to marry Helen and so Helen and Menelaus devised a plan to escape. Menelaus sailed off from Egypt and once he was out of sight, he come back, this time disguised as a sailor. Helen told Theoclymenus that this sailor was in fact a messenger who came to tell them that Menelaus was dead. She assured Theoclymenus that she would marry him as soon as she had performed a burial for Menelaus at sea; the king agreed, and Helen and Menelaus used the opportunity to escape on the boat given to them for the ceremony.
- According to the Little Iliad (the fourth poem of the Epic Cycle), Menelaus had been planning to kill Helen, but cast his sword away after catching a glimpse of her breasts.
Percy Jackson briefly mentions Helen when talking to Aphrodite about tragic love stories in a white limo at the Junkyard of the Gods when she is with Ares somewhere in Colorado. Aphrodite sees these tragic love stories as if they were soap operas. She also says she hasn't seen such a tragic love story for centuries, probably referring to Helen and Paris.
She is mentioned when Piper McLean is picking out a weapon and picks Helen's knife, Katoptris, which means looking glass, Annabeth Chase reckons that is all it was ever used for, and she doubts it ever saw war. Later at Aeolus' Palace, Jason Grace mistakes the wind nymph Mellie for a ghost, and Piper covers for him, saying he mistook Mellie for Helen of Troy. It seemed a little over the top, but Mellie appeared to buy it. Later still, Aphrodite appears to Piper in a dream to tell her that she is more powerful than she thinks, referring to Helen as having been one of her "favored ones", inferring that it was men's love for Helen that started the Trojan War.