Besides her reputation as a great beauty, Helen was a princess and a very wealthy one at that. Because property and wealth went down through the woman, Helen was the heir to Laconia and the surrounding area. So, as in common in myths and fairy tales, there was a great contest for Helen’s hand in marriage. After a full year of stick fighting and boxing and so on, there were still a number of contestants standing. After another contestant is chose and screws up his chance by getting drunk, Menelaus, the richest man in town, takes home the prize.
Helen would have been, at most, in her teens. Maybe even early teens. Menelaus was already a man. Remember that when you think of Paris. By all repute, he had the body of a God and a dewy beauty. The consensus back then that he was weak and effeminate – not a warrior. His own brother (Hector) says this: “Our prince of beauty – mad for women, you lure them all to ruin.” In my mind I picture him as a member of a boy band – catnip to an adolescent girl. So disaster was all but ensured.
And here’s a question that puzzled me until I began doing research. Helen spent more than ten years with Paris and by all accounts was not a reluctant participant. Why did Menelaus take her back? She fades from history when she returns to him.
Because this was a matrilineal society, the land, the position and the resources went from mother to daughter. Not father to son. So Menelaus had to take Helen back if he wanted to continue as king of Laconia.
Am I being too cynical to suspect the whole furor – the war and all – was not over Helen because of her great beauty but because without her Menelaus lost his kingship?