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Menelaus
Μενέλαος

0218: Kopf des Menelaus. Von einer Statuengruppe im Typus des "Pasquino" Römische Kopie nach einem griechischen Werk des 2. Jh. v. Chr. Glyptotek, München.

"Look to my affairs, and to the household, and to our guest from Troy." (Menelaus to Helen. Ovid, Heroides 17.160).


Menelaus is the king of Sparta who was robbed of his sweet wife Helen by a guest he received in his palace. For his sake, a fleet of unprecedented size sailed to Troy in order to demand, by persuasion or by force, the restoration of Helen and the Spartan property that the seducer Paris, breaking all laws of hospitality, had stolen.

Youth

King Atreus of Mycenae, having a serious feud with his brother Thyestes 1, decided to arrest him. For this purpose he sent his sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus, who seized him in Delphi, and having brought him to Mycenae, cast him into prison, where Atreus attempted to murder him. However, having made false judgements, Atreus was himself killed by Thyestes 1's son Aegisthus, who then gave the throne to his father. As a result, the two Atrides went into exile. They first stayed with King Polyphides 1 of Sicyon, and later with King Oeneus 2 of Calydon. But afterwards, when they thought the time was ripe to dethrone Mycenae's hostile ruler, they returned; and assisted by King Tyndareus of Sparta, they drove Thyestes 1 away to Cythera, an island off the southern coast of the Peloponnesus.

Marriage

Having thus seized power, the Atrides married the daughters of Tyndareus: Agamemnon wedded Clytaemnestra, sitting as king in Mycenae; and Menelaus, having been united to Helen, received the kingdom from his father-in-law at the time when the DIOSCURI passed away and went to heaven.

The Oath of Tyndareus

Now, when Helen was married, Tyndareus, following Odysseus' advice, exacted an oath from her many SUITORS (kings and princes of Hellas), stipulating that they would defend and protect him who was chosen as Helen's husband against any wrong done against him in regard to his marriage. This was the agreement, and Helen, they say, chose Menelaus, putting a wreath on his head. Ten years later, Menelaus received Paris as a guest in his palace, but when several days had passed he had to sail to Crete in order to attend the funeral of Catreus (his mother's father). Taking advantage of his absence, Paris and Helen became lovers, and having put most of the Spartan treasures on board, they sailed away to Troy, leaving behind little Hermione, daughter of Menelaus and Helen, then nine years old.

Coalition formed

When Menelaus learned what had happened, he bade his brother Agamemnon to raise an army and demand, by means of threat, the restoration of his wife and his property. So, invoking The Oath of Tyndareus, heralds were sent across Hellas to remind the former SUITORS that they were bound to defend Helen's husband, and help him to avenge the outrage. This is how the coalition was formed that gathered in Aulis, a Boeotian harbor opposite the island of Euboea. The mighty fleet, however, could not leave Aulis because of unfavorable winds; and as impatience grew in the army, the seer Calchas declared that they would be able to sail if Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to Artemis. This was outrageous, even for a man like Agamemnon; for even if the ruler could accept the price, the father would not. But Menelaus, eager to be avenged, and to have his wife and property restored, persuaded his brother to become the murderer of his own daughter, thus slaying a woman in order to be able to fetch another.

Embassy

This is how the army could sail; and having come to Troy, the Achaeans sent Odysseus and Menelaus to demand the restoration of Helen, and the property that the lovers had taken with them. However, the Trojans not only refused these claims, but also threatened to kill the envoys, who were saved only by the intervention of Antenor 1, a man who pleaded for peace. For this, and perhaps for other services too, his house was spared by the Achaeans, during the sack of Troy.

Single combat

In the tenth year of the Trojan War, there was an attempt to solve the conflict by a single combat between Menelaus and Paris, and for that purpose a truce was agreed. Menelaus almost killed his opponent; but when he, during the fight, seized Paris by the horsehair crest of the helmet and began to drag him, Aphrodite intervened and broke the strap of the helmet, so that it came away empty in Menelaus' hand. He then renewed his attack, but the goddess hid Paris in a mist, and took him to the city. This done, Pandarus 1 broke the truce by shooting an arrow at Menelaus that caused a shallow wound, which Machaon, son of Asclepius, healed. Troy was not taken by force more than by cunning, and it was not before Odysseus conceived the stratagem of the WOODEN HORSE that Troy could be taken. Thanks to it, the warriors that hid inside the treacherous device (among which Menelaus), could enter the city and open the gates to the rest of the army.

Death of Deiphobus 1

During the sack of Troy, Menelaus' forces came to the house where Deiphobus 1 and Helen, having married after the death of Paris, lived. When they had her new husband arrested, Menelaus cut him to pieces under torture, lopping off ears and nose, and all of his limbs one by one; and then he led Helen to the ships.

Wanderings

Great offences were committed by the Achaeans against the gods while sacking Troy, and on that account they had a difficult return or no return at all. Menelaus wandered for eight years in several Mediterranean before he and his wife could return to Sparta. For it is said that Menelaus, returning with five ships, came first to Sunium in Attica, but thence he was driven again by winds to Crete. And from Crete he wandered up and down Libya, and Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Egypt, collecting treasures probably though pillage. In Egypt he lost his pilot Canobus, after whom the city east of Alexandria was named.

Proteus 2

There are those who have affirmed that Menelaus discovered Helen at the court of Proteus 3, king of Egypt, realizing that the whole war had been fought for the sake of a phantom. But others say that in Egypt he met Proteus 2, a seer knowing past, present, and future, but reluctant to answer questions, which he avoided by changing semblance. Following the advice of Eidothea 1 (daughter of Proteus 2), Menelaus ambushed him and bound him with a chain, to force him reveal when he would reach home. Proteus 2 told him that the gods were angry at the fall of Troy, and that he should appease them with an offering. Menelaus then did as instructed, and eight years after leaving Troy he returned home with Helen. On his return via Argos, Menelaus met his nephew Orestes 2, who had just avenged his father's murder, and was pursued by the laws of men as well as by those divine. Threatened by the death penalty, which the Argives wished to impose on him and his sister, Orestes 2 asked Menelaus for help, reminding him of the assistance he had received from Agamemnon when Helen was abducted. But Menelaus, who was not ready to help, just promised to beg the citizens and Tyndareus, father of both Helen and Clytaemnestra, for mercy. For, as Menelaus deemed, to oppose Tyndareus (his wife's father, and the man from whom he expected to inherit the Spartan throne), was not his wisest choice. This is why Orestes 2, along with his sister and Pylades, planned to murder Helen, a deed that never took place, the gods preferring other courses of action.

Hermione

One of these concerned Hermione, whom Menelaus promised in marriage twice, first to Orestes 2, before the Trojan War, and then to Neoptolemus, when they were at Troy. When the war was over, Neoptolemus came to Sparta, and demanded Hermione from Menelaus. Since Orestes 2 at the time was insane, Menelaus decided to honour the promise he had made at Troy . But later, Orestes 2 recovered, killed Neoptolemus, and took Hermione to wife. This girl was utterly unhappy at Neoptolemus' home, since her husband kept Andromache as a concubine, and had children by her. For this Menelaus, defending his child, attempted to murder this woman, but was resisted by Peleus.

Home life; eternal life

Some years later, when Menelaus had regained kingdom, wife, and peace, Telemachus, looking for his father, visited him to see if he could get some news about him. As it appeared then, Helen and Menelaus led a pleasant life in their palace. When life was over, Menelaus was made immortal by Hera, and some affirm that he dwells in the Elysian Fields together with Helen.


Family 

Parentage (three versions)

Mates

Offspring

Notes

Plisthenes 1 & Aerope 1

Atreus & Aerope 1

Plisthenes 1 & Cleolla


Plisthenes 1 is said to be the son of Atreus and Aerope 1. He is not, for that reason, the brother of Menelaus and Agamemnon, but their father, Atreus being their grandfather.
Aerope 1 is the daughter of Catreus, whose funeral Menelaus attended while the seducer Paris was a guest in his palace at Sparta.
Cleolla is daughter of Dias, otherwise unknown.


Helen

Hermione

Nicostratus

Plisthenes 3

Hermione was nine years old when she was abandoned by her mother, who sailed to Troy with the seducer Paris. She was betrothed to Orestes 2, but when he went mad Neoptolemus carried her off, because she had previously been betrothed to him in Troy. For that reason, Neoptolemus was slain by Orestes 2, who married Hermione and had by her a son Tisamenus 2, who inherited the throne at the time of the return of the HERACLIDES.

Plisthenes 3 was son of Helen, probably by Menelaus. It is said that she took him with her to Cyprus.

Pieris

Nicostratus

Pieris was an Aetolian slave, concubine of Menelaus.

Tereis

Megapenthes 1

Tereis was a concubine of Menelaus.

Cnossia

Xenodamus

Cnossia was one of the NYMPHS, or so she is called.


Genealogical Charts

Names in this chart: Aerope 1, Agamemnon, Anaxibia 4, Atreus, Catreus, Cnossia, Cometes 4, Daimenes, Helen, Hermione, Leda, Leontomenes, Lycastus 1, Megapenthes 1, Menelaus, Minos 1, Minos 2, Nicostratus, Orestes 2, Pelops 1, Pieris, Plisthenes 1, Plisthenes 3, Sparton 1, Tantalus 1, Tellis, Tereis, Tisamenus 2, Xenodamus, Zeus.


Related sections Agamemnon, Helen, Paris, Pelopides, Orestes 2, Andromache, Telemachus, Trojan War, Dares' account of the destruction of Troy, The Last days of Troy, Aftermath of the Trojan War & The Return of the Achaean Leaders, Map: The Returns
Menelaus in GROUPS: ACHAEAN LEADERS, SUITORS OF HELEN, WOODEN HORSE
 
Sources
Abbreviations

Aes.Aga.42; Apd.3.10.8, 3.11.1, 3.2.1; Apd.Ep.2.15, 3.6, 3.11ff., 6.29; Eur.And. passim; Eur.Hel. passim; Eur.IA. passim; Eur.IT.3; Eur.Ore.18-20 and passim; Eur.Tro. passim; Hes.CWE.69, 70; Hom.Il.3.350; Hom.Od.4.265ff.; Hyg.Fab.85; Pau.2.29.4; QS.12.314ff.; Soph.Aj. passim; Vir.Aen.2.63.

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