Helen of Troy

In Greek mythology, Helen of Troy was the daughter of Zeus and Leda. While there are several versions of the birth of Helen, in one Zeus takes the form of a swan and is pursued by an eagle. He took refuge with Leda and they mated. Leda then produced two eggs, one containing Helen and Clytemnestra and the other Castor and Pollux, thus producing two semi-divine and two mortal offspring. Helen grew up to be very beautiful and had many suitors but in the end it was Menelaus she married.

'Helen of Troy ' - Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1863

During the event known as the Judgement of Paris, the youth Paris is asked to judge whether Hera, Athene or Aphrodite is the most beautiful goddess. Aphrodite promises Paris the most beautiful woman in the world if he chooses her, which he does. Despite Helen being married to Menelaus, Paris claimed her as his own. Accounts vary as to whether she was seduced and ran away willingly with Paris, or if she was abducted. Many depictions in western art view the incident as a rape and abduction.

'The Rape of Helen' - Francesco Primaticcio, ca. 1539

In the end, Helen is lonely and regretful of her decision to leave with Paris, if indeed it was a decision. After the death of Hector she laments... "Now I weep for you and for my wretched self, so sick at heart, for there's no one else in spacious Troy who's kind to me and friendly. They all look at me & shudder with disgust." ~ Homer, The Illiad.

'Helen of Troy' - Frederick Augustus Sandys, 1867

In the Elizabethan tragedy 'The Tragic History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus' by Christopher Marlowe, Dr Faustus conjures the ghost of Helen and utters the famous words...

"Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
Her lips suck forth my soul: see where it flies!
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again."

'Helen of Troy' - Evelyn De Morgan, 1898

'The Abduction of Helen' - Guido Reni, 1631 (detail)

'The Love of Helen & Paris' - Jacques-Louis David, 1788

'Leda and the Swan' - Cesare da Sesto ca. 1510

'Helen on the Walls of Troy' - Frederic Leighton, 1865

'Venus Presents Helen to Paris' - Gavin Hamilton, 18th Century.

Walter Crane

'Helen and Paris' - Charles Maynier