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Helĕna

Ἑλένη).


1.

The beautiful daughter of Zeus and Leda, the wife of Tyndareos of Sparta. She was sister of the Dioscuri and of Clytaemnestra. The post-Homeric story represented her as carried off, while still a maiden, by Theseus, to the Attic fortress of Aphidnae, where she bore him a daughter, Iphigenia. She was afterwards set free by her brothers, who took her back to Sparta. She was wooed by a number of suitors, and at length gave her hand to Menelaüs, by whom she became the mother of one child, Hermioné. In the absence of her husband she was seduced and carried away to Troy by Paris, the son of Priam, taking with her great treasures. This was the origin of the Trojan War. The Trojans, in spite of the calamity she had brought upon them, loved her for her beauty, and refused to restore her to her husband. She, however, lamented the folly of her youth, and yearned for her home, her husband, and her daughter. After the death of Paris she was wedded to Deïphobus, assisted the Greeks at the taking of Troy, and betrayed Deïphobus into Menelaüs's hands. With Menelaüs she finally returned to

Helen and Paris. (Naples Museum.)

Sparta after eight years' wandering, and lived thenceforth with him in happiness and concord.

According to another story, mainly current after the time of Stesichorus, Paris carried off to Troy not the real Helen, but a phantom of her created by Heré. The real Helen was wafted through the air by Hermes, and brought to King Proteus in Egypt, whence, after the destruction of Troy, she was taken home by Menelaüs. (See Herod. ii. 112-120.) After the death of Menelaüs she was, according to one story, driven from Sparta by her step-sons, and fled thereupon to Rhodes to her friend Polyxo, who hanged her on a tree. Another tradition represented her as living after death in wedlock with Achilles on the island of Lencé. She was worshipped as the goddess of beauty in a special sanctuary at Therapné in Laconia, where a festival was held in her honour. She was also invoked, like her brothers the Dioscuri, as a tutelary deity of sailors. (See Dioscuri.)

In the Iliad, Helen is apparently regarded as one who is not responsible for the ruin that she works, two passages seeming to imply that she was carried off by force (ii. 356 and 390). In the Odyssey she is also excused by the fact that she sins because a god has so willed it. (Cf. Odyss. xxiii. 222). Mr. Gladstone in his Homeric studies even regards her as not only a type of womanly loveliness, but of almost Christian penitence as well! The story of Helen has received a splendid setting in the genius of poets of every age. She is the most famous woman of all antiquity. In Goethe's Faust (pt. ii.) she is allegorically introduced as typifying the classical spirit of beauty. In English, see the Hellenics of Walter Savage Landor, Tennyson's Dream of Fair Women, and Andrew Lang's poem Helen of Troy, with the appended essay.


2.

Flavia Iulia, commonly known in ecclesiastical history by the name of St. Helena, the first wife of Constantius Chlorus. She was born of obscure parents, in a village called Drepanum, in Bithynia, which was afterwards raised by her son Constantine to the rank of a city, under the name of Helenopolis. Her husband Constantius, on being made Caesar by Diocletian and Maximian (A.D. 292), repudiated Helena, and married Theodora, daughter of Maximian. Helena withdrew into retirement until her son Constantine, having become emperor, called his mother to court, and gave her the title of Augusta. He also supplied her with large sums of money, which she employed in building and endowing churches, and in relieving the poor. About A.D. 325 she set out on a pilgrimage to Palestine, and, having explored the site of Jerusalem, she thought that she had discovered the sepulchre of Jesus, and also the cross on which he died. With it she is said to have found the crosses of the two thieves, and to have learned which was the true one by the miracle it wrought in restoring to health a sick person to whose bedside it was carried. She built a church on the spot supposed to be that of the Holy Sepulchre, which has continued to be venerated by that name to the present day. She also built a church at Bethlehem, in honour of the nativity of the Saviour. From Palestine she rejoined her son at Nicomedia, in Bithynia, where she expired, in the year 327, at a very advanced age. She is numbered by the Roman Church among the saints, and her festival is August 18th.

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