Or Meneleis (Μενέλεις), a son of Atreus, and younger brother of Agamemnon and Anaxibia. He was king of Lacedaemon, and married to the beautiful Helen, by whom he was the father of Hermione, and of Megapenthes by a bondswoman.1 When his wife Helen had been carried off by Paris, Menelaus and Odysseus set out to Troy to claim her back. Menelaus was hospitably treated by Antenor,2 but the journey was of no avail, and the Trojan Antimachus even advised his fellow-citizens to kill Menelaus and Odysseus.3 In order, therefore, to avenge the rape of Helen, and to punish the offender, Menelaus and his brother resolved to march against Troy with all the forces that Greece could muster.4
The two brothers, in their travels through Greece to rouse the chiefs to avenge the insult offered to a Greek prince, also visited Odysseus in Ithaca,5 along with whom Menelaus is said to have consulted the Delphic oracle about the expedition against Troy; and at Delphi he dedicated the necklace of Helen to Athena Pronaea.6 Hereupon Menelaus in sixty ships led the inhabitants of Lacedaemon, Pharis, Sparta, Messe, Bryseiae, Amyclae, Helos, Laas, and Oetylus, against Troy.7 In Troas he was under the special protection of Hera and Athena, and one of the most gallant heroes,8 who slew many Trojans, such as Scamandrius,9 Pylaemenes,10 Pisander,11 Dolops,12 Thoas,13 Euphorbus,14 and Podes.15
We shall pass over his minor exploits, and mention only his engagement with Paris. When Menelaus saw his chief enemy stepping forth from the Trojan ranks, he rejoiced like a lion at the sight of a stag, and leaped from his chariot to attack him;16 but Paris took to flight, until, encouraged by Hector, he challenged Menelaus to decide the contest for the possession of Helen and the treasures by single combat.17 Menelaus accepted the challenge, and his spear penetrated the shield of Paris, but did not wound him. Menelaus thereupon drew his sword, which, however, broke on the shield of his opponent. He then seized him by the helmet, and dragged him to the camp of the Achaeans. But Aphrodite loosened the helmet and wrapped her favorite in a cloud, in which he escaped from his enemy.18
At the funeral games of Patroclus, Menelaus fought with Antilochus in the chariot race, but voluntarily gave up the second prize, and was satisfied with the third.19 Menelaus also was one of the heroes concealed in the wooden horse;20 and, along with Odysseus, he hastened to the house of Deiphobus, as soon as the town was taken.21 After the destruction of Troy, he advised the assembled Achaeans to return home, which involved him in a dispute with his brother.22 He was among the first that sailed away from Troy, accompanied by his wife Helen and Nestor.23
When near the coast of Attica, his steersman Phrontis died, and Menelaus was detained some time by his burial. When he reached Maleia, Zeus sent a storm, in which part of his ships were thrown on the coast of Crete, and five others and Menelaus himself landed in Egypt.24 After this he wandered about for eight years in the eastern parts of the Mediterranean, where he visited Cyprus, Phoenicia, the Ethiopians, the Erembians, and Libya. These Eastern people were not so inhospitable as those in the West who were visited by Odysseus, and on his return home Menelaus brought with him a large number of presents which he had received.25 His last stay on his wanderings was in the island of Pharos, near the coast of Egypt, where he remained twenty days,26 being kept back by the gods. Hunger already began to affect his companions, and his steersman Canobus died.27
Eidothea, the daughter of Proteus, advised him to seize her father, who would reveal to him the means of returning home. Proteus, when caught, told him that he must first return to Egypt and propitiate the gods with hecatombs. This Menelaus did, and having there erected a monument to his brother, whose death he learned from Proteus, he, next to Odysseus, the last of the heroes, returned home, and arrived at Sparta on the very day on which Orestes was engaged in burying Clytemnestra and Aegisthus.28
Henceforward he lived with Helen at Sparta in peace, comfort, and wealth, and his palace shone in its splendor like the sun or the moon.29 At the time when Telemachus came to him to inquire after his father, Menelaus was just solemnizing the marriage of his daughter Hermione with Neoptolemus, and of his son Megapenthes with a daughter of Alector.30
According to the Homeric poems Menelaus was a man of an athletic figure; he spoke little, but what he said was always impressive; he was brave and courageous, but milder than Agamemnon, intelligent and hospitable. According to the prophecy of Proteus, Menelaus and Helen were not to die, but the gods were to conduct them to Elysium;31 but according to a later tradition, he and Helen went to the Taurians, where they were sacrificed by Iphigeneia to Artemis.32
Menelaus was worshiped as a hero at Therapne, where also his tomb and that of Helen were shown.33
Menelaus is shown on various Greek vases which depict the war with Troy. An Attic kylix by Duris (ca. 490 BCE; Paris) shows him battling with Paris: he causes Paris to flee while Aphrodite holds his hand. An oenochoe (ca. 430 BCE; Vatican Museum) depicts the moment that Menelaus is reunited with Helen in Troy: he has discarded his sword and is running towards her. A Hellenic statue (second half of the third century BCE) shows Menelaus holding the dead Patroclus in his arms. Various copies exist of this work, among which a statue at Rome which is known since the sixteenth century as the Pasquino Group. On the chest of Cypselus he was represented at the moment when, after the taking of Troy, he was on the point of killing Helen.34
- Homer. Iliad vii, 470; x, 37; Odyssey iv, 11 ff.; xii, 469; comp. Agamemnon.
- Homer. Iliad iii, 206.
- ibid. xii, 139 ff.
- ibid. i, 159, ii, 589, iii, 351 ff.
- Homer. Odyssey xxiv, 115.
- Eustathius on Homer, p. 1166.
- Iliad ii, 581 ff.
- ibid. iv, 8, 129; v, 715.
- ibid. v, 50.
- ibid. v, 576.
- ibid. xiii, 614 ff.
- ibid. xv, 541.
- ibid. xvi, 311.
- ibid. xvii, 45.
- ibid. xvii, 575.
- ibid. iii, 27 ff.
- ibid. iii, 97 ff.
- ibid. iii, 325 ff.; iv, 12 ff.
- ibid. xxiii, 293, 401, 516-609.
- Odyssey iv, 280; comp. Virgil. Aeneid ii, 264.
- Odyssey viii, 518; Virgil. Aeneid vi, 523.
- Odyssey iii, 141 ff.
- ibid. iii, 276.
- ibid. iii, 278; comp. Pausanias. Description of Greece x, 25.2.
- Odyssey iii, 301, 312; iv, 90, 128, 131, 228, 617; comp. Herodotus. Histories ii, 113, 116.
- ibid. iv, 355.
- Strabo. Geography, 801.
- Odyssey iv, 365; comp. i, 286, iii, 257, 311.
- Odyssey iv, 45, 72, 80; comp. Pausanias. Description of Greece iii, 14.6.
- Odyssey iv, 1 ff.
- ibid. iv, 561.
- Ptolemaeus Hephaestus, 4.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece iii, 19.9.
- ibid. v, 18.1.
- Aken, Dr. A.R.A. van. (1961). Elseviers Mythologische Encyclopedie. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- 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.