Friday, October 7, 2016

TFBT: Random Notes from Euripides’ “Helen”

I am preparing for Hour 25’s Book Club | October 2016: Euripides’ Helen  to be held on Tuesday, October 25, at 11 a.m. EDT.  Here are my notes so far;

“[25] Hera and Kypris, and the virgin daughter of Zeus, wishing to have the judgment…”  With an Athenian audience why didn’t Euripides say, Athena?  Why be vague enough that Artemis could be the daughter in question.  

Famous quote; “Zeus added further troubles to these; for he brought a war upon the land of the Hellenes and the unhappy Phrygians, so that he might lighten mother earth of her crowded mass of mortals

“Helen: What is it, poor man—who are you, that you have turned away from me and loathe me for the misfortunes of that one?”  Really?  She asks Teucer’s name?  How rude!

Teucer:  Do you know a certain Achilles, the son of Peleus?
          Helen:  Yes, he came to woo Helen once, so I hear.  

That’s not right!  No one says this.  Achilles was too young to woo Helen at the time and too young to swear the Oath of Tyndareus.  To say this negates the Choice of Achilles, and questions one of the pivotal moments in Ancient Greek history and culture

Teucer:  “That they killed themselves because of their sister. “  What!  Again, no one says this!  Plus gods can’t kill themselves.    If Euripides is trying to raise shame in Helen, he could have done better by quoting Helen from the Iliad as she looks out over the battlefield for her brothers.
I not see, Castor, tamer of horses, and the goodly boxer, Polydeuces, even mine own brethren, whom the same mother bare. Either they followed not with the host from lovely Lacedaemon, or though they followed hither in their seafaring ships, they have now no heart to enter into the battle of warriors for fear of the words of shame and the many revilings that are mine." [3.243] So said she; but they ere now were fast holden of the life-giving earth there in Lacedaemon, in their dear native land.”  

As to the charge that Leda hung herself; again, no one said that anywhere.   Plus as the mother of three Spartan gods, mother-in-law of two goddesses and grandmother of 4 divine grandson’s there were better things in store for her than the noose.  

 reach the streams of Eurotas”  Every time I read this line, my inner ear hears the Homeric phrases “streams of Oceanus” (Iliad 19.1 and 23.205, Odyssey 24.10 and 22.197)  As in “[10] Hermes, the Helper, led them down the dank ways. Past the streams of Oceanus they went, past the rock Leucas, past the gates of the sun and the land of dreams” The quote refers to the Far West the other three to the Far East.  Interesting that both location have a Leuce/Leuca island.  The Stream of Oceanus waters the Isle of the Blest, Helen’s ultimate homeland.



  1. I have read the play, and can distinguish as the silliest ancient Greek text that I have seen. To paraphrase Rushdie, it is such a bad play that it gives bad plays a bad name. In the classicists' game "Which extant ancient work would you trade for a lost one?", the Helen tops my list. Unbelievable that it was written by the author of the Bacchae.

    Nevertheless, it gave me some food for thought: Why is Demeter called "Mountain Goddess, Mother of the Gods"? And why does no mortal dare to say her daughter's name, while they are talking about Hades and asking things from him as if he is their old friend?

    About Teucer - Helen did not want to reveal herself to him, so she had to pretend that she didn't know him.

  2. Maya,

    Mountain Mother could probably be translated as Magna Mater. At some point Rhea, Demeter and other goddes all became aspects of the Phygrian goddess Cybele and (they) she was called collectively the Great Mother.

    As to not saying the name of Demeter' daughter, note that he'd already said "Persephone". Rather he is talking about the secret name taught to those who attended the Eleusian Mysteries. The chorus has two stanzas on this topic which one really can't discuss. I think it is just a musical interlude so the actor playing Menelaus can change costumes. Sort of like a Cher concert. Going to attend the the book club?

  3. No. I generally do not watch videos, they are too difficult to me to understand. But I enjoy reading the discussions in the forum.

  4. Don't you think that Hera replacing the beautiful bride promised by Aphrodite with a phantom violates the "No God May Thwart" rule?

    1. Maya,

      Everything Euripides says mythological seems iffy. My only explanation is that the Will of Zeus trumps all. At some point all the gods seem complicant in the fall of Thebes and Troy, depopulating the world during the wars and during the Returns (Now called The Bronze Age Collapsed). Plus we seem to forget Helen was a goddess