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Menelaus
King of Sparta
Menelaus
Marble bust of Menelaus photographed by Giacomo Brogi
Wife Helen of Troy

Issue

Hermione
Nicostratus
Megapenthes
Aithiolas
Maraphius
Pleisthenes
Father Atreus
Mother Aerope

In Greek mythology, Menelaus (/ˌmɛnɪˈləs/; Ancient Greek: Μενέλαος, Menelaos) was a king of Mycenaean (pre-Dorian) Sparta, the husband of Helen of Troy, and a central figure in the Trojan War. He was the son of Atreus and Aerope, brother of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and, according to the Iliad, leader of the Spartan contingent of the Greek army during the War. Prominent in both the Iliad and Odyssey, Menelaus was also popular in Greek vase painting and Greek tragedy; the latter more as a hero of the Trojan War than as a member of the doomed House of Atreus.

Ascension and reign[edit]

Although early authors such as Aeschylus refer in passing to Menelaus’ early life, detailed sources are quite late, post-dating 5th-century BC Greek tragedy.[1] According to these sources, Menelaus' father, Atreus, had been feuding with his brother Thyestes over the throne of Mycenae. After a back-and-forth struggle that featured adultery, incest and cannibalism, Thyestes gained the throne after his son Aegisthus murdered Atreus. As a result, Atreus’ sons, Menelaus and Agamemnon, went into exile. They first stayed with King Polyphides of Sicyon, and later with King Oeneus of Calydon. But when they thought the time was ripe to dethrone Mycenae’s hostile ruler, they returned. Assisted by King Tyndareus of Sparta, they drove Thyestes away, and Agamemnon took the throne for himself.

When it was time for Tyndareus’ step-daughter Helen to marry, many kings and princes came to seek her hand. Among the contenders were Odysseus, Menestheus, Ajax the Great, Patroclus, and Idomeneus. Most offered opulent gifts. Tyndareus would accept none of the gifts, nor would he send any of the suitors away for fear of offending them and giving grounds for a quarrel. Odysseus promised to solve the problem in a satisfactory manner if Tyndareus would support him in his courting of Tyndareus’s niece Penelope, the daughter of Icarius. Tyndareus readily agreed, and Odysseus proposed that, before the decision was made, all the suitors should swear a most solemn oath to defend the chosen husband in any quarrel. Then it was decreed that straws were to be drawn for Helen’s hand. The suitor who won was Menelaus (Tyndareus, not to displease the powerful Agamemnon offered him another of his daughters, Clytaemnestra).[2] The rest of the suitors swore their oaths, and Helen and Menelaus were married, Menelaus becoming a ruler of Sparta with Helen after Tyndareus and Leda abdicated the thrones. Menelaus and Helen had a daughter Hermione as supported, for example, by Sappho,[3] whilst some variations of the myth suggest they had three sons as well: Aithiolas, Maraphius, and Pleisthenes.

Their palace (ἀνάκτορον) has been discovered (the excavations started in 1926 and continued until 1995) in Pellana, Laconia, to the north-west of modern (and classical) Sparta.[4] Other archaeologists consider that Pellana is too far away from other Mycenaean centres to have been the "capital of Menelaus".[5]

Trojan War[edit]

Menelaus regains Helen, detail of an Attic red-figure crater, c. 450–440 BC, found in Gnathia (now Egnazia, Italy).

In a return for awarding her a golden apple inscribed "to the fairest," Aphrodite promised Paris the most beautiful woman in all the world.[6] After concluding a diplomatic mission to Sparta during the latter part of which Menelaus was absent to attend the funeral of his maternal grandfather Catreus in Crete, Paris ran off to Troy with Helen in tow despite his brother Hector forbidding her to depart with them. Invoking the oath of Tyndareus, Menelaus and Agamemnon raised a fleet of one thousand ships according to legend and went to Troy to secure Helen's return; the Trojans were recalcitrant, providing a casus belli for the Trojan War.

Homer's Iliad is the most expansive source for Menelaus’s exploits during the Trojan War. In Book 3, Menelaus challenges Paris to a duel for Helen’s return. Menelaus soundly beats Paris, but before he can kill him and claim victory, Aphrodite spirits Paris away inside the walls of Troy. In Book 4, while the Greeks and Trojans squabble over the duel’s winner, Athena inspires the Trojan Pandarus to kill Menelaus with his bow and arrow. Menelaus is wounded in the abdomen, and the fighting resumes. Later, in Book 17, Homer gives Menelaus an extended aristeia as the hero retrieves the corpse of Patroclus from the battlefield.

According to Hyginus, Menelaus killed eight men in the war, and was one of the Greeks hidden inside the Trojan Horse. During the sack of Troy, Menelaus killed Deiphobus, who had married Helen after the death of Paris.

There are four versions of Menelaus’ and Helen’s reunion on the night of the sack of Troy:

  • Angry at Helen, Menelaus looked for and found her. In a fit of rage, he decided to kill her for leaving him for Paris, but when he raised his sword, she started to weep at her former husband's feet, begging for her life. In a split second, Menelaus' wrath went away instantly. He took pity on her, and decided to take her back as wife.
  • Menelaus resolved to kill Helen but her striking beauty prompted him to drop his sword and take her back to his ship “to punish her at Sparta”, as he claimed.[7]
  • According to the Bibliotheca, Menelaus raised his sword in front of the temple in the central square of Troy to kill her but his wrath went away when he saw her tearing her clothes in sorrow (to reveal her breasts).
  • A similar version by Stesichorus in “Ilion’s Conquest” narrated that Menelaus surrendered her indeed to his soldiers to stone her to death; however, when she ripped the front of her robes, the Achaean warriors were stunned by her beauty and the stones fell harmlessly from their hands.

After the war[edit]

Book 4 of the Odyssey provides an account of Menelaus’ return from Troy and his homelife in Sparta. When visited by Odysseus’ son Telemachus, Menelaus recounts his voyage home. As happened to many Greeks, Menelaus' homebound fleet was blown by storms to Crete and Egypt where they were unable to sail away because the wind was calm. The attacked Proteus, who then told them how to make the voyage home. After their homecoming, Menelaus and Helen’s marriage is strained; Menelaus continually revisits the human cost of the Trojan War, particularly in light of the fact that he and Helen have no male heir. Menelaus is fond of Megapenthes and Nicostratus, his sons by other women. According to Euripides’ Helen, after Menelaus dies, he is reunited with Helen on the Isle of the Blessed.[8]

Menelaus in vase painting[edit]

Menelaus appears in Greek vase painting in the 6th to 4th centuries BC, such as: Menelaus’s reception of Paris at Sparta; his retrieval of Patroclus’s corpse; and his reunion with Helen.[9]

Menelaus in Greek tragedy[edit]

Menelaus appears as a character in a number of 5th-century Greek tragedies: SophoclesAjax, and EuripidesAndromache, Helen, Orestes, Iphigenia at Aulis, and The Trojan Women.

Menelaus in other media[edit]

  • Menelaus is portrayed by Niall MacGinnis in the 1956 film Helen of Troy.
  • Patrick Magee portrayed Menelaus in the 1971 film of The Trojan Women.
  • In the Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which is loosely based on Odyssey, Academy Award nominated actor Charles Durning plays Governor Menelaus.
  • In James Callis's revisionist 2003 miniseries Helen of Troy, Menelaus is encouraged to fight the Trojan War by his brother Agamemnon instead of by Helen’s infidelity or the resulting slight to his honour.
  • Menelaus also appears in the 2004 film Troy, portrayed by Brendan Gleeson. Like the 1957 film that influenced it, Menelaus is portrayed as a brutish king out for revenge. He duels Paris and wins, but Paris retreats to his brother Hector. When Menelaus wants to strike the finishing blow, Hector kills him to protect his brother.
  • Menelaus is a character in John Barth’s short story, "Menelaiad" which is part of Lost in the Funhouse.
  • Menelaus is a song by the band We the Living.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The chief sources for Menelaus' life before the Trojan War are Hyginus' Fabulae and the Epitome of the Bibliotheca.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Sappho, fr. 16. See an analysis of the poem by Gumpert, Grafting Helen, 92
  4. ^ Palace of Helen
  5. ^ Mee & Spawforth (2001), page 229
  6. ^ See the Judgment of Paris.
  7. ^ Andromache, 629-31.
  8. ^ Line 1675.
  9. ^ Woodford 1993.
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Tyndareus
(second reign)
King of Sparta
C. 1250 BC
Succeeded by
Orestes

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menelaus — Please support Wikipedia.
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100 news items

 
Bruins Nation
Wed, 16 Apr 2014 16:57:31 -0700

UCLA Football: Day 9 Quick-hitters - Woulard's Up And Down Spring, Patchwork Offensive Line & Linebackers Shift. By Menelaus on Apr 16 2014, 4:52p +. ×. Get the latest UCLA Bruins news with Bruins Nation. Follow Bruins Nation on Twitter. Like Bruins ...
 
Voices News
Wed, 16 Apr 2014 04:14:22 -0700

Chris DeAngelis appears as Prometheus, Daedalus and Paris; William Linster is Zeus and Menelaus; Hallie Tepperman plays Sue and Hera and Briana Velky portrays Pandora and Helen. Also appearing are Cameron Slater as Orpheus and Liz Sankey as ...
 
Death and Taxes
Mon, 14 Apr 2014 12:07:30 -0700

I mean, it's one thing to maybe mispronounce Iphigenia or Menelaus or something. But something as common as Achilles, with the Achilles' heel and all that? Clearly reading is Julian's ay-chill-us heel. Watch the worst “Wheel of Fortune” performance of ...
 
Montreal Gazette
Mon, 07 Apr 2014 13:03:42 -0700

Only we're talking three jealous Greek goddesses, not Snow White and her stepmother. Paris is the one who gets to choose and he's rewarded by the winner (Aphrodite) with the gift of a trophy wife (Helen) who is already married to someone else (Menelaus).
 
Artvoice
Wed, 09 Apr 2014 18:41:15 -0700

Roosevelt Tidwell makes an imposing and welcome return to the Buffalo stage as Poseidon and as Menelaus. Even the chorus is impressive, boasting the skills of Eliza Vann, Caitlin Baeumler Coleman, and Mary Moebius. Adorable Ruby Coleman makes her ...
 
Oxford Student
Mon, 07 Apr 2014 16:28:11 -0700

Replace Lyanna with 'Helen of Troy', Rhaegar Targaryen with 'Paris' and Robert Baratheon with 'Menelaus' and the comparisons are easy to find. Interestingly both Robert and Menelaus were famous for their bastard children through other women. No doubt ...
 
Redlands Daily Facts
Wed, 02 Apr 2014 20:15:55 -0700

This conflict was supposed to have been fought in the 12th century B.C. to recover the person of beautiful Helen, the wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta, when she was abducted, or seduced, by Paris, the worthless prince of Troy. Agamemnon, the elder ...
 
Buffalo News
Wed, 02 Apr 2014 21:07:30 -0700

One of the many highlights of the show came during an unexpectedly humorous scene in which the Spartan king Menelaus sits in judgment of his wife Helen, whose fabled beauty was the impetus for the bloody war. In a devilishly good performance as Helen, ...
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