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Menelaus
Menelaus regains Helen, detail of an Attic red-figure crater, ca. 450–440 BC, found in Gnathia (now Egnazia, Italy).

In Greek mythology, Menelaus (Ancient Greek: Μενέλαος) was a legendary king of Mycenaean (pre-Dorian) Sparta, the husband of Helen, and a central figure in the Trojan War. He was the son of Atreus and Aerope, and brother of Agamemnon king of Mycenae and leader of the Greek army during the War. Prominent in both the Iliad and Odyssey, Menelaus was also popular in Greek vase painting and Greek tragedy; the latter more as a hero of the Trojan War than as a member of the doomed House of Atreus.

Contents

Ascension and reign

Sources for the early life of Menelaus are rather late, post-dating 5th-century BC Greek tragedy.[1] According to these sources, his father Atreus had been feuding with his brother Thyestes over the throne of Mycenae. After a back-and-forth struggle that featured adultery, incest and cannibalism, Thyestes gained the throne after his son Aegisthus murdered Atreus. As a result, Atreus’ sons, Menelaus and Agamemnon, 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 Agamemnon took the throne for himself.

When it was time for Tyndareus' daughter Helen 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. Most offered opulent gifts to win Tyndareus' favor. But 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' 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

In a return for awarding her a golden apple inscribed "to the fairest," Aphrodite promised Paris the most beautiful woman in the world—Helen.[2] After concluding a diplomatic mission to Sparta, Paris absconded to Troy with Helen in tow. Invoking the oath of Tyndareus, Menelaus and Agamemnon raised a fleet and went to Troy to secure Helen's return; the Trojans were recalcitrant, providing a casus belli for the Trojan War.

Homer's Iliad is the most expansive source for Menelaus' exploits during the Trojan War. In Book 3, Menelaus challenges Paris to a duel for Helen's return. Menelaus soundly beats Paris, but before he can kill him and claim victory Aphrodite spirits Paris away inside the walls of Troy. In Book 4, while the Greeks and Trojans squabble over the duel's winner, Athena inspires the Trojan Pandarus to kill Menelaus with his bow and arrow. Menelaus is wounded in the abdomen, and the fighting resumes. Later in Book 17, Homer gives Menelaus an extended aristeia as the hero retrieves the corpse of Patroclus from the battlefield.

According to Hyginus, Menelaus killed eight men in the war, and was one of the Greeks hidden inside the Trojan Horse. During the sack of Troy, Menelaus killed Deiphobus, who had married Helen after the death of Paris. While looking for Helen, Menelaus resolved to kill her; Euripides tells us that when he found her, however, her striking beauty prompted him to drop his sword and take her back.[3]

After the war

The Odyssey Book 4 provides an account of Menelaus' return from Troy and his homelife in Sparta. When visited by Odysseus' son Telemachus, Menelaus recounts his voyage home. As happened to many Greeks, Menelaus' ship was blown off course. While stranded in Egypt, Menelaus learned from Proteus how he could return home. After their homecoming, Menelaus and Helen's marriage is strained; Menelaus continually revisits the human cost of the Trojan War, particularly in light of the fact that Helen could not provide him a male heir. According to Euripides' Helen, after death Menelaus was reunited with Helen on the Isle of the Blessed.[4]

Menelaus in vase painting

Menelaus appears in Greek vase painting in the 6th to 4th centuries BC, such as: Menelaus' reception of Paris at Sparta; his retrieval of Patroclus' corpse; and his reunion with Helen.[5]

Menelaus in Greek tragedy

Menelaus appears as a character in a number of 5th-century Greek tragedies: Sophocles' Ajax, and Euripides' Andromache, Helen, Orestes, and The Trojan Women.

In other media

  • Menelaus also appears in the 2004 film Troy, portrayed by Brendan Gleeson. Like the 1957 film that influenced it, Menelaus is portrayed as a brutish king out for revenge. 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.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Our chief sources for Menelaus' life before the Trojan War are Hyginus' Fabulae and Apollodorus' Epitome.
  2. ^ See the Judgment of Paris.
  3. ^ Andromache 629-31.
  4. ^ Line 1675.
  5. ^ Woodford 1993.
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High priest from 171 to about 161 B.C.; successor of Jason, the brother of Onias III. The sources are divided as to his origin. According to II Maccabees (iv. 23), he belonged to the tribe of Benjamin and was the brother of the Simeon who had denounced Onias III. to Antiochus IV. (Epiphanes) and revealed to the Syrians the existence of the treasure of the Temple; according to Josephus ("Ant." xii. 5), Menelaus was the brother of Onias III. and of Jason. Of these two conflicting statements the evidence is in favor of the former, first because it is unlikely that two brothers would be called by the same name, and secondly because the popular opposition to Menelaus in favor of Jason, though both belonged to the Hellenistic party, is more easily explained if the successor of Jason did not belong to the priestly family. It is possible that Josephus confounded Simeon, the brother of Menelaus, with Simeon, the father of Onias and Jason.

Hellenistic Tendencies.

Although during the three years of his pontificate Jason had given many proofs of his attachment to the Hellenistic party—by building a gymnasium in Jerusalem and by introducing many Greek customs—the zealous Hellenists of the stamp of the Tobiads plotted his overthrow, suspecting him of partiality to traditional Judaism. At their head stood Menelaus, who professed the utmost contempt for the religion of his fathers and was ready to commit any crime in order to gratify his ambition. Having been sent to Antiochus to pay the annual tribute, he took the opportunity to outbid Jason and secure for himself the office of high priest. An officer named Sostrates was sent by Antiochus with a troop of Cyprian soldiers to subdue any opposition that might be attempted by the followers of the deposed high priest Jason and to collect at the same time the sum Menelaus had promised.

Menelaus' first act was to seize the sacred vessels in the Temple stores in order to meet the pecuniary obligations he had incurred. This sacrilegious act, which was regarded even by the Greeks as heinous, came to the ears of the deposed high priest Onias III., who publicly accused Menelaus of robbing the Temple. The latter, afraid of the consequences of this accusation, induced the king's lieutenant Andronicus, who had had his share of the plunder, to get rid of Onias before a formal complaint had been lodged with the king. Accordingly Onias was decoyed from the sanctuary at Daphne, in which he had sought refuge, and murdered. Menelaus continued to plunder the treasures of the Temple until the people were aroused and scenes of violence ensued, in which his brother Lysimachus met his death. He then brought before the king an accusation against the people of Jerusalem, that they were partizans of the Egyptians and persecuted him only because he was opposed to their party intrigues. This accusation caused the execution of several Jews who, although they proved beyond any doubt that Menelaus and Lysimachus had desecrated the Temple, were sentenced to death.

Conflict with Jason.

Meanwhile Jason had not abandoned his claims to the high-priesthood, and while (170) Antiochus was waging war against Egypt he succeeded in making himself master of Jerusalem and in forcing Menelaus to seek refuge in the citadel. Antiochus regarded this proceeding as an affront upon his majesty, and, having been compelled by the Romans to leave Egypt, he marched against Jerusalem, massacred the inhabitants, and plundered the Temple; in this he is said to have been assisted by Menelaus.

According to II Maccabees, it was Menelaus who persuaded Antiochus to Hellenize the Jewish worship, and thereby brought about the uprising of the Judeans under the guidance of the Maccabees. During the first years of the restoration of the Jewish worship Menelaus still remained (though only nominally) high priest. He is said to have been put to death by Antiochus V. (Eupator) when the lattermade definite concessions to the Jews, the reason assigned being that Menelaus, by his evil counsel, was indirectly responsible for the Jewish rebellion.

Bibliography: II Macc. iv. 23 et seq.; Josephus, Ant. xii. 5; idem, B. J. i. 1, §§ 1-6; Grätz, Gesch. ii. 303 et seq.; Schürer, Gesch. i. 195 et seq., 215; Büchler, Die Tobiaden und Oniaden, pp. 106 et seq.

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.

Simple English

Menelaos (or Latin Menelaus) was a person in Greek mythology. He was the son of King Atreus of Mycenae and Aerope. He was the brother of Agamemnon. His wife was Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, and with her he had a daughter, Hermione. Because of his marriage with Helen, he was King of Sparta. The Trojan War was started because Paris took away Helen.

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