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

In Greek mythology, Menelaus (/ˌmɛnɪˈləs/; 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]

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 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. 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.[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, 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. ^ Andromache, 629-31.
  8. ^ Line 1675.
  9. ^ Woodford 1993.

External links[edit]

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

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

Monterey County Herald
Sun, 04 Oct 2015 00:07:30 -0700

Advertisement. "If I make this slam," Odysseus told the Trojan prince, "swear that Helen will be returned to Menelaus." "I swear it," Hector agreed. Odysseus took the ace of hearts, noting that he needed to set up dummy's clubs to discard his diamond ...

New York Theatre Guide

New York Theatre Guide
Mon, 21 Sep 2015 08:56:15 -0700

He is confronted by his brother Menelaus, whose wayward wife Helen's actions are the trigger for the devastating events to come and continue. Amber Gray plays Menelaus, suited in armor, and she later plays Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife, in a flowing ...
Tue, 08 Sep 2015 16:26:15 -0700

The following conclusions have been reached by Sir John Chilblainz: Start of the War: The principal point at issue is whether King Menelaus of Greece had the right, under international law, to invade Troy, without United Nations approval, just because ...

Shanghai Daily (subscription)

Shanghai Daily (subscription)
Wed, 30 Sep 2015 02:45:00 -0700

... as common birdwingand and chestnut tiger will be flied during the month-long event till October 25 at the zoo's amphibian reptile pavilion, while more than 50 rare butterfly specimen including menelaus blue morpho and ulysses butterfly will be on ...

New York Times

New York Times
Thu, 17 Sep 2015 19:00:21 -0700

Ms. Gray, an elegant and affecting presence in “An Octoroon” and Ms. Chavkin's production of “Natasha, Pierre,” here lacks the regal fury to convince as Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra, and his self-serving brother, Menelaus. It is Ms. Sieh who seems ...
Shanghai Daily (subscription)
Tue, 29 Sep 2015 23:18:06 -0700

... as common birdwingand and chestnut tiger will be flied during the month-long event till October 25 at the zoo's amphibian reptile pavilion, while more than 50 rare butterfly specimen including menelaus blue morpho and ulysses butterfly will be on ...

Huffington Post

Huffington Post
Fri, 18 Sep 2015 07:26:15 -0700

During College Week, in order to best utilize our weird passion for ranking everything, Matt and I took on the Herculean task of ranking every single Division I BCS school. There are 128. We would normally go on about the factors we weighed when ...


Wed, 23 Sep 2015 05:56:15 -0700

The way the ancient cultures taught right and wrong was with stories about Orestes and Achilles and Agamemnon and Menelaus. Today, comic books are our mythological stories. That's how we're teaching people about good and evil: through Superman and ...

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