The Trojan Women

Helen Character Analysis

The most beautiful mortal woman in the world. Formerly of Sparta and wife of the warrior King Menelaus, Helen eloped to Troy with Paris, causing the Trojan War. Now, at the end of ten years of battle, the other characters, Hecuba and Menelaus especially, blame her for all the lives lost and the destruction wrought. In her own words, Helen was merely a victim of fortune, first bewitched by Aphrodite who brought Paris to her, and then held in Troy by force. However, it is impossible for the audience to fully trust Helen, as Hecuba and Menelaus are constantly casting doubt on her claims. Still, she can be played as sympathetic, a well-meaning woman swept along by chance, or as self-absorbed, an active agent in her own life who eloped of her own free will and stayed with Paris because she wanted to, caring little for the lives lost on her behalf.

Helen Quotes in The Trojan Women

The The Trojan Women 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:
The Cost of War Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the University of Chicago Press edition of The Trojan Women published in 2013.
Line 294-461 Quotes

O Mother, star my hair with flowers of victory.
This is a king I marry; then be glad; escort
the bride—and if she falters, thrust her strongly on.
If Loxias lives, the Achaeans’ pride, great Agamemnon
has won a wife more fatal than ever Helen was.
Since I will kill him, and avenge my brothers’ blood
and my father’s in desolation of his house.
But I leave this in silence and sing not now the axe
to drop against my throat and other throats than mine,
the agony of the mother murdered, brought to pass
from our marriage rites, and Atreus’ house made desolate.

Related Characters: Cassandra (speaker), Hecuba, Helen, Agamemnon
Page Number: 354
Explanation and Analysis:
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I am ridden by god’s curse still, yet I will step so far
out of my frenzy as to show our city’s fate
is blessed beyond the Achaeans’. For one woman’s sake,
one act of love, these hunted Helen down and threw
thousands of lives away. Their general—clever man—
in the name of a vile woman cut his darling down,
gave up for a brother the sweetness of children in his house,
all to bring back that brother’s wife, a woman who went
of her free will, not caught in constraint of violence.
The Achaeans came back Scamander’s banks, and died
day after day, though none of them sought to wrench their land from them
nor their own towering cities. Those the war god caught
never saw their sons again, nor were they laid to rest
decently in winding sheets by their wives’ hands, but lie
buried in alien ground; while all went wrong at home
as the widows perished, and couples who had raised in vain
their children were left childless, no one left to tend
their tombs and give to them the sacrificial blood.
For such success as this congratulate the Greeks.
No, but the shame is better left in silence, for fear
my singing voice become the voice of wretchedness.
The Trojans have that glory which is loveliest:
they died for their own country. So the bodies of all
who took the spears were carried home in loving hands,
brought, in the land of their fathers, to the embrace of earth
and buried becomingly as the rite fell due. The rest,
those Phrygians who escaped death in battle, day by day
came home to happiness the Achaeans could not know;
their wives, their children. Then was Hector’s fate so sad?
You think so. Listen to the truth. He is dead and gone
surely, but with reputation, as a valiant man.
How could this be, except for the Achaeans’ coming?
Had they held back, none might have known how great he was.

Related Characters: Cassandra (speaker), Menelaus, Helen, Agamemnon, Hector
Page Number: 365
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Line 568-797 Quotes

We are the hated of the gods, since once your youngest, escaping
death, brought down Troy’s towers in the arms of a worthless woman;
piled at the feet of Pallas the bleeding bodies of our young men
sprawled, kites’ food, while Troy takes up the yoke of captivity.

Related Characters: Andromache (speaker), Hecuba, Helen
Page Number: 597
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Line 860-1059 Quotes

O splendor of sunburst breaking forth this day, whereon
I lay my hands once more on Helen, my wife. And yet
it is not so much as men think, for a woman’s sake
I came to Troy, but against that guest proved treacherous,
who like a robber carried the woman from my house.
Since the gods have seen to it that he paid the penalty,
fallen before the Hellenic spear, his kingdom wrecked,
I come for her now, the Spartan once my own, whose name
I can no longer speak with any happiness,
to take her away. In this house of captivity
she is numbered among the other women of Troy, a slave.
And those men whose work with the spear has won her back
gave her to me, to kill, or not to kill, but lead
alive to the land of Argos, if such be my pleasure.
And such it is; the death of Helen in Troy I will let
pass, have the oars take her by seaways back to Greek
soil, and there give her over to execution;
blood penalty for friends who are dead in Ilium here.

Related Characters: Menelaus (speaker), Helen, Paris
Page Number: 860
Explanation and Analysis:
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She mothered the beginning of all this wickedness.
For Paris was her child. And next to her the old king,
who would not destroy the infant Alexander, that dream
of the firebrand’s agony, has ruined Troy and me.
This is not all; listen to the rest I have to say.
Alexander was the judge of the goddess trinity.
Pallas Athena would have given him power, to lead
the Phrygian arms on Hellas and make it desolate.
All Asia was Hera’s promise, and the uttermost zones
of Europe for his lordship, if her way prevailed.
But Aphrodite, marveling at my loveliness,
promised it to him, if he would say her beauty surpassed
all others. Think what this means, and all the consequence.
Cypris prevailed, and I was won in marriage: all
for Greek advantage. You are not ruled by barbarians,
you have not been defeated in war nor serve a tyrant.
Yet Hellas’ fortune was my own misfortune. I,
sold once for my body’s beauty, stand accused, who should
for what has been done wear garlands on my head.

Related Characters: Helen (speaker), Hecuba, Menelaus, Athena, Hera, Aphrodite, Priam, Paris
Page Number: 919
Explanation and Analysis:
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My son was handsome beyond all other men.
You looked at him, and sense went Cyprian at the sight,
since Aphrodite is nothing but the human lust,
named rightly, since the world of lust begins the god’s name.
You saw him in the barbaric splendor of his robes,
gorgeous with gold. It made your senses itch. You thought,
being queen only in Argos, in little luxury,
that once you got rid of Sparta for the Phrygian city
where gold streamed everywhere, you could let extravagance
run wild. No longer were Menelaus and his house
sufficient for your spoiled luxurious appetites.
So much for that. You say my son took you away
by force. What Spartan heard you cry for help? You did
cry out? Or did you? Castor, your brother, was there, a young
man, and his twin not yet caught up among the stars.
Then when you had reached Troy, and the Argives at your heels
came, and the agony of the murderous spears began,
when the reports came in that Menelaus’ side
was winning, you would praise him, simply to make my son
unhappy at the strength of his love’s challenger,
forgetting your husband when the luck went back to Troy.
You worked hard: not to make yourself a better woman,
but to make sure always to be on the winning side.
You claim you tried to slip away with ropes let down
form the ramparts, and this proves you stayed against your will?
Perhaps. But when were you ever caught in the strangling noose,
or sharpening a dagger? Which any noble wife
would do, desperate with longing for her lord’s return.
Yet over and over again I gave you good advice:
“Make your escape, my daughter; there are other girls
for my sons to marry…Let the Greeks, and us,
stop fighting.”

Related Characters: Hecuba (speaker), Menelaus, Helen, Aphrodite, Paris
Page Number: 987
Explanation and Analysis:
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Helen Character Timeline in The Trojan Women

The timeline below shows where the character Helen appears in The Trojan Women. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Line 1-97
The Cost of War Theme Icon
Fate, Fortune, and the Gods Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...remaining Trojan women who have been claimed as slaves by the Greek men. He mentions Helen dismissively, but feels pity for Hecuba, who has lost many members of her family, including... (full context)
Line 98-294
The Cost of War Theme Icon
Duty, Obligation, and Integrity  Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Hecuba begins to sing. The intended recipient is Helen, although she is not present. According to Hecuba, as Helen crossed the sea from Greece... (full context)
The Cost of War Theme Icon
Fate, Fortune, and the Gods Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Now, Hecuba is “an old, unhappy woman, like my city ruined and pitiful.” She blames Helen for this, too. She calls upon the other widowed Trojan women to mourn with her,... (full context)
The Cost of War Theme Icon
Fate, Fortune, and the Gods Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...hope they’ll be taken to Athens, where Theseus is from, but not to Sparta, where Helen and Menelaus once lived. The women of the Chorus try to make light of their... (full context)
Line 294-461
The Cost of War Theme Icon
Fate, Fortune, and the Gods Theme Icon
Duty, Obligation, and Integrity  Theme Icon
...it to Hecuba. She predicts that as a wife she will be “more fatal than Helen ever was.” She will kill Agamemnon, and in the process avenge the deaths of her... (full context)
The Cost of War Theme Icon
Duty, Obligation, and Integrity  Theme Icon
Cassandra is shocked that an entire war was fought for Helen’s sake. The way she interprets events, Helen came to Troy of her own free will,... (full context)
Line 461-567
The Cost of War Theme Icon
Fate, Fortune, and the Gods Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...the ground and serve a master she does not respect. She blames all this on Helen: “All this came to pass / and shall be, for the way one woman chose... (full context)
Line 568-797
The Cost of War Theme Icon
Fate, Fortune, and the Gods Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...think of no other way to explain how Troy fell because of a “worthless woman” (Helen), or why its young men were killed and its women taken captive. (full context)
Line 860-1059
The Cost of War Theme Icon
Duty, Obligation, and Integrity  Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...stark contrast to the miserable women of Troy. He is excited to be reunited with “Helen, my wife.” (full context)
Men and Women Theme Icon
Now, it is finally time for Menelaus to reclaim Helen. He refers to her as a woman “once my own,” who has now been reduced... (full context)
The Cost of War Theme Icon
Fate, Fortune, and the Gods Theme Icon
Duty, Obligation, and Integrity  Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...last.” Menelaus comments that this is a strange prayer. Hecuba responds that he should kill Helen. She fears that he will fall back in love, or lust, with his former wife,... (full context)
Duty, Obligation, and Integrity  Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Helen exits the tent and faces Menelaus. She can tell that Menelaus hates her by the... (full context)
The Cost of War Theme Icon
Fate, Fortune, and the Gods Theme Icon
Duty, Obligation, and Integrity  Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Helen begins to barter for her life. She argues based on points she anticipates Menelaus will... (full context)
Duty, Obligation, and Integrity  Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Helen then anticipates Menelaus’s next argument—that she ran away of her own volition. Although she admits... (full context)
Fate, Fortune, and the Gods Theme Icon
Duty, Obligation, and Integrity  Theme Icon
Helen wonders to herself, “what made me run away from home / with the stranger, and... (full context)
Duty, Obligation, and Integrity  Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Helen concedes that after Paris died she could have left the city of Troy and joined... (full context)
Fate, Fortune, and the Gods Theme Icon
Duty, Obligation, and Integrity  Theme Icon
Helen challenges Menelaus, asking him if he “would be stronger than the gods.” She hopes that,... (full context)
Duty, Obligation, and Integrity  Theme Icon
The Chorus Leader, having listened to Helen’s defense, implores Hecuba to “break down the beguilement” of this well-spoken but wicked woman. (full context)
The Cost of War Theme Icon
Fate, Fortune, and the Gods Theme Icon
Duty, Obligation, and Integrity  Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...is skeptical that Hera and Athena were contestants in the godly beauty contest in which Helen claims Paris won her hand. She continues to criticize Helen’s claim that she was unable... (full context)
Duty, Obligation, and Integrity  Theme Icon
Hecuba also attacks Helen’s claim that she was taken by force. She wonders if any Spartans heard her resisting... (full context)
Duty, Obligation, and Integrity  Theme Icon
Furthermore, Hecuba argues that if Helen really wanted to escape she would have tried to kill herself, or her husband, like... (full context)
Duty, Obligation, and Integrity  Theme Icon
Hecuba feels that Helen should at least seem repentant, and believes she retains her “old impudence,” sinfulness, and immodesty.... (full context)
Fate, Fortune, and the Gods Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Menelaus agrees with Hecuba’s assessment of Helen and her story. He thinks her talk of Aphrodite is “for pure show.” Helen falls... (full context)
Duty, Obligation, and Integrity  Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...of his fallen friends and soldiers. She also tells him, if he insists on taking Helen back to Greece, to transport her on a separate ship. She worries “a man in... (full context)
Line 1060-1332
Fate, Fortune, and the Gods Theme Icon
...ship. They hope a bolt of Zeus’s lightning and will hit and sink it, with Helen aboard. (full context)
The Cost of War Theme Icon
Fate, Fortune, and the Gods Theme Icon
Duty, Obligation, and Integrity  Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...in archery or riding, but instead it is to honor him in death. She blames Helen, who has “brought ruin to all our house.” (full context)