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all the anger of the Greeks was concentrated against Paris, who had

violated the bond of guest friendship, and had alienated his host's

property. Menelaus readily pardoned Helen, when material reparation had

been exacted; there is no moral reprehension of the adultery itself.

Clytemnestra was violently condemned, less because she yielded to the

seductions of AEgisthus than because her crime led to the murder of her

husband. There seems to have been also a natural perpetuity of the

marriage contract. To the Greeks, Helen was always the wife of Menelaus.

The ideal for the wife was single-hearted loyalty toward her husband;

faithfulness and submission were the principal virtues of women. Moral

lapses by men were frequent, and the same standard of marital rectitude

was not required from them as from the women of the heroic days.

The social manners of the time, and especially the elevated position of

the matron, may be gathered from Homer's account of Telemachus's

reception at the palace of King Menelaus in Sparta. He and his friend

Pisistratus are conducted into the great hall, where, after having

bathed and anointed themselves and put on fresh raiment, they are

received by their host, Menelaus. They are placed on chairs beside him,

and a repast is brought, of which they are invited to partake. Menelaus

does not yet know who his guests are, but he has observed that

Telemachus weeps when Odysseus is mentioned in conversation.

While he is pondering on this, Helen comes forth into the hall from her

"fragrant vaulted chamber" in the inner or woman's part of the house.

With her are three handmaids, one of whom sets for her the well-wrought

chair, a second brings a rug of soft wool, while the third places at her

side a silver basket on wheels, across which is laid a golden distaff

charged with wool of violet blue. Helen immediately takes a leading part

in the entertainment of the guests, one of whom, with woman's intuition,

she is the first to recognize, and they converse far into the night.

Then good cheer is spread before them, and Helen casts into the wine

whereof they drink "a drug to lull all pain and anger and bring

forgetfulness to every sorrow." Presently Helen bids her handmaids show

with torches the guests to their beds beneath the corridors, where

bedsteads have been set with purple blankets and coverlets and thin

mantles upon them.

Here, in her royal palace, Helen is in every sense a queen. Endowed with

charms of intellect, as well as of person, she regulates the life and

determines the tone of the society about her; and she is but an example

of the high social position of the Homeric women.

The Homeric matron had as her regular duties the management of the

household, and was trained in every domestic occupation.

Spinning and

weaving were her chief accomplishments, and all the Homeric heroines

were highly skilled in the textile arts. The garments worn by the men

were fashioned at home by handmaidens under the superintendence of their

mistress, who herself engaged in the work. Penelope had fifty slave

maidens to direct in the various duties of the household. The daughters

of Celeus, like Rebecca of old, went to the well to draw water for

household use; and the clothes washing of the Princess Nausicaa and her

maidens has been already mentioned. So, by the side of the refinement

and elegance of the Homeric Age we have a simplicity of manners that but

adds to the charm.

In spite of these beautiful instances of domestic harmony and affection,

the women of Homer had really no rights, in the modern sense of the

term. Throughout the whole of life their position was subject to the

will or the whims of men. At marriage, woman merely passed from the

tutelage of her father to that of her husband, who had absolute power

over her. But though the power of the husband was absolute, yet he was

generally deferential toward the wife he loved, and was frequently

guided by her opinions. Thus, the Phaeacians say of Queen Arete:

"Friends, this speech of our wise queen is not wide of the mark, nor far

from our deeming, so hearken thereto. But on Alcinous here both word and

work depend." With Arete lay the real seat of authority, though she

could claim no rights, and doubtless the tactful and clever Homeric

woman was, as a rule, the dominating influence in the palace.

When the husband died, the grown-up son succeeded to his rights, and it

was in his power, if he saw fit, to give his widowed mother again in

marriage. Penelope's obedience to her son Telemachus is one of the

striking features of the Odyssey. He had it in his power to give her in

marriage to any of the suitors, but he refrained, from filial affection

and mercenary motives. "It can in no wise be that I thrust forth from

the house, against her will, the woman that bare me and reared me," says

Telemachus; and he continues: "Moreover, it is hard for me to make heavy

restitution to Icarius, as needs I must if, of my own will, I send my

mother away."

Far worse, however, was the lot of the widow whose husband had been

slain in battle. She became at once the slave of the conqueror, to be

dealt with as he wished. Hector draws a gloomy picture of the fate of

Andromache in case he should be slain: "Yea, of a surety I know this in

heart and soul; the day shall come for holy Ilium to be laid low, and

Priam and the folk of Priam of the good ashen spear. Yet doth the

anguish of the Trojans hereafter not so much trouble me, neither

Hecuba's own, neither King Priam's, neither my brethren's, the many and

brave that shall fall in the dust before their foemen, as doth thine

anguish in the day when some mail-clad Achaean shall lead thee weeping

and rob thee of the light of freedom. So shalt thou abide in Argos and

ply the loom at another woman's bidding, and bear water from Fount

Messeis or Hyperia, being grievously entreated, and sore constraint

shall be laid upon thee. And then shall one say that beholdeth thee

weep: 'This is the wife of Hector, that was foremost in battle of the

horse-training Trojans, when men fought about Ilium.'

Thus shall one say

hereafter, and fresh grief will be thine for lack of such an husband as

thou hadst to ward off the day of thraldom. But me in death may the

heaped-up earth be covering, ere I hear thy crying and thy carrying into

captivity." Similar lamentations over the harsh treatment of the widows

and the sad lot of the orphans, when the natural protector had been

slain, occur again and again. When taken captive, the noblest ladies

became the concubines of the victor, and were disposed of at his

pleasure. Briseis is a striking instance of this. She was a maiden of

princely descent, whose husband and brother had been slain by Achilles.

Yet she looked upon her position as a captive as quite in the natural

order of things. She manifestly became much attached to her captor, and

left "all unwillingly" when she was carried off to Agamemnon's tent.

When she was restored to Achilles, she laments the fallen Patroclus, who

had promised to make her godlike Achilles's wedded wife.

Many female slaves of noble descent are mentioned by Homer, and their

positions in the households of their mistresses are frequently of

importance. Thus Euryclea, who had nurtured Odysseus and reared

Telemachus, was practically at the head of the domestic affairs of the

palace, and her relations with Penelope were most affectionate. The

other slaves were divided into several classes, according to their

different qualities and abilities. To some were assigned the menial

offices, such as turning the handmills, drawing the water, and preparing

the food for their master; while others were engaged in spinning and

weaving, under the direct oversight of their lady mistress.

It is but natural that the great ladies of heroic times, reared in the

luxury of courts, attended by numerous slaves, and exercising an

elevating influence over their husbands through their personal charms,

should devote great attention to the elegancies of the costume and the

toilet. The Greek love of beauty led to love of dress.


epithets point to this characteristic of Homeric ladies; as "with

beautiful peplus," "well-girdled," "with beautiful zone," "with

beautiful veil," "with beautiful sandal," and the like; and care in

dressing the hair is seen in such phrases as "with goodly locks," "with

glossy locks."

The Homeric poems describe for us the dress of the AEolico-Ionians down

to the ninth or eighth centuries before Christ, and it differs in many

important particulars from that of the classical period as seen in the

Parthenon marbles.

The women wore only one outer garment, the peplus, brought to Hellas

from Asia by the Aryans, which garment the Dorian women continued to

wear until a late period. The peplus in its simplest form consisted of

an oblong piece of the primitive homemade woollen cloth, unshapen and

unsewn, open at the sides, and fastened on the shoulders by _fibulae_,

and bound by a girdle; but, undoubtedly, as worn by Homeric princesses

it assumed a much more regular pattern and was richly embroidered. The

pharos was probably a linen garment of Egyptian origin, which was

sometimes worn instead of the peplus. Thus the nymph Calypso "donned a

great shining pharos, light of woof and gracious, and about her waist

she cast a fair golden girdle, and a veil withal on her head." Both

these garments left the arms bare, and, while frequently of some length

behind, as seen in the epithet "the robe-trailing Trojan dames," were

short enough in front to allow the feet to appear.

As the peplus was open at the sides, the girdle was the second most

important article of feminine attire. This was frequently of gold, as in

Calypso's case, and adorned with tassels, as was Hera's girdle with its

hundred tassels "of pure gold, all deftly woven, and each one worth an

hundred oxen." But the girdle of girdles was the magic cestus of golden

Aphrodite, which Hera borrowed in order to captivate Zeus. The tightened

girdle made the dress full over the bosom, so that the epithet

"deep-bosomed"--that is, with full, swelling bosom--

became frequent.

Another characteristic article of dress was the _kredemnon_, a kind of

veil, of linen or of silk, in color generally white, though at times

dark blue. It was worn over the head, and allowed to fall down the back

and the sides of the head, leaving the face uncovered.

There was no

garment, like a cloak, to be worn over the peplus. For freer movement

women would cast off the mantle-like _kredemnon_, which answered all the

purposes of a shawl. Thus Nausicaa and her companions, when preparing

for the game of ball, "cast off their tires and began the song," and

Hecuba, in her violent grief, "tore her hair and cast from her the

shining veil." There were also metal ornaments for the head, the

_stephane_, or coronal, and the _ampyx_, a headband or frontlet. The

_kekryphalos_ was probably a caplike net, bound by a woven band;

Andromache "shook off from her head the bright attire thereof, the net,

and woven band." Other feminine ornaments were: the _isthmion_, a

necklace, fitting close to the neck; the _hormos_, a long chain,

sometimes of gold and amber, hanging from the nape of the neck over the

breast; and _peronae_, or brooches, and ear-rings of various shapes,

either globular, spiral, or in the form of a cup, Helen, for example,

"set ear-rings in her pierced ear, ear-rings of three drops and

glistening; therefrom shone grace abundant."

To embrace in one general description these various articles of feminine

attire, "we may think of Helen as arrayed in a colored peplus, richly

embroidered and perfumed, the corners of which were drawn tightly over

the shoulders and fastened together by the _perone_. The waist was

closely encircled by the zone, which was, no doubt, of rich material

and design. Over her bosom hung the _hormos_ of dark red amber set in

gold. Her hair hung down in artificial plaits, and on her head was the

high, stiff _kekryphalos_, of which we have spoken above, bound in the

middle by the _plekte anadesme_. Over the forehead was the shining

_ampyx_, or tiara, of gold; and from the top of the head fell the

_kredemnon_, or veil, over the shoulders and back, affording a quiet

foil to the glitter of gold and jewels."

Such is the picture of the Heroic Age as drawn for us by Homer. It is a

bright picture in the main, though the treatment of the widows and the

captive maidens throws on it dark shadows. But when we become acquainted

with the heroines of this age, and study their characters in the

environment in which Homer places them, we shall be all the more

impressed with the high status maintained by the gentler sex at the dawn

of Greek civilization.

Before treating of the heroines of Homer, however, let us briefly notice

the maidens and matrons of Greek mythology who do not figure so

conspicuously in the Chronicles of the Trojan War, but who have won a

permanent place in art and in literature.

We should not fail to mention the mortal loves who became through Zeus

the mothers of heroes,--Europa, whom he wooed in the form of a white

bull, and carried away to Crete, where she became the mother of Minos,

Rhadamanthus, and Sarpedon; Semele, who was overcome with terror when

Zeus appeared in all his godlike array, and who gave birth to Dionysus,

god of the vine; Leda, wooed by Zeus in the guise of a snow-white swan,

the mother of Helen, and of Castor and Pollux; Alcmene, mother of

Heracles; Callisto, changed, with her little son Arcas, because of the

jealousy of Hera, into the constellations known as the Great and the

Little Bear; and, finally, Danae, daughter of Acrisius, King of Argos,

locked up by her tyrannical father in a brazen tower, but visited by

Zeus as a golden shower. The offspring of this union was the hero

Perseus. King Acrisius, in dread of a prophecy that he was destined to

be slain by his grandson, had the mother and helpless infant enclosed in

an empty cask, which was consigned to the fury of the sea. Terrified at

the sound of the great waves beating over their heads, Danae prayed to

the gods to watch over them and bring them to some friendly shore. Her

piteous prayers were answered, and mother and child were rescued and

found a hospitable haven on the island of Seriphos,

"When rude around the high-wrought ark The tempests raged, the waters dark

Around the mother tossed and swelled;

With not unmoistened cheek she held

Her Perseus in her arms and said:

'What sorrows bow this hapless head!

Thou sleepst the while, thy gentle breast Is heaving in unbroken rest,

In this our dark, unjoyous home,

Clamped with the rugged brass, the gloom Scarce broken by the doubtful light

That gleams from yon dim fires of night.

But thou, unwet thy clustering hair,

Heedst not the billows raging wild,

The moanings of the bitter air,

Wrapt in thy purple robe, my beauteous child!

Oh! seemed this peril perilous to thee, How sadly to my words of fear

Wouldst thou bend down thy listening ear!

But now sleep on, my child! sleep thou, wide sea!

Sleep, my unutterable agony!

Oh! change thy counsels, Jove, our sorrows end!

And if my rash, intemperate zeal offend, For my child's sake, his father, pardon me!'"

The god Apollo, too, had his mortal loves: the fair maiden Coronis, whom

in a fit of jealousy he shot through the heart,--the mother of

AEsculapius, the god of healing; Daphne, the beautiful nymph, who would

not listen to his entreaties, and was finally changed into a laurel

tree; and the muse Calliope, by whom he became the father of Orpheus,

who inherited his parent's musical and poetical gifts.

The story of the

loves of Orpheus and his beautiful wife, Eurydice, is one of the most

touching in all literature: how she died from the bite of a venomous

serpent, and her spirit was conducted down to the gloomy realms of

Hades, leaving Orpheus broken-hearted; how Zeus gave him permission to

go down into the infernal regions to seek his wife; how he appeased even

Cerberus's rage by his music, and Hades and Proserpina consented to

restore Eurydice to life and to her husband's care, but on the one

condition that he should leave the infernal regions without once turning

to look into the face of his beloved wife; and how he observed the

mandate until just before he reached the earth, when he turned, only to

behold the vanishing form of the wife he had so nearly snatched from the

grave. The rest of his days were passed in sadness, and finally some

Bacchantes, enraged at his sad notes, tore him limb from limb, and cast

his mangled remains into the river Hebrus. "As the poet-musician's head

floated down the stream, the pallid lips still murmured

'Eurydice!' for

even in death he could not forget his wife; and as his spirit floated on

to join her, he incessantly called upon her name, until the brooks,

trees, and fountains he had loved so well caught up the longing cry and

repeated it again and again."

The story of Niobe is one of the best-known Greek legends, because of

its exquisite portrayal in art. Niobe, daughter of Tantalus, the mother

of fourteen children,--seven manly sons and seven beautiful

daughters,--in her pride taunted the goddess Latona, mother of Apollo

and Artemis, because her offspring numbered only two.

She even went so

far as to forbid her people to worship the two deities, and ordered that

all the statues of them in her kingdom should be torn down and

destroyed. Enraged at the insult, Latona called her children to her, and

bade them slay all the children of Niobe. Apollo, therefore, coming upon

the seven lads as they were hunting, slew them with his unfailing

arrows; and while the mother was grieving for the loss of her sons,

Artemis began to slay her daughters. In vain did the mother strive to

protect them, and one by one they fell, never to rise again. Then the

gods, touched by her woe, changed her into stone just as she stood, with

upturned face, streaming eyes, and quivering lips.

Three other heroines of mythology deserve to be enrolled within this

brief chronicle: Andromeda, Ariadne, and Atalanta. The Princess

Andromeda, a lovely maiden, was being offered as a sacrifice to a

terrible sea monster who was devastating the coast. She was chained fast

to an overhanging rock, above the foaming billows that continually

dashed their spray over her fair limbs. As the monster was about to

carry her off as his prey, the hero Perseus, returning from his conquest

of Medusa, suddenly appeared as a deliverer, slew the monster, freed

Andromeda from her chains, restored her to the arms of her overjoyed

parent, and thus won the princess as his bride.

Far more pathetic is the story of the Princess Ariadne, daughter of King

Minos of Crete, who fell in love with the Athenian hero Theseus when he

came to rescue the Athenian youths and maidens from the terrible

Minotaur. She provided him with a sword and with a ball of twine,

enabling him to slay the monster and to thread his way out of the

inextricable mazes of the labyrinth. Theseus in gratitude carried her

off as his bride; but on the island of Naxos he basely deserted her,

and Ariadne was left disconsolate. Violent was her grief; but in the

place of a fickle mortal lover, she became the fair bride of an

immortal, the genial god Dionysus, who discovered her on the island and

wooed and won her.

Atalanta, the third of this illustrious group, the daughter of Iasius,

King of Arcadia, was a famous runner and sportswoman.

She took part with

Meleager in the grand hunt for the Calydonian boar, and it was she who

at last brought the boar to bay and gave him a mortal wound. When

Atalanta returned to her father's court, she had numberless suitors for

her hand; but, anxious to preserve her freedom, she imposed the

condition that every suitor should engage with her in a footrace: if he

were beaten, his life was forfeited; if successful, she would become his

bride. Many had thus lost their lives. Finally, Hippomenes, a youth

under the protection of Aphrodite, who had bestowed on him three golden

apples, desired to race with the princess. Atalanta soon passed her

antagonist, but, as she did so, a golden apple fell at her feet. She

stooped to pick it up, and Hippomenes regained the lead.

Again she

passed him, and again a golden apple caused her to pause, and Hippomenes

shot ahead. Finally, just as she was about to reach the goal, the third

golden apple tempted her to stop once more, and Hippomenes won the race

and a peerless bride.



The reader of the Iliad and the Odyssey finds himself in an atmosphere

altogether human. As he peruses these pages, so rich in pictures of the

life and manners of heroic times, it matters little to him whether the

men and women of epic song had merely a mythical existence, or were, in

fact, historical figures. The contemporaries of Homer and later Greeks

had an unshaken belief in the reality of those men and women; and the

poet has breathed into them the breath of genius, which gives life and


We have in these poems the most ancient expression of the national

sentiment of the Greeks, and from them we can form a correct idea of the

relations of men and women in prehistoric times, and of the character

and status of woman in the childhood of the Greek world.

It is a noteworthy fact that the plots of both the Iliad and the

Odyssey--as well as the most interesting episodes they contain--turn

upon love for women; and a clear idea of the importance of woman in the

Heroic Age could not be given better than by briefly reviewing the

brilliant panorama of warlike and domestic scenes in which woman


We are first introduced to a Greek camp in Troy land.

During ten long

years the hosts of the Achaeans have been gathered before the walls of

Ilium. What is the cause of this long struggle? A woman!

Paris, son of

King Priam, had carried off to his native city Queen Helen, wife of

Menelaus, King of Sparta. Aided by the wiles of Aphrodite, to whom he

had awarded the golden apple as the fairest in the contest of the three

goddesses, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, Paris succeeded in winning the

heart of this fairest of Greek women and in persuading her to desert

husband and daughter to follow the fortunes of a handsome stranger. On

the isle of Cranae their nuptial rites were celebrated, and after much

voyaging they reached their new home in Troy, where King Priam,

fascinated with the beauty and grace of this new daughter, in spite of

his dread of the consequences, graciously received the errant pair. The

Greek chieftains bound themselves by an inviolable oath to assist the

forsaken husband to recover his spouse, and, marshalling their forces,

they entered upon the long and tedious war. Thus, a woman was the cause

of the first great struggle between Orient and Occident, of the

assembling of the mighty hosts of the Achaeans under King Agamemnon, of

ten years of siege and struggle and innumerable wars, of the hurling of

many valiant souls to Hades, of the fall of Troy, and of the varied

wanderings and dire fortunes of the surviving heroes and heroines of the

epic story.

The Iliad does not tell the whole story of the Trojan War; Homer invites

the muse to sing of but one episode thereof--the dire wrath of Achilles.

The cause of that violent outburst is also a woman. The Greek chieftains

are gathered in the place of assembly, along the banks of the Scamander.

In their midst is an aged priest of the town of Chryse, bearing in his

hand the fillets of Apollo, the Far-darter, upon a golden staff. He

beseeches the Greeks to restore to him his dear child, the maiden

Chryseis, their captive, and to accept in return the proffered ransom,

reverencing the god. There is a sympathetic murmur among the chieftains,

who urge the granting of the petition; but the thing pleases not the

heart of Agamemnon, king of men, who had received the beautiful captive

as his own share of the booty, and for love of her will not give her up.

So he roughly sends the old man away, and lays stern charge upon him not

to be seen again near the ships of the Achaeans.

Outraged in his dignity

as a priest and in his tenderness as a father, the aged sire prays to

Apollo, who at once sends dire pestilence upon the Greeks; and the pyres

of the dead burn continually in multitude. Nine days speed the god's

shafts throughout the host, and on the tenth the valiant warrior

Achilles summons the folk to assembly, and bids Calchas,

"most excellent

of augurs," declare the cause of the pestilence.

Calchas, after much

hesitation, responds that the Far-darter has brought war upon the Greeks

because Agamemnon has done despite to the priest, and has not set his

daughter free and accepted the ransom.

Agamemnon is violently enraged at the seer; his dark heart within him is

greatly filled with anger, and his eyes are like flashing fire. He

charges the seer with never saying anything that is pleasant for him to

hear. And as for Chryseis, he would fain keep her himself in his

household; for he prefers her even before Clytemnestra, his wedded wife,

to whom she is nowise inferior, neither in favor nor stature nor wit nor

skill. Yet if she be taken away from him for the good of the people, he

demands another prize forthwith, that alone of the Greeks he may not be

without reward. Then is the valiant Achilles enraged at the covetousness

of his chief, and a violent quarrel ensues. At last, Agamemnon asserts

that he will send back Chryseis, but he will come and take in return

Achilles's meed of honor, Briseis of the fair cheeks, that Achilles may

know how far the mightier is he and that no other may hereafter dare to

rival him to his face.

Then is the son of Peleus the more enraged, and, had not the goddess

Athena appeared and restrained his wrath, he would have assailed

Agamemnon on the spot. However, he speaks again with bitter words and

declares that hereafter longing for Achilles will come upon the Achaeans

one and all; for no more will he fight with the Greeks against the

Trojans. So the assembly breaks up, after this battle of violent words

between the twain. Achilles returns to his huts and trim ships, with

Patroclus and his company; and Agamemnon sends forth Odysseus and others

on a fleet ship to bear back to her father the lovely Chryseis, and to

offer a hecatomb to Apollo. Thus Chryseis is restored to her father's

arms, and appears no more in the story.

But Atrides ceases not from the strife with which he has threatened

Achilles. He summons straightway two heralds, and bids them go to the

tent of Achilles and take Briseis of the fair cheeks by the hand and

lead her to him. Unwillingly they go on their mission, and find the

young warrior sitting sorrowfully beside his hut and black ship. He

knows wherefore they come, and bids his friend Patroclus bring forth the

damsel and give them her to lead away. And Patroclus hearkens to his

dear companion, and leads forth from the hut Briseis of the fair cheeks,

and gives her to the heralds. And the twain take their way back along

the ships of the Achaeans and with them goes the maiden, all unwilling.

In this moment of grief at the loss of the woman he loves, Achilles

bethinks him of his dear mother, the Nereid Thetis, and, stretching

forth his hand toward the sea, he prays to her to hearken to him. His

lady mother hears him as she sits in the sea depths beside her aged

sire, and with speed she arises from the gray sea, and sits down beside

him and strokes him with her hand and inquires the cause of his sorrow.

Into her sympathetic ear he tells all the story of his wrongs, and the

goddess shows herself the tenderest and most loving of mothers. He bids

her seek justice for him at the throne of mighty Zeus, with whom she is

potent on account of favors she has done him. She bewails with her son

that she has borne him to brief life and evil destiny; but she bids him

continue wroth with the Achaeans, and refrain utterly from battle, while

she will early fare to Zeus's palace upon Mount Olympus, and she thinks

to win him. True to her promise, she betakes herself to sunny Olympus

and finds the father of gods and men sitting apart from all the rest

upon the topmost peak. She clasps his knees with one hand as a suppliant

and with the other strokes his chin, and prays him to do honor to her

son and exalt him with recompense for the gross wrong he has suffered.

And Zeus, though he knows that it will lead to strife with Lady Hera,

his spouse, promises to heap just vengeance upon Agamemnon.

Thus, upon the very threshold of the Iliad, the chord of maternal

affection is struck; and when the wild passions of early manhood have

led to sorrow and humiliation, the mother appears, affording sympathy

and comfort, and is ready to traverse sea and earth and heaven to

intercede for her wronged and grief-stricken son.

Achilles remains away from battle, sulking beside the ships. The odds

are now in favor of the Trojans in the conflict that is being waged.

Both sides are weary of continual fighting, and a single combat is

arranged between Menelaus and Paris, the wronged husband and the

present lord of Helen. The meed of victory is to be Helen herself, with

all her treasures, she now appearing for the first time in the Epos.

Helen is summoned from her palace to witness the combat.

So she hastens

from her chamber, attended by two handmaidens, and comes to the place of

the Scaean gates, where are gathered King Priam and the elders of the


Homer nowhere attempts to describe Helen's beauty in detail, but

impresses it upon the reader merely by showing the bewitching effect of

her presence upon others. Even these sage old men fall under the spell

of her divine beauty, and, when they see her coming upon the towers,

softly speak winged words, one to the other:

"Small blame is it that Trojans and well-greaved Achaeans should for such

a woman long time suffer hardships; marvellously like is she to the

immortal goddesses to look upon. Yet even so, though she be so goodly,

let her go upon their ships and not stay to vex us and our children

after us."

Priam, however, addresses his beautiful daughter-in-law with gentle

words, laying the blame, not on her, but on the gods, for the dolorous

war of the Achaeans. Helen utters expressions of self-reproach, and then,

at Priam's request, points out the famous warriors of the invading host.

Paris is vanquished in the single combat, and Menelaus would have slain

his foe, and in that moment have regained Helen, had not the goddess

Aphrodite snatched up Paris in a cloud and transported him to his

chamber. Aphrodite then appears to Helen, in the form of an aged dame,

and bids her return to her lord. Helen recognizes the goddess, and her

scornful, bitter reply shows how the high-spirited lady rebelled at the

chains with which Aphrodite bound her. The wrath and menace of

Aphrodite, however, overcome her noble resolution, and she reluctantly

returns. When she sees her husband, she chides him scornfully for his

cowardice, and regrets that he had not perished at the hands of

Menelaus. But Paris is unaffected by her reproaches. His thoughts, as

ever, are not of war, but of love, and Helen, owing to the subtle power

of Aphrodite, cannot long resist his caresses.

Meanwhile, the injured

husband rages through the host like a wild beast, if anywhere he might

set his eyes on and slay the wanton Paris.

We are now approaching a series of domestic scenes, in which figure the

three principal female characters of the Iliad. Owing to the abortive

issue of the single combat, the truce between Greeks and Trojans is

declared at an end, and the forces once more array themselves in

conflict. The Trojans are being hard pressed. Hector returns to the city

to command Hecuba, his mother, to assemble the aged dames of Troy, who

should go to Athena's temple and supplicate the goddess to have

compassion on them. At the gates the Trojans' wives and daughters gather

about him, inquiring of their loved ones. As he enters the royal palace,

his beautiful mother meets him and clasps him by the hand, and bids him,

weary of battle, pause to take refreshments. But Hector resists her

solicitous entreaties, urges her to gather the aged wives together, and,

with the most beautiful robe in the palace as an offering, to go to the

temple and supplicate Athena to have mercy. Hecuba does as he commands,

and the solemn procession mounts the citadel and implores the goddess to

have mercy on them and turn the tide of combat. The goddess, however, is

inflexible: she denies their prayer.

Hector, meanwhile, stops at the palace of Paris. He finds Helen seated

among her handmaidens, distributing to them their tasks, and Paris

polishing his beautiful armor. Hector severely rebukes his brother; but

words of scorn make but little impression on the smooth and courteous

Paris. Helen now addresses Hector, for whom she has a sisterly love and

admiration that contrasts painfully with her contempt for her cowardly

lord; and her words reveal the bitterness of her heart, because of her

evil destiny and because "even in days to come we may be a song in the

ears of men that shall be hereafter." Hector responds with sympathetic

regard to the sisterly confidence of Helen, and bids her rouse her

husband once more to enter the combat, while in the meantime he will go

to his own house to behold his dear wife and infant boy; for he knows

not if he shall return home to them again, or if the gods will now

overthrow him at the hands of the Achaeans.

When Hector comes to his palace, he finds not his beautiful wife,

white-armed Andromache, within; upon inquiry he learns that, through

anxiety because of the battle, like one frenzied, she had gone in haste

to the wall, and the nurse bearing the child was with her. Hector

hastens to the Scaean gates, and as he approaches them there came his

dear-won wife, running to meet him, and with her the handmaid bearing in

her bosom the tender boy, Hector's loved son Astyanax.

Hector smiles and

gazes at the boy; while Andromache stands by his side weeping and clasps

his hand in hers, and urges him to take thought for himself and to have

pity on her, forlorn, and on their infant boy. Hector tells her that he

takes thought of all this, that his greatest grief is the thought of her

anguish in the day when some mail-clad Achaean shall lead her away and

rob her of the light of freedom, but it is his part to fight in the

forefront of the Trojans. He lays his son in his dear wife's bosom, and,

as she smiles tearfully upon the lad, her husband has pity to see her,

and gently caresses her with his hand and seeks to console her. He bids

her return to her own tasks, the loom and distaff, while he provides for

war. So part these heroic souls. Hector sets out for the battlefield;

and his dear wife departs to her home, oft looking back and letting fall

big tears. When she reaches her house, she gathers her handmaidens about

her, and stirs lamentations in them all. "So bewailed they Hector, while

yet he lived, within his house; for they deemed that he would no more

come home to them from battle nor escape the fury of the hands of the


The closing scenes of the dramatic recital time and again present these

three women--Hecuba, Helen, and Andromache. Achilles continues to sulk

away from battle, in spite of Agamemnon's attempt at reconciliation. The

Trojans are winning victory after victory. Achilles's comrade Patroclus

finally gets permission to don the great warrior's armor, and he enters

the conflict. Hector, supposing him to be Achilles, engages with him in

combat and finally slays him. Achilles is overwhelmed with grief at the

death of Patroclus. His lady mother, Thetis, rises from the depths of

the sea to console him, and provides him a suit of armor fashioned by

Hephaestus. Agamemnon and Achilles are reconciled before the assembly of

the Achaeans, and fair-faced Briseis is restored to her lover. She utters

shrill laments over the body of Patroclus, who had been ever kind to

her. Achilles enters the combat, clad in the armor of Hephaestus. Hector

alone dares to face him, and he is slain, and his lifeless body is

dragged behind Achilles's chariot as he drives exultantly toward the

ships. Piteous wailings are heard from the walls, wailings of the aged

Priam, and of the sorrowful Hecuba, whose cry is the full bitterness of

maternal grief.

Within the city, in the inner chamber of her palace, a young wife is

engaged in weaving a double purple web and directing the work of her

handmaidens. Her thoughts are all of her warrior husband, and she has

had a servant set a great tripod upon the fire that Hector might have

warm washing when he comes home out of the battle--fond heart all

unaware how, far from all washings, bright-eyed Athena has slain him by

the hand of Achilles! But suddenly she hears shrieks and groans from the

battlements, and her limbs tremble and the shuttle falls from her hands

to earth. She dreads terribly lest Hector has met his fate at the hand

of Achilles. Accompanied by her handmaidens, she rushes to the

battlements, and beholds his lifeless body dragged by swift horses

toward the hollow ships. Then dark night comes on her eyes and shrouds

her, and she falls backward and gasps forth her spirit; and when at last

her soul returns into her breast, she bewails her own sad lot and that

of her child, deprived of such a husband and father.

The succeeding days are spent in gloom and sorrow, each side bewailing

the loss of a favorite warrior. King Priam finally recovers the body of

Hector from Achilles, and brings it back to Hector's palace, where the

women gather about the corpse--and among them white-armed Andromache

leads the lamentation, while in her hands she holds the head of Hector,

slayer of men. Hecuba, too, grieves for Hector, of all her children the

dearest to her heart; and, lastly, Helen joins in the sore lament,

sorrowing for the loss of the dearest of her brethren in Troy, who had

never spoken despiteful word to her, but had always been kind and

considerate. Here the long story reaches its natural conclusion. The

Iliad opens with a scene of wrath occasioned by man's passion for woman,

and closes with a scene of mourning--women grieving for the loss of a

slain husband and son and friend--knightly Hector.

Before we bid farewell to the martial tableaux presented to us in the

Iliad, and direct our attention to the domestic scenes of the Odyssey,

let us take a final glance at the heroines who have appeared in the

first Homeric epos.

Worthy of note is the atmosphere of beauty and delicacy and charm with

which the poet has enveloped Helen of Troy. She has committed a grievous

fault, but there is in the recital nothing which offends the moral

sense. This is because the poet has portrayed her with none of the

seductions of vice, but with all the allurements of penitence. She has

sinned, but it has been because of the mysterious and irresistible bond

which united her to the goddess of love; her moral nature has not been

perverted, and she is filled with shame and remorse because of the

reproach that has been cast upon her name. By a long and bitter

expiation, she has atoned for her fault; and memories of the days long

past abide with her in all their sweetness and purity.

One can but

contrast the difference of attitude with which she addresses Priam and

Hector on the one hand, and Aphrodite and Paris on the other. For the

former she has the utmost consideration and respect, and in their

presence she feels most keenly how compromised is her position; for the

latter, the causes of her fall, she has nothing but the scorn and

contempt of a cultivated and high-spirited queen. In portraying the

regret of Helen for her first husband, and her contempt toward her

second; in representing Menelaus and the Greeks as fighting to avenge