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  • Helen and the ΔIΟΣ BΟYΛH
  • Kenneth Mayer

The opening lines of the Cypria and the scholia concerning them have long attracted scholarly notice. The lines are quoted in Schol. A. Vind. 61 as follows:


(Cypria Frag. 1 Allen)

Zeus pities the overburdened Earth and therefore calls the Trojan War into being in order to relieve her of excess population. The scholium quoting these lines evidently contains elements foreign to the Cypria,1 but other statements may ultimately derive from the epic itself. The scholiast reports Momus' advice to Zeus, not to use disasters such as lightning or flood, but rather to arrange for the birth of Helen and the marriage of Thetis. For, the scholium adds, the Trojan War is a direct result of these two events:


Eustathius follows this tradition, but extrapolates further by explicitly defining Helen and Achilles as the instruments of the βουλή: [End Page 1]

-Eustathius, Ad Iliadem 1.33.15 (TLG)

The original scholium does not define the precise role of the θνητογαμία of Thetis. That marriage resulted indirectly in the judgment of Paris and the strife between the goddesses, which directly led to the Trojan War. Eustathius, who was rather closer to the scholiastic tradition than we are, does not include the judgment in this account of the origins of the war. Instead he regards the birth of Achilles as a central element in the depopulation of mankind, on par with Helen.

Scholiasts of the twentieth century have come up with their own accounts of Zeus' plan and the origin of the Trojan War. Particularly compelling is Laura Slatkin's reading of the marriage of Thetis as the closing chapter in the struggle for divine succession.2 Prophesy foretold that her son would be mightier than his father, so instead of marrying her himself, Zeus gives her to a mortal, thereby stabilizing the order of heaven by displacing strife onto the earth.

Nagy (Best of the Achaeans, 220) argues that this displacement of strife from the divine sphere "causes not only the Trojan War in particular but the human condition in general." He bases this on, among other things, a fragment of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women which begins shortly after the marriage of Helen and the birth of Hermione:

These lines and others following connect the Trojan War with a plan of Zeus to end the endless spring and begin the cycle of the seasons (97-98), to give sorrow and death to mortals (98-100), and to separate gods from men (102-4). The fulfillment of the plan is then narrated: the death [End Page 2] of the heroes in lines 118-20; the coming of winter in lines 124-29. Taken together these events spell the end of the Golden Age, which seems to be the calculated conclusion of the Hesiodic Catalogue.3

In some accounts at least the Trojan War thus spelled the end of the Golden Age. The myth of divine succession accounts for the central role of Achilles and the marriage of Thetis. What about Helen? I do not think that the pairing of Achilles and Helen in the scholia is haphazard or pedantic patchwork. In a very real sense the Trojan War was felt to have started with the creation of both of these figures.

Helen's role will become clearer when we step back and look at comparable patterns in other mythologies. The Cypria fragment mentioned earlier has aroused scholarly interest in part because of the overpopulation theme, to which several parallels have been adduced from the Near East, Iran, and India.4 This paper will extend this work and demonstrate that in these mythologies overpopulation belongs to a larger construct which is worth examining in detail.

Central to the larger construct is the final struggle for heavenly succession, in which the last opposition to the canonical pantheon is quelled. The creation of man is contemporaneous with or results from this struggle. Often the defeated god or gods are involved in the creation of mankind in general or of a particular strife-causing individual or group. The form of the defeated gods' involvement varies-mankind may be their direct progeny, their creations or reincarnations, or created...


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