Within the poem The Iliad, written by Homer, there are several tales of the epic battles waged between the men of Greece and Troy. These men fought constantly for ten years. A person might think that a battle that could continue for that amount of time may be about a difference of religion, or perhaps because a king wanted to acquire more land. No, this war was fought for one thing, a woman. No one contests the beauty of the woman named Helen. However, some may question the character of this immortal beauty within the text of Homer’s epic poem. Was Helen a deceitful and scheming woman, a victim of circumstance, or was she simply at the mercy of the Gods? Who was the woman who, as Christopher Marlowe stated, was “the face that launched a thousand ships”?
The motivations behind Helen’s words and actions have been analyzed throughout the years. In one example F. J. Groten, Jr., author of the article Homer’s Helen, clearly viewed Helen as a victim. This view is validated within the poem The Iliad beginning with the speech of Nestor. At this moment, the Greeks are feeling defeated and tired of war and are readying themselves for the journey home. Nestor encourages the men that they should continue their fight and that the treatment of the Trojan women should be like the miseries that Helen has had to suffer. This statement certainly implies that the Greeks feel that Helen was captured against her will (Homer 43).
Groten uses many of The Iliad’s verses to show Helen’s plight. He states that she is “clearly distressed by all the misery for which she considers herself responsible” (Groten 34). Groten’s proof for his explanations of Helen’s emotions is in the making of the tapestry, in which she is creating a piece of art depicting the Greeks and Trojans in battle. Helen’s last appearance in The Iliad is at Hector’s funeral, saying “In all wide Troy who will pity me or be my friend. Everyone shudders at me.” (Homer 205). Her words of lament and regret are moving as she weeps for Hector. As Groten explains, Homer gives Helen the important role of saying the last rites over Hector’s body.
To describe Helen’s attributes Groten often used words such as sensitive, dignified, integrity, and concerned, just to name a few. In the very brief analysis of Helen in Homer’s Helen, anyone who reads it can fully appreciate that Groten felt that Helen was a woman worthy of admiration. However, not everyone feels toward Helen as Groten did. George J. Ryan, author of Helen in Homer, is extremely critical of Helen’s character. Ryan blatantly asserts that, “Helen is wanton, self-centered, deceitful, bewitching, and beguiling” (Ryan 117).
Helen in Homer does not paint Helen as the “victim” archetype as Groten did in Homer’s Helen. Ryan, on the other hand, obviously has no love for this character. Where Groten valued Helen’s making of the tapestry as being “in distress”, Ryan’s interpretation of this same scene is that Helen is seen here in the light...