Telemachus at the Court of Sparta by Angelica Kauffmann, 1773.

Angelica Kauffmann was a highly successful painter in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. She was a founding member of the Royal Academy in England, and also belonged to those in Florence, Bologna, and Rome.

Because Helen’s abduction by Paris looms so large in her story, it’s difficult to find a depiction of her and Menelaus as having reconciled, and ruling Sparta together, harmoniously and wisely. In this painting, Helen is moving to comfort Telemachus, who has become emotional upon just having learned that his father Odysseus is still alive.   

Homer describes the scene: 

Argive Helen, daughter of Zeus, was weeping, and Telemachus wept, and Menelaus, Atreus’s son….Then Helen, daughter of Zeus, thought to slip a drug into the wine they drank, one that calmed all pain and trouble, and brought forgetfulness of every evil…When she had mixed the drug, and ordered the wine to be poured, she spoke again, and said: ‘Menelaus, son of Atreus, favourite of Zeus, and all you others, sons of noblemen, though Zeus brings good or ill to one or another since he can do all things sit here in the hall and feast for now, and delight in the tales that are told, and I myself will relate something fitting. I cannot give you, or even number, enduring Odysseus’ adventures, but what a wonderful thing it was that the great man undertook and survived at Troy where you Achaeans suffered! Lacerating his body with fierce blows, and with a miserable rag about his shoulders, he entered the enemy’s broad flagged streets, looking like a slave. In that beggarly disguise, he was not the Odysseus of the Achaean ships, and all in the Trojan city were deceived. I alone recognised and questioned him, and he cunningly tried to deceive me. But when I had bathed him, anointed and clothed him, and solemnly sworn not to name him in Troy as Odysseus before he reached camp and the swift ships, he revealed the Achaean plans. And after slaying many Trojans with the long sword he returned to the Argive host with a wealth of information. While the rest of the Trojan women were wailing their grief, my spirit was glad, since my heart was already longing for home, and I sighed at the blindness Aphrodite had dealt me, drawing me there from my own dear country, abandoning daughter and bridal chamber, and a husband lacking neither in wisdom nor looks.’  

Helen and Menelaus were offered hero cult at a site called Therapne, located three kilometers from modern Sparta. Votive offerings dedicated to them have been discovered at the remains of a Bronze Age structure known as the Menelaion, which dates to the 8th or 7th centuries BCE. Among the finds are a small bronze flask, perhaps intended to hold perfume, dedicated to Helen, which dates from the 7th century BCE, and a limestone stela, on which was once mounted a bronze statuette, with an inscription to Menelaus, from the 5th century BCE,

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