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Menelaus was a key figure in one of the greatest tales of Greek mythology – The Trojan War. As the husband of Helen, he was at the very heart of the war. Born to the House of Atreus, disaster was to befall Menelaus, just as it had on every other member of his family. Here’s the story of the Spartan King, one of the greatest heroes in Greek mythology.
According to Homer, Menelaus was a mortal, born to King Atreus of Mycenae and his wife Aerope, the grandaughter of King Minos’. He was the younger brother of Agamemnon, who became a ditinguished king, and was born of the line of Tantalus.
When they were children, Agamemnon and Menelaus had to flee their family home because of a dispute between King Atreus and his brother, Thyestes. It ended in the murder of Thyestes’ children and this led to a curse on Atreus’ house and his descendants.
Thyestes had another son, Aegisthus, with his own daughter Pelopia. Aegisthus exacted revenge on his uncle Atreus by killing him. Without their father, Menelaus and Agamemnon had to seek refuge with the king of Sparta, Tyndareus who gave them shelter . This is how Menelaus later came to be a Spartan King.
Menelaus Marries Helen
When the time came, Tyndareus decided to arrange marriages for his two adopted boys. His step-daughter Helen was known to be the most beautiful woman in all the land and many men traveled to Sparta to court her. Her many suitors included Agamemnon and Menelaus, but she chose Menelaus. Agamemnon then married Tyndareus’ own daughter, Clytemnestra.
Tyndereus, in an attempt to keep peace among all of Helen’s suitors, asked each of her suitors to swear the Oath of Tyndareus. According to the oath, each of the suitors would agree to defend and protect Helen’s chosen husband.
Once Tyndareus and his wife Leda stepped down from their thrones, Menelaus became the King of Sparta with Helen as his queen. They ruled Sparta for many years and had a daughter together, whom they named Hermione. However, the curse on the house of Atreus wasn’t finished and the Trojan War was soon to begin.
The Spark of the Trojan War
Menelaus proved to be a great king and Sparta prospered under his rule. However, there was a storm brewing in the realm of the gods.
There was a beauty contest held between the goddesses Hera, Aphrodite and Athena at which Paris, the Trojan Prince, was the judge. Aphrodite bribed Paris by promising him the hand of Helen, the most beautiful mortal alive, completely ignoring the fact that she was already married to Menelaus.
Eventually, Paris visited Sparta to claim his prize. Menelaus was unaware of Paris’ plans and while he was out of Sparta, attending a funeral, Paris took Helen. It’s unclear whether Paris took Helen by force or whether she went with him willingly but either way, the two escaped to Troy.
Upon returning to Sparta, Menelaus was outraged and invoked the unbreakable Oath of Tyndareus, bringing forth all of Helen’s former suitors to fight against Troy.
A thousand ships were launched against the city of Troy. Menelaus himself led 60 Lacedaemonian ships from Sparta as well as the surrounding cities.
Menelaus in the Trojan War
For favorable winds, Agamemnon was told that he’d have to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia, and Menelaus who was eager to embark on the journey, convinced his brother to make the sacrifice. According to some sources, the gods rescued Iphigenia before she was sacrificed but others state that the sacrifice was successful.
When the forces reached Troy, Menelaus went ahead with Odysseus to reclaim his wife. However, his request was refused and this led to a war that lasted for ten years.
During the war, the goddesses Athena and Hera protected Menelaus and although he wasn’t one of the greatest fighters in Greece, it’s said that he killed seven famous Trojan heroes including Podes and Dolops.
Menelaus and Paris Fight
One of the most important battles that made Menelaus famous was his single combat with Paris. It was arranged much later in the war, in the hope that the outcome would end the war. Paris wasn’t the greatest of Trojan fighters. He was mostly adept with his bow than with close combat weapons and ultimately lost the fight to Menelaus.
Menelaus was just about to deliver a killing blow to Paris when the goddess Aphrodite intervened, breaking Menelaus’ hold on Paris and shielding him in mist so he could get to safety behind the walls of his city. Paris would go on to die during the Trojan War, but his survival in this battle meant that the war would continue.
Menelaus and the End of the Trojan War
The Trojan War eventually ended with the Trojan Horse ploy. It was Odysseus’ idea and he had a hollow, wooden horse made large enough for several warriors to hide inside. The horse was left at the gates of Troy and the Trojans took it into the city, mistaking it for a peace offering from the Greeks. The warriors hiding inside it opened the city gates for the rest of the Greek army and this led to the downfall of Troy.
By this time, Helen was married to Paris’ brother, Deiphobus as Paris had been killed. Menelaus killed Deiphobus by cutting him slowly into pieces, and finally took Helen back with him. In some sources, it’s said that Menelaus wanted to kill Helen but her beauty was so great that he forgave her.
After Troy was defeated, the Greeks journeyed home but they were delayed for many years because they had neglected to offer any sacrifices to Trojan gods. Most of the Greeks couldn’t reach home at all. Menelaus and Helen are said to have wandered about the Mediterranean for almost eight years before they could return to Sparta.
When they finally returned home, they continued to rule together and they were happy. Menelaus and Helen are said to have gone to the Elysian Fields after death.
Facts About Menelaus
Menelaus was the king of Sparta.
Menelaus was married to Helen, who became known as Helen of Troy after her abduction/elopement.
Menelaus is the son of Atreus and Aerope.
Menelaus has one famous brother – Agamemnon.
Although Menelaus is one of the lesser known heroes in Greek mythology, he was one of the strongest and bravest of all. He was also one of the very few Greek heroes who lived until the end of his days in peace and happiness.