Monday, August 15, 2011

Was Helen Worth All That Bother?

Helen of Troy, legends have it, was the most beautiful woman of her day who was the spark that set off the Trojan war. Actually it gets pretty complicated, as the Wikipedia link above indicates, but we'll go with the beautiful part.

Many artists over the years found it hard to resist the appeal of painting the most beautiful woman in the world, so "portraits" of Helen abound. A few are shown below along with some actresses who portrayed her in movies.


The Abduction of Helen of Troy - Cesare Dandini (1596-1657)

Paris and Helen - J-L David - 1788

By Frederick Sandys - c.1867

By Sir Edward Poynter - 1881

By Evelyn De Morgan - 1898

The Private Life of Helen of Troy - book cover

Maria Corda in The Private Life of Helen of Troy - 1927

Rossana Podesta as Helen - 1956

Diane Kruger as Helen - 2004

I find it interesting that Helen often seems to be a blonde or otherwise has light brown or red hair (Poynter's version is an exception). I've never gone nuts over blondes (though I have nothing against them). But the artists who did choose to depict her as blonde almost surely had that preference.

What we have here is a demonstration of subjectivity in art. Clearly the casting directors and painters strained to select an appearance that was to represent the ultimate in female beauty. (Okay, I'm not so sure about Sandy's scowling redhead.) Yet these Helens differ. And even though they differ, there's not one I'd be inclined to abduct and haul off to Troy. However, if she had dark hair and gray eyes ....


pinwheelwriting said...

Lol - the redhead threw me off a bit, too! She actually looks a bit like my daughter (back when my daughter was twelve).

Greg said...

Helen's light-colored hair actually originates in antiquity. Both the Iliad and Odyssey describe her as "fair-haired Helen." (Which led to Hesiod's famous depiction of the Greek voyage "in boats over the great gulf of the sea to Troy for the sake of fair-haired Helen.")

There is some disagreement among classicists as to whether her hair was blond or red.

Jingizu said...

Helen was blond. She is called "fair-haried Helen" as well as "Helen of the golden hair" by Homer.

But I agree, I do prefer dark hair and grey eyes, ala Tolkien [Luthien and Arwen]. lol

I would also not abduct a single one of the images.

Helen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

You don't know Helen is blonde and those descriptions certainly don't say so definitively.

Unknown said...

AL said...

Me too. None of these Helens would have made me feel inclined to abduct and haul off to Troy.The redheaded one threw me off a bit too. Personally I don’t believe that she was the most beautiful woman in the world for a couple of reasons. It’s also extremely hard to imagine what the most beautiful woman in the world looked/would look like.

Firstly, Helen remains a mythological figure and not a historical figure based firmly in fact and reality.

Secondly,was she only the most beautiful woman in the world according to the ancient Greeks’ opinion? What about all the other ancient civilisations or mythologies of the world like Roman,Egyptian,Chinese,Celtic,Norse,Japanese mythology etc? Do they agree? Who do these myths think or say was the most beautiful woman in the world? Plus, it’s gotten me wondering so who did the ancient Greeks think was the most handsome man in the world? Was only the ancient Greeks’ opinion valid?

Thirdly, should we even classify Helen as a woman, when she was in fact half-goddess? Should we only look at fully mortal women do semi divine women or just basically every adult female on the planet count as a woman and what age do we start counting from 19?18?20?16?15?21?

Fourthly, no one back then even now had or has seen every single woman in the world. Plus there wasn’t and there still isn’t today a single woman who will fit into everyone in the world’s opinion of what they consider to be beautiful or attractive even if that person really is/was the most beautiful/handsome woman/man in the world. Attractiveness is too subjective. It’s impossible for every single other person in the world to think you’re beautiful or handsome.

Fifth, if you watch Bethany Hughes’ 2005 documentary on Helen of Troy, which aimed to be as historically accurate as possible to recreate how a historically accurate Helen may have looked like, I agree that it made her seem more other worldly or exotic. But still judging from what was re-created I doubt very much that she could have been the most beautiful woman in the world. Let’s just say they had questionable taste in aesthetics.

Additionally, I definitely think that she wasn’t worth all that much trouble,turmoil,chaos,deaths,loss etc. I think that essentially she got off scot free. She was largely an unsympathetic character though I do agree that however she had no choice what she looked like.

I believe that she did want to elope to Troy with Paris with perhaps a bit of magic intervention ,though accounts differ and some said she went willingly while others said she only went because of Aphrodite’s enchantment which regularly renewed itself. One curious thing that I noticed though is though the most prevalent account of the myth which appears in all media accounts of the myth said that she returned to Sparta with Menelaus, they lived undisturbed and reconciled albeit a strained relationship and kind of lived happily ever after and after their deaths went to heaven or the fields of Elysian with him while other versions differ. One version said she was taken to Mt Olympus after Menelaus’ return, in another she was hanged from a tree by Polyxo and still other versions have a different ending. So I’m wondering even though the majority of accounts said that she basically lived happily ever with Menelaus, why are there different ending versions? Is the most common ending version the canonical version? Does anyone know which version is her real fate?

And what I have to say about Menelaus is that he was weak and feeble minded to think she was too beautiful to kill after the sack of Troy especially after she exposed her chest to him after he hand’t sen her for 10 years and basically dropped his weapon. Augh! What a wuss! Bet he was very superficial and shallow like all the other guys who vied for her hand in marriage and were all basically only really attracted to her for her physical appearance. She definitely wasn’t worth it.

Unknown said...

AL further says...

And finally nobody knew or knows definitely what she looked like.