Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Helen, Theseus, and the Mythic Seeds of Discord

The conflicts between Sparta and Athens run deep and long, and as we all know from reading Homer and Herodotus, it was the habit of the ancient world to take common ideas and issues along with common ways-of-doing-things and reflect those back onto the struggles of their heroes in myth. Perhaps then, it would be stranger if Sparta and Athens did not have anything to fight over during the age of heroes.

What if, in part, this was the purpose of Theseus' abduction of Helen in the myths?

Theseus Helene Staatliche Antikensammlungen 2309 n2
Helen and Theseus
via wikimedia commons
The House of Atreus was known to be cursed, after all, and I have no trouble believing that if Theseus made an honest offer of marriage to Tyndareus and it was refused in favor (either in fact, or by assumption) of Menelaus and Mycenae, Athens would find that snub very offensive indeed. How dare Sparta insult their hero by choosing a cursed man as the husband of Helen over Theseus?

But that wouldn't be all. You see, the conflict goes both ways. Say that, in retaliation of this snub, or even just for funsies, Theseus chooses to take what he wants after all. He's deserving. Certainly he is, by pedigree, a better match for Helen than Menelaus could ever be. Theseus is a son of Poseidon, a (for the moment) successful and powerful king, and a hero equal only to Heracles. Add into the equation the dodgy influence of piratical Pirithous, and it's easy to see how Theseus might be persuaded to pursue Helen without her father's consent. Even to go so far as to kidnap her (because it isn't like he hasn't whisked women off before--and that kind of behavior was well established by Heracles, and even more established by the behavior of the gods who did that kind of thing with great regularity. Helen herself is a product of this same entitlement, after all!).

Sparta, taking great offense by the kidnap of their princess and HEIR, sends off their best to get her back. Helen's brothers, Castor and Pollux--the Dioscuri--find her if not in Athens, at the very least, under the power of Theseus, possibly even violated by him! I can't imagine Sparta not being highly insulted and infuriated by such a thing, and these Greeks-- they know how to hold a grudge.

Take into account the fact that in the process of Helen's retrieval, Castor and Pollux upset the inheritance of Athens by putting their own man on the throne, and you've got an even greater recipe for long-standing conflict. Sparta has just added insult to injury by meddling in Athens' politics. You don't even need Athens to have been insulted by the choosing of Menelaus over Theseus first (though I will say that I find that to be pretty compelling).

In this one story, a relative latecomer to the drama and tragedy of Helen of Troy, the seeds of enmity between Sparta and Athens have been sewn. These Myths, after all, are the ancient Greek way of explaining the whys and wherefores.

So, why are Sparta and Athens constantly finding reasons to dispute with one another? Well you see, once long ago, there was a girl named Helen....

Available April 1, 2015 
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Long before she ran away with Paris to Troy, Helen of Sparta was haunted by nightmares of a burning city under siege. These dreams foretold impending war—a war that only Helen has the power to avert. To do so, she must defy her family and betray her betrothed by fleeing the palace in the dead of night. In need of protection, she finds shelter and comfort in the arms of Theseus, son of Poseidon. With Theseus at her side, she believes she can escape her destiny. But at every turn, new dangers—violence, betrayal, extortion, threat of war—thwart Helen’s plans and bar her path. Still, she refuses to bend to the will of the gods.

A new take on an ancient myth, Helen of Sparta is the story of one woman determined to decide her own fate.

Forged by Fate (Fate of the Gods, #1) Tempting Fate (Fate of the Gods, #1.5) Fate Forgotten (Fate of the Gods, #2) Taming Fate (Fate of the Gods, #2.5) Beyond Fate (Fate of the Gods, #3)
Honor Among Orcs (Orc Saga, #1) * Postcards from Asgard * Helen of Sparta
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