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A Comparison of Helen in the Iliad and the Odyssey

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Essay title: A Comparison of Helen in the Iliad and the Odyssey

The Iliad and The Odyssey are tales written by Homer centered on the drama of the Trojan War. First poem deals with the time during the end of the war, while the latter, which occurs roughly ten years later, explains the disastrous journey of Odysseus fighting his way back home. The character of women in the Odyssey is to exhibit the many and diverse roles that women play in the lives of men. These functions vary from characters such as the goddess' that help them to the nymphs who trick them. Women in the Iliad exhibit their significance in the lives of the ancient Greeks because they are so prominent in a world so dominated with military relations.

Helen of Troy was one of these women. Like so many women Homer speaks of, her beauty alone could be the cause of a catastrophic outcome. It is argued she began the Trojan War when she was given to Paris, the prince of Troy, who chose Aphrodite over Athena and Hera, who, furious at being seen with any less beauty, urged the Greeks to march towards Troy. Born to Zeus and Leda, Helen is a central female figure in both of Homer's poems. From what we can tell, she was always treated well by the Trojans, and generally badmouthed by the Greeks.

Although Homer uses her for different purposes, he does have a constant negative view towards Helen. The more we read about Helen, the more variance we feel as to her true nature. According to some writers, Helen is an inspirational woman, surpassing the strict limitations forced on Greek women. According to others, she is a deceiving and disgraceful woman. These extremely opposing opinions of Helen can be seen in epics, poetry, and artwork. Some writers take on entirely negative views of Helen, such as Homer, while some have clearly constructive feelings to her, for example Sappho.

Homer's view of Helen is somewhat more complex than others. While reading The Iliad we can see that nearly every time her name is mentioned, it is used in a negative context. Whenever she herself is present in the epic, she exhibits an awareness of her actions, as shown in her conversation with Hector, when she repeatedly blames herself for the war. It becomes aware of Homer's distaste for her because indignity is her central characteristic, and this coming from a writer we have come to associate with honor. It remains unclear whether or not she was forced by Aphrodite to go with Paris. If she was not, then it appears that lust and desire was her sole motivation, leaving her with yet another trait which is unappealing to Homer.

Homer tends to lighten Helen's betrayal somewhat in The Odyssey. Homer wants to assure the reader that although it is in the past, it will not be entirely forgotten. In this epic she becomes a wife to Menelaus and not in the literal sense because the two have always

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