Sunday, September 28, 2008

Helen of Memphis


Egyptian priests told Herodotus that, after Paris abducted Helen, violent winds drove him off course, and he landed in Egypt. Paris was forced to leave Helen there, and he sailed on alone to Troy. Helen spent the Trojan War in Memphis.

Herodotus credits the story, and his reasoning is just wonderful:
That is what the Egyptian priests said, and I agree with their argument, considering that if Helen had been in Troy, the Trojans would certainly have returned her to the Hellenes, whether Alexandros [another name for Paris] concurred or not. For neither Priam nor his kin could have been so demented that they would have willingly endangered their own persons, their children, and their city just so that Alexandros could have Helen. Surely the Trojans would have realized this even in the first years of the war and would have given her up. After all, many Trojans were being killed whenever they joined combat with the Greeks, and the sons of Priam himself were dying in every battle, two or three at a time, and sometimes even more.

20 comments:

  1. In chapter three of Book One, Herodotus states rather vaguely the story of the kidnapping of Helen. He epitomizes briefly, “Alexandros son of Priam heard the stories and wanted to abduct a wife…quite confident that he would pay no penalty…And so he abducted Helen” (1.3). In chapters 113 through 120 of Book Two, Herodotus elaborates on and connects this story of Helen’s abduction to the Egyptian side of the same story. By gathering accounts of this tale from Egyptian sources, which assists in giving a completely fresh and separate side to the story, the historian is attempting to piece together the aspects he already knows with ones from a different viewpoint (in this case a separate culture’s), in order to determine and present what actually happened. Herodotus writes through the words of Thonis, to demonstrate that Alexandros’ sins are accepted as disgraceful in foreign lands as well, “‘A foreigner of the Trojan race has arrived after committing an ungodly outrage in Hellas; he has seduced the wife of the very man who had taken him in as his guest, and then went off with her, taking with him a fortune in property belonging to his host” (2.114). By presenting the tale of Helen’s abduction from the Egyptian’s point of view, Herodotus was confirming its validity, as to demonstrate that the pieces of the puzzle from separate cultures’ stories match perfectly.

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  2. BCKnowlton7:55 PM

    Helen makes her first appearance in Herodotus' Histories at the beginning of Book 1, where her abduction by Alexandros is recounted as one of a number of abductions of Greek women by Asian men and Asian women by Greek men. This is the way Herodotus begins to explain the causes of the wars between Greece and Asia. He cites his Persian sources as saying that the abduction of women should not be a casus belli, and that the Greeks were the ones who started the wars, by going to war against Troy just because Alexandros the Trojan had abducted Helen the Spartan.

    The next mention of Helen comes in 2.112, in the midst of an account of the kings of Egypt. When he comes to a king "whose name in Greek is Proteus" (2.112.1)(though a note in the Landmark Herodotus says that "a king of Egypt named Proteus is a fiction based on the ancient Greek poet Homer), Herodotus says that "within the precinct of Proteus is a sanctuary named after Foreign Aphrodite, which I suppose is really a sanctuary of Helen daughter of Tyndareus" (2.112.2). He had heard a story about Helen and Proteus,but he had not heard of another sanctuary of Aphrodite named for a foreigner. He made further inquiries, and was told that when Alexandros had abducted Helen, they had sailed for Troy but were blown off course and came to Egypt. When King Proteus of Egypt learned what had happened, he declared that Alexandros had "committed a most impious act against his own host" (2.114.3), and ordered his arrest. It is significant that the guest/host relationship is also sacrosanct in Egypt (though of course Proteus is a figure from Greek myth). And it is fortunate for Alexandros that Proteus considers himself bound by the obligations of a host. He will not have Alexandros executed, but he will not let him keep Helen either. He will keep her, until her husband comes to reclaim her. Alexandros is given three days to leave Egypt.

    This is obviously not the story of Helen of Troy as we know it from Homer. But Herodotus says that "it seems to me that Homer also heard this version of the story" (2.116.1). And he goes on to distinguish Homer's poetry from his own inquiries. He even cites Homer in support of the claim that Homer knew the Egyptian version of the story. And these inquiries also serve to support the claim that Homer can't have written the Cypria.

    Having then the Greek and the Egyptian accounts of the adventures of Helen and Alexandros, Herodotus inquires further about their truth or fiction, and the Egyptians tell him that Menelaos was their source. According to Menelaos, when Helen was abducted by Alexandros, the Greeks went in force to Troy to get her back. The Trojans told them that Helen and Alexandros were not there, but in Egypt. The Greeks didn't believe them, and so beseiged the city. When Troy was taken, the Greeks discovered that Helen was not there, and so went to Egypt to get her. There Menelaos found her, safe and sound and under the protection of Proteus.

    The Egyptians go on to say that Menelaos "was treated with great hospitality" by Proteus, but that once he had gotten Helen back he "behaved so dreadfully that he proved...that he was a most unjust man" (2.119.2). For when the weather prevented him from leaving Egypt, Menelaos seized and sacrificed two Egyptian children.

    Having now inquired into all the versions he has heard of the story of Helen, Herodotus veentures his opinion that the events probably occurred as the Egyptians recounted. He reasons that if Helen had been at Troy when Menelaos came to claim her, the Trojans would certainly have handed her over rather than risk war with a large Greek force. Again, this version would hardly serve Homer's purposes, but then epic poetry and historical inquiry are from Herodotus on, distinct endeavors. Still, Herodotus' overall world view is not entirely distinct from the Homeric one. He concludes his discussion of the events surrounding the Trojan war by writing that "this all took place -- and here I am declaring my own opinion -- because a divine force arranged matters so that the Trojans, by their total ruin and destruction, would clearly demonstrate to all humans the fundamental truth that when great injustices are committed, retribution from the gods is also great. That, at least, is what I think" (2.120.5). Here the Landmark notes that "this chapter shows Herodotus' ability to take a critical stance toward traditional material," and that "it is also a clear statement of his religious posture." There is as much piety as inquiry about it.

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  3. The legendary story of the abduction of Helen, by Alexandros of Troy, takes on a significantly skewed display of the importance of Helen, “…quite confident that he would pay no penalty since the other side had not paid either,” as compared to the epic story proposed by Homer. Homer truly magnifies the beauty of Helen, the woman whose face launched a thousand ships, and the wonderfully creative story associated with her abduction. Herodotus makes a subtle claim that Homer and he had in fact heard the same story of Helen, however, Homer had chosen to neglect said story due to its lack of epic content. “Homer had also heard this version of the story. But since it was not as appropriate for epic composition as the other one which he adopted, he rejected it.” Rather than choosing to ignore the truth like Homer, he chooses to denounce the validity of the great poet and recall the story as it was told to him. Although the writings of Herodotus are often a combination of mythical and semi-mythical content, he chooses to reject Homer’s recount of the abduction of Helen, while simultaneously supplying his own personal view of what actually transpired.

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  4. mwnuk8:14 PM

    Both selfishness and disrespect preside in Paris’ decision to abduct Helen simply because he thought that “he would pay no penalty since the other side had not paid either,” (Herodotus, 1.3) in reference to the Hellenes’ abduction of Medea. The act shows most heinous in his complete disregard of the customary obligations between a guest and his host, and expecting not to receive punishment. Helen’s abduction proves globally agreeable as insolent on Paris’ part when he mistakenly sails to Egypt where his own attendants detest him for his actions before a shrine to the god Herakles. The servants then proceed to turn in Paris to an Egyptian guard, who arrests him to appear before Proteus. Proteus puts the crime into perspective for Paris, accusing him of being “the most wicked of men- one who accepted hospitality and then committed the most impious outrage.”(Herodotus,2.115)

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  5. Herodotus unabashedly states his opinion that after Alexandros abducted Helen, the Greeks should not have expected compensation since, “they themselves had neither paid nor surrendered her [Medea] upon request” (1.3). The Greeks were seen as one of the most civilized people in Herodotus’ time, yet Herodotus points out another instance of their “barbaric” behavior. After getting Helen back and being treated with great hospitality from the Egyptians, Menelaos “committed the ungodly act of seizing two children from local people and killing them as sacrificial victims” (2.119). It is quite unusual that Herodotus portrays the Egyptians as more civilized than the Greeks. Yet there is another instance of this reverse admiration of culture. While Helen is still in Alexandros’ possession, his ship sails off course and lands in Egypt. The king of Egypt, Proteus, says to him, “If I myself did not consider it of crucial importance to avoid killing strangers…I would already have punished you on behalf of that Hellene, for you are clearly the most wicked of men-one who accepted hospitality and then committed the most impious outrage” (2.115). While the Egyptians are portrayed by Herodotus as a hospitable people who prefer not to kill strangers, the Greeks are shown to be a people who abduct women and kill strangers on a whim through the story of the abduction of Helen.

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  6. epearson18:37 PM

    The story of Helen brought wars and separation between countries and regions due to opposing opinions. Alexandros believed himself entitled to Helen, simply considered a piece of property to the Europeans, because the Hellenes had not “surrendered [Medea] upon request” (1.3), deeming her a fair trade. Regardless of what Europe believed about this type of situation, it is clear that the Egyptians were forcefully against the pawning of women. A crime against women was considered the “most impious act,” not only towards them but towards their husbands and families (2.114). The Egyptian king was so distraught and angered by Alexandros’ actions he deemed him “clearly the most wicked of men” (2.115). Despite their hatred for this injustice, the Egyptians were a people of equality and did not think it proper to punish Alexandros when this was not under their jurisdiction. Yet again, Egypt proved to be an impartial region, showing disapproval for Menelaos’ inappropriate behavior of human sacrifice when he came to retrieve his wife and property. Egypt carried a balanced “head on its shoulders,” trying to treat all as equals, regardless of social status and circumstance.

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  7. kmurray8:48 PM

    In Book I of Herodotus’ The Histories, Herodotus describes the role women played in society and the importance they had on the world around them. During this time in ancient civilization, women were seen as nothing less but as property. An instance in the story in which this inquiry brought upon by Herodotus is perceived would be through the abduction of Helen. The moment when Alexandros of Troy abducts Helen is an example of the way women were treated during this time period. This is because in order to obtain Helen back from Alexandros, there needed to be a “satisfaction for the abduction” (Strassler 4). Herodotus relates back to his research of Helen in Book II as he goes on to talk about how violent winds lead Alexandros of Troy to end up off the coast of Egypt. This particular location where Alexandros is led is where the Sanctuary of Herakles stands. Here, “anyone’s servant may flee from asylum, have himself branded with sacred marks, and devote himself to the service of the god” (Strassler 164). After hearing of this custom, servants of Alexandros took it upon themselves to perform this practice, ultimately revealing to the gods the abduction of Helen and the injustices executed along with it. This scenario of the abduction of Helen depicts the way in which women were treated. With the help of the gods, Helen was no longer noticed as a prized piece of property. The abduction of Helen leads to the fundamental truth in that, “when great injustices are committed, retribution from the gods is also great” (Strassler 169).

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  8. rfitzgibbon8:49 PM

    The Hellenes demonstrate their cultural view on high-class women by, “demanding...satisfaction for her [Helens] abduction,” which illustrates that Helen was seen as a woman with great importance and stature. At the time, Helen was the most sought after woman in all of Greece, so she naturally had a tremendous amount of importance, especially in the eyes of the male population who tended to have the authority. Helen’s power is displayed again in Book II when Alexandros’ boat is blown off course to the banks of Egypt at the head of the Nile River. At that point is the sanctuary of Herakles, where anyone can, “flee for asylum…and devote himself to the service of the god. If he does this, no one is permitted to lay hands on him.” Upon landing, the attendants on Alexandros’ ship immediately traveled to the sanctuary of Herakles and told “the whole story of what had happened to Helen and the injustice he [Alexandros] had committed.” Helen’s overwhelming beauty and purity was strong enough to sway even Alexandros’ most loyal crew against him which establishes the fact that not all power in ancient civilization was held by men.

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  9. ckingston8:51 PM

    In The Histories, Herodotus illustrates societies’ views on women through his depiction of the abduction of Helen. Viewing women as valuable property, Alexandros wanted to “abduct a wife from Hellas himself” (4). However, the once the Hellenes discovered Helen, a woman held in high stature, was stolen, they demanded compensation for their lost “property”. Unlike the Greeks who launched an expedition after Helen was captured, the Persians “thought nothing of the women being abducted” (4). Evidently, the Greeks were outraged by Helen’s abduction whereas the Persians were not because they considered Helen property rather than a human being. In book II, Herodotus reveals that Alexandros of Troy was blown off course due to violent winds, ending up on the Egyptian coast. Here lies a sanctuary of Herakles to which “anyone’s servant may flee for asylum, have himself branded with sacred marks, and devote himself to the service of the god” (164). After hearing this, the Alexandros’ attendants went to the sanctuary to denounce Alexandros and reveal the injustices he committed when capturing Helen. Having committed a great injustice, Alexandros was punished by the gods when he was ordered by Proteus to be arrested. Through this scenario, Herodotus reveals that women were no longer viewed as valuable objects or treated as merely property.

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  10. Ncasinelli10:17 PM

    Following the stories of the abductions of women from Hellas, Prince Alexandros foolishly abducted Helen from Sparta because he was sure that “he would pay no penalty since the other side had not paid either.” When Alexandros stole Helen, he committed an injustice to her husband, Menelaus, by committing “a must impious act against his own host”. Menelaus supposedly valued and respected the idea of hospitality towards one’s host and was outraged by Alexandros’ actions, yet he offended his Egyptian hosts by sacrificing two of the local children. Although these men seem to have strong morals and codes of ethics, neither one upholds them.

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  11. kalbino10:45 PM

    The story of Helen’s abduction seems simple, and Herodotus puts it simply, writing that Alexandros wanted a wife, “and so he abducted Helen” (1.3.2). This phrasing gives the impression that the thievery of women was a common occurrence that did not faze Herodotus or the other Greeks. When he tells the story later, however, he reveals that the Egyptians viewed the abduction much more harshly than Herodotus, and they refused to grant Alexandros the immunity that they provided to other criminals (2.114). Also in this later retelling of Helen’s story, Herodotus mentions the large Greek army that sailed to Troy and “demanded the return” of Menelaos’ wife, impressing upon the reader that perhaps the abduction caused more of a stir than appeared in Herodotus’ earlier account (2.118.3).

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  12. kwilliams10:30 AM

    In Book 1 Chapter 3 of Herodotus, Herodotus implies that when Alexandros abducted Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships, he was naive to believe that “he would pay no penalty since the other side had not paid either.” (Herodotus 1.3) Little did Alexandros know that this action would cause much destruction to the city of Troy. Later on in Book 2 Chapter 113, Herodotus revisits the story of the abduction of Helen, this time telling us an account of what happened subsequent to the abduction that he has heard from priests. His priest sources say that once Alexandros left Sparta and sailed off towards Troy, “violent winds drove him off course from there into the sea toward Egypt.” Once in Egypt, Alexandros’ crew turned on him, he was captured by Proteus, and neither he nor Helen made it to Trojan territory. This specific account makes the Hellenes look foolish for destroying Troy when “neither Helen nor the property they demanded were located in Troy.” (2.118) The Trojans “did not have Helen and therefore could not give her back; and that when they said this to the Hellenes, they were telling the truth; but the Hellenes did not believe them.” (2.120) If the Trojans really had Helen in their possession, they would have saved their city from destruction and given away this woman who meant nothing to them. However they could not do so because according to the account, she was in Egypt. Alexandros foolishly believed that there would be no penalty to pay for abducting Helen, however Sparta paid the price. In Herodotus’ opinion, this demonstrates “that when great injustices are committed, retribution from the gods is also great.” (1.121)

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  13. Herodotus recounts the abduction of Helen as Alexandros wanting “to abduct a wife from Hellas for himself” (1.3) by means of vengeance, rather than how Helen was mistreated as a person. In book two, however, Herodotus revisits the story of Helen in order to show Helen being treated through a by a different culture. The Egyptian king, who Alexandros stands before in judgment, says that Alexandros “has committed a most impious act against his own host” (2.114), which shows the disapproving nature of stealing a woman. The king also makes a distinction between Helen and the property of Menelaos. He acknowledges that Alexandros had given “wings to [Helen’s] passion,” and “also brought here a great deal of your host’s property” (2.115) By including this, Herodotus shows the difference ways of how Helen is perceived.

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  14. CGreen5:43 PM

    To even up the score with the Hellenes, the Persian Alexandros abducted Helen and neglected to neither pay nor surrender her back, and “from that time on they have considered Hellenes to be their enemies” (1.4). According to the Persians, the abduction of Helen was not important because Herodotus actually states that they “thought nothing of the woman being abducted” which parallels to the nonchalant and emotionless exclamation of Helen being abducted; it was seen as no significance through the Persian eyes (1.4). However, the Egyptians revealed a far more descriptive and different perspective on the story of Helen. Unlike the careless Persians, the Egyptians go into far more detail which may reflect their opposing view on society. Egyptian King Proteus condemns Alexandros as the “most wicked of men- who accepted hospitality and then committed the most impicious rage…” where he “stole her away and sailed off…” (2.155). Unlike the Persians, the Egyptians viewed this event as an unjust act, because they had more respect for women at that time. Also, to further show the Egyptians’ advanced society, Proteus claims to Alexandros that they do not kill strangers but only enemies, therefore allow him to escape without death due to this crime. The Egyptians’ perception of women is demonstrated to be respectful, loyal and more civilized and women participated more in everyday life than the Persian women. The two opposing stories of Helen and Troy accurately reflect the two contrasting societies of Egypt and Persia.

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  15. kdrouin7:07 PM

    While explaining the abduction of Helen and its aftermath, Herodotus emphasizes the idea that back then the abduction of women was common and many husbands didn’t try very hard to save them. When Helen was captured her husband didn’t go after her himself and the people questioned whether they had the right to request satisfaction. “How could they expect satisfaction from others when they themselves had neither paid nor surrendered her upon request?” (1.3) This statement proves that they were not very worried about Helen, because if they were they wouldn’t have been questioning whether they had the right to rescue her. After Alexandros was arrested and it was recommended that he leave, Proteus made a comment about keeping Helen and the property that was stolen. “I shall keep them safe for the Hellene until he wants to come and get them back himself.” (2.115) This statement shows that women were kind of considered property or a possession. They didn’t really care about where she was as long as they knew she was theirs. They would come and get her when they felt like it. These two quotes help Herodotus describe how women were treated during this time.

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  16. The abduction of Helen is one of the more well-known stories coming from the ancient period, and Herodotus himself was familiar with more than one account of the tale. However, in each version he seems to be emphasizing the same lesson for his society. In his first telling of the story he conveys that he feels the Hellenes should not have caused such trouble over Helen because she, “would not have been abducted if [she] had not been compliant,” (4). He implies that such an unfaithful woman could not have been worth the cost and trouble of war. In the second book he explains that the Persians certainly would have returned Helen had she been in their possession, “in order to bring their troubles to an end,” (168). The sacking of Troy was a devastating blow to the Persians and ultimately would result in “their total ruin and destruction,” (169). Despite the fact that the destruction of Troy is rooted in what he sees as an absurd reason, he also seems to believe that the Persians deserve punishment for behaving so rudely toward their hosts. It is a, “fundamental truth,” Herodotus writes, “that when great injustices are committed, retribution from the gods is also great,” (169).

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  17. From Herodotus’s viewpoint, Helen is nothing more than property in the hands of a dishonorable husband, who did not go after her initially, and in the hands of Alexandros, who was “quite confident that he would pay no penalty since the other side had not paid either” (1.3). Worse yet, Alexandros stole her away when he was a guest in the husband’s household, making the crime much more serious. Herodotus later explains the story of Helen, Alexandros, and Troy from an Egyptian perspective; one that deviates from the accepted story that is told by Homer in the Odyssey. Egyptian sources claim that Alexandros instead ended up sailing to Egypt with his new captive wife after getting caught in a violent wind storm. There, King Proteus found out of his dastardly deeds and immediately asks for Alexandros to be arrested. Proteus then asks him to depart from Egypt but to leave all stolen property, including Helen. Herodotus concludes that this is a much more valid rendition of what probably happened because “considering that if Helen had been in Troy, the Trojans would certainly have returned her to the Hellenes, whether Alexandros concurred or not. For neither Priam nor his kin could have been so demented that they would have willingly endangered their own persons, their children, and their city just so that Alexandros could have Helen” (2.120). This shows not only Herodotus’s doubt to Homer’s validity of the story in the Odyssey, but more importantly the personality of Alexandros and Helen.

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  18. jsmith19:58 PM

    Helen’s abduction, by Alexandros, was due to Alexandros and his lack of fear of being punished because the Helenes did not get punished when they abducted Medea, so “how could they expect satisfaction from others when they themselves had neither paid nor surrendered her upon request?” (The Landmark Herodotus 4). Alexandros could have not been more wrong. Not only did he lose his life, but he was the reason Troy, a great empire, fell. According to Herodotus, Alexandros and Helen were driven off course and landed in Egypt where King Proteus, knowing of Alexandros’ deeds, did not let him bring Helen to Troy. Proteus states that “I shall not surrender this woman and property for you to take with you when you depart” (The Landmark Herodotus 166). Alexandros risked everything and more. He risked his own life and other people’s lives by abducting Helen, which was not a success because he did not get to bring her to Troy is he was unable to enjoy his prize. Troy was sacked by Menelaos, the husband of Helen and everything in Troy was destroyed because of Alexandros.

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  19. vvansambeck10:42 PM

    Alexandros and his people justified kidnapping Helen by saying “how could they expect satisfaction from others when they themselves had neither paid nor surrendered her upon request?” This referred to the Hellenes abducting Medea. The story of what happened to Helen after her abduction is hazy. Some people claim she went to Troy, and others say she made it to Egypt. Herodotus makes it clear that he believes Helen ended up in Egypt. He says “ That is what the Egyptian Priests said, and I agree with their argument.” Herodotus then goes on to talk about how it would not make sense for Helen to be in Troy, because the Trojans most certainly would have surrendered her if she truly was there. They would not let a huge war develop for a woman who was not even one of their own. Herodotus does not fail to speak out on this matter, and develops his opinion with well supported arguments. He finalizes his statement by enforcing that this is simply his opinion and not necessarily fact. “This all took place-and here I am declaring my own opinion-because a divine force arranged matters so that the Trojans, by total ruin and destruction, would clearly demonstrate to all humans the fundamental truth that when great injustices are committed, retribution from the gods is also great. That, is at least what I think.” Even Though Herodotus’s ideas make alot of sense, he avoids claiming them as the definite truth. Herodotus is very careful to make sure he states his view without interferring with the actual history.

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  20. ahorvath10:53 PM

    Herodotus first presents the abduction of Helen in 1.3, as a part of several abductions between Asia Minor and Greece. The act of abducting Helen itself, according to Herodotus, is justified by Alexandros, Helen’s captor, by the lack of retribution given for previous violations of the same. “…how could they (the Greeks) expect satisfaction from others when they themselves had neither paid nor surrendered her upon request?” (1.3.2) While Herodotus first finds the abductions as the root cause for the conflict between east and west, by 2.113, Herodotus embellishes his purported connections between Greece and Egypt with a different account of Helens abduction. This tale which Herodotus supports after further inquiry helps Herodotus explore the conflict afore mentioned. “That is what the Egyptian priests said, and I agree with their argument, considering that if Helen had been in Troy, the Trojans would certainly have returned her to the Hellenes, whether Alexandros concurred or not”. (2.120.1) By establishing and supporting this other story of Alexandros, Herodotus reverts to the main purpose of his work, finding the root causes of the conflicts between peoples, essentially Persia and Greece. Should Herodotus’ ideas be accepted, the Trojan War, considered to be the first of several military campaigns between Greece and Asia Minor, would then be based solely on a misunderstanding which is attributed, by Herodotus, to the wrath of the gods (2.120.5)

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