(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Helen prays before the tomb of Proteus, late king of Egypt, who protects her from any dishonor while her husband Menelaus leads the Greek hosts at the siege of Troy. Menelaus mistakenly believes that Helen has been carried off to Troy by Paris, the son of the Trojan king. Helen recalls that three goddesses, Hera, Cypris (Aphrodite), and Athena appeared before Paris and asked him to judge which was the fairest. Cypris promised him Helen as a prize for choosing her, but Hera, enraged at being rejected, caused a phantom Helen to be carried off to Troy in place of the real one. Thus, in Egypt, the real Helen prays for the safety of her husband and for protection against Theoclymenus, son of Proteus, who is determined to marry her.

Helen is accosted by Teucer, an exile from Achaea, who brings tidings of the end of the war: The Greeks seeking their homelands have been ruined; Menelaus and Helen have disappeared; and Leda, Helen’s mother, has killed herself because she could not endure her daughter’s shame. The anguished Helen then warns Teucer not to seek out the prophet Theonoe, as he intends, but to flee, for any Greek found in Egypt will be killed. The chorus grieves for Helen, who laments her miserable fate and threatens suicide. In despair, she takes the advice of the chorus and herself seeks out Theonoe.

Menelaus, shipwrecked and in rags, appears before the palace seeking aid, only to be berated and sent off by a portress who warns him that since Theoclymenus has Helen in his possession no Greeks are welcome in Egypt. Menelaus is astounded, for he has just left his Helen secure in a nearby cave. As he stands there in bewilderment, Helen emerges from her conference with Theonoe and confronts the amazed Menelaus. Helen cannot convince him that she is indeed his wife until a messenger brings word to Menelaus that the Helen he left at the cave is gone, having soared away into the air. The long-separated lovers then embrace, rejoice, and tell each other of all the adventures that have befallen them. Their immense happiness is darkened by the realization of their present plight: Theoclymenus is determined to make Helen his own, and Menelaus is in...

(The entire section is 886 words.)