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Helen


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A: Euripides Pf:c.412 bc, Athens? Tr: 1782 G: Greek drama in verse S: Before the palace of the King of Egypt, after the Trojan War C: 7m, 3f, extras, chorus (f)Helen reveals that her adulterous reputation is undeserved. She is living chastely in Egypt, where she was transported while a ‘phantom Helen’ was abducted by Paris to Troy. She longs to see her husband Menelaus again, but learns that he has been shipwrecked on his way home from Troy. The Chorus persuades Helen to test the truth of the rumour of Menelaus' death by consulting the oracle. No sooner has Helen been assured that her husband is still alive, than he arrives at the palace. However, as he is in rags, the Portress refuses him entrance, since no Greek may approach ‘Zeus' daughter Helen’. Menelaus wonders how Helen can be both the woman he has just left in a cave by the seashore and also live in this royal palace. When Helen and Menelaus eventually meet, she refuses to believe that this ragged man is her husband, while he, after all the suffering at Troy, cannot accept that Helen now stands before him, an innocent victim. Finally, there is a joyful reconciliation, and the phantom Helen disappears. Helen and Menelaus then engage the help of the prophetess to make good their escape. Castor and Polydeuces appear to speed them on their way.

A: Euripides Pf:c.412 bc, Athens? Tr: 1782 G: Greek drama in verse S: Before the palace of the King of Egypt, after the Trojan War C: 7m, 3f, extras, chorus (f)

Although Helen is a light-hearted and rather fantastic drama, with typical comic confusion of identities and a happy ending, it contains much more serious elements. To recognize how easily the gods can mislead mortals with regard to appearance and reality is a frightening insight. In particular, the Greeks have fought at Troy for ten bitter years, only to win back a phantom. In this sense, Helen stands as a warning to the Athenians of the danger of prosecuting the Peloponnesian War in pursuit of illusory advantage. The story was used by Hofmannsthal in The Egyptian Helen (1928), scored as an opera by Richard Strauss, but here Menelaus believes the Trojan Helen to be a phantom only because he has drunk a potion of lotus juice.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Euripides (c. 485—406 bc) Greek dramatist


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