Date of Defense
Dr. David Kutzko
Who is the real Helen of Troy? As an integral figure in the Trojan War, her legacy has captivated poets, historians, philosophers, and playwrights in the centuries after her death. Comparing these different interpretations, however, fails to create a consistent identity for the woman whose face launched a thousand ships.1 Homer offers the first surviving accounts of Helen in the Iliad and the Odyssey. These poems describe her as a complex individual, negotiating her circumstances both during and after the Trojan War. Later ancient writers, including Stesichorus, Herodotus, and Aeschylus, represented Helen in a completely different manner. Their interpretations, though not necessarily negative, were nonetheless one-dimensional. As such, they stripped Helen of her humanity and left her reputation vulnerable to ancient society. For whatever reason, the majority of ancient Greeks came to view Helen as an evil woman whose selfishness caused ten years of war and a lifetime of suffering. Though a few writers, like Gorgias, defended Helen and tried to reconcile the population's preconceived notions, it was not until Euripides wrote a play about Helen in the 5th century B.C.E. that she regained her human complexity. In his play the Helen, Euripides capitalizes on the ambiguity and perceptions surrounding this mysterious woman by using her life to explore the meaning of reality, truth, and perception in shaping human experience.
Bengtson, Kathryn, "Euripides' the Helen: Challenging Life's Perceptions" (2003). Honors Theses. 1965.
Honors Thesis-Campus Only