Helen of the West Indies?
Musings are thoughts, the thoughtful kind. For the purpose of these articles, a-musings are thoughts that might amuse, entertain and even enlighten.
I woke up feeling a bit pedagogic this morning, so I thought I would don my teaching hat – I've been doing quite a bit of that lately – and hold a discourse on Fair Helen, not the Caribbean one, but the Greek lady, who turned men's heads left, right and centre in days of old, and was more than just a pretty face, I can tell you.
Helen of Troy, daughter of the god Zeus and the most beautiful woman in the world at the time, inadvertently perhaps, was the cause of the Trojan War, the story of which Homer related in his Iliad and Odyssey. Helen was also, according to other sources, a goddess of trees and birds.
Where Helen came from – as in from which womb she emerged – is a bit of a mystery: You see, Helen's mother was either Leda, the wife of the King of Sparta, or Nemesis, the goddess of revenge. Nowadays, paternity suits are fairly common. Way back then maternity suits, somewhat surprisingly, appear to have prevailed. In any case, the god Zeus appears to have been the father.
Stories claiming Leda as Helen's mother tell how Zeus disguised himself as a swan and raped her – yes, the mind boggles. Leda then produced two eggs, which even in those days must have been an unusual way of giving birth for a human. From one came Helen and her brother Pollux. Her sister and her other brother Castor emerged from the other. Castor and Pollux were supposed to be twins – but clearly from different eggs.
Another myth says that Zeus seduced Nemesis, who laid the two eggs. A shepherd discovered them and gave them to Queen Leda, who tended the eggs until they hatched and raised the children as her own.
When Helen was only 12 years old, Theseus the Greek abducted her to make her his wife. Helen's brothers Castor and Pollux rescued her and took her back to Sparta, but not before she had given birth to a daughter.
After her return to Sparta, suitors came from all over Greece, hoping to win the famous beauty. Helen chose Menelaus, who eventually became the king of Sparta, to be her husband. They had a daughter and son.
Some time later, Paris, a prince of Troy, arrived in Sparta. While Menelaus was away in Crete, Paris took Helen back to Troy. Some say Helen was seduced by Paris's charms while others claim that Paris kidnapped her and took her by force. Menelaus and the Greeks organized a great expedition and set sail for Troy. This was the beginning of the Trojan War – a war over a woman, well, well, well!
Helen's sympathies were seemingly divided. She had a number of children by Paris, but none survived infancy. Paris died in the War, and Helen married his brother Deiphobus, but after the Greeks won the war, she was reunited with Menelaus, and she helped him kill Deiphobus. Helen was a helluva bitch when it came to husbands.
When Helen and Menelaus returned to Sparta several years later, after the gods, angry at the trouble Helen had caused, had sent storms to drive their ships off course to Egypt, the couple lived happily, although by some accounts, Menelaus remained suspicious of his wife's feelings and loyalty – and who could blame him?
What happened to Helen after Menelaus died is a mystery. Some say that Helen remained in Sparta until her death. Others say that her son Nicostratus drove her from Sparta and she fled to the island of Rhodes where Polyxo, the widow of a Greek leader who had died in the Trojan War, gave her refuge. Later however, Polyxo had Helen hanged to avenge the death of her husband. Another even more unlikely version of Helen's story claims that the gods sent an effigy of Helen to Troy but that she actually spent the war years in Egypt. When it comes to gods, people are willing to believe anything.
Now, in days gone by, the British and the French certainly waged a number of ‘Trojan Wars' for possession of Saint Lucia, the Helen of the West Indies, but have her husbands of today, our leaders, ever managed to tame her and bring her under their control? I doubt it. Helen remains as unbridled and enigmatic as ever. And as for her beauty, well, as they say, beauty is only skin deep.