So who was Menelaus? And what was his relationship to Helen before he became her husband?
|Helen, from Wiki Commons|
Photo by Yair Haklai
Even if she weren't, the likelihood that Menelaus and Agamemnon were in and out of Sparta was probably high. The likelihood that Menelaus ran across Helen during her childhood, even higher. And it's entirely possible that he had his sights set on her as his bride from very early on, knowing that even if he couldn't persuade Tyndareus, Agamemnon, by all accounts a powerful man, probably could. And I suspect that Agamemnon knew full well his brother's desire, or else why would he have married Clytemnestra, and not the more beautiful Helen? She was certainly the greater prize.
Admittedly there was a complication of inheritance. The husband of Helen would become the king of Sparta, but Agamemnon probably wouldn't have minded in the slightest expanding his sphere of direct influence. He seemed driven by a lust for power and conquest. But did Menelaus share that lust? Was it Helen herself who captivated him, as much if not more than the throne of Sparta? Or did he simply want his own city to rule? An escape from his brother's control and command?
|Menelaus, from Wiki Commons|
In the Myths, Menelaus is relentless in trying to retrieve Helen while she's in Troy, he makes for a sympathetic character in the Iliad, and in the Odyssey, after he's brought Helen home again, and they begin to build their life together anew. But I don't buy that it's only about love. If Isocrates is right about Helen's beauty as POWER, ALL those heroes should have been on their knees before her, panting to have her back.
The thing that people overlook in the Iliad is that it's entirely possible that without Helen, Menelaus had no legitimacy as a king. If he HADN'T gone after Helen earnestly, what power would he have left? Everything he'd worked for and built in Sparta would have been forfeit, and whatever freedom he'd enjoyed as a king in his own right, as an independent political unit, would have been surrendered too. He'd be just another second son, serving his brother, the rightful king.
Could it still have been, in part, about love? Might Menelaus have been genuine in his affection? Sure. He might also have been just as "brainwashed" by Helen's beauty as Theseus, too. But there had to have been more going on between him and Helen before their marriage than is recorded, and I think whatever it was, it was the foundation for the trouble that came after.