“Rock Me, Menelaus!”
King Menelaus of Sparta was the Trojan War's most notorious cuck. He married Helen, reputedly the most beautiful woman in the world, but so ardently pursued his hobbies of boozing, hunting and whoring that he didn't notice Helen was getting some strange from a foreign stranger with the suspiciously French name of Paris. This Greco-Gallic charmer persuaded Helen to abandon her husband and spend her life in Troy.
Unable to raise a big enough army and fleet to chase after Paris, Menelaus bent the ear of his brother King Agamemnon of Mycenae to declare war on Troy. Helen's desertion was an offence against Greece but more so against Menelaus's family. At least that is what he told himself.
How did a hairy brute like Menelaus wind up with a trophy wife like Helen? This was the age when women had no choice over whom they married. Helen herself came from a family of four, with a sister Clytemnestra and brothers Castor and Pollux, also known as the Gemini Twins. They had all been hatched rather than birthed, as their mother Leda had been seduced by a swan.
This was no ordinary bird but the god Zeus in a feathery fur suit, the perfect ploy with which to put Leda in the extended family way. Her husband King Tyndareus of Sparta had to accept the situation, though he saved face by adding his name to all four birth certificates.
Menelaus was also living in exile in Sparta, along with his elder brother Agamemnon. The two princes were in their early teens but came from a broken home. You see, their father, King Atreus, had murdered their cousins and used the bodies in a cannibal casserole. Atreus served this dish up to his brother Thyestes as revenge for him doing the dirty with Atreus's wife Aerope. Once the ingredients of Atreus's dish were discovered, there was a rebellion and Atreus was killed. Agamemnon and Menelaus happened to be on a school trip to Sparta; they were advised not to go home until the floors could be bleached and perfumed, and wound up staying in Sparta for good.
In time, relations between Mycenae and Sparta turned hostile. King Tyndareus sponsored an attack on Thyestes, who was driven into exile with his family. To celebrate the victory and cement the alliance, Tyndareus offered his daughters Clytemnestra and Helen. Interestingly, the elder Agamemnon, who would have had first dibs, chose Clytemnestra, who had a sharp wit and seemed as though she could look after herself. Helen was pretty but had already gained such a reputation as an airhead that she is now Paris Hilton's only link to the classical era.
The double marriage was splendid, but amid carousing and chasing party guests around the table, neither bride took time to honour Aphrodite. The goddess took umbrage and cursed Clytemnestra and Helen to have unhappy love lives.
The marriage of Menelaus and Helen seemed happy; they had one daughter, Hermione, who wanted to leave Greece and study magic in Scotland — but never a son. For macho Menelaus, this was Helen's grave failing; in truth, it was part of Aphrodite's comeuppance. Menelaus coped by pursuing foreign hunting-and-whoring trips and was often absent from Sparta.
It was whilst he was out that he received a message that a Trojan prince called Paris had visited Sparta with a trade delegation from Asia Minor. Menelaus, always favoring hunting and whoring over talking commerce, did not rush home. By the time he did return, there was a note on the kitchen table that read:
|My dearest loves. I am sorry not to be here for dinner but I met this dishy foreigner called Paris. He wants me to run away with him to Troy as I am the most beautiful mortal woman in the world. Don't get angry with me or send an armada to bring me back. I am sure you won't miss me, Menelaus and Hermoine. Good luck with your wizarding exams. Love —
—Helen of Troy (formerly Helen of Sparta) and the Eggy Girl.
Menelaus took this calmly, by slaying a few of the house slaves for not stopping Helen, and resolving to go to war with Paris and Troy. All he needed was to get other Greek leaders to share his humiliation and pain and agree that Paris's actions were an insult to the royal family and the nation — not just him.
The Trojan War
Menelaus made an unconvincing case to declare war. Fortunately for him, Agamemnon made a better case. The Trojan War was eventful; Menelaus's role in it, not-so-much. The war was nine years of slow attrition, and then an eventful tenth year.
It was in that tenth year that Menelaus and Paris finally came into direct combat, as the Greeks and Trojans agreed to settle the dispute by single combat. (Menelaus claimed that was what he wanted all along, but that Paris had been avoiding him.) The Spartan king was soon in his element, bashing Paris around the battleground. However, just before the coup de grace, Aphrodite and Apollo intervened and saved Paris from permanent cancellation.
That ended Menelaus's role in the war. The key loose end, getting his wife Helen back in the sack, happened during the Greeks' sack of Troy, after Paris's death. Helen married Paris's younger brother, Deiphobus. To avoid ambiguity, Menelaus found and dismembered him right in front of Helen. With Menelaus armed and advancing on his errant wife, Helen played her last card and slipped out of her robe. Menelaus had no problem with killing defenceless and naked women, but in this case, something stayed his hand, and other appendages. Helen surrended herself and Menelaus concluded that his quest was fulfilled.
The other Greek commanders had expected to see Helen dead or at least in chains when they had tired of killing Trojans. Instead, she was standing next to Menelaus as bright as a new button, perhaps two. Menelaus said he would punish his wife once back home, and thanked everyone for taking ten years out of their lives at Troy with him.
The reunited couple made an uneventful trip home, unlike some others involved in the war. Nor did Menelaus take any high-born Trojan women as slaves. He thought nothing good came from Troy — even if it was now just a smoking ruin.
Menelaus and Helen's retirement was dull. Normally, the murder of Agamemnon by Clytemnestra with her lover/secret partner Aegisthus would have put Menelaus on the defensive, but he took no precautions. He was aware of the old family curse, so in the end, it was Agamemnon's own son Orestes who took up the revenge cycle and killed Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. Menelaus kept out of this, complaining he was 'too old'.
There were no further children for Menelaus and Helen. Hermione got her wish to go to Scotland — writing home infrequently to 'send cash' — whilst Menelaus promoted one of his bastard sons as the next King of Sparta.
Menelaus's passing was not heroic nor tragic — except, possibly, for his liver. At his funeral, Helen said Menelaus had been 'very understanding, considering what had happened' but said it was Aphrodite's fault for making her run off with Paris. The goddess heard the complaint but chose not to send a muse to inspire another epic poem about Menelaus and Helen, muttering something about 'insufficient material'.
- Paris was a bounder.
- Agamemnon was the big cheese in Greek power.
- Technically, other Greek princes were invited to make bids, but it was like NFL ball clubs conducting mandated interviews with minority coaching candidates they have already decided not to hire.
- Despite being the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite regularly ruined other peoples' love lives.
- The only other action of note was that Menelaus retrieved the corpse of Achilles's boyfriend, Patroclus.