To Helen Essay

Helen Of Troy

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Helen Of Troy


Helen was the most beautiful woman in the entire Greek known world. She was the daughter of the god Zeus and of Leda, and wife of the King of Sparta. The hero Theseus, who hoped in time to marry her, abducted her in childhood but her brothers rescued her. Because Helen was courted by so many prominent heroes, Menelaus made all of them swear to abide by Helen's choice of a husband, and to defend that husband's rights should anyone attempt to take Helen away by force.

Helen's beauty was the direct cause of the Trojan War. The ten-year conflict began when the three goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite asked the Trojan prince Paris to choose the most beautiful among them. After each of the goddesses had attempted to influence his decision, Paris chose Aphrodite, who had promised him the world's most beautiful woman.
Soon afterward Paris sailed to Greece, where Helen and her husband hospitably received him, Menelaus, king of Sparta. Helen, as the fairest of her sex, was the prize destined for Paris. Although she was living happily with Menelaus, Helen fell under the influence of Aphrodite and allowed Paris to persuade her to run off with him, and he carried her off to Troy. Menelaus then called upon the Greek leaders, including Helen's former suitors, to help him rescue his wife, and with few exceptions they responded to his call. Agamemnon his brother led the forces to Troy. During ten years of conflict, the Greeks and Trojans fought irresolutely. Then Paris and Menelaus agreed to meet in single combat between the opposing armies, and Helen was summoned to view the duel. As she approached the tower, where the aged King Priam and his counselors sat, her beauty was still so matchless and her sorrow so great that no one could feel for her anything but compassion. Although the Greeks claimed the victory in the battle between the two warriors, Aphrodite helped Paris escape from the enraged Menelaus by enveloping him in a cloud and taking him safely to Helen's chamber, where Aphrodite compelled the unwilling Helen to lie with him.
Unable to capture the city after a siege of ten years, the Greeks resorted to strategy. Agamemnon's forces, namely Odysseus, came up with a plan. They sailed away and left the Trojan horse, filled with armed warriors, on the shore. Sinon, a Greek spy, persuaded the Trojans to take the horse into the city, convincing them that to do so would mysteriously make Troy invulnerable.

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That night Sinon let out the armed Greek troops; killing the guards, they opened the gates to the Greeks, and Troy was captured and burned.

After the death of Paris and the fall of Troy, Menelaus was reunited with his wife, and they soon left Troy for their native Greece. They had, however, incurred the displeasure of the gods and were therefore driven by storms from shore to shore in the Mediterranean Sea, stopping in Cyprus, Phoenicia, and Egypt. Arriving at length in Sparta, Menelaus and Helen resumed their reign and lived the rest of their days in royal splendor. They had one daughter, Hermione.



Poetry critic Helen Vendler has been taken down a peg or two with this piece in The Spectator. Daniel Swift looks at Vendler's newest book of collected essays, The Ocean, the Bird and the Scholar, writing that "they apparently have not been edited for republication, so the tone varies considerably," and that an understanding he himself had in another book ("that the late religious poetry by the great American poet John Berryman reminds [him] of the 17th-century English poet George Herbert") is, in Vendler's, "quoted and then smacked down."

Apologies for making this personal, but this in miniature is the precise problem that has always bedevilled literary critics: the problem of how to balance feeling and fact, and how to translate subjective response (I love this poem) into informed judgment (this is a great poem).

Later, Swift details his issues with the inconsistency, and Vendler's reliance on literary criticism as a science:

The real question about the scientific evaluation of literature arises not when we discuss famous poetry, but when we turn to popular culture. For everyone agrees that the poets Vendler discusses are great, but nobody agrees about how we might apply those same standards to popular culture. Vendler sidesteps this by pretending that popular culture doesn’t exist. ‘Our students leave high school knowing almost nothing about American art, music, architecture and sculpture, and having only a superficial acquaintance with a few American writers,’ she moans. But this isn’t true. American schoolchildren know popular music, and they also know the TV shows Mad Men, The Wire and Breaking Bad — which are better written than the vast majority of American literature of the last decade. ‘Without the scholar and his libraries there would be no perpetuation and transmission of culture,’ she goes on: but what about theatres, museums, cinemas?

Art, Vendler writes, quoting Wallace Stevens, ‘helps us to live our lives’. Lurking inside this collection is a plea to the world that we should all read more poetry and think seriously about art; and for Vendler, this wish is powerfully personal. The Ocean, the Bird and the Scholar opens with a brief memoir of Vendler’s early years as an academic, and particularly the misogynistic slights she received from older male colleagues in the late 1950s and early 1960s. But from this moving opening she falls almost immediately into the common trap of any public defence of the humanities: slightly condescending waffle which ignores the simple fact that high art is difficult...

Read the full review at the Spectator.

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