Wonder Women of Greek Myth: Hecuba and Leda
Of all the queens in Troy and Greece, Hecuba and Leda hold a special place in my heart. They are the mortal matriarchs of the Trojan War epic. And they deserve their fair share of the limelight along with the likes of Helen, Clytemnestra, Andromache, and even Briseis. I wanted to talk about them side by side, because they share similar qualities as matriarchs of their prestigious families. We can glean quite a bit about our heroes and a mother’s love through their respective narratives. Hecuba and Leda are complex women, having suffered at the hands of the gods and their husbands. They fiercely love their children, almost to a fault. They’re complex and wise, powerful and tender, and uncompromising in their quest to establish control in their worlds.
I’d like to take a wee side road about portraying the feminine role in ancient Greek mythology. I’ve been recently reading a paper by Emily Hauser, PhD and author of the Golden Apple Trilogy, about the ancient women’s voices echoed in modern fiction, and how it’s in the minimal space they’re afforded in the text that gives us the latitude to explore who they were, contemplating their motivations, goals, and achievements in their own right. (Emily Hauser’s paper “There is another story: Writing after the Odyssey in Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad” is available at her Academia.edu account.) It got me thinking about how privileged I feel to be writing about all the lovely female characters, which for the most part, hold pivotal positions in the most powerful stories, yet are relegated to being foils or temptations for the male characters, or the objects of illicit desires and subjects of kidnapping and rapes. So, let their voices RISE in modern song.
QUEEN HECUBA is barely mentioned by Homer, yet she undoubtedly played a key parental role in raising Hektor, the greatest defender of Troy. In the tension between Hektor and Achilles, we see a mother’s deep devotion and agony as she’s helpless to keep her grown son safe from the notorious killer, Achilles. For a mother, there’s no such thing as forgetting that your child was once young. You carry them, suckle them, and in return they drank in your presence. Even as a grown man stands before you, rugged and bearded, shoulders wide enough to crush a bull—you can still see the little boy beneath the layers of years. Surely, Hecuba had that kind of bond with her son, Hektor. How might this relationship have evolved? How might she have influenced her son’s maturity and prince hood; his priorities, loyalties, and sense of responsibilities? And most importantly, by looking at Hektor’s story what can we hear Hecuba saying?
We have to go back to the beginning. Hecuba was Priam’s second wife, who became the primary wife and mother to almost 2 dozen royal children. Hektor was likely the first child they had together, as well as the first son with Paris being the second son. Because Hektor was the first born, he probably remembered the baby Paris, who disappeared. Perhaps he knew exactly what happened, maybe not. It doesn’t really matter, only that he was there to witness the effects on his mother. He certainly would’ve remembered his mother’s grief and sadness, because prophesy or not a mother doesn’t forget a child she loses for whatever reason. Because Hecuba’s voice is silenced in the myth, we’ve freedom to explore what she felt by looking at her son’s marriage and her desperate efforts in the Iliad to persuade Hektor not to fight Achilles.
I think Homer (whoever he/she was) understood the implied complexity of Hecuba and Hektor’s relationship on some level. Their marriages are mirrors of each other, and becasue of that we can see and hear a Hecuba more clearly. There’s the implication that Hektor knew the pain his mother carried after the baby was stripped from her arms and afterward, when King Priam took concubines, BECAUSE Homer gave Hektor’s wife, Andromache, a barren womb until the 11th hour. This is a stark contrast to his mother’s fertility and her having to accept the existence of multiple of wives and concubines. No doubt Andromache’s barrenness troubled Hektor for a couple of reasons. First, that he couldn’t father a son, or daughter. Secondly, his only viable option was to take another wife or collect concubines. He of all the princes should’ve had a brood of children to succeed him, if we take Priam’s example into account. So, why didn’t he take a second wife or take a concubine? This is exactly the dynamic I delve into in the Homeric Chronicles, giving us a clearer vision of WHO Hecuba was.
In chapter 7, "A Prince and His Mother" I wrote:
FIVE YEARS, HECUBA thought. Five years and the ache for the son she’d never known still throbbed painfully in her chest. She’d grown accustomed to the hurt. Watching her children romping in the courtyard, the queen sighed. Little Deiphobus entertained his younger twin siblings with his wooden sword and shield. The youngest, Polydorus, nursed at her breast. She’d refused a wet nurse for all of her children after the loss of her second son. Rarely did she allow her children from her sight. The ache for her second son pulled at her again, never giving her peace. In truth, some days she conjured the pain to remind her of his little face, and some days she cursed the sadness and prayed to Apollo and Artemis to wipe her memories of him.
When Hektor appeared at the courtyard gate, she smiled widely despite her melancholy. He waved, making straight for her. Only he had the power to dull the hurt that had become as much a part of her as her hand or foot. The other children, although a source of joy, reminded her of the one she’d lost. Hektor’s presence was the only one not marred by grief. He was her Golden Prince.
Hektor approached and kissed his mother’s cheek. “Mother,” he said, pinching Polydorus’ bare foot. The baby kicked at his eldest brother’s attempted affection. “Such a strong leg for someone so little,” he laughed. “You’re sad again, Mother. I can see it in your eyes.”
Patting his arm with her free hand, she said, “Nothing can be hidden from my Hektor. Someday you’ll be a wise king.” Hecuba sighed, and her eyes found her son’s. “I’ll always be sad. I fear that if I’m not, I’ll forget him forever. And that would be worse. His memory is all your father left me of him.” She switched the baby to her other breast, adjusting his heavy weight in the crook of her arm.
A commotion across the yard drew Hecuba’s attention. “Deiphobus! Be mindful of Helenus! Cassandra, move away from the fountain! Where is Tessa when I need her? Tessa!”
From the balcony above them, Tessa called down to her queen, “Yes, my lady?”
“Come! Take the twins and the baby. They must rest.” Deiphobus laughed at his younger siblings. Hecuba added, “And take Deiphobus, as well.” The boy threw his wooden armaments down, kicking the ground, and mumbled to himself. “Truth be told, I’m the one in need of rest.” She rubbed the side of her swollen belly. “It seems I am forever with child. How was your training?”
Hektor placed his hand on the pommel of his short sword. “I’m much better with the sword than a spear.”
Tessa came to take the children. The queen handed her servant a very sleepy baby. “My lady, he is a fat one.” The nurse cradled him carefully in her arms and steered the gaggle inside, leaving Hektor and his mother alone.
“Where is my father?” Hektor asked.
Hecuba stiffened. “Where he always is this time of day.”
Hektor wrapped his hand around his mother’s, dwarfing hers. “I’ll have only one wife, Mother.”
“We’ll find you a fine wife, Hektor. A beauty in heart, as well as face.”
“If she’s as beautiful as you, I’ll be satisfied. But that is a long way off!” Hektor grinned, warming Hecuba’s heart.
Taking his mother’s hand, he pulled her up. “Come. I want to show you my horse.”
Hecuba stood reluctantly, putting a hand to the small of her back. “The stables are a long walk from here.”
“It’s not so far. Besides, you smile more when away from the palace.”
The stables dominated the entire southwest of the citadel’s lower levels. Spreading out as far as the eye could see, the horse fields were covered in tall, swaying grasses and low brush. From their vantage point, they could see horses running and kicking up clouds of dust. Pausing to admire the horses, Hecuba said, “Can you imagine Troy existing without horses?”
“I wouldn’t recognize our city without them,” Hektor mindlessly answered. “Mother?”
“I remember him, too,” he said quietly.
Hektor was tall for a boy his age, standing nearly eye to eye with her with his curly black hair shining in the sun. He is the kindest soul. She wrapped her arm around his shoulders, pulling him close to her. “You’re truly Troy’s greatest treasure.”
Hektor looked at his mother, beaming. “You only say that because you’re my mother. What else would you say?”
“I say it because it’s the truth.”
In Troy Fall of a City, they attempt to tackle the effect on Hecuba of abandoning Paris to death. Their Hecuba is at a strange peace with the decision, even though she and Priam have kept the truth from everyone; she doesn’t blame Priam or even the gods really. In fact, Priam is more distraught than she is and it’s Hecuba who comforts Priam all the while, defending the decision. They’re portrayed as an intimate and passionate couple. I find this VOICE and portrayal of Hecuba, unsatisfying. Perhaps, it’s because it’s a masculine writer’s attempt to create a strong Trojan Queen that any true regret and lingering grief was glossed over. Perhaps, a mother tormented all her life by grief somehow made Hecuba seem to the modern masculine writer as weak? Women who’ve lost a child know that in the quiet grief of loss, their deceased children remain alive. The life their child should’ve HAD emerges at each anniversary of death with thoughts like—Today, I would’ve had a 5 year, a 10 year old, or a 15 year old, etc. That’s part of a mother’s strength, carrying and living with this particular pain. And this pain is echoed at any time with a loss of a child at any age. Hecuba’s most passionate and telling scene, as a woman and a mother to Hektor was also incomplete. At the end of the day, TFOAC stripped Hecuba down to a two dimensional character at best.
The fact that Hektor never took a second wife is significant. In the Homeric Chronicles I explore his character as being a lifelong observer of his mother’s grief and heart break. He doesn’t set Andromache aside because he knows firsthand the grief his mother experienced at losing a child, and his mother’s pain at having to watch other women bear her husband’s children. If it was no big deal to have concubines and father children, then he likely would have because the Prince of Troy needed heirs. But we don’t even have whispers this was even in question. Perhaps, he observed his mother growing distant from his father, and didn’t want to risk losing Andromache’s love? Certainly, Hektor loved Andromache, but it was Hecuba, NOT Priam, who taught him HOW to love and honor a woman.
As for Hecuba and Priam’s relationship? Hecuba would surely have been a devoted and dutiful queen to Troy, but I’ve left room for the woman behind the crown. I think it likely she’d blame Priam for the loss of Paris and her years of grief. Watching your husband father a brood of heirs by other women, could certainly create an emotionally distant wife. That’s the path I took anyway in the Homeric Chronicles.
The most telling scene we have of Hecuba is in the end, when Achilles comes for Hektor. Hecuba has already lost several children to the murderous Greek and begs Hektor to stay behind the wall and live. Her agony at anticipating what his death would be, clearly evident. Fagles’ Iliad 22: 94-107 reads:
"And his mother wailed now, standing beside Priam, weeping freely, loosening her robes with one hand and holding out her bare breast with the other, her words pouring forth in a flight of grief and tears: 'Hektor my child! Look—have some respect for this! Pity your mother too, if I ever gave you the breast to soothe you your troubles, remember it now, dear boy—beat back that savage man from safe inside the walls! Don’t go forth, a champion pitted against him—merciless, brutal man. If he kills you now, how can I ever mourn you on your death bed? Dear branch in bloom, dear child I brought to birth!—Neither I nor your wife, that warm, generous women…Now far beyond our reach, now by the Argive ships the rushing dogs will tear you, bolt your flesh!' So they wept, the two of them crying out to their dear son, both pleading time and again but they could not shake the fixed resolve of Hektor.”
What happened to her son was worse than she imagined, one can only wonder how she survived the horrific scene. I think this image of a mother showing her breast is significant to Hecuba’s character. It’s a simple act carrying the most powerful message a woman can give without words. And to make my earlier point more clearly, Hecuba is addressing the mightiest warrior as “child” and “boy” not because she’s diminishing his prowess, but because as a mother her first instinct is to reach the little boy inside the man who she lavished her love and attention on, and who she was able to comfort.
By examining Hektor’s life, we see a Hecuba who is stoic, resilient, and strong. A woman devoted to her children, especially her favorite son, Hektor, almost to a fault. And this bond between mother and son is most evident when, in her desperation to save him from merciless Achilles, she set aside her modesty in front of the court by literally pulling her breast from her gown showing it Hektor, calling him out to ease her agony by reminding him of what she’s given him all his life: love, loyalty, and support.
Let’s turn to the Spartan Queen: LEDA is an intriguing character whose voice, like Hecuba’s, is mostly silent in the text. She’s the Queen of Sparta, wife to Tyndareus, and mother to four famous children: Caster, Pollux, Clytemnestra, and Helen. Yet, most of what we know of her is through her rape by Zeus and her quiet death.
So, I guess the best place to start is with what Zeus did to her. So many works of art and literature have depicted the union of Leda and Zeus as “sensuous” or consensual—but I think it was neither sensual nor consensual. By the balls of Zeus, it was a giant swan. A flapping foul. How can being set upon by an animal, or rain, of a horse not be scary? And the bestiality of it, Zeus or not, is horrifying. By making it “sexy” we diminish the trauma Leda suffered. Furthermore, she’s assaulted not once but twice by my count.
In the first 3 episodes, I debunked the 4 eggs in a batch theory, in favor of a more humanistic approach. There’s no way the brothers, Caster and Pollux, can be the same age as Helen, because they’re grown men when she’s a girl kidnapped for the first time. If you missed episode 1-3 where I talk about my ever-expanding a timeline, you go back and give them a listen. And because I don’t think the brothers were the same age, which means that Leda is assaulted twice by Zeus. Regardless, once would be enough to traumatize Leda, and this would definitely affect her future.
In Song of Princes [Sacrifice], I write the rape of Leda for what it was: awful and horrifying. Zeus used Leda as a tool to dominate and control his world. Clearly, Zeus is a master at manipulating. He doesn’t have to lay with mortal women, yet he seems not to be able to control himself. He’s a serial cheater, who has no respect for Hera, his wife. In a way, Zeus is a mirror of Odysseus’s infidelities, whose cheating we minimize because of his being enchanted by goddesses. Zeus, on the other hand, is the enchanter, the aggressor, the predator. And that’s just not sexy, it’s unbalanced. The power difference between Zeus and his mortal conquests is entirely tipped in his favor, and the women have NO choice but to give him what he wants. That’s what makes his “union” with Leda rape. There’s no equality between Zeus and a woman, only what Zeus wishes to take.
How would this experience affect Leda as a woman, queen, wife and mother? That’s what I thought about as I developed her character. I wanted to reconcile her humanity with the myth. Being raped by Zeus is no doubt a trauma. Leda feels degraded and defiant. It’s that reaction I use to build her into a resilient mythological woman. Leda understands her position in a patriarchal world. She knows she can’t fight Zeus or Tyndareus’ inevitable disdain for her violation. (On Tyndareus’ reaction, I took the Philip of Macedonia route where Philip was disgusted by Olympias after seeing her with Zeus in the form of a snake). She lives with his disgust, but must find her way to create her own world and what measure of control she can. Leda is a complicated, yet easy to understand.
**disclaimer: these are show notes and may note contain everything said in the podcast
Discover more about Queen Hecuba and Queen Leda in the Homeric Chronicles.
Trojan War Timeline Podcast Notes
(Disclaimer: these are my show notes. I do go off script when I podcast, but here's the basic framework)
Hello fellow myth lovers! I’m so excited to share with you the Greek world of the Homeric Chronicles. If you watched the movie Troy and loved it, or felt like you wanted more...If you’re currently watching the BBC One Troy: Fall of a City (or waiting for it to hit your Netflix playlist), this podcast is for you. You’re a Myrmidon. Basically, if you love Greek mythology in any form you’ve come to the right place. Shall we get started?
When I first began toying with the idea it was...what if you could read about all the mythological stories as one seamless tale? I thought, what if George RR Martin was telling it? It would be EPIC! CRAZY HUGE! Can you imagine the cast of characters? It’d be a celebrity Who’s Who of the ancient myth-historic Greek world. And because I love these stories, I got to thinking...what if I wrote it? No way, I can’t do that. Then, I thought, you have a degree in history, why not try? And the Homeric Chronicles was born.
That left me with the million dollar question: Where to start? How to begin? After piles of research, 25 gray hairs carefully dyed dark brown, and a bazillion cups of coffee later, I realized exactly where I needed to start: with Homer. But not just some retelling that was meant to get you to the “great war” or to take you through the bizarre journeys of Odysseus back to Ithaka...It needed to be MORE. Much more! But, Homer’s work in the Iliad and Odyssey definitely provide the backbone. I wove many other stories that touched on the characters in Homer’s work into the structure of the spine. The major heroes and heroines of Homer’s tales are entwined with so many other characters I had to dig deep, b/c it’s chronological, I had to make some hard choices. The original myth-makers weren’t worried about telling stories that made chronological sense outside of the story they were reciting. But for the Homeric Chronicles to be what I envisioned that’s exactly what I had to do.
I wanted to include the regulars: Achilles, Paris, Hektor, Odysseus, Menelaus, Agamemnon, Helen, Hecuba, Cassandra, Andromache, Leda, Deidamia, Priam, Tyndareus, Peleus, Thetis, and Chiron just to name a few. And include characters like Palamedes, the poor guy who unfortunately pissed off Odysseus, Tantalus the first husband of Clytemnestra, Oenone Paris’s first wife, Peisidike the Methymnaan princess in love with Achilles, well, you get the picture. Now, I was tasked with putting the myths in chronological order, and keeping them all easy to connect with.
It wasn’t until I fell in love with GRRM’s SOIAF that I knew structuring a story of this epic scale was possible. I take you along several characters’ journeys through five major kingdoms. And after the movie Troy ruthlessly cut them out (and I wonder if David Benioff wishes now that he hadn’t), I put the pantheon of gods and goddesses back in there.
On to chronology: The first chronological hiccup involved Helen, Paris and Achilles. Let’s start with Paris, in particular: the Judgment of Paris. Most people familiar with the story assume that Paris gives the judgment of the fairest goddess to Aphrodite and leaves to Sparta not long after. But, it just doesn’t make sense that way, not in the context of the larger EPIC tale. Let me explain:
The golden apple contest that caused the Athena, Aphrodite and Hera to seek Paris as the judge occurred at the wedding feast of Peleus and Thetis. These are Achilles parents. So, Achilles, the greatest fighter of all the Greeks has NOT been born yet. He’s the star of the Iliad. So, the judgment of Paris takes place soon after the wedding feast, before Achilles is conceived and born. Why does this matter? Because, we have to wait at least 15 to 18 years for Achilles to grow up, get trained, and father a son, Neoptolemus, BEFORE Odysseus can discover him on Skyros, dressed like a girl and call our hero into action. This means two things: Paris has to be at least 15-18 years old to be considered MAN enough to judge the goddesses (he’s not an 8 yr old judging 3 of the most powerful females in the story); therefore, Paris is 15-18 years older than Achilles. Most movies and books depict Paris and Achilles about the same age, or as in Troy make Paris much younger than Achilles. It’s all wrong. Paris is definitely Achilles’ elder.
That raises the next logical question: When does Paris meet and woo Helen? Because that is the EVENT that brings the Argives, Achaeans, Danaans to Troy. Paris couldn’t have taken off with Helen any time soon following the judgment because that would mean Paris and Helen would’ve been in Troy for years before Menelaus even tried to get her back...B/C we’d be waiting for Achilles to get born and come of age. Even if you take the whole Paris and Helen get lost in Egypt into consideration that still leaves too many years in between the kidnapping and the attempted rescue. Remember, no matter what, Achilles has to be old enough to lead the Myrmidons and have fathered a child before he goes to Troy, as other prophecies depend on it.
My research took me to Apollodorus (a 2nd century AD compilation of ancient texts) which states in 3.13.8 that Achilles was 9 when he was taken to Skyros, because Odysseus was looking for him due to a prophecy by Agamemnon’s seer, Kalchus. There is some consensus that Achilles left Skyros at about 15. But let’s break this down chronologically and logically.
1. If Odysseus is looking for Achilles when Achilles is 9 and that’s why Thetis hid him as a girl, then he has to be hiding there for years before he’s old enough to get the princess Deidamia pregnant. So, for all these years, what are the Greeks under assembled under Agamemnon’s banner doing in Aulis? Twiddling their thumbs? Sewing sails? Getting sunburns? If the consensus is correct (and we have to make choices to be consistent) at least 6 years (give or take) have to pass until Odysseus finds Achilles.
2. I recall reading that there were TWO calls to war that met at Aulis...the first one which assembled the Greek tribes went to Aulis was a bust b/c they needed Achilles, so everyone went home and waited...then returned...years later? after Achilles was found? This doesn’t make any sense...it would’ve been a monumental feat getting that many ships and men from all across the Greek world assembled just once, but twice? And in all his searching, Odysseus never makes it back to Ithaka to sneak a little love time in with Penelope? I don’t buy it.
3. What makes sense in the human and mytho-historic terms is that Achilles is 9 when he goes to Skyros with Thetis fully aware about Achilles’ dual fate, and that some day he’d have a huge decision to make. When the call to Aulis came, 6 or so years later, that’s when Odysseus and Ajax find him. It gives time for him to grow up, father a son. I do give Achilles a few more years, rounding out his age at 18. Why? Because I used the historic figure, Alexander the Great, as a model. Alexander distinguished himself at Chaeronea at 18, so makes sense that a young man at 18 could indeed be seen to lead an army of warriors (Myrmidons).
Well, Myrmidons, times up for today. Up next time let’s take a deeper look into Helen’s age and how placing her story in chronological sequence was challenging, but not impossible.
What do you think about Paris being 18 years older than Achilles? that Helen couldn’t have been born at the time of the judgment?
How do you think a comprehensive timeline will change up the Greek myths as you know them?
You can find out by reading the Homeric Chronicles
Song of Sacrifice and Rise of Princes
Love to hear your thoughts, answer questions, and connect with my fellow Greek mythology lovers.
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Until next time, let’s take the advice given to Menelaus in the Cypria: “know that the gods made wine the best thing for mortal man to scatter cares.” Drink your wine and be merry Myrmidons.
Start the journey...
When I first began toying with the idea...what if you could see the mythological stories surrounding the major figures of the Homeric tales (the Iliad and the Odyssey) in a seamless telling? The cast of characters is a celebrity Who’s Who in the world of ancient Greece: Achilles, Paris, Hektor, and Odysseus. But, you can’t begin to tell their stories without reaching beyond what Homer provides and dig into other mythological cannon to discover more about Helen, Hecuba, Cassandra, Andromache, Leda, Deidamia, Priam, Agamemnon, Menelaus, Tyndareus, Peleus, Thetis, and Chiron. Then, there’s the pantheon of gods and goddesses to contend with. The major heroes of Homer’s tales are entwined with other characters and to get a sense of how that’s even possible, I had to dig deep and make some choices.
I used the events of the Iliad and the Odyssey as the backbone of the chronological story. But after days of compiling data, I realized the task was much more difficult than it seemed. The original storytellers weren’t trying to make chronological sense of the various stories. The first glitch was the Paris and Helen myth. Everyone who’s familiar with the story assumes that Paris gives the judgment of the fairest to Aphrodite, who has promised him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Sparta. Soon after, Paris goes to Sparta and absconds with Helen and sails back to Troy. This widely held assumption is, well, wrong. Let’s examine why.
The golden apple event that occurred was at the wedding feast of Peleus and Thetis. These are Achilles parents. So, Achilles, the greatest fighter of all the Greeks has NOT been born yet. He’s the star of the Iliad. The Muse sings about his wrath, his undoing of character after Agamemnon humiliates him and his cousin and comrade, Patrokles, was killed. So, the judgment Paris gives about who the “fairest” goddess is takes place soon after the wedding feast, before Achilles is conceived or born. Bottom line, we have to wait at least 15 years for Achilles to grow up, get trained, and father a son BEFORE Odysseus can discover him on Skyros, dressed like a girl and call our hero into action. This means two things: Paris has to be at least 15-18 years old to be considered MAN enough to judge the female flesh; therefore, he’s 15-18 years older than Achilles. Most movies and books depict Paris and Achilles about the same age. But they can’t be. Paris is definitely his elder.
The other question in this story is: When does Paris meet and woo Helen? And how old is Helen? Paris couldn’t have taken off with her any time soon following the judgment because that would mean they’d be in Troy for years before Menelaus even tried to get her back. Even if you take the whole jaunt to Egypt bit seriously, that still leaves too many years in between the kidnapping and the attempted rescue. Remember, no matter what, Achilles has to be old enough to lead the Myrmidons (some sources say Achilles was 15 when he went to Troy. (I gave him a few more years to make it more plausible, using Alexander the Great as a close model. Alexander led his first troops into major battle, under his father’s command, at Chaeronea at age 18). So, if Helen were already born and left with Paris shortly after the judgment, she’d be away in Troy for 15-18 years before Menelaus went for her because he’d have to wait for Achilles to be born and grow up. That makes no sense.
Also, there is the first kidnapping Helen endures by Theseus when she was just a young girl, probably pre-teen around 12 or 13. She’s the hostage of the king of Athens, or rather his mother’s hostage, until she’s eventually rescued by her brothers, Pollux and Caster, and taken safely back to Troy. She is married to Menelaus shortly after this event to secure her safety and the safety of Sparta. Menelaus did not marry an old maid. Helen would have been about 15-18 years old. This is the young queen of Sparta who was seduced by a much older Paris. Their elopement/kidnapping is the precipitating event of the Trojan War. This is the dogma of the mythology surrounding Troy that we can’t alter. Therefore, Helen is most likely Achilles age. She would’ve had to been born about 15-18 years before the ships launch to rescue her. Achilles would’ve had to been born at least 15-18 years before he led the Myrmidons across the sea to Troy. Paris is in his 28-30 and Helen and Achilles are contemporaries at 15-18 years of age.
This means Paris has an entire life he lived as a man, long enough to be abandoned by Priam, raised by Agelaus, married to his first wife, a nymph named Oenone and to have a son with her named Corythus. He also had to be discovered by Priam and re-embraced as family. Then sent by Priam to rescue Hesione, Priam’s sister, who was kidnapped by Herakles...you get the picture. One thread wraps around another thread and so on. And yes, some times the “trying to make sense of it” turns what we think we know on its head.
I read a review of Song of Princes, by Nadine Paque-Wolkow, she said, in reference to the ages of Paris, Helen and Achilles, “...this may sound like a good idea so first, but I was nervous when Paris was still a child at 30% of the book. Then there was a small leap in time, Paris is now 18, but neither Achilles nor Helena are even born. I admit that I can not recite the dates of birth of all Trojan hero from the head, but in my head [it] is all messed up, just because I already (through books and films etc.) had a picture of all. Also, I glanced back to the percentage display...Half the book was almost already read! Helena was a baby and Achill[es] five at scarce 50%. Hector but already late twenties! And there are still decades until the big final battle of both the gates of Troy! For me, most people had therefore a completely wrong age and everything felt ... wrong and strange.” I think a lot of readers may also have this initial dissonance about the dates and timeline, because most films and books haven’t tried to put a logical chronology to the mythology. (I have a very detailed timeline in the front of the book.) I’ve tried to do just that. By leaving the seduction/kidnapping/eloping of Helen with Paris as the definitive catalyst of the war, it has made several other elements of the entire story sync together in a way most people haven’t thought of, or even entertained. That and there are the many fragments and other sources for these characters besides Homer that had to be integrated.
And if that doesn’t get your stars in a twinkle, think about this. The Iliad begins almost a decade after the ships disembarked from Aulis for Troy, making every hero and heroine ten years older when we read about them, than when they set out on the adventure. They are all full grown men and women by the time we see them in action in Homer’s tales. I welcome comments and questions. And again, I thank Nadine for her thoughtful and detailed review of book one of the Homeric Chronicles. It certainly made me get this blog about the timeline question out in a timely fashion :)
Here’s the link to Nadine’s original post. It’s in German, but you can easily translate it to English in Google Translate. Happy reading!!
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