In Greek mythology, Helen of Troy is described as the most beautiful woman in the world. She is the golden-haired offspring of Zeus and Leda. Leda, Queen of Sparta and wife of Tyndareus, who was raped by Zeus on the banks of Eurotas after he'd turned himself into a giant swan, producing his only mortal daughter, Helen. To the Greeks though, she was Helen of Sparta. What is known about Spartan women is that they enjoy several freedoms; the opportunity to be economically independent, they could ride, they were trained in music and poetry recital. Their education included racing, wrestling, throwing the discus and javelin, as well as trials of strength. The girls enjoyed the same food rations as boys and drank unwatered wine.
She would go on to marry Menelaus, and the two would have a daughter named Hermoine. Their wedding feasts would've included foods like lentil broth flavored with cumin, celery and coriander, chickpea pancake, grilled meats such as roast boar, hare, duck and venison, along with fruit stews. As for her clothes, they would've been made from wool or linen. Her dresses, skirts, cloaks, and underskirts would've been dyed with saffron, indigo, purple, madder red, onion skins, or cochineal from the eggs of the coccus and made permanent with vinegar, salt or urine. As a byproduct of the olive oil industry, her fragrances might've included sweet sage, hyssop, cyprus, and rose. As a woman of the Bronze Age, she may have worn dark, smoky eyes — recipes for which would've been made with charred almond, shells, soot and frankincense.
Egyptians favored both oral and vaginal contraceptive suppositories and creams. Some were made of elephant or crocodile excrement. One preparation contains the tips of acacia plant, which contains gum arabic, and produces lactic acid when fermented... an ingredient still used in many modern contraceptives. Many of these contraceptive were bound together by honey and held in place by natural sponges. Cedar resin would've been applied to the mouth of the womb, sponges soaked in vinegar and oil. Vitex agnus, also known as chasteberry, was eaten and according to ancient sources brought on contraction in labor, and also promoted flow of breast milk.
Both in literature and in myth, women were the kingmakers and the right of monarchy would've passed from mother to daughter. There's no suggestion that her twin brothers Castor and Pollux would've inherited Tyndareus' title when he died. Men gained a crown by winning a wife. Examples include her half-sister, Clytemnestra, making her lover Aigisthos king while her husband Agamemnon was fighting in the Trojan War, Pelops becoming king of Elis through marriage to Hippodamia, Oedipus being crowned 13th century BC, the reported date of the Trojan War.
The Trojan War is thought to have taken place in Troy, an ancient city located on the northwest coast of Turkey (modern day Hisarlik), near the end of the Bronze Age around the time that a civilization that we call Mycenaean flourished in Greece. They'd built great palaces and developed a system of writing.
Helen, "the most beautiful woman in the world", and allegedly a trigger for the what was referred to as the war to end all wars, would've seen the five gateways on the citadel of Hisarlik Hill as she walked through the city, which have since been burned to the ground. Troy featured an underground water channel and would've been large enough to accommodate between 7,000 to 10,000 inhabitants.
"Archaeological research shows that it was inhabited for almost 4,000 years starting around 3000 B.C. After one city was destroyed, a new city would be built on top of it, creating a human-made mound called a 'tell.' There is no one single Troy; there are at least 10, lying in layers on top of each other." Troy: City, Homer and Turkey (University of Amsterdam, 2013).
Whether the Trojan War actually took place is a matter of debate... but the story is that Paris and Menelaus were not fighting only for Helen's hand, but for honor and all the glories that death could bring. Arrowheads, slingshots, and burnt walls show that Troy did sustain periods of attack during the late Bronze age, but it's likely impossible for them to have endured a ten-year siege.
From at least 7th century BC onwards, Helen's Shrine was believed to be the spot where Helen was buried alongside her husband Menelaus in Therapne, a town within the boundaries of Sparta. About three hundred terracotta figurines, a number of them women riding horses, have been excavated at the site. Additional cult sites exist at the Menelaion and Platanistas, she had a shrine in the center of the city near the tombs of the poet Alcman and Heracles.
They called me Helen. Let me tell you all the truth of what has happened to me.
Like this post? You should check out "An Exhaustive Guide to Pearls: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know." You may also like "Cleopatra: Last Ruler of the Ptolemaic Dynasty" where you'll learn about how she tried to feed Marc Antony a pearl as part of the "most expensive meal ever." Then take a look at my handcrafted beaded jewelry featuring pearls.
- Hughes, Bettany. Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore. Knopf, 2005.
- Jarus, Owen. “Ancient Troy: The City & the Legend.” LiveScience, 26 Aug. 2017,