In Search of Helen: A Tour of Ancient Troy
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Her face is said to have launched a thousand ships. Helen of Troy was Zeus' daughter and so beautiful that Greeks set sail throughout the Hellenic world, headed for Troy. Their goal was to win Helen back from Paris, a Trojan prince who had spirited her away from her husband, King Menelaus.
The story of Helen and the siege of Troy has it all – passion, jealousy, daring, bloodshed, trickery, and the world's most beautiful woman. Narrated in The Iliad, it has inspired artists, writers, and history lovers since Homer penned this epic poem in the eighth century B.C.
Helen did cause a commotion. The Trojan War, led by Agamemnon, the King of Mycenae, and Helen's husband Menelaus lasted for a decade and saw the death of heroes, including the Greek warriors Ajax and Achilles, who was shot in the heel with an arrow by Paris. Paris also died in the war, but Menelaus survived and is believed to have been concealed inside the Trojan horse, the clever ploy that decisively ended the conflict.
The Greeks hid their elite warriors in the huge wooden horse and pretended to sail away. The Trojans dragged the horse into the city as a symbol of victory and, during the night, the warriors emerged and opened the gates for the rest of the army that returned after nightfall. The city of Troy was destroyed.
As for Helen, Menelaus was about to murder her for her betrayal. But as he raised his sword, he was so awestruck by her beauty that the weapon slipped from his hands. They did live together again. But not for long, and not happily. Or so the tale goes.
Fact or myth?
Heinrich Schliemann's excavations at Troy in the 1870s are considered the beginning of modern archeology. Since then, multiple city layers have been unearthed, along with intriguing clues about Troy's history and mythology. One layer shows charred debris, skeletal remains, and other signs of wartime chaos in about 1180 B.C. Homer wrote his tale about 400 years later. Did these signs of battle inspire his story, or convince him of its truth?
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