Helen and the ΔIΟΣ BΟYΛH
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 from their body parts or secretions. In this paper I use the term "impure creation" whenever the defeated gods are involved in the creation of mankind or a subset thereof. The victorious gods thus resolve their problems by passing them onto mortals, thereby securing for themselves a carefree existence. The newly-created humans initially enjoy a Golden Age, which in several mythologies naturally leads to overpopulation. Overpopulation is ended in turn by the appearance of some dread aspect of human life: war, death, famine, crop failure, or agriculture itself. Myth often accounts for this as a result of man's impure creation.
I shall first identify this pattern in creation/overpopulation myths from other cultures, and then assess its applicability to the Trojan War. I do not mean to imply that these myths derive from one another or from [End Page 3] a common ancestor. Rather I wish to show that this pattern is endemic to mythical thought, in part no doubt because it accounts for problems found in many societies.
The Babylonian epic AtraḪasis clearly connects the creation of mankind with the establishment of stability in heaven. The rebellion of the Igigi, the lesser gods, provides both the impetus for creating mankind and the material.5 The blood of a slain god, Wê-ila, is mixed with the clay that becomes mankind:
Let one god be slaughteredSo that all the gods may be cleansed in a dipping.From his flesh and bloodLet Nintu mix clay,That god and manMay be thoroughly mixed in the clay,So that we may hear the drum for the rest of timeLet there be a spirit from the god's flesh.
....Wê-ila, who had temu6They slaughtered in their assembly.From his flesh and bloodNintu mixed clay.
In the AtraḪasis the tablet is damaged precisely where the leader of the revolt of the gods was named,7 but a similar myth of creation in Enûma Eliš unambiguously shows the rebel god being slain to create mankind:
[Marduk speaks] "Who was it that created the strife,And caused Tiâmat to revolt and prepare for battle?Let him who created the strife be delivered up;I will make him bear his punishment, be ye at rest."The Igigi, the great gods, answered him,The king of the gods of heaven and earth, the counselor of gods, their lord: [End Page 4] "Kingu it was who created the strifeAnd caused Tiâmat to revolt and prepare for battle."They bound him and held him before Ea;Punishment they inflicted upon him by cutting his blood.With his blood they created mankind;He imposed the services of the gods [upon them] and set the gods free.-Enuma Eliš VI 23-34.
Mankind is thus literally as well as figuratively the by-product of celestial strife.8 In the AtraḪasis the creation of mankind is followed by the advent of the birth goddess and the Golden Age. The immediate result is overpopulation. The "noise" or "uproar" of the swelling mass of people disturbs the supreme god Enlil (line 356). The word for "noise" and "uproar" (rigmu) is also used of the revolt of the Igigi earlier (line 179) and its semantic range would appear coextensive with that of "restless" in English. Disturbed by this "noise" Enlil devises a variety of austerity measures to curb mankind's population: plague, drought, flood, and finally ritual sterility and infant mortality.9
The same connections between the Golden Age, overpopulation, and impure creation are found in the Avestan myth of Yima, the first man and first king.10 According to the Videvdat, the rule of Yima began as an earthly paradise, but the world proved too small for the increasing herds of man and beast. Ahura Mazdah decreed that winter and seasons shall come upon the "bad material world."11 After this first winter, the [End Page 5] melting of the snow leads to flood and crop failure. This is the end of the Avestan Golden Age and the beginning of death.12
It is difficult to find evidence of an impure creation here, because the origin of evil was such a vexing problem in Zoroastrian theology. As Zaehner (Dawn and Twilight, 178) makes clear, this was the central problem of Zoroastrism: "The crucial issue for the Zoroastrians was the origin of evil, and how far, if at all, the permission of evil might be attributable to God." Zaehner identified three different sects of Zoroastrism and showed how they all differed on the nature and origin of evil. "Bad material world" may refer to the pollution of the material world by Ahriman, as is the case in later Zoroastrian belief.13 In this case Yima would be an impure creation only in as much as he partook of the material world. However, the "sins of Yima" recorded in another passage from the Avesta, may have been the cause of the end of the Golden Age.14 In this passage, Ahriman entered Yima's heart late in his life. He then rebelled against Ahura-Mazdah and was therefore punished. Later Pahlavi texts connect Yima's loss of immortality with just such an alteration of his nature by Ahriman.15 It would seem that at least one sect believed that Yima fell from grace because Ahriman was part of his nature. As the partial product of the to-be-defeated god of the Zoroastrian pantheon, Yima (and therefore mankind) can be considered to be an impure creation.
The same pattern applies to the Mahābhārata, wherein Vishnu promises Earth that her sufferings will be relieved. The overpopulation plaguing her will be solved by a great war.16 The larger context is laid out in Mahābhārata 1.58:
"The cows and women gave birth in time . . . trees stood in fruit and bloom in all seasons. And while thus the Eon of the Winning Throw [the Yuga] went on in its perfection, the entire earth became filled with many creatures. In this so flourishing world of men . . . the Asuras were born in the land of the kings. For the Daityas had often been defeated in battle by the [End Page 6] Gods, and, having fallen from their supernal estate, they took birth here on earth. . . . And when they were born and went on being born, wide earth, sire, could no longer support herself."-I (6) 58.22ff.17
The passage continues to describe the Golden Age in more detail: men were free from worries and diseases, they lived for thousands of years, and infant mortality was unknown. At this time the Asuras and Daityas-demons in Epic India-lost a Titan-like struggle for supremacy against the Epic pantheon. After losing, they were incarnated on earth as mortals, worsening Earth's overpopulation while at the same time infecting mankind with their evils:
"Now some of them were born kings, filled with great strength, sons of Diti and Danu who had now fallen from their world to earth. Powerful, insolent, bearing many shapes, they swarmed over this sea-girt earth, crushing their enemies. They oppressed the brahmins, the barons, the farmers, even the serfs, and other creatures they oppressed with their power. . . . When she was thus tyrannized by the grand Asuras, bloated with power and strength, Earth came to Brahma as a suppliant."-I (6) 58.30-36.
The war of the Paṇḍāvas is thus a continuation of the conflict between the established pantheon and their defeated rivals by other means. The evildoers on earth responsible for the end of the Golden Age are represented as being the terrestrial reincarnations of these defeated demons.
The causal connection between man's impure creation and his lot on earth is made even more explicit in the Orphic Theogony preserved for us in Greek and Roman sources. In these accounts, the most famous of which is found in Ovid's Metamorphoses, mankind is descended from the Titans and is therefore hated by the gods.18 Thus in this major branch of Greek mythology the losers of the final conflict for the rule of heaven are the begetters of mankind. This is used in turn as an aetiology to explain and justify mortals' miserable yet deserved lot.
In these mythologies, a disaster befalls mankind which becomes a [End Page 7] permanent facet of mankind's existence and solves overpopulation. This disaster is often the result of the impure creation of mankind, which is in turn a consequence of the final battle in the struggle for divine succession. The mention of overpopulation in the Cypria suggests that a similar pattern informs accounts of the origin of the Trojan War found in that epic and elsewhere. The scholiasts link Zeus' solution to overpopulation-the βουλή-with the marriage of Thetis and the creation of Helen. As we saw earlier, the marriage of Thetis also marks the final resolution of the succession struggle in the heavens and its displaced continuation on earth.19 Achilles is therefore to be understood as a would-be successor, whose destiny has been foiled by the θνητογαμία, the first part of the βουλή. What then is the point of the second element of Zeus' plan, the creation of Helen? I propose that on some level Helen represents the flawed creation of man, or rather woman.
The evidence suggests that a connection between mankind's impure creation and subsequent fall from grace found its Greek expression in the creation of a baneful woman: Helen in the Hesiodic Catalogue, or Pandora in the Theogony and Works and Days. Penglase (Greek Myths and Mesopotamia, 219) has assembled a comprehensive list of parallels between the Babylonian creation myths and the creation of Pandora. Why has the Near Eastern myth of the creation of mankind become for the Greeks the creation of a woman? The myths under consideration are not just creation myths, flood myths, or overpopulation myths, but they also serve to account for the current state of mankind. Similarly, Hesiod does not describe the origin of the species, but instead provides an explanation of why things are so miserable now. This misogynist revisionism is not unique to Hesiod, but is found in later Pahlavi texts, in which Geh is created by Ahriman to seduce Gayomart.20 Some Jewish legends also feature woman as the bringer of evil and impure from the time of her creation.21 These legends even link the creation of woman with the motif of the overburdened earth: [End Page 8]
The purpose of the sleep that enfolded Adam was to give him a wife, so that the human race might develop, and all creatures recognize the difference between God and man. When the earth heard what God had resolved to do, it began to tremble and quake. "I have not the strength," it said, "to provide food for the herd of Adam's descendants."22
Geh was explicitly a creation of Ahriman, but Eve, Pandora, and Helen have no connection with the defeated gods of their respective pantheons.23 They are not impure creations, but rather the ruling deity created them as a specious gift for mankind, which was designed to separate god from man and establish the human condition.
The connections drawn thus far between impure creation, the Golden Age, and overpopulation are presented in a chart on the following pages.
I now hope to show that Helen, like Pandora, was a construct specifically designed to bring misery to mortals, and that her creation served as an aetion for wars in general. The Cypria described in great detail the union of Nemesis and Zeus, and how Nemesis was the true mother of Helen.24 This is the tradition followed on the altar of Nemesis at Rhamnous and in Apollodorus 3.10.7, where Nemesis' egg is given to Leda for safekeeping.25 There is nothing in the Iliad that contradicts this version, and the fragments of the Catalogue are ambiguous and possibly self contradicting.26
Previous scholarship has not fully explored the serious implications of Helen's connection with Nemesis. Only Pandora and Nemesis are described [End Page 9] by Hesiod as being .27 Helen herself is called a to the Trojans by Hector in Iliad 3.50-51.28 Nemesis' family tree is given at Theogony 223-28:
|AtraḪasis||I (6) 58.22ff.|
|Final Struggle for||Igigi vs. Enlil & other||Ahura-Mazda vs.||Asuras/Daityas vs.|
|Flawed Element||Kingu (ringleader of||"bad material||Asuras/Daityas|
|of Creation||the Igigi)||world"|
|Golden Age||Mankind's first years||Reign of Yima||Yuga|
|Manifestation of||"Uproar" of mortals||Yima's rebellion||Asuras and Daityas|
|Flaw||Yašt 19.31||incarnated on earth|
|End of Golden Age:||Flood, famine, failed||Winter, flood||The Paṇḍdāva war of|
|Elimination of||harvest, infant death||Videvdat 2.22||succession, death,|
Prosopographical analysis shows the dark nature of Helen's connection with Nemesis: Helen's aunts are Strife, Deception, Sex, and Old Age. Her [End Page 10] cousins by Eris are Toil, Hunger, Pain, Battle, Murder, and Manslaughter. This dysfunctional family consists of all the plagues which the gods send down to mankind with Pandora, and I would argue that Helen, by causing the Trojan War, has not fallen far from the tree.
|Orphic Theogonies||Jewish Legends||Works and Days||Catalogue of Women|
|Dio Chrys. 30.10||Theogony||Cypria|
|Ovid Meta. 1.154 162|
|Titans vs. Zeus||[Rebel Angel vs.||Titans vs. Gods||Titans vs. Gods|
|God]||[Achilles vs. Zeus]|
|Reign of Kronos/||Garden of Eden||Reign of Saturn||Before Helen|
|Mankind's wicked||Rebellion (eating||Pandora opens||Helen leaves her|
|nature (due to blood||the apple), general||pithos||husband for Paris|
|of the Titans)||wickedness|
|N/A||Sowing the earth,||Pestilence,Work,||Trojan War,|
|pain of childbirth,||Ten Thousand||Agriculture, seasons|
|death, the Flood||Woes, Death|
We are fortunate to have some evidence that Helen's creation was used as an aetiology of conflict in general. Cratinus in his play Nemesis ridiculed Aspasia and Pericles for starting the Peloponnesian War. Aspasia was identified either with Helen or Nemesis, and Pericles with Zeus.29 Cratinus apparently used the mythological framework of the Trojan War to explain the origin of strife between the Athenians and Spartans. In one fragment someone, presumably Nemesis herself, is telling Leda to sit on an egg and act thereby as a foster mother to Helen:
(Frag. 108) [End Page 11]
It seems that the drama culminated in the creation of Helen, and that this act, and no other, was felt to have led to war. Horace also indicates that the Cyclic poets took the creation of Helen to be the beginning of the Trojan War.30 For these poets the pivotal moment that led to the war was not a particular transgression on Helen's part, but her very creation. Like Pandora she is portrayed as being bad from birth-designed by Zeus to pass onto mankind the myriad of miseries which are their lot.31 The connection between Helen and the βουλή is thus not an accident of scholiastic pedantry, but reflects part of the mythological tradition preserved in the Cypria.
The use of two figures to perform this function conforms with what we know of archaic overdetermination. The seemingly redundant use of both Helen and Achilles to achieve the βουλή serves to link several aspects of the two figures while contrasting others. Achilles and Helen are each described as a for mankind.32 Both are unique in the Iliad as being the two personages who wish fervently for their own deaths. On several occasions Helen makes the claim that she wishes she had died before causing the war,33 while Achilles wishes to die, to end his withdrawal, and to undo the sufferings that it caused. Significantly, he equates his own removal from the world with a desire for the removal of Eris from both gods and men:
(18.98-107) [End Page 12]
There seems to be a deep-seated awareness within the poem that the war arises from the transmission of eris through Helen and Achilles.
In addition, both figures effect this transference by following the withdrawal and return pattern noted in vegetation goddesses. The sorrows of the Trojan War are brought about by the abduction of Helen and end with her return. Her story thus conforms to that of the vegetation goddess, which for much of the Peloponnese she was. Her withdrawal from Sparta and with it her role as wife and mother is paralleled by Achilles' own withdrawal from the battlefield and his role as a warrior. Whereas her withdrawal brings about the Trojan War, his withdrawal motivates the events of the Iliad.34 Since the Iliad is in many ways a microcosm of the war as a whole, these parallels create an implicit identification of the two.
However, the device of double motivation would have little point if it did not also serve to highlight differences between the two figures. Achilles, by representing divine succession and by his quarreling with Agamemnon, serves to bring strife-Eris-from the realm of the gods into the earthly political sphere. Helen, created as the embodiment of desire-Eros-serves to bring strife into the realm of the family and marriage. By mating with Nemesis Zeus produced Helen. By suspending such erotic desires because of political concerns, Zeus chose not to mate with Thetis, married her to a mortal, and produced Achilles.35 The two disparate strands are linked in the Trojan War, which is a public, political undertaking to resolve a private, family matter of adultery.
Armed with these readings of Achilles' and Helen's creation and function we can come to a better understanding of the opening fragment of the Cypria. The fulfillment of Zeus' plan entails the creation of both Achilles and Helen, thereby maintaining the link between the themes of impure creation and divine succession. Scholars have long been interested in the mention of overpopulation and noted the parallels, occasionally attempting to deduce priority and influence of one tradition upon another.36 I have tried instead to show that these overpopulation myths all have a similar pattern, which may have applied to the Cypria and other works that followed its tradition. In other mythologies overpopulation occurs as a result of the Golden Age, and the measures taken [End Page 13] to curb it become permanent facets of the human condition. The Trojan War is therefore analogous to the first winter: a precedent which is then eternally repeated. Others have shown how Achilles, as the last contender in the struggle for succession, is the instrument for bringing the human condition to earth. I have tried to show that in certain traditions Helen too was represented as an aition for war and the human condition. It is my contention that the Cypria prologue featured a Helen analogous to Eve and Pandora, a specious gift designed to bring about misery to mankind.
The tales told in the AtraḪasis, the Avesta, and the Mahābhārata are not motivated by a desire to explain how the gods curb overpopulation. They are rather attempts to explain the origin of misery on earth and to justify the ways of the gods to man. In a similar vein, it is my contention that the prologue to the Cypria is not Zeus' ad hoc solution to overpopulation, but an explanation for wars among mortals in general. Zeus is not continually taking pity on the overcrowded Earth and devising new wars. He has instead brought war and strife permanently down to Earth through the double device of Achilles and Helen.37
1. Such as a reference to the Theban Wars-shown to be external to the Cypria by Bethe, Troische Epenkreis 80 .
2. Power of Thetis passim.
3. As argued by West, Hesiodic Catalogue 119-21, cf. West, "Hesiodea" 132-35.
4. See Kilmer, "Mesopotamian Concept," Burkert, Orientalisierende Epoche 95-99, Nagy, Greek Mythology and Poetics 15.
5. AtraḪasis I. 196-97:"Create Lullû (man) that he may bear the yoke, / Let him bear the yoke assigned by Enlil. / Let man carry the toil of the gods."
6. The meaning of te-mu is still a matter of debate, "personality," "intelligence," "idea," are among the suggestions. One current school of thought is that it means "idea" or "inspiration" in the sense that he was the instigator of the revolt.
7. The name of the inflammatory speaker who led the revolt of the Igigi must have appeared in AtraḪasis I 47.
8. According to the Babylonian priest Berossus, Bel commands a god to cut off his own head, then tells the other gods to mix the blood with clay in order to make mankind. (Eusebi Chronicorum libri duo ed. Schoene, Vol. 1 col. 14-18.; Heidel, Babylonian Genesis 78).
9. For a discussion of the final two stages see Kilmer, "Mesopotamian Concept" 168-70.
10. References to Yima as ruler during the Golden Age abound in the Avesta: Yasna 9.5. Yašt 9.9-10, 15.15, 17.29-30, 19.33. The myth of Yima is discussed in detail by Lincoln, "Indo-European Creation Myth," although I distance myself from his attempt to make Yima part of his putative myth of the first sacrifice.
11. Videvdat 2.22, Lommel, Yäšt's des Awesta 205.
12. Previously Yima and others were immortal, but he then became the first to die. In Vedic mythology Yima consequently became lord over the realm of the dead.
13. See Zaehner, Dawn and Twilight 265-70.
14. Yašt 19.31.
15. Dînâ-î-Maînog-î Khirad 8.27-28.
16. Mahābhārata 11.8.240. Dumézil, Mythe et Epopée 168-69; Nagy, Greek Mythology and Poetics 16. Kullmann, "Vorhomerisches Motiv" 186 cites a passage in the Harivamsa, a later appendix to the Mahābhārata.
17. Translations from van Buitenen.
18. Dio Chrys. Or 30.10 . Ovid Metamorphoses I.150-62: sed et illa propago / contemptrix superum saevaeque avidissima caedis / et violenta fuit: scires e sanguine natos. These late sources are the most explicit and clear, but the myth of mankind's creation from the pieces of impious Titans is demonstrably much older. See Detienne, Dionysos mis à mort 165, Linforth 331-55.
19. Slatkin, Power of Thetis passim.
21. Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews 67,"Woman covers her hair in token of Eve's having brought sin into the world; she tries to hide her shame; and women precede men in a funeral cortege, because it was woman who brought death into the world." For links between Pandora and Eve see O'Brien "Nammu, Mami, Eve and Pandora" and the bibliography therein. Most interesting is O'Brien's point that the first women/birth goddesses have epithets referring to their role as Mother Earth, cf. Greek .
22. Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews 65.
23. While there are no indications that Pandora is the product of an impure creation, Nagy (Best of the Achaeans 215-16) shows how her creation is linked temporally and thematically both with the defeat of the Titans and with the separation of the gods and mortals. While Eve is not an impure creation, the Jewish traditions have an impure creation which takes place just before the flood. "Chiefly the fallen angels and their giant posterity caused the depravity of mankind. . . . Gabriel was charged to proceed against the bastards and the reprobates, the sons of the angels begotten with the daughters of men, and plunge them into deadly conflicts with one another." Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews 148, 150-52.
24. Fragment 7 Allen.
25. For a discussion of Nemesis and the birth of Helen see Karanastassi, "Nemesis" 733.
26. Helen does mention her two brothers, born of the same mother (Iliad 3.236-38), which is a strong argument for Leda, but Eustathius took this to mean that Nemesis was their mother as well. Catalogue Frag. 24 says that Hesiod made her the daughter of an Oceanid and Zeus, but there is some question as to whether this fragment should be assigned to the Catalogue. See West, Hesiodic Catalogue 123-24.
(Works & Days 82)
28. For a discussion of the term , see Nagy, The Best of the Achaeans 63-65, 77-78, where Achilles qua is discussed.
29. See Kock CAF Cratinus Frag. 107-20 and Plutarch Pericles 3.3, Eupolis 249 (Kock).
30. Horace AP 140-48, esp. 147 nec gemino bellum Troianum orditur ab ovo.
31. For the role of Pandora in displacing celestial strife to mortals, see Arthur, "Cultural Strategies" 74 and the references she gives there.
32. See above, n. 28.
33. Iliad 3.173-76, 6.345-48. Cf. Eumaeus' wish that the whole be destroyed, Odyssey 14.68-69.
34. Lord, "Withdrawal and Return" and Cook, "Plot of The Odyssey."
35. Note that Paris' choice of Aphrodite is a direct reversal of Zeus' decision.
36. See Kilmer, "Mesopotamian Concept," Burkert, Orientalisierende Epoche 95-99, Nagy, Greek Mythology and Poetics 15.
37. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the APA convention in December 1994. I would like to thank Erwin Cook for the insightful Iliad seminar which inspired this paper and for further guidance both theoretical and practical. Thanks are also due to Hardy Fredricksmeyer and the anonymous referee for helpful criticisms and insights.