Homer hints that Helen’s time in Sparta, and earlier in Troy itself, may have been an opportunity for reflection and self-recrimination. She calls herself ‘kuon’ (‘bitch’ – on the same root for many European languages: canine from Latin, corgi from Welsh) four times. Cut off from the maritime links which had brought them wealth, the Trojans came to hate Helen. And she herself might have started to see through Paris quickly: a ‘peacock’ Hughes calls him.
But there is a strange development and it is here that Helen becomes an archetype of duplicity. It is critical to reiterate that Homer refers to this event only once – and not in the Iliad but in the Odyssey. The fullest account comes from Virgil’s Aeneid, perhaps the best part of 750 years after Homer. Homer’s Iliad comes to an end with Hector’s death, before the fall of Troy.
After ten years of campaigning, the Greeks put their faith in a lunatic gambit schemed up by Odysseus. They burn their camp near Tenedos and leave the only thing standing outside the walls of Wilusa a giant, wooden horse (δουράτεος ἵππος). It is so strange a development that many later interpretations assumed what was being implied was either a siege ram or a ship. But I don’t personally think so; somewhere here is Helen’s connection to the horse brothers, the equine training school and even, possibly, the cycle of days.
Whose side is Helen on now? She circles the horse three times ‘imitating’ the voices of Greek women (Although she doesn’t really have to, does she? She can presumably still speak her own language.) Antichus is about to give the game away and Odysseus has to kill him. But how does Helen even know about the soldiers inside when nobody else in Troy even has an inkling?
Once inside the city manifold atrocities take place: Paris’ sister is raped by Ajax and Astynax is used as a human club to batter Priam, the King of Troy, to death. A system of beacons is used to announce the fall of Troy to the Achaean mainland.
Menelaus seeks out Helen. But she has Χάρις (kharis – more than ‘grace’, ‘charisma’) and that is her ally against his aggression. Or is it? Had Menelaus slaughtered her, he would have lost his connection with Lakonia.
Instead, the nostoi (homecomings) begin. However, off Cape Malea [not far from Monemvasia] a storm whips up and takes them way off course. They are now on typical Bronze Age trading routes: Gortyn on Crete, Cyprus, Phoenicia, Ethiopia and Libya.
In Homer, there is no scandal associated with Helen’s stay in Egypt but, in an echo of the Iphigenia story, Herodotus speaks of ritual human sacrifice on the Nile.
“… that we should be a singer’s theme for generations to come.”