De Armond, Thea
published on 13 December 2012
In his New History, the second century CE grammarian Ptolemy Chennos (also called Ptolemy Hephaestion) alleges that over two dozen celebrated women named Helen lived at the time of the Trojan War. These women include a painter, a woman who ate three dogs a day, and a woman from whom Homer took his account of the Trojan War. The New History of Ptolemy, a “liar on a grand, academic scale,” now exists chiefly in an extended summary in the Bibliotheca of the Byzantine patriarch Photios (c. 810 CE – c. 893 CE). Photios derides the New History as rife with extraordinary and poorly imagined information, and contemporary scholars like M. L. West have found Ptolemy to be “singularly disreputable.” However, Ptolemy’s odd account of the origins of the Iliad is true in one sense: many Helens do and did exist.
Helen of Sparta’s first appearance in extant literature occurs in Homeric epic, around the early eighth century BCE. Visual evidence of the heroine dates shortly thereafter. By circa 730 BCE, a potential depiction of the “face that launched a thousand ships” appears on an Athenian krater; a male figure holds the wrist of a female figure, as he begins to climb aboard a large, oared ship. The scene may not depict Helen’s abduction by Paris; it may merely be a generic abduction scene or even a farewell. Some have proposed that the krater depicts Theseus and Ariadne.
Bachelor of Arts, Departmental Honors in Archaeology, Wesleyan University, April (2009)