“She yet walks this earth,” said the bard, with a too significant bow.
Lady Violet turned coldly away.
* * *
Mr. Witham was never invited to the Blues again—the name of Lord Azure’s place in Kent.
The Poet is shut out of Paradise.
CHAPTER XII: PARIS AND HELEN
The first name in romance, the most ancient and the most enduring, is that of Argive Helen. During three thousand years fair women have been born, have lived, and been loved, “that there might be a song in the ears of men of later time,” but, compared to the renown of Helen, their glory is dim. Cleopatra, who held the world’s fate in her hands, and lay in the arms of Caesar; Mary Stuart (Maria Verticordia), for whose sake, as a northern novelist tells, peasants have lain awake, sorrowing that she is dead; Agnes Sorel, Fair Rosamond, la belle Stuart, “the Pompadour and the Parabere,” can still enchant us from the page of history and chronicle. “Zeus gave them beauty, which naturally rules even strength itself,” to quote the Greek orator on the mistress of them all, on her who, having never lived, can never die, the Daughter of the Swan.
While Helen enjoys this immortality, and is the ideal of beauty upon earth, it is curious to reflect on the modernite of her story, the oldest of the love stories of the world. In Homer we first meet her, the fairest of women in the song of the greatest of poets. It might almost seem as if Homer meant to justify, by his dealing with Helen, some of the most recent theories of literary art. In the “Iliad” and “Odyssey” the tale of Helen is without a beginning and without an end, like a frieze on a Greek temple. She crosses the stage as a figure familiar to all, the poet’s audience clearly did not need to be told who Helen was, nor anything about her youth.
The famous judgment of Paris, the beginning of evil to Achaeans and Ilian men, is only mentioned once by Homer, late, and in a passage of doubtful authenticity. Of her reconciliation to her wedded lord, Menelaus, not a word is said; of her end we are told no more than that for her and him a mansion in Elysium is prepared—
“Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow.”
We leave her happy in Argos, a smile on her lips, a gift in her hands, as we met her in Troy, beautiful, adored despite her guilt, as sweet in her repentance as in her unvexed Argive home. Women seldom mention her, in the epic, but with horror and anger; men never address her but in gentle courtesy. What is her secret? How did she leave her home with Paris—beguiled by love, by magic, or driven by the implacable Aphrodite? Homer is silent on all of these things; these things, doubtless, were known by his audience. In his poem Helen moves as a thing of simple grace, courtesy, and kindness, save when she rebels against her doom, after seeing