Euripides (c.480–c.406 BC), translated by Theodoridis, G., (contributor-contact-email)

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Euripides’ Helen, first presented in 412 BC at the Dionysia, forms part of a trilogy alongside the lost Andromeda. It shares thematic similarities with Iphigenia in Tauris, which is believed to have been staged around the same time.

Written after the Sicilian Expedition, a period of Athenian defeat and philosophical upheaval by the sophists, Helen critiques warfare as fundamentally destructive. The play aligns with Herodotus’ and Stesichorus’ accounts that Helen was in Egypt, not Troy, during the Trojan War. In this narrative, the gods replace Helen with a phantom to deceive Paris, leaving the real Helen in Egypt. There, under the protection of deceased King Proteus, Helen is pursued by his son Theoclymenus, who wishes to marry her despite her loyalty to Menelaus, King of Sparta.

Helen, believing Menelaus dead, faces pressure to marry Theoclymenus. The arrival and eventual recognition of Menelaus, who mistakenly believes he rescued a phantom Helen from Troy, complicates matters. They devise a plan to escape, misleading Theoclymenus about Menelaus’ death and planning a sea burial to symbolize Helen’s release from her marriage. Their escape incites Theoclymenus’ wrath, nearly leading to his sister Theonoe’s death, but they are saved by divine intervention from Helen’s brothers, the demi-gods Castor and Pollux.

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Theodoridis, G.,

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