Menelaus, in Greek mythology, king of Sparta, son of Atreus. He was the husband of Helen, father of Hermione, and younger brother of Agamemnon. When Paris, prince of Troy, abducted Helen, Menelaus asked the other Greek kings to join him in an expedition against Troy, beginning the Trojan War. Menelaus, although subordinate to Agamemnon, took a prominent part in the war. After the fall of Troy, he became reconciled with Helen, but before they finally reached Sparta they experienced a long series of adventures. Menelaus appears in the Iliad and the Odyssey.

In Greek mythology, Menelaus (Ancient Greek: Μενέλαος) was a king of Ancient Sparta, the husband of Helen, and a central figure in the Trojan War. He was the son of Atreus and Aerope.

Ascension and reign

King Atreus of Mycenae sent his sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus, to seize his twin brother Thyestes, with whom he was feuding, and bring him to Mycenae. Their feud was over the beautiful Aerope, the wife of Atreus and lover of Thyestes. She was the mother of Agamemnon and Menelaus. Atreus arranged a complicated stratagem in which he tricked Thyestes into eating his (Thyestes') own sons. In revenge, Thyestes caused his other son, Aegisthus (the offspring of the incestuous union between Thyestes and his daughter by Aerope, Pelopia) to murder Atreus. The throne was then passed to Thyestes and Aegisthus jointly.

As a result, Atreus’ sons went into exile. They first stayed with King Polyphides of Sicyon, and later with King Oeneus of Calydon. But when they thought the time was ripe to dethrone Mycenae's hostile ruler, they returned. Assisted by King Tyndareus of Sparta, they drove Thyestes away, and Menelaus took the throne for himself.

When it was time for Helen, Tyndareus's daughter, to marry, many Greek kings and princes came to seek her hand, or sent emissaries to do so on their behalf. Among the contenders were Odysseus, Menestheus, Ajax the Great, Patroclus, and Idomeneus, but Menelaus was the favorite, though, according to some sources, he did not come in person but was represented by his brother Agamemnon. All but Odysseus brought many rich gifts with them.

Tyndareus would accept none of the gifts, nor would he send any of the suitors away for fear of offending them and giving grounds for a quarrel. Odysseus promised to solve the problem in a satisfactory manner if Tyndareus would support him in his courting of Penelope, the daughter of Icarius. Tyndareus readily agreed, and Odysseus proposed that, before the decision was made, all the suitors should swear a most solemn oath to defend the chosen husband in any quarrel. Then it was decreed that straws were to be drawn for Helen's hand. The suitor who won was Menelaus. This stratagem succeeded, the rest of the Greek kings swearing their oaths, and Helen and Menelaus were married. Following Tyndareus's death, Menelaus became king of Sparta because the only male heirs, Castor and Polydeuces, had died when they had ascended Mount Olympus.Together, Menelaus and Helen had only one daughter, Hermione.

Trojan War

Some years later, Paris, a Trojan prince, came to Sparta to marry Helen, to whom he had been promised by Aphrodite, after Paris had selected Aphrodite as the most beautiful of the gods (see The Judgment of Paris). Although Helen was married to Menelaus, Paris returned to Troy with her, though accounts differ whether or not Helen's flight was willing, blinded as she was by Aphrodite's power. This issue is the source of much of the dramatic tension in Book IV of Homer's book Odyssey.

Menelaus called upon all the other of Helen’s suitors, (almost all of the Greek kings had been suitors for Helen’s hand), to fulfill their oaths, thus beginning the Trojan War. Virtually all of Greece took part, either attacking Troy with Menelaus or defending it from them.

In the Iliad, Menelaus fights bravely and well, even when wounded, and distinguishes himself particularly by recovering the body of Patroclus after he is killed by Hector. Although Menelaus is depicted as a reasonably wise and just leader, he has a tendency to rattle off fatuous bromides in the most inappropriate circumstances.

After Paris was killed by Philoctetes, Helen was married to Paris' brother Deiphobus. This angered another of Paris’ brothers, Helenus, who had also wished to marry her. Helenus, who was the leader of the Trojan army after the death of Hector (another brother), then retreated to Mount Ida. He later gave Odysseus suggestions of how Troy could be defeated. It is not clear if this was given willingly or under duress.

One story tells that, when the Argives were razing Troy, Menelaus searched the city in order to find Helen with the intention of killing her to atone for all the pain she had caused. But, when he found her in the ruins, and saw again her breathless beauty and perfect breasts, he dropped his sword and took her up in his arms. Helen is then said to have betrayed Deiphobus (her third husband) to Menelaus (her first). Menelaus killed Deiphobus and mutilated his body, removing all of his body parts one by one and spending special time on his eyes (the eyes having witnessed the naked Helen).

According to the Odyssey, Menelaus' homebound fleet was blown by storms to Crete and Egypt, where they were unable to sail away because the wind was calm. Menelaus had to capture Proteus, a shape-shifting sea god, until Proteus told him what sacrifices he would have to make to the gods to guarantee safe passage. Proteus also told Menelaus that he was destined for Elysium after his death. This was based solely on the fact that he had married Helen, hence becoming a son-in-law to Zeus - and Elysium being a place reserved for the progeny of Zeus.

Menelaus returned to Sparta with Helen, settling in Lacedaemon, where they were later buried together in a modest shrine, although there are many alternative stories of Helen’s life after the fall of Troy. One of these says that, after Menelaus' death, his illegitimate son Megapenthes sent Helen into exile, whence she went eventually to Rhodes.

Alternative parentage

In alternative traditions Menelaus is said to be the son of Pleisthenes (son of Atreus) and Aerope, or of Pleisthenes and Cleolla, daughter of Dias, making him the grandson, rather than the son, of Atreus.

In other media

Menelaus appears in the 2004 film Troy, portrayed by Brendan Gleeson. He duels Paris and wins, but Paris retreats to his brother, Hector. When Menelaus wants to strike the finishing blow, Hector kills him to protect his brother. (Menelaus also wins the duel in the Iliad, but Paris is spirited away behind Troy's walls by an interfering Aphrodite.)

See also



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