|Hermione, princess of Sparta, was left behind
when her mother Helen sailed to Troy with the
seducer Paris. Later, she
was promised as wife to both Orestes 2 and Neoptolemus which
caused a deadly row between the two.
Those who have just become lovers often feel
that the presence of children add nothing to their
overwhelming passion while ruining the intimacy
their infatuation demands. So when Helen and Paris left Hellas as
lovers, they, not wishing to renounce gold, put
most of the Spartan property on board before they
sailed away to Troy. But
Hermionethe nine years old daughter of Helen and Menelausthey left behind (Apd.Ep.3.3). Some time later, also her father sailed to Troy though his trip was no
love cruise, but a bellicose enterprise engaging
many kingdoms of Hellas, which, having gathered a
huge fleet, were determined to obtain by any means
the restoration of both Helen and the property.
Thus Hermione remained in Sparta, deprived of both
her parents and being raised by her aunt Clytaemnestra, for
the time the Trojan
War lasted, that is, ten years. And for that,
childhood I had no mother; my father was ever in
the warsthough the two were not dead, I was
reft of both." (Ovid, Heroides 8.89).
and reproaches her mother
"I went out to
meet you when you came back homeand the face
of my mother was unknown to me! That you were Helen I none the less knew, because you
were most beautiful; but youyou had to ask
who your daughter was!" (Ovid, Heroides 8.97).
It is told (Apd.Ep.6.14). that Menelaus made
contradictory promises concerning the marriage of
his daughter: that he first promised her to her
cousin Orestes 2, but
later, on the battlefields of Troy, he promised her to Neoptolemus. That is
why Orestes 2, after
the war, speaks in this manner to Hermione:
"For you were
mine to begin with, and you are married to Neoptolemus only by the baseness of your
father. Before he attacked Troy, he gave you to me to be my wife,
but later he promised you to your present husband
as a reward if he sacked Troy." (Euripides, Andromache 969).
But others affirm that there were no double
promises, and represent Hermione saying to Orestes 2:
"I was given
to you by Tyndareus … but my father … had promised me to Aeacus' son (i.e, Neoptolemus), not knowing this … " (Ovid, Heroides 8.31).
In any case it has been remarked (Pau.1.33.7). that Neoptolemus indeed was Hermione's first husband, but that she
stayed by Orestes 2's
side in all his plights. That is why she also tells Orestes 2:
"… yet my grandsire, as being first in order, has rank above my father." (Ovid, Heroides 8.34).
thereby showing her agreement with Tyndareus' decision,
and regarding herself as the wife of Orestes 2.
Married to Neoptolemus
Nevertheless, when the Trojan War was over, Neoptolemus fetched
Hermione and took her to his home in Epirus (the
Adriatic coastal region of Greece between the
Ambracian Gulf and Illyria, today called Albania).
Violently, she says:
"… he (Neoptolemus). dragged me with hair all disarrayed into his palace …" (Hermione to Orestes 2. Ovid, Heroides 8.10).
Some affirm that this was possible because Orestes 2, being at
that time maddened by the ERINYES for having
murdered his mother Clytaemnestra, could not offer any resistance. It is said (Hom.Od.4.1ff). that Menelaus had a marriage
feast and was sending forth Hermione with horses
and chariots to Neoptolemus at the
time when Telemachus arrived at Menelaus'
court looking for his father. Neoptolemus had already begotten sons, Amphialus 1 and Molossus, by his captive concubine Andromache, former
wife of Hector 1. But it is also told (Hyg.Fab.123). that Neoptolemus came to Sparta to claim Hermione
from Menelaus, once he
had heard that his betrothed had been given to Orestes 2 in marriage.
So Menelaus took
Hermione from Orestes 2 and gave her to Neoptolemus. Some add (Eur.And.960ff.). that Orestes 2 at the time
was insane and weakened on account of his mental
disorders, his exile, and his family troubles.
Being so, he did not wish at the time to blame Menelaus, and instead
begged Neoptolemus to renounce his claim to marry Hermione. When he
was insolently rebuked by Neoptolemus, who
abused him as a matricide and as a victim of folly, Orestes 2, though robbed of his marriage, chose to take a humble tone and wait. Thus the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon for the sake
of a woman (Briseis)
experienced a revival through their sons.
Her husband's concubine
In Neoptolemus' home in Epirus or in Phthia (or else in Scyrosthe island in the Aegean Sea northeast of Euboea (Pau.3.25.1).), there arose a conflict between Hermione and Andromache, the
concubine he had obtained as a prize after the sack
of Troy. For as time went by and Hermione remained
childless, she grew jealous of Andromache, saying
that by secret spells the concubine made her
barren. Thus, seeing her own position threatened,
Hermione plotted against Andromache's life.
And while Neoptolemus was at Delphi, wishing to make
amends to Apollo for
having demanded reparation for his father's death, Menelaus came to Neoptolemus' palace
and decided, on behalf of his daughter, to kill Andromache and put
the life of Andromache's child Molossus in Hermione's hands. Andromache then
sought protection in the sanctuary of Thetis, but Menelaus captured
little Molossus and threatened to cut the child's
throat if she refused to abandon the shrine. It
seemed inconceivable to Andromache that such
a famous man as Menelaus could act so
cowardly, and that is why she exclaims:
"Oh Fame! How many thousands nobodies there
are whom Fame blows up to importance and authority … Did a coward like you lead the warriors of Hellas against Priam to conquer Troy?" (Andromache to Menelaus. Euripides, Andromache 325).
She chose her own death, but when she had left
the shrine, Neoptolemus'
grandfather Peleus arrived, and with the protection, as he said, of
both gods and troops, prevented Menelaus to kill Andromache, or do any harm to her child. Menelaus then left
the palace declaring that as a stranger he did not
intend to commit violence, but he promised to
return, for he would not submit to it either. Her
father having returned to Sparta, Hermione started
thinking that he would kill her at his return for
having plotted against Andromache and the child, or perhaps make her a concubine in the house where she was queen. But while Neoptolemus was
still away, Orestes 2 came to recover Hermione. For, as he saw it,
Hermione was living with Neoptolemus only
because of Menelaus'
broken promise. And when they met, Hermione herself
asked him to taker her away, and she became the
wife of Orestes 2. Later Orestes 2,
having assembled troops, came to Delphi in order to end
the life of the man who had insulted him and robbed
his wife. He first stirred up the Delphians against
the suppliant, saying that Neoptolemus had come
in order to rob Apollo's
temple, and not as he declared, on a pious
pilgrimage to win the favor of the god. The
Delphians then joined the troops of Orestes 2, and screened
by the foliage of the laurel-trees, they all waited
outside the temple with drawn swords. And when Neoptolemus came
out, he was killed in the battle that took place,
and many, they say, were those who came with their
weapons and stones to strike and hack at him,
destroying his body with countless wounds.
Hermione as hostage
But it is also told (Euripides, Orestes). that Menelaus, Hermione
and Orestes 2 had already have a dreadful meeting before the above related events: One week after the murder of Clytaemnestra by Orestes 2, Menelaus arrived from Troy at the harbor of Nauplia. His wife Helen he
sent on ahead to join Hermione, who, during the
war, had been brought up in the palace by Clytaemnestra (her
aunt ). When Menelaus arrived, he met Orestes 2, who had not eaten or washed, destroyed by
grief, and the victim of insane fits, during which
he seemed to see the ERINYES, persecuting and lashing him. And besides grief and remorse there was another
torment: the Argives were considering to punish the
matricide, and after voting, to stone Orestes 2 and his
sister Electra 2 to
death. It was to avert this threat that Orestes 2 asked Menelaus for help,
reminding him of the assistance that he had
received from Agamemnon when Helen was abducted. But Menelaus was not
ready to give him assistance, and just promised to
beg the citizens and Tyndareus, who grieved
his daughter Clytaemnestra, for
mercy. For he deemed resistance impossible, as the
whole city was a trap, and armed men were
everywhere. Besides, opposing Tyndareus, his wife's
father and the man from whom he expected to inherit
the Spartan throne, was not, as Menelaus deemed, his
wisest choice. Orestes 2 did not appreciate his uncle's reluctance to
"You coward! Did you once command an army? Yes, to win a woman; not to help your friends…Traitor! Have you forgotten Agamemnon? (Orestes 2 to Menelaus. Euripides, Orestes 720).
That was Orestes 2's plight: mad, abandoned (except for his sister and Pylades), and threatened by a death sentence. But the resourceful Pylades, for whom life was
not worth if he lost his friend, conceived the
following plan: to kill Helen, who was in the
house making a list of all the valuables, and
thereby send Menelaus raving mad. Orestes 2 found this idea so brilliant that he declared to be ready to die twice if they could bring this deed off. So they started immediately to plan how they would attack the Trojan body-guard that protected her, a group of chaps, who, used to polish her mirrors and set out her scents, were not supposed to cause them any serious trouble; these they intended to shut up in various rooms. This murder, they thought, would be a popular
one. For Helen was hated
in the whole of Hellas by all those who had lost a
relative or friend in the Trojan War. And by
killing her, Pylades reasoned, Orestes 2's name of "matricide" would be forgotten, giving place to the title "Killer of the killer of thousands, Helen." In the midst of the enthusiasm that this plan aroused in them, they even started hoping to escape after the murder and avoid death. And Electra 2 came with her own contribution to the plan:
to take Hermione as a hostage, and threat to kill
her if Menelaus would
dare to make any move after Helen's death. All this was attempted. But during the confusion
that ensued when Hermione was to be captured and
the body-guard avoided, Helen escaped. So when Menelaus arrived, he
had already heard that Helen was not dead, but
instead he found his daughter Hermione with a
sword's edge at her throat. Escape was no longer
possible, so Orestes 2 threatened to kill Hermione and set fire to the
palace unless Menelaus went to the assembly and persuaded the citizens to spare their lives. The taking of hostages is a dire deed, difficult
to solve for all parties involved. So difficult,
that sometimes neither authorities, nor armed
forces, and not even poets are able to find a way
out. That is why Apollo had to come down from heaven and put things aright.
The god, it is said, took Helen with him to heaven,
telling Menelaus to get
a new wife, to reign in Sparta, yield to Orestes 2 the throne of Argos and Mycenae, and marry him to Hermione. So it was done (though not immediately). In time Orestes 2 ruled over a realm vaster than his father's, and having married Hermione, had by her a son Tisamenus 2, who, however, was overthrown by the HERACLIDES. The children of Tisamenus 2 emigrated to Ionia in Asia Minor where they founded cities. Orestes 2 was killed
in Arcadia by the bite of a snake, but the death of
Hermione has never been reported.
The name of the coastal city Hermione (near Troezen, and facing the island of Hydra in eastern Argolis) comes from its founder Hermion, son of Europs 2, son of Phoroneus (Pau.2.34.4).