The Penelopiad

Helen Character Analysis

Helen is Penelope's cousin, Menelaus's wife, and Paris's lover. She is considered to be the most attractive woman in the Greek world and she uses her divine beauty to her advantage. Penelope characterizes Helen as vain, cruel, and flirtatious. Penelope feels that she is living in Helen's shadow and often compares herself to her. She worries that Odysseus prefers Helen to her. In Penelope’s narrative, Helen runs away from Menelaus with Paris, a Trojan prince, inciting the Trojan War and causing Odysseus to leave Ithaca. In the afterlife, Helen continues to seek male attention. She often goes to séances and decides to be reincarnated in the world of the living.

Helen Quotes in The Penelopiad

The The Penelopiad quotes below are all either spoken by Helen or refer to Helen. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Canongate Books edition of The Penelopiad published in 2006.
Chapter 9 Quotes

She’d been in the household ever since Odysseus’s father had bought her, and so highly had he valued her that he hadn’t even slept with her. ‘Imagine that, for a slave-woman!’ she clucked to me, delighted with herself. ‘And I was very good-looking in those days!’

Related Characters: Penelope (speaker), Helen
Page Number: 60-61
Explanation and Analysis:

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Helen Character Timeline in The Penelopiad

The timeline below shows where the character Helen appears in The Penelopiad. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5: Asphodel
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Christianity vs. Greek Religion Theme Icon
Penelope is not often summoned by magicians, but her cousin Helen is in high demand. Penelope finds this unfair, because Helen’s reputation is so much worse... (full context)
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Helen likes being summoned by the magicians because she can have many men admire her again... (full context)
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...that her intelligence and faithfulness are a lot less appealing to a summoning magician than Helen’s sex appeal. (full context)
Christianity vs. Greek Religion Theme Icon
Penelope notes that Helen was never punished for all the harm and suffering she caused to people (presumably Penelope... (full context)
Chapter 6: My Marriage
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
This prediction turns out to be true. Helen, on the other hand, loved to make man grovel and feel miserable out of love... (full context)
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Next, Helen approaches Penelope, walking with an exaggerated sway to try to get attention. She is extremely... (full context)
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Helen states that she thinks Odysseus would make a good husband for Penelope, and that if... (full context)
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...look to Penelope to see what she will say in response, but Penelope is speechless. Helen tells Penelope not to worry, and that both she and Odysseus are supposedly clever, so... (full context)
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...she “was the payment” for something Odysseus had done for Tyndareous during the competition for Helen’s marriage. Odysseus made the contestants swear to defend whichever man won Helen in case someone... (full context)
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Regardless of why, Odysseus won. Penelope remembers Helen smiling during the marriage, happy that Penelope was moving to Ithaca, which she considered a... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Scar
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon
...saw her face unveiled and her body unclothed. Anyway, all the men were staring at Helen, not her. Penelope thinks this was actually lucky, because it distracted from her nervousness. Penelope... (full context)
Chapter 9: The Trusted Cackle-Hen
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...happy with Penelope when she gave birth to Telemachus, and he told her proudly that Helen had not yet given birth to a son. This made Penelope happy, but also made... (full context)
Chapter 11: Helen Ruins My Life
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...of Greek mythology. One of these stories was about how Theseus and Peirithous had abducted Helen when she was not yet twelve, intending for one of them to marry her when... (full context)
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon
Penelope had already heard this story from Helen herself, who told Penelope that Theseus and Peirithous were so in awe of her beauty... (full context)
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
When Telemachus was one year old, according to Penelope, “disaster struck” because of Helen. A captain from Sparta arrived in the harbor and Odysseus invited him to dinner. During... (full context)
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...he and many other men had sworn a sacred oath to defend Menelaus’s rights to Helen, meaning that he and the other men would have to go to Troy and fight... (full context)
Chapter 12: Waiting
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...him negotiating, giving advice, etc. At one point, a song described Odysseus being bathed by Helen, and Penelope did not like that part. (full context)
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...Odysseus returned, so he would be proud of her, tell her “you’re worth a thousand Helens,” and hold her in his arms. (full context)
Chapter 14: The Suitors Stuff Their Faces
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...Suitors had said behind her back, calling her an “old bitch,” comparing her unfavorably to Helen, and imagining killing Telemachus. The Suitors also had all agreed that whoever would marry Penelope... (full context)
Chapter 16: Bad Dreams
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...swam to the Sirens, and that he was enjoying sex with beautiful women—first goddesses, then Helen. The nightmare that Odysseus was having sex with Helen woke Penelope up, and she prayed... (full context)
Chapter 18: News of Helen
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...trip. Telemachus informed Penelope that he went to visit Menelaus. Penelope asked if he saw Helen while he was there, and Telemachus said that he did, and that she gave them... (full context)
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Penelope asked how Helen was, and Telemachus said she seemed fine, and that everyone was telling stories about the... (full context)
Chapter 22: Helen Takes a Bath
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Christianity vs. Greek Religion Theme Icon
...recounts a recent time when, as she was walking through the asphodel, she ran into Helen, who was followed by a group of men. Helen greets Penelope and asks if she... (full context)
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon
Penelope sneers and asks if Helen is going to take off her (nonexistent) robes. Helen comments that, since Penelope is known... (full context)
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon
Penelope quips that seeing Helen naked must give the spirits “a reason to live,” and Helen calls her witty. They... (full context)
Chapter 27: Home Life in Hades
Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon
Christianity vs. Greek Religion Theme Icon
...this does not work especially well, and lots of people remember everything. According to Penelope, Helen has used this option a lot, and when she returns she tells Penelope all about... (full context)
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon
Christianity vs. Greek Religion Theme Icon
Penelope informs Helen that interpretations of the Trojan War have changed—now everyone thinks Helen was a myth and... (full context)