The Ghost Tradition: Helen Of Troy In The Elizabethan Era

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Reputedly the most beautiful woman who has ever lived, Helen of Troy (or Sparta) is less well known for her elusive, ghost-like dimension. Homer wrote that the greatest war of Western classical antiquity started because of Helen's adultery followed by her elopement to Troy. Other ancient writers and historians, among theme Aeschylus, Stesichorus, Hesiod, Pausanias, Aristophanes, Euripides and Gorgias of Leontini, challenged the Homeric version, in various ways and attempted to exonerate Helen either by focusing on her phantom/ ghost/ as the generic object of man's desire and scorn or by casting doubt on the mechanisms of the blaming process. This paper argues that the Elizabethans Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare adopted and adapted the anti-Homer version of the depiction of Helen, what I here call “the ancient Helen ghost tradition”; nevertheless, in so doing they further reinforced the character's demonic features and paradoxically achieved a return to the adulterous Homeric Helen.

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