Helen (often called "Helen of Troy") was a daughter of Zeus and Leda, and the sister of Polydeuces and Castor; some traditions called her a daughter of Zeus by Nemesis.1 Since Zeus visited Leda in the form of a swan, Helen was often presented as being born from an egg. She was of surpassing beauty, and is said to have in her youth been carried off by Theseus, in conjunction with Pirithous to Attica. When therefore Theseus was absent in Hades, Polydeuces and Castor (the Dioscuri) undertook an expedition to Attica. Athens was taken, Helen delivered, and Aethra, the mother of Theseus, was taken prisoner, and carried by the Dioscuri, as a slave of Helen, to Sparta.2

After her return to Sparta, princely suitors appeared from all parts of Greece,3 but, after a consultation with Odysseus, who was likewise one of them, Tyndareus, the husband of Leda, gave her in marriage to Menelaus, who became by her the father of Hermione, and, according to others, of Nicostratus also. She was subsequently seduced and carried off by Paris to Troy.


Helen is portrayed on many Greek vases The moment where Menelaus is reunited with his wife after the fall of Troy is depicted on an Attic oinochoe (ca. 430 BCE; Vatican Museum) and on the skyphos of Hieron and Macron (ca. 490 BCE; Boston). Menelaus rides towards her with drawn sword (or casting away his sword) while Helen flees. The same scene is painted in fresco in the Casa del Menandro (Pompeii).



  1. Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 10.7; Hyginus. Fabulae, 77; Scholiast on Callimachus' Hymn to Diana, 232.
  2. Hyginus. Fabulae, 79; comp. Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 17.6, 41.5; ii, 22.7.
  3. Hyginus. Fabulae, 81; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 10.8.


  • Bartelink, Dr. G.J.M. (1988). Prisma van de mythologie. Utrecht: Het Spectrum.
  • Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.

This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.