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For other uses, see Menelaus (disambiguation).
King of Sparta
Marble bust of Menelaus
Predecessor Tyndareus
Wife Helen of Troy
Father Atreus
Mother Aerope

In Greek mythology, Menelaus (/ˌmɛnɪˈləs/; Greek: Μενέλαος, Menelaos, from < μένος· vigor, rage, power + λαός· people, "wrath of the people") 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]

Main article: Trojan War
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 shoot Menelaus with his bow and arrow. However, Athena never intended for Menelaus to die and she protects him from the arrow of Pandarus.[7] 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.[8]
  • 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. They trapped 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.[9]

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.[10]

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, 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 1956 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, who kills Menelaus to protect Paris.

See also[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. ^ Homer; Lattimore, Richmond; Martin, Richard (2011). The Iliad of Homer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 116–117. ISBN 9780226470498. 
  8. ^ Andromache, 629-31.
  9. ^ Line 1675.
  10. ^ Woodford 1993.

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Menelaus at Wikimedia Commons
Regnal titles
Preceded by
(second reign)
King of Sparta Succeeded by

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1909 news items


Fri, 29 Apr 2016 05:56:15 -0700

Plus, the name has roots in literature, as well: She's both a character in Shakespeare's play The Winter's Tale, and the daughter of Menelaus and Helen of Troy in Greek mythology. The feminine form of Hermes, it means “earthly” or “well-born.” ...
Richmond Register
Tue, 26 Apr 2016 15:22:50 -0700

Additionally, the court approved plans to resurface 2.3 miles of KY 3376, 2.7 miles of College Hill Road, a 1.5-mile section of Whitlock Road and 0.78 miles of Menelaus Road, which, including Scaffold Cane Road, will be covered by $922,000 in state ...


Fri, 22 Apr 2016 08:30:31 -0700

... followed by churning, throbbing strings, suggest mental instability from the outset, ushering us into the world of emotional extremes that the composer was to explore more fully in Salome, Elektra and the shell-shocked Menelaus of Die Aegyptische ...

The Edinburgh Reporter

The Edinburgh Reporter
Thu, 28 Apr 2016 02:00:00 -0700

Fate offers her a choice, return home to Sparta with her cuckold husband, Menelaus (conspicuous in his absence, let it be said) or let the City incur the combined wrath of Achilles, Ajax, Ulysses and Agamemnon. Honestly, what is she like? Even Paris's ...


Fri, 15 Apr 2016 09:07:30 -0700

Julia Rose Montalvo, left, as Andromache, faces down Daniel Salazar, as Menelaus. staff photo by adam anik. Julia Rose Montalvo, left, as Andromache, faces down Daniel Salazar, as Menelaus, in a rehearsal of ï¾'Andromacheƒ at the Kasser Amphitheater ...

Musical Toronto

Musical Toronto
Thu, 14 Apr 2016 13:18:51 -0700

The rather convoluted story revolves around sorceress Aithra's attempt to save the marriage of Helen and Menelaus, who accuses his wife of being unfaithful. Through magic, Aithra convinces Menelaus that the Helen of Troy is an illusion and that the ...

Gameranx (blog)

Gameranx (blog)
Fri, 22 Apr 2016 22:36:16 -0700

But there are a ton of deep references to Greek antiquity, as you'll eventually be able to trade run-of-the-mill citizens for stat-buffing historical and literary figures – Geometrician Pythagoras and the Iliad's Menelaus were two I ran into on one run ...

Alton Telegraph

Alton Telegraph
Wed, 13 Apr 2016 21:07:30 -0700

The cast includes Halley Robertson (Hecuba); Nigel Knutzen (Menelaus); Ashley Dozier (Helen); Lily Tarbell (Cassandra); Thalia Cruz (Andromache); and Luis Castro (Talthybius). Brittney Blackorby is the chorus leader. Chorus members are Hannah ...

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