Helen at the Scaean Gates


The Iliad

By Homer

Written 800 B.C.E

Translated by Samuel Butler

Book III

     ....
     Meanwhile Iris went to Helen in the form of her sister-in-law, wife of the son of
     Antenor, for Helicaon, son of Antenor, had married Laodice, the fairest of Priam's
     daughters. She found her in her own room, working at a great web of purple linen,
     on which she was embroidering the battles between Trojans and Achaeans, that
     Mars had made them fight for her sake. Iris then came close up to her and said,
     "Come hither, child, and see the strange doings of the Trojans and Achaeans till
     now they have been warring upon the plain, mad with lust of battle, but now they
     have left off fighting, and are leaning upon their shields, sitting still with their
     spears planted beside them. Alexandrus and Menelaus are going to fight about
     yourself, and you are to the the wife of him who is the victor."

     Thus spoke the goddess, and Helen's heart yearned after her former husband, her
     city, and her parents. She threw a white mantle over her head, and hurried from
     her room, weeping as she went, not alone, but attended by two of her handmaids,
     Aethrae, daughter of Pittheus, and Clymene. And straightway they were at the
     Scaean gates.

     The two sages, Ucalegon and Antenor, elders of the people, were seated by the
     Scaean gates, with Priam, Panthous, Thymoetes, Lampus, Clytius, and Hiketaon of
     the race of Mars. These were too old to fight, but they were fluent orators, and sat
     on the tower like cicales that chirrup delicately from the boughs of some high tree
     in a wood. When they saw Helen coming towards the tower, they said softly to one
     another, "Small wonder that Trojans and Achaeans should endure so much and so
     long, for the sake of a woman so marvellously and divinely lovely. Still, fair though
     she be, let them take her and go, or she will breed sorrow for us and for our
     children after us."

     But Priam bade her draw nigh. "My child," said he, "take your seat in front of me
     that you may see your former husband, your kinsmen and your friends. I lay no
     blame upon you, it is the gods, not you who are to blame. It is they that have
     brought about this terrible war with the Achaeans. Tell me, then, who is yonder
     huge hero so great and goodly? I have seen men taller by a head, but none so
     comely and so royal. Surely he must be a king."

     "Sir," answered Helen, "father of my husband, dear and reverend in my eyes, would
     that I had chosen death rather than to have come here with your son, far from my
     bridal chamber, my friends, my darling daughter, and all the companions of my
     girlhood. But it was not to be, and my lot is one of tears and sorrow. As for your
     question, the hero of whom you ask is Agamemnon, son of Atreus, a good king
     and a brave soldier, brother-in-law as surely as that he lives, to my abhorred and
     miserable self."

     [Helen continues to identify the Greek warriors for the Trojans]