That Helen never really eloped with Paris, that the Achaeans and the Trojans fought their great war over an ethereal eidolon conjured up by divine spite, and that the true Helen went instead to live in Egypt is a story known to most classical scholars from the expiatory Palinode of Stesichorus (c. 640“555 b.c.), the Helen of Euripides (c. 480“406), and (in a less fanciful variant) the Histories of Herodotus (c. 484“425). But the legend is of far more ancient provenance.

It was known in Sparta even when Menelaus and Helen still reigned, and had begun to spread along the Eurotas valley before Troy fell, and was the common lore of Lacedaemonian artisans and peasants before the ship bearing their king and queen sailed into the dark waters of the port of Gytheion. Helen herself heard of it the day after reaching harbor, from one of the Helot girls given to her as handmaidens for the triumphal procession to Therapne; and it provided her a few moments of amusement to think how foolish it made Menelaus look to suggest that he had returned from the war not with his recreant wife but only with a dream of a woman. But for the next few days she gave the tale no thought.

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