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Helen of Troy by Andrew Lang

Helen of Troy


subjects: Poetry: Classic & Pre-20th Century

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In Greek mythology, Helen, better known as Helen of Sparta or Helen of Troy, was daughter of Zeus and Leda, wife of king Menelaus of Sparta and sister of Castor, Polydeuces and Clytemnestra. Her abduction by Paris brought about the Trojan War. Helen was described as having the face that launched a thousand ships. Helen or Helene is probably derived from the Greek word meaning “torch” or “corposant” or might be related to “selene” meaning “moon”. (source: Wikipedia)

97 pages with a reading time of ~1.50 hours (24405 words), and first published in 1882. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, .

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 All day within the palace of the King
    In Lacedaemon, was there revelry,
 Since Menelaus with the dawn did spring
    Forth from his carven couch, and, climbing high
    The tower of outlook, gazed along the dry
 White road that runs to Pylos through the plain,
    And mark'd thin clouds of dust against the sky,
 And gleaming bronze, and robes of purple stain.


 Then cried he to his serving men, and all
    Obey'd him, and their labour did not spare,
 And women set out tables through the hall,
    Light polish'd tables, with the linen fair.
    And water from the well did others bear,
 And the good house-wife busily brought forth
    Meats from her store, and stinted not the rare
 Wine from Ismarian vineyards of the North.


 The men drave up a heifer from the field
    For sacrifice, and sheath'd her horns with gold;
 And strong Boethous the axe did wield
    And smote her; on the fruitful earth she roll'd,
    And they her limbs divided; fold on fold
 They laid the fat, and cast upon the fire
    The barley grain.  Such rites were wrought of old
 When all was order'd as the Gods desire.


 And now the chariots came beneath the trees
    Hard by the palace portals, in the shade,
 And Menelaus knew King Diocles
    Of Pherae, sprung of an unhappy maid
    Whom the great Elian River God betray'd
 In the still watches of a summer night,
    When by his deep green water-course she stray'd
 And lean'd to pluck his water-lilies white.


 Besides King Diocles there sat a man
    Of all men mortal sure the fairest far,
 For o'er his purple robe Sidonian
    His yellow hair shone brighter than the star
    Of the long golden locks that bodeth war;
 His face was like the sunshine, and his blue
    Glad eyes no sorrow had the spell to mar
 Were clear as skies the storm hath thunder'd through.


 Then Menelaus spake unto his folk,
    And eager at his word they ran amain,
 And loosed the sweating horses from the yoke,
    And cast before them spelt, and barley grain.
    And lean'd the polish'd car, with golden rein,
 Against the shining spaces of the wall;
    And called the sea-rovers who follow'd fain
 Within the pillar'd fore-courts of the hall.


 The stranger-prince was follow'd by a band
    Of men, all clad like rovers of the sea,
 And brown'd were they as is the desert sand,
    Loud in their mirth, and of their bearing free;
    And gifts they bore, from the deep treasury
 And forests of some far-off Eastern lord,
    Vases of gold, and bronze, and ivory,
 That might the Pythian fane have over-stored.


 Now when the King had greeted Diocles
    And him that seem'd his guest, the twain were led
 To the dim polish'd baths, where, for their ease,
    Cool water o'er their lustrous limbs was shed;
    With oil anointed was each goodly head
 By Asteris and Phylo fair of face;
    Next, like two gods for loveliness, they sped
 To Menelaus in the banquet-place.


 There were they seated at the King's right hand,
    And maidens bare them bread, and meat, and wine,
 Within that fair hall of the Argive land
    Whose doors and roof with gold and silver shine
    As doth the dwelling-place of Zeus divine.
 And Helen came from forth her fragrant bower
    The fairest lady of immortal line,
 Like morning, when the rosy dawn doth flower.


 Adraste set for her a shining chair,
    Well-wrought of cedar-wood and ivory;
 And beautiful Alcippe led the fair,
    The well-beloved child, Hermione,--
    A little maiden of long summers three--
 Her star-like head on Helen's breast she laid,
    And peep'd out at the strangers wistfully
 As is the wont of children half afraid.


 Now when desire of meat and drink was done,
    And ended was the joy of minstrelsy,
 Queen Helen spake, beholding how the sun
    Within the heaven of bronze was riding high:
    "Truly, my friends, methinks the hour is nigh
 When men may crave to know what need doth bring
    To Lacedaemon, o'er wet ways and dry,
 This prince that bears the sceptre of a king?"