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Helenus 1

"Oh! where … can I find inspired Helenus or Cassandra, that they may read me my dream?" (Hecabe 1. Euripides, Hecabe 88).

Helenus 1, who was the cleverest man in the Trojan army just as Odysseus was reputed to be the most clever in his own, is the Trojan seer who told the Achaeans, either voluntarily or by force, how Troy could be taken. After the sack of the city, he followed Neoptolemus to Epirus where he became king, marrying Andromache, his own sister-in-law.

Best of SEERS

Helenus 1 has been called the best of seers, a gentle man, and also the dear son of Priam 1, or indeed his dearest; for his father believed him to possess the wisdom that his brothers lacked. And yet when Hector 1 died (who was the pillar of Troy) the king found no consolation in Helenus 1 and his other sons who were still alive, and forgetting himself he told them:

"Away with you, base children that are my shame; would that you all together in Hector's stead had been slain …!" (Priam 1 to his sons. Homer, Iliad 24.254).

Deeds in combat

For that which is forever gone appears as the most precious of all possessions, and its eloquent absence causes everything else to look opaque and unworthy. However, Helenus 1—though being a corageous fighter, who led a company together with his brother Deiphobus 1, slew Deipyrus, and was himself wounded by Menelaus with a spear of bronze on the hand that held his bow, having to leave the battlefield with his hand hang down and the spear trailing after him—cannot be compared to Hector 1. For whereas the latter was a warrior of great courage and strength, Helenus 1 was chiefly a man of wise counsel. And therefore Hector 1, knowing that his brother understood the spirit of the gods (who above rejoice in the ranks of warriors), listened to him and followed his advices, as when he challenged the best of the Achaeans, and fought in single combat with Ajax 1.

Captured knowledge

For all that, Helenus 1 is remembered for other deeds rather than those required by combat, and particularly for this one: that only he knew the oracles that protected the city, which he revealed to the enemy so that the Achaeans could finally take Troy. For when Paris died, Helenus 1 and his brother Deiphobus 1 quarrelled for the hand of Helen; and when Deiphobus 1 was preferred, Helenus 1 left the city and established his residence on Mount Ida, where Odysseus captured him. And after having displayed the excellent seer in the Achaean camp, they forced this glorious prey to tell how Troy could be taken. That is why Helenus 1 prophesied whatever matter they asked, instructing them to bring the Bone of Pelops 1, to fetch Neoptolemus from Scyros, to persuade Philoctetes (in whose power were the Bow and Arrows of Heracles 1) to come from Lemnos, and also to steal the Palladium, a wooden statue that once had fallen from Heaven, since if it were carried off Troy could not survive. But others have said that Helenus 1 was not captured but fetched by Odysseus and Diomedes 2, having fled from Troy on account of the crime committed by Paris that he could not bear. For Paris, in the course of a truce, treacherously murdered Achilles in the temple of Thymbraean Apollo, along with Nestor's son Antilochus (who otherwise is said to have been killed in battle, either by Memnon or by Hector 1). And they add that Paris, not yet sated of outrages against both gods and men, wished to throw the bodies of Achilles and Antilochus to the dogs and birds, being however countermanded by Helenus 1, who gave order to remove the bodies from the temple, and hand them over to the Achaeans.

For the gods or the crime

So Helenus 1, having arrived to the Achaean camp as a suppliant, explained his acts by declaring that he feared not death but the gods, whose shrines Paris had desecrated. And by invoking the gods and Paris' crimes before the Achaeans, Helenus 1 appeared to put piety and decency above his obligations towards his country, as if meaning that it is purposeless to defend the motherland, when it violates all rules, human and divine. But Helenus 1 also added that he had learned of Troy's imminent fall, and therefore it is not possible to determine if Paris' crime motivated him, or this knowledge did. For he (as some say) also knew that after Troy's fall he would come with Neoptolemus to Hellas, and live there many years. And so sure was he concerning his own predictions that he willingly gave himself over for execution, if his prophecies proved to be false. However, in what concerns the Palladium, others have said otherwise, affirming that it was secretly stolen by Odysseus when he went by night to Troy disguised as a beggar, or that it was handed over to him by Antenor 1, without any participation of Helenus 1. In any case, most have agreed in considering Helenus 1 the foremost of seers; for he was able, without having been informed, to give a detailed account of all events that had taken place in the past, a circumstance that, some believe, puts prophets and seers to the test; since no one (so it is reasoned) can know the future who cannot tell about the past. But seers are believed when there is a wish to believe, and otherwise are disbelieved. For when the Trojans years before were planning to send a fleet to Hellas and carry off a woman to avenge the abduction of Priam 1's sister Hesione 2, the seer Helenus 1 declared that if such a purpose were accomplished, then the Achaeans would sack Troy and slay his whole family. Yet this fearful prediction neither frightened nor deterred his brothers, who sent a fleet and captured Helen.


Later, when the days of Troy were counted, it was Helenus 1 (some say) who instructed the Achaeans in the building of the WOODEN HORSE. And, the Palladium being stolen, Helenus 1 declared that there was no hope left for Troy, and that the Achaeans should offer a WOODEN HORSE to Athena, making it so large that the Trojans would have to breach the city walls in order to take it in. For (this was the plan) through that hole in the walls the Achaean army was to enter the city. But others do not associate Helenus 1 to the WOODEN HORSE, and assert instead that a contingent of soldiers hid inside that artistic (though treacherous) device, and opened the gates of the city to the rest of the army at a given signal. Whatever the case may be, Troy was not conquered by force, but through cunning, or betrayal, or theft, or by any other similar means, or by a combination of them.

Treason rewarded

Anyway, for all or any of the aforementioned services, Helenus 1 has been counted by some (along with Antenor 1 and Aeneas) among those who betrayed Troy and made it possible for the invaders to take the city. And when Troy fell, he was confirmed in his rights as a traitor by Agamemnon himself, who gave him and Cassandra their freedom; and after the intercession of Helenus 1 on behalf of Hecabe 1 and Andromache, Agamemnon again gave these their freedom. It is said that these four migrated to the Thracian Chersonese where they settled with twelve hundred followers. Others have said that Neoptolemus rewarded him with the sons of Hector 1, and with all the gold and silver that had been collected among the ACHAEAN LEADERS in payment for his services.


But still others have said that Andromache and Helenus 1 followed Neoptolemus to Epirus (the Adriatic coastal region of Greece between the Ambracian Gulf and Illyria, today called Albania), where Neoptolemus, after defeating the Molossians, reigned over them, becoming also king of the islands off Epirus. During his brief reign, Neoptolemus gave his mother Deidamia 1 as wife to Helenus 1, himself marrying Hermione (who remained childless in this marriage) while having children with Andromache. Years later, Neoptolemus was murdered by Orestes 2 at Delphi, and then Helenus 1 inherited the kingdom, founded a city Molossia, and married Andromache. It is an extraordinary thing that Helenus 1, son of Priam 1, should become king in Hellas. And if he knew his fate, he never told anyone; for seers seldom prophesy about their own future publicly, preferring to predict the life and doings of others, as when Helenus 1, during the last days of Troy, told Aeneas about his Italian destiny:

"… if you keep well in mind my soul's prophetic visions, while you live Troy shall not wholly perish! Fire and sword shall give way before you … I see even now a city destined to the descendants of the Phrygians, than which none greater is or shall be, or has been in past ages …" (Helenus 1 to Aeneas. Ovid. Metamorphoses 15.439).

But with or without previous knowledge of his fate, Helenus 1 became king of Epirus, and Andromache, who had been married to his brother Hector 1, the pillar of Troy, became his own wife and queen; and Helenus 1 inherited the kingdom from Neoptolemus, the man who killed his father Priam 1 and that was himself son of Achilles, the destroyer of Hector 1.

Visit of Aeneas

To this kingdom arrived years later the exiled Aeneas in his way to Carthage and Italy, with a strong desire to talk with the king and his wife, and learn, among other things, how these amazing things were possible. Aeneas saw in Buthrotum, where Helenus 1 reigned (although some say that Aeneas marched two days from Buthrotum to Dodona, in order to consult the oracle, and that it was in Dodona that he met Helenus 1), a miniature Troy, with gates and watercourses named after those of the Troad. And having met Helenus 1, he asked him about the dangers that he should avoid in his journey, and how to overcome the troubles that could appear. And this priest of Apollo reassured and instructed Aeneas, describing the landscapes, the moods, and the dangers of his voyage, as well as the signs that would show him the site where he was to found his city. It was easier for Helenus 1 the seer to utter his detailed prophecy than for Aeneas to store up all landmarks in his memory. Then Helenus 1 let presents of gold, silver and ivory be carried down to the ships, and took farewell from Aeneas, and also from the rest of us; for no one have heard of Helenus 1 after his meeting with Aeneas, except that, at his death, he was succeded on the throne by Molossus, son of Neoptolemus and Andromache, and that the Argives used to say, years ago, that his tomb was in Argos.







Deidamia 1


Deidamia 1, daughter of King Lycomedes 1 of Scyros, was previously Achilles' wife. She was given to Helenus 1 by Neoptolemus when these, after the fall of Troy, came to Epirus.



It is said that when Helenus 1 on his death passed on the kingdom of Epirus to Neoptolemus' son Molossus, Cestrinus invaded a nearby region beyond the river Thyamis with a contingent of volunteers, and settled there.

Genealogical Charts

Names in this chart: Achilles, Aeacus, Andromache, Atlas, Cestrinus, Cisseus 2, Dardanus 1, Deidamia 1, Eetion 1, Electra 3, Erichthonius 1, Hecabe 1, Hector 1, Helenus 1, Ilus 2, Laomedon 1, Lycomedes 1, Neoptolemus, Peleus, Pleione, Priam 1, Tros 1, Zeus.

Related sections

Apd.3.12.5; Apd.Ep.5.9-10, 6.13; Cic.ND.2.7; Dares 7, 12, 34; Dictys 2.38, 3.6, 4.18, 4.21, 5.9-11, 6.16; Eur.Hec.89; Hom.Il.6.76, 13.593, 24.250; Hyg.Fab.90; Pau.1.11.1, 2.23.5-6, 5.22.2, 10.25.5; QS.8.254; Soph.Phi.606, 1338; Vir.Aen.3.295ff.