Helenos and the Polyphyletic Etymologies of Helen

2016.05.03 | By Guy Smoot

Linguists are wont to think of words as monocellular organisms that can be traced back to single ancestors via mitosis: to every word supposedly corresponds a single etymology. I argue, however, that this traditional model, which can be labeled “monophyletic,” does not always work in the collectively-negotiated and orally-transmitted field of mythology. The polysemic potential of a mythonym can precisely be a decisive factor for its synchronic election and diachronic retention, inasmuch as homonymy and ambiguity, as linguistic and poetic phenomena, facilitate the synoptic convergence of diverse aspects of a mythical figure in a single name. Case in point: Helen. To a certain degree, the ongoing controversy surrounding her etymology is unnecessary: much of it fades away if one posits a ‘polyphyletic’ model for Helen, in which plural etymologies cooperate, rather than compete.

Formally, Helen lends itself to three protoforms: *Swelenā, *Selenā and *Welenā, whereby the morpheme -(e)-nā confers active voice, passive voice, or both, depending on the root and the context.[1] This triplicate distribution of potentially the same root at the Indo-European level is not without precedent: number ‘six’ is represented by at least *sweks, *seks and *weks; the IE root ‘drag’ by *swelk, *selk and *welk.[2] The controversy as to which etymon for Helen is the correct one is a moot point because all three are potential variants of the same hypothetical root *swel / *sel / *wel, whatever meaning(s) it may have had: *sw- and *s- are potential allophones, as illustrated by the reflexive pronoun *s(w)e, which appears as both *swe and *se[3]; similarly, *sw- and *w- are allophones as well, since *s- lends itself to the *s- mobile of Indo-European roots, e.g., *(s)wagh = either *wagh- (Greek ἠχή from *ϝᾱχά̄, Lat. vāgīre) or *swagʰ (Lithuanian svagiù, English sough).[4]

“Apparition of Paris and Helen” (1920), Charles Freegrove Winzer (British, 1886–1940); 32.3×24.5cm, lithograph on paper. Photo via the British Museum.

Etymology 1 of Helen ‘shine’, ‘blaze’ (*Swelenā and *Welenā,[5] cf. ἑλένη ‘torch’, Sanskrit svarati ‘shines’[6]) favored by Skutsch et al. must be upheld, considering (a) the deep-seated connection of light to beauty,[7] Helen’s primary attribute; (b) the integration of light in the myth of Helen and the Dioscuri, Saint Elmo’s Fire and the cycles of the Sun; (c) the unavoidable connotation of radiance in the Homeric formula Ἀργείη Ἑλένη[8]; (d) the connection of torches (ἑλένη) to marriage and Helen’s status as an archetypal bride; (e) the ubiquity of this meaning “Bright,” attested among mythical figures, (f) including Helen’s prehistoric doublet Phoibe “Pure and Radiant,” preserved as both the name of her own sister and that of a Leukippid, abductee of Helen’s brothers[9]; (g) Helen’s successive pairings with Paris, the firebrand of Hekabe’s dream,[10] and the seer Helenos, formal masculine of ἑλένη ‘torch’, underpin this Apollonian nexus.[11] Thus, Helen remains “the Shining, Blazing one.”

Etymology 2 ‘to see’ (*Welenā), which I hereby propose, is very closely related to Etymology 1 ‘shine’, cf. Greek λεύσσω ‘gaze at, see’, from the IE root attested in Latin lūx ‘light’. Cognates: Latin vultus ‘face’, Welsh gweled ‘see’, hence Helen as “Seer,” doublet of the Germanic seer Veleda. This makes sense of (a) Helen’s supernatural ability to see the Achaean warriors, located inside the Trojan Horse[12]; (b) Helen’s important relation to her own phantom, i.e., eídōlon = the synonymous root *weid ‘to see’, hence alternative passive reading of *Welenā as ‘Sighting’ [‘Seen Sight’] alongside active ‘Seeing Seer’; (c) passive *Welenā in the sense of ‘the Sightly one’ or ‘Beautiful’, cf. Etymology 1; (d) significantly, Helen’s formal masculine counterpart Helenos cannot be ignored, as he usually is in discussions of Helen’s nature and origins: for one thing, Helenos is the seer (*Welenos) among the Trojans. In an earlier multiform of the Trojan War, Helenos was arguably an alternative name of Helen’s famous abductor Alexandros/Paris, for several reasons: first, Helenos did, at some point, become Helen’s husband, like Alexandros; second, Helenos too confronts Menelaos on the battlefield, with Paris’s idiosyncratic weapon, the bow[13]; three, Helenos and Paris are the only sons of Priam to use Mount Ida as a retreat[14]; four, Helenos is significantly the twin brother of the seer Kassandra, the most beautiful woman among the Trojans—also known as Alexandra,[15] formally the feminine of Helen’s Alexandros: she ends up being abducted by the same person, whom Kastor and Polydeukes would have chosen to marry Helen, “had he not already been their brother-in-law [by marriage to Klytaimnestra]”[16]: Agamemnon. This network of correspondences intimates the IE incest motif, in which the Daughter of the Sun (Helen/Alexandra) was originally abducted by her own siblings, the Divine Twins.[17]

Etymology 3 ‘turn’, ‘twist’ (*Welenā) is also defensible in light of ἑλένη, ‘wicker basket’, and the helenephoria in honor of the goddess Artemis, with whom Helen has multiple ties.[18] Odyssey 4 twice highlights Helen’s silver basket on wheels, calling it a talaros (τάλαρόν θ’ ὑπόκυκλον . . . ἀργύρεον: 125, 131): it cannot be separated from a cultic lemma in Hesychius, according to whom virgins were conveyed to Helen’s sanctuary in basket-shaped carriages with twisted fibers.[19] The notion of ‘turning’ further dovetails with Etymology 1, ‘shine’, ‘burn’ as it relates to the daily and seasonal turnings of the sun[20] (and possibly moon), hence also Helen’s status as a fertility/vegetation daimōn.

Etymology 4, ‘beam’, ‘board’[21] (*Swel-enā / *Sel-enā) which I hereby propose, is conjured up by the cult of “Helen of the Tree” (Helen Dendrītis[22]), as illustrated by the connection between German Baum ‘tree’ and English cognate beam. This etymology dovetails with Etymology 1, where ἑλένη = ‘torch’ and further with Hekabe’s Paris “the Firebrand” / “Log” (γρυνός), once also known, arguably, as *Helenos “the Torch” (inter alia). Additionally, the structural parallel between Troy’s palladium, the wooden representation of a goddess, and Helen—or her eidōlon, as coveted liberanda of the city, reinforces the case for Helen’s wooden etymology.[23] Helen travels the world (Libya, Egypt and Sidon) on planks of wood. She is the face that launched a thousand, well-benched ships (νῆες ἐύ-σσελ-μοι[24]). She is also a ἑλέναυς ‘destroyer of ships’.[25]

This takes us to Etymology 5 (*Selenā), ‘seize’, ‘abduct’ cognate with Greek helein, English sell; thus Helen simply, “the Abducted one.” Lowell Edmunds insists on this prominent aspect of the myth.[26] This etymology of Helen receives typological support from the name of the cognate, dissimilated Marpessa, “the Seized one,” from μάρπτω ‘I seize’: she is the wife of Idas, rival of the Dioscuri and Apollo.

Etymology 6, which is very close to Etymology 5, is *wel, with either an almost identical meaning ‘pluck’, ‘tear off’ akin to Latin uellō, id. Gothic wilwan ‘to rob’; or the meaning, ‘press’, ‘shut in’, as represented by Greek εἴλω/εἱλέω ‘shut in’, ‘press’. The Greek ἁλίσκομαι ‘to be captured’[27] lies semantically in between. Helen is thus *Welenā “the Plucked one” and “Detained one” [in Attica, Troy, or Egypt]. By taking the suffix –(e)nos actively, an earlier Helenos = *Paris could conversely be semanticized as “the one who Shuts in,” or pursuant to the above, “the Abductor.” Old Lithuanian Vêlinas ‘Lord of the Dead’ (cf. Hades qua abductor or incarcerator) may be a close cognate.

Etymology 7 ‘to want’, ‘to choose’, even ‘to woo’ (*Welenā), akin to Greek ἔλδομαι ‘to long for’, Latin uoluptas ‘pleasure’, English will, as favored by Stephanie Jamison. In my view, however, Jamison exaggerates the Svayamvara elements in the myth of Helen and her Indian counterparts, therefore the passive meaning “the Wanted one” or “Wooed one,” has more to recommend it than the active meaning “the Choosing one.” [28] Corroboratively, the name of Helen’s dissimilated sister Klytaimnestra means “Famous for her Suitors.”[29] Helenos (= *Paris), on the other hand, could be taken actively as “the Suitor” (*Welenos), cf. the Aśvin’s epithet vara- (*wel) ‘suitor’.

Etymology 8 ‘to cheat’ (*Welenā), akin to Lithuanian vilti ‘cheat’; Middle Irish fell ‘deceit’; Greek ἐλεφαίρομαι (*wel-ebh-, cf. Lith. vilbinti ‘locken’); hence, Helen as “Cheater,” “Deceiver.”

Etymology 9 ‘favorable’, ‘propitious’ (*Selenā), akin to German selig ‘blessed’, Latin sōlor ‘console’. The greatest factor in favor of this etymology is the name of one of the two Leukippides (abducted by the Dioscuri): Helaeira[30] besides Hilaeira, from ἱλαρός ‘cheerful’. The Leukippides, like Kassandra, are offshoots of Helen’s IE prototype.[31] Helen and Helaeira must have been interchangeable at some point.[32]

In all likelihood, all of the nine seemingly disparate etymologies of Helen listed above, ‘shine’, ’turn’, ‘(piece of) wood’, ‘seize’, ‘shut in’, ‘want’, ‘see’, ‘cheat’ and ‘favorable’ are reducible to fewer proto-etymologies, possibly two.[33] At all events, each and every reading operates as a synoptic ‘chapter title’ in Helen’s ‘book’.

For morphological, mythological and typological reasons, one cannot investigate the name and nature of Helen without investigating her future husband—formally her masculine doublet, the Priamid Helenos *(S)(w)elenos: he is the Seer (Welsh gweled ‘see’), the Torch (Hekabe’s dream = masc. of ἑλένη), the Cheater (Greek ἐλεφαίρομαι), the Suitor (Sanskrit vara-), and the Abductor (Lithuanian Vêlinas). In the Late Bronze Age, the Mycenaeans were fond of supernatural couples formed from homogeneous roots, e.g., Zeus and Diwija; Poseidaon and Posidaeja. Arguably too, Helen and Helenos, a.k.a. Alexandra and Alexandros, were once homogeneous couples with homogeneous epithets. Centuries later, when such onomastic duplicates fell out of fashion,[34] Alexandros became differentiated from Helenos[35]; Alexandra (Kassandra), Helenos’s twin sister, became differentiated from Helen.

Postscript (2016.05.31) [36]

The present contention that Helen, in her recent past, was also known as Alexandra, Mycenaean-type feminine counterpart of her future husband Alexandros (just as Helen is the feminine counterpart of her future husband Helenos) receives some additional support from the Odyssey: in the relatively short episode of Helen’s appearance (first half of book 4), she is repeatedly surrounded with characters with the same root as that of her second husband Alex-andros = *al(e)k ‘to ward off’, ‘to defend’[37]: Ἀλκ-άνδρη (4.126), perfect doublet of Ἀλεξ-άνδρα, Alektor (4.10), and thirdly Alkippe (4.124). Such a plurality and concentration of *al(e)k-based personal names in comparably sized-passages is unparalleled anywhere else in the Odyssey, or the Iliad for that matter.

Helen’s stepson Megapenthes “Great Grief,” whose name reflects the grief of his father Menelaos,[38] is betrothed to an unnamed bride, whose father, however, is named: Alek-tor, agentive synonym of Alexandros (making the unnamed bride *Alektoris). Thus, the union of Menelaos’s offspring with a cognate of Alexandra repeats transgenerationally Helen’s former union with Alexandros.[39]

Shortly thereafter, from 4.121 on, Helen makes her first appearance in the Odyssey, accompanied by her three symbolic handmaids Alk-ippe, Adreste, and Phylo. The fact that (1) Adreste is the unextended form of Adrasteia, Helen’s cult title in the Troad,[40] and (2) Phylō is the formal hypocoristic of Phylonoē, a cult title of the daughter of Tyndareos in Lakedaimon,[41] renders it very likely that (3) Helen’s other handmaid Ἀλκίππη too is germane to Helen’s own identity.[42] The only textual raison d’être of Alk-ippe and the two other maids is their introducing Alk-andre’s luxury items[43]—gifts to Helen when she was overseas.

The wealth of Alk-andre, a formal variant of Alex-andra, forms a diptych with the wealth of her foreign husband, the aptly-named Polybos “Rich in Cattle”—also a fitting epithet of Alexandros, distinctively known as the ‘Cowherd’.[44] Significantly, the wealth of Alkandre and Polybos—πλεῖστα δόμοισ’ ἐν κτήματα (127)—mirrors the wealth, with which the missing Helen ipsa was formulaically associated ad nauseam in the Iliad = Ἑλένη καὶ κτήματα πάντα: 3.70, 3.91, 3.282, 3.285, 3.458, 7.350, and 22.114. The setting of Alkandre [= *Alexandra] in Egypt, rather than Troy, hinges on the competing whereabouts of Helen’s retrieval: was Helen retrieved from Troy? Or was she retrieved from Egypt?[45]

In summary, it is no accident that Ἀλέκ-τωρ, Ἀλκ-ίππη, and Ἀλκ-άνδρη, all cognates of Ἀλεξ-άνδρα, are all concentrated in the same episode in the first half of book 4, in which Helen co-occurs: (1) Helen’s in-law Alektor, (2) Helen’s handmaid Alkippe, and (3) Helen’s Egyptianized counterpart Alkandre are cultic reminiscences of Helen’s origins as *Alexandra.[46]

Guy Smoot has an MA from Rutgers University (2008) in Classics and a PhD from Harvard (2015) in Comparative Literature. He is currently an Associate Scholar at Harvard University.


Brugmann, Karl, and Berthold Delbrück. 1905. Abrégé de grammaire comparée des langues indo-européennes: d’après le Précis de grammaire comparée de K. Brugmann et B. Delbrück. Paris.

Buck, Carl Darling. 2008. A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages. Chicago.

Clader, Linda Lee. 1976. Helen: The Evolution from Divine to Heroic in Greek Epic Tradition. Mnemosyne Supplementum 42. Leiden.

Drinka, Bridget. 2009. “The *-to-/-no-Construction of Indo-European. Verbal Adjective or Past Passive Participle,” in Grammatical Change in Indo-European Languages: papers presented at the workshop on Indo-European linguistics at the XVIIIth International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Montreal, 2007, ed. Vít Bubeník, John Hewson, and Sarah Rose, 141–158. Amsterdam.

Edmunds, Lowell. 2016. Stealing Helen: The Myth of the Abducted Wife in Comparative Perspective. Princeton, NJ.

Eitrem, Samson. 1902. Die Göttlichen Zwillinge Bei Den Griechen, 2. Christiana.

Frame, Douglas. 2009. Hippota Nestor. Hellenic Studies 37. Washington, DC.

Gutzwiller, Kathryn J. 1991. Theocritus’ Pastoral Analogies: The Formation of a Genre. Madison.

Hornblower, Simon. 2015. Lykophron: Alexandra: Greek Text, Translation, Commentary, and Introduction. Oxford.

Jamison, Stephanie W. 2014. “The Rigvedic Svayaṃvara? Formulaic Evidence.” Studia Orientalia Electronica 94:303–316.

Lejeune, Michel. 1972. Phonétique Historique Du Mycénien et Du Grec Ancien. Paris.

Oettinger, Norbert. 2008. “The Seer Mopsos (Muksas) as a Historical Figure.” In Anatolian Interfaces: Hittites, Greeks and their Neighbours, ed. B. J. Collins, M. R. Bachvarova, and I. C. Rutherford, 63–66. Oxford.

Pokorny, Julius, and Alexander Lubotsky (revising editor 2007). 1951. Julius Pokorny. Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. Lief. 4-5, s.288-480 (1950-1). A.Francke A.G. Verlag. Bern and Moscow.

Raeburn, David, and Oliver Thomas. 2011. The Agamemnon of Aeschylus: A Commentary for Students. Oxford.

Salapata, Gina. 2002. “Myth into Cult: Alexandra/Kassandra in Lakonia.” In Oikistes: Studies in Constitution, Colonies, and Military Power in the Ancient World Offered in Honor of A. J. Graham, ed. Vanessa B. Gorman and Eric W. Robinson, 131–159. Mnemosyne Supplementum 234. Leiden.

Tsitsibakou-Vasalos, Evanthia. 2009. “Chance or Design? Language and Plot Management in the Odyssey; Klytemnestra ἄλοχος μνηστὴ ἐμήσατο.” In Narratology and Interpretation: The Content of Narrative Form in Ancient Literature, ed. J. Grethlein & A. Rengakos, 177–212. Berlin.

Ward, Donald. 1968. The Divine Twins: An Indo-European Myth in Germanic Tradition. Berkeley and Los Angeles.

West, Martin Litchfield. 1975. Immortal Helen. London.


[1] -(e)-nā and the masculine equivalent –(e)-nos, are rare in Greek, e.g., τέμενος, παρθένος, ὠλένη. It can be analyzed in three ways. The first option is to view the first syllable in –(e)-no as a former laryngeal, in which case, -no corresponds to the familiar verbal adjective: see Drinka 2009; Brugmann analyzed –eno as a variant of –no (1905:334); –(e)-no can also be the thematization of the suffix –en-, as it appears in the Greek athematic ἀρσ-έν-ες ‘males’ (I thank Andreas Kyropoulos for this analysis, personal communication, April 23, 2016). The third option is to view –eno as a phonotactic variant of the productive Greek suffix –ano (e.g., στέφω ‘wreathe’, ‘encircle’ vs. στέφ-ανος ‘that which surrounds’, ‘wreath’) in assimilatory contiguity with an –e- root: thus, ἑλένη ‘torch’ would stem from a hypothetically original ἑλάνη, which is also attested (Lubotsky 2007); this -ano too can be active or passive, e.g., ἀπίθ-ανος either ‘unconvincing’ (active) or ‘unconvinced’ (passive).

[2] See Lubotsky’s revised edition of Pokorny’s Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch.

[3] Also, *sel / *swel, ‘beam’, ‘board’, hence Old English selma ‘bed’ and Hesychius ἕλματα ‘rowing benches’ (*sel-) vs. OHG swelli ‘beam’ and Greek σέλμα (*swel-); English (Germanic) swear (*swer-) vs. Latin sermo ‘speech’ (*ser-). Also ‘sap’ represented by both *sekʷos and *swekʷos. Also *salik- / *welik- ‘willow’ (Latin salix ‘willow’, OHG salaha, id. vs. Greek ἑλίκη id., Fελικών of Korinna-Papyrus; OE welig ‘willow’).

[4] Lejeune 1972:134: “dès l’indo-européen, un groupe *sw- tendait à se simplifier soit en *s-, soit en *w-.”

[5] The less common variant of the root *swel, i.e., *wel without the mobile *s-, is attested in Armenian by gol ‘heat’; Lithuanian vilditi ‘make lukewarm’ (see Pokorny *wel #6).

[6] Also Gk. εἵλη, ἕλη f. ‘solar warmth, sunlight’, Hesychius γέλαν (*ϝέλαν) αὐγήν ἡλίου.

[7] Buck 1949, s.v. “Beauty,” e.g., Avestan xvaini- ‘beautiful’, cognate with xvar ‘sun’ (*swel) and Helen; German schön ‘beautiful’, related to English sheen; Lith. dailus ‘beautiful’, cognate with Skit di-deti ‘shines’; Latvian skaists ‘beautiful’, akin to Lith. skaistus ‘clear, bright’.

[8] Considering the productivity of the root *arg- in Greek, e.g., ἀργής ‘bright’, ‘glancing’, the ethnicizing Anglicization “Argive Helen” undertranslates Ἀργείη Ἑλένη. More arguments in Clader 1972:55–58.

[9] Leda’s egg was displayed in the temple of Hilaeira and Phoibe in Sparta (Pausanias 3.16.1–3). The Dioscuri were worshipped in the Phoibaion in Therapne (Pausanias 3.20.2). Phoibe was also the name of one of Helen’s own sisters: Euripides Iph. A. 50; Ovid Heroides 8.77. See Eitrem 1902.

[10] Paris as “firebrand” = Pindar Paean 52iA.20 τεκεῖν πυρφόρον . . . Ἴλιον πᾶσάν . . . κατερεῖψαι; Lycophron 86 = γρῡνός; Apollod. 3.12.5 Ἑκάβη καθ᾽ ὕπνους δαλὸν τεκεῖν διάπυρον, τοῦτον δὲ πᾶσαν ἐπινέμεσθαι τὴν πόλιν καὶ καίειν.

[11] Apollo is the god of tripods, fire instrument par excellence. The god plays a central role in the myth of the Leukippids Phoibe and Hilaeira: they are either the daughter of Apollo according to the Cypria (= Pausanias 3.16.1) or the objects of Apollo’s desire.

[12] Odyssey 4.274–289.

[13] Iliad 13.581–592.

[14] Helenos caught on Mount Ida by Odysseus: Apollodorus 5.9a.6.

[15] As in the title of Lykophron’s poem, Alexandra; also Pausanias 3.19.6. See Salapata 2012, which is titled “Myth into Cult: Alexandra/Kassandra in Lakonia.” Helenos, Kassandra’s twin brother = Antikleides FGrH 140 F 17; P Oxy. 56,3830.

[16] Hesiodic fr. 197.1-5.

[17] See Eitrem 1902 and Ward 1968. In other words, the Tyndarids, Atreids, and Priamids are all descended from the same Dioscuric prototype. Pace the majority view, even those like West and Skutsch who support Helen’s solar origins (as I partially do), I do not discount Ptolemy Chennos’s statement that Helen was literally the daughter of the Sun: Ἡλίου θυγάτηρ καὶ Λήδας Ἑλένη (= Photios Bibliotheke 149a), simply because the source is ‘disreputable’. Chennos also says that Achilles and Helen had a child on the Isles of the Blessed, echoing Pausanias 3.19.11. Helen as Daughter of the Sun parallels the status of the very closely related Leukippides Phoibe and Hilaeira as daughters of either Apollo (Cypria fr. 9 Davies) or Leukippos, an epithet of Dawn (B.Scol.Oxy. 24.).

[18] Clader 1978, cf. Odyssey 4.122–123. The Leukippid Phoibe, also the name of Helen’s sister, further binds Helen to Artemis.

[19] Hesychius, s.v. κάνναθρα, which is a third synonym for ‘basket’ besides ἑλένη and τάλαρος: κάνναθρα, ἀστράβη ἢ ἅμαξα, πλέγματα ἔχουσα, ὑφ’ ὧν πομπεύουσιν αἱ παρθένοι, ὅταν εἰς τὸ τῆς Ἑλένης ἀπίωσιν. ἔνιοι δὲ ἔχειν εἴδωλα ἐλάφων ἢ γυπῶν. The connection here between Helen and Artemis is obvious. Xenophon Agesilaos 8.7 has the daughter of the Spartan king Aristodamos conveyed in a kannathra to Amyklai, a cult center of the Atreids and Tyndarids.

[20] One cannot help comparing Helen’s silver basket on wheels to the famous bronze age ‘sun chariot’ found in Denmark, featured on the cover of the late Martin West’s book Indo-European Poetry. The journeys of Helen embody the seasonal cycles of the Sun, according to West 1975; Helen’s counterpart Saranyu is the wife of the sun god Vivasvant “Shining.” The IE root *swel ‘burn’, ‘shine’, conceivably the same as *sāwel, ‘sun’, is arguably an *-s mobile variant of *wel ‘turn’, since the sun turns: thus the meaning ‘shine’, ‘burn’ would be secondary to the primary meaning ‘turn’, enabled by the centrality of the sun in notions of time and space.

[21] Pokorny s.v. sel-2, su̯el- ‘Balken’, ‘Brett’ = ‘beam’, ‘board’. *sel is represented by OE selma ‘bed’, Lith. súolas ‘bench’, Hesychius ἕλματα ‘balks, beams, scaffold’; *swel is represented by Gk. σέλμα, σελίς, ‘plank, thwart’, OHG swelli ‘balk, beam’.

[22] Helen Dendritis, Pausanias 3.19.9–10; also Helen of the Plane Tree: Pausanias 3.15.3.

[23] Haunted by Helen’s phasma in Aeschylus Agamemnon 414–419, Menelaos hates the shapely kolossoi that adorn his Spartan palace, thus underpinning a connection between female statues and Helen. Raeburn & Thomas 2011:115 construe these κολοσσοί as “a rather archaic figure with the legs not carved separately,” raising the possibility that the myth of Helen’s eidōlon was ritually connected to xoana, or wooden representations of disappearing goddesses. According to Derkyllos (= Pseudo-Plutarch), the palladium was brought to Troy by Elektra, the mother of Dardanos. This piece of information ties the palladium to the Samothracian Mysteries, in which Elektra herself typified the beautiful, coveted young, woman. As a structural analogue to Helen, the name Elektra “Lucent” resonates with Etymology 1 of Helen.

[24] For IE *sw- yielding either *h(w) or *s in Greek, as in the Epirote Selloi vs. Helloi (cf. Greek hūs vs. sūs ‘pig’), see Lejeune 1972:133–134.

[25] Aeschylus Agamemnon, 689.

[26] Edmunds 2016. It goes without saying that I categorically reject his dismissal of the central relevance of the IE model to the myth of Helen (with all due respect to Edmunds and gratitude for his friendship). The arguments that he makes about the universal typology of the abducted woman are valid, but he errs in setting up false dichotomies: the universal is not incompatible with a specific IE heritage.

[27] This etymology would also be fitting for Helen’s Vedic counterpart Saranyu, alongside the traditional ‘swift’, cf. ‘rapid’ from rapiō ‘snatch’. Most likely, Saranyu, like Helen, is polyphyletic: one can assume a waw-less root *sel, variant of *swel ‘to burn’, ‘to shine’, as well as some of the other etymologies of Helen.

[28] In Sanskrit, the cognate vará-, (*wel) also means ‘suitor’ and characterizes the Aśvin, who woo Dawn or the Daughter of the Sun, as Jamison herself points out (2014:305). As hypostasis of Aphrodite (Clader 1976), Helen’s etymology “Wanted one,” “Desirable one” (cf. Latin uoluptas) coheres with the meaning of the Charites, “the Graces,” the attendants of Aphrodite. That being said, Jamison’s active reading “Helen the Choosing one” cannot be completely ruled out, as far as the root of ἐλπίς is concerned: as shown with Etymology 7, *wel ‘see’, in which there is evidence in myth of Helen qua both passive “Seen/Sight” (= either “Sightly” or eidōlon) and active “Seeing” (through the Trojan horse), a recessive “Willing”/“Choosing” Helen can still take a back seat to “the Wooed one” par excellence. But even in the active sense, the Svayamvara reading is not the only one: it could also advert to Helen’s potential guilt in willingly going along with Paris (and all her other husbands thereafter).

[29] It is widely held that the nu-less form Κλυταιμήστρα “Famous Schemer” is older than Κλυταιμνήστρα “Famous for her suitors.” Admittedly, the nu-less form is more widespread than the nu form, as shown, for instance, by the Etruscan loanword Cluthumustha. But different contexts in in the Homeric Odyssey show that Helen’s sister is semanticized as both Κλυταιμήστρα and Κλυταιμνήστρα (see Tsitsibakou-Vasalos 2011:192–195, for the latter, e.g., Odyssey 1.36 γῆμ’ ἄλοχον μνηστήν, τὸν δ’ ἔκτανε νοστήσαντα). Typologically, Klytaimnestra parallels the name of the Danaid Hypermnestra. What is more, Helen and Klytaimnestra are both described as Iphigeneia’s mother, depending on the source, another piece of evidence that the two sisters were originally the same (Clader 1976:52).

[30] See Chantraine, s.v. ἱλάσκομαι: ἑλάειρα in Stephanus of Byzantium; ΕΛΕΡΑ on inscriptions.

[31] Eitrem 1902; Ward 1968.

[32] If indeed Hilaeira/Helaeira stems from the root ‘propitious’, rather than ‘shining’, it would hark back to an earlier indistinction between Athena and Helen qua general goddesses of the divine feminine: just as local cult preserves traces of a virginal Hera, traces have also been preserved of a non-virginal, maternal Athena (Frame 2009:395–413). As I have suggested, insofar as the myths of Helen’s eidōlon and Troy’s palladium stem from a common prototype, the title of “Goddess-to-be-Propitiated” would suit an Ur-Helen/Athena.

[33] In a cultural context, in which the turnings of the sun and the moon were paradigmatic (e.g., Iliad 2.551 περιτελλομένων ἐνιαυτῶν “turning years”; Odyssey 12.3 χοροί . . . Ἠελίοιο “the dancing places of the Sun”), the root *(s)wel ‘turn’ would have evolved early on to ‘blaze’, ‘shine’ (“if it turns, it shines”); hence ‘be visible’, ‘see’; hence also figuratively ‘want’ (“I burn to”), unless the meaning ‘want’ evolved from ‘turn’ via ‘throw’, cf. Greek βούλομαι ‘want to’, akin to βάλλω ‘throw’ (via ἐν θυμῷ βάλλεσθαι)—a meaning commonly derived from ‘turn’, e.g., English throw, from OE þrawan ‘turn’, ‘twist’ ; the evolution from ‘turn’ to ‘beam’ occurs via ‘pole’; the evolution from ‘turn’ to ‘pluck’, hence ‘seize’ is conceivable through an adverbial particle, e.g., Latin involvo ‘envelop’ (hence ‘seize’) or German erwerben ‘get’, ‘acquire’ (from *kwerp ‘to turn’), but here an original, separate IE root ‘rip’, ‘pluck’ may be preferable. From this original meaning, one may arrive at Etymology 8 of Helen ‘cheat’, cf. English ‘fleece’ (figuratively); Latin dēcipere. The meaning ‘favorable’/‘propitiate’ can be arrived at either through ‘seize’, e.g., English receptive or German angenehm, through ‘want’, e.g., English benevolent, through ‘shine’, ‘warm’, e.g., glowing. The last pathway is supported by Empedokles 85, in which ἱλάειρα is an epithet of φλὸξ ‘flame’ and σελήνη ‘the moon’.

[34] There are still holdovers in the Classical period, e.g., Ἐνυάλιος and Ἐνυώ; Dione remains a concubine of Zeus, mother of Aphrodite.

[35] Another major factor, which appears to have split Helenos and Paris apart, is the post-Mycenaean tendency to de-martialize seers, a shift represented by a gradual divestment of a ruler’s traditional mantic powers, and resultant concentration in the hands of non-military personae. In the Late Bronze Age, from what can be deduced from accounts of Mopsos (Hittite Muksa), rulers could concentrate both: they could be great warriors and great seers at the same time. A Mycenaean holdover of the mantic warrior king is the figure of Amphiaraos, one of the Seven against Thebes. In our extant Greek epic (8th–6th centuries BCE), on the other hand, many seers don’t fight at all, e.g., Teiresias and Kalkhas. Following this trend, Helenos hardly distinguishes himself on the field of battle, killing a single Achaean only in the Iliad, the nonentity Deipyros (13.687). In contrast, Paris does not rival Hektor’s prowess, but remains an effective fighter, since Paris is able to slay or incapacitate the most formidable foes (Achilles and Diomedes). Thus, compared to our reconstructed Ur-Helenos/Paris, Paris would retain more of the belligerent features of the mantic warrior leader, whereas Helenos would concentrate his prophetic powers.

[36] I thank William Moulton for sharing his useful comments to my original submission, which have elicited my postscript.

[37] See Pokorny, s.v. ‘aleq’: “abwehren, schũtzen,” hence also Sanskrit rákṣ̌ati, Old English ealgian.

[38] See Clader 1976.30–31: from Menelaos’s past grief over losing Helen.

[39] The statement that this Alektor hails from Sparta (Odyssey 4.10) is consistent with Hesychius’s pithy reference to Kassandra as Ἀλεξάνδρα ἐν Λακεδαιμονίᾳ, reflecting the local cult of Alexandra in the area (Salapata 2002:133). One would expect a local Alektor cult in the Peloponnese in the vicinity of an Alexandra cult. It is unclear how relevant the classical meaning of ἀλέκτωρ ‘rooster’ might be in this particular passage; the specialized meaning ἀλέκτωρ = ‘husband’, suggested by Tzetzes ad Lycophron 1094, and possibly applicable to Bacchylides 4.8 and Sophocles fr. 851 (LSG), is more compelling—and tantalizing, because the context would involve Megapenthes marrying the daughter of the one whose name potentially means, archetypally, “the Husband.”

[40] See the following note.

[41] Athenagoras De Leg. 1; ὁ μὲν Ἰλιεὺς . . . τὴν Ἑλένην Ἀδράστειαν ἐπιστάμενος προσκυνεῖ, ὁ δὲ Λακεδαιμόνιος Ἀγαμέμνονα Δία καὶ Φυλονόην τὴν Τυνδάρεω θυγατέρα. In this context, Athenagoras seems to say that Phylonoe was a cult title of Klytaimnestra, rather than of Helen, but as stated above, it makes little difference because Helen and Klytaimnestra are recently dissimilated from each other. Athenagoras’s late testimony should not be dismissed out of hand because he verifiably says in the same passage that Agamemnon is a cult title of Zeus in Lakedaimon, a statement otherwise also attested in Lykophron’s Alexandra (see Hornblower 2015:91). In the Cypria, fr. 7 Davies, Helen is the daughter of Nemesis, also known as Adrasteia.

[42] When Paris is compared to a stallion breaking free from his halter, blazing like the sun, bathing in a river and joining the haunts and pastures of mares (ἤθεα καὶ νομὸν ἵππων) at Iliad 6.506–511, Helen is implicitly one of those mares = *Ἀλκίππη or *Ἀλέξίππη. Helen’s equine affinities are also discernible in the unusual oath, which Tyndareos has Helen’s suitors swear—upon the dismembered parts of a sacrificed horse (Pausanias 3.20.9).

[43] A fine couch, a carpet of soft wool, a silver platter, a golden distaff and a basket of silver, with golden wheels.

[44] Kratinos, Cowherds and Dionysalexandros; Euripides, Iphigeneia at Aulis 1291–1293 τὸν ἀμφὶ / βουσὶ βουκόλον τραφέντ’ Ἀ- / λέξανδρον; Theocritus, line 1 of Idlyll 27: τὰν πινυτὰν Ἑλέναν Πάρις ἥρπασε βουκόλος ἄλλος. Observes Gutzwiller 1991:27–28: “In a culture that determined expected behavior on the basis of social class, the herdsman’s servile status fostered the belief that he was less likely than the hero to carry out his duties to order and protect and more likely to succumb to personal pleasures. Such cultural assumptions lie behind the myth of the judgment of Paris. Fully told in the Cypria, the story is assumed as background knowledge in the Iliad (Il. 24.28–30). The myth gains its analogical potential because Paris brings with him into his life as Trojan prince characteristics more appropriate to his earlier existence as a herdsman. We find these characteristics in evidence in Homer’s portrait of Paris in Iliad 3. Some of the other stories about Trojan noblemen who herd confirm our contention that Paris’s characteristic involvement with pleasure, especially sexual pleasure, was considered a typical trait of the herdsman. Homer tells in synoptic fashion of two minor characters, Bucolion (Il. 6.21–26) and Enops (Il. 14.444–445), who had sexual encounters with nymphs while pasturing their animals.” Gutzwiller further remarks (1991:177): “The Syrinx . . . represents itself as a dedication to Pan by Simichidas Paris (Θεόκριτος, “the judge of goddesses” = Paris, schol. ad 11, 12) by which reference the poet manages to identify himself with Paris as a mythical cowherd [italics mine], with Theocritus as the major practitioner of bucolics.” The significance of Polybos’s identity as an Egyptian must be properly evaluated: (1) from the perspective of mainland Greece, Egypt is overseas, like Troy; (2) Helen is abducted to Egypt, rather than Troy, in the Herodotean and Euripidean accounts; as I have previously argued (Smoot 2012), the myth of Helen’s phantom is of Indo-European descent; (3) although the Iliad does not mention Helen’s and Paris’s trip/presence in Egypt, their voyage to a comparably remote, exotic location—Sidon—is mentioned; (4) Herodotus, and apparently his source the Cypria described Paris’s presence in Egypt, where he looks for Helen.

[45] In the tradition represented by Herodotus and Euripides, which presumably relies on the non-post-Homeric Epic Cycle (on this chronological matter, see Burgess’s groundbreaking work, The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle Helen, JHU, 2001), Helen was retrieved from Egypt, not Troy. In contrast to the Iliad, the Odyssey problematizes the question of whether Helen went to Troy, positioning itself diplomatically between the Epic Cycle and the Iliad. Discussion in Smoot 2012.

[46] Outside of book 4, there are a few other characters with the root *al(e)k in the Odyssey, but none of them, aside from Alkinoos himself, are major characters or even minor characters gravitating around a single, particular figure, as Alektor, Alkippe and Alkandre gravitate around Helen in the same episode. Among them, the first category are scattered references, with no direct connections to Helen: Herakles’s mother Alkmene at 2.120; the epigone Alkmaon in book 15 and Mentor’s patronymic Alkimides in book 22. The second category, on the other hand, is represented by the important Phaeacian king Alkinoos, who appears in book 6–9, 11, 13, 15. Alkinoos does not appear in book 4, but he is arguably related to the prehistoric *Alexandros/*Alexandra for the following reasons: (1) Alki-noos is to Odysseus what Alk-andre is to Helen: Odysseus acquires his overseas wealth from Alki-noos (8.424–832), just as Helen acquires her overseas wealth from Alkandre; (2) the Egyptians, in the Odyssey, are a supernatural people (4.229–232), just as the Phaeacians are a supernatural people; the Trojans are not supernatural, but they are an extinct people of the past vis-à-vis the Homeric audience, thus subject to alienation; (3) Alexandros and Helen are sea travelers (as far as Sidon!), like the Phaeacians; outside of the Odyssey, the Egyptians, like the Trojans, travel the seas to Greece in the myth of the sons of Aigyptos and the Danaids: the eventual union of Hypermnestra “Very Wooed,” an analogue of Klytaimnestra and Helen, and Lynkeus, homonymous with the Apharetid Lynkeus, is a clear Dioscuric pattern; (4) Helen’s and Menelaos’s palace in Sparta has all the appearances of a fabulous place, as though the Odyssey merges it with fabulous Elysion at the ends of the earth (Odyssey 4.563, as observed by Clader 1976): thither, Helen and Menelaos deathlessly migrate at the end of their lives. Telemachus’s visit with Helen and Menelaos and resultant acquisition of presents from them iterates (a) Helen’s and Menelaos’s former acquisition of much of their wealth from Alkandre and Polybos in Egypt and (b) his father’s own acquisition of his wealth from Alkinoos in Scheria. It would appear that the peculiar reason for the latter part of the the Phaeacian king’s name –noos is due to his major relationship to Odysseus, in whom νόος ‘perception’ is key: Odysseus is the perceptive hero par excellence, and Alkinoos alone perceives Odysseus’s weeping (cf. the figura etymologica Ἀλκίνοος δέ μιν οἶος ἐπεφράσατ’ ἠδ’ ἐνόησεν (8.94, 8.533), which is precisely what induces Alkinoos to bestow riches upon Odysseus. Similarly, the leader of the suitors, Odysseus’s nemesis, is named Anti-noos, ‘Counter-Perceptive’, cf. 21.256–257 τὸν δ’ αὖτ’ Ἀντίνοος προσέφη, Εὐπείθεος υἱός· / “Εὐρύμαχ’, οὐχ οὕτως ἔσται· νοέεις δὲ καὶ αὐτός.” So it seems, as though the name Alkinoos could be an Odyssean adaptation of a fabulous *Alkandros/*Alexandros figure, whose second compound element *-andros ‘man’, was replaced by -noos in the poem, of which there might tentatively be a trace in the second element of his brother’s name Rhexenor (7.63) ‘Shatter-man’. For Alexandros and Alexandra as a historical name and probable royal/sacred title from the Bronze Age to the Classical period, cf. Alaksandus of Wilusa in Hittite records; Linear B a-re-ka-sa-da-ra [Alexandra]; common name of Macedonian kings from the earliest records (6th century BCE); in the Iliad, the masculine of Helen’s Alkandre is the hapax Alkandros at 5.677–678: ἔνθ’ ὅ γε Κοίρανον εἷλεν Ἀλάστορά τε Χρομίον τε / Ἄλκανδρόν θ’ Ἅλιόν τε Νοήμονά τε Πρύτανίν τε. The fact that two of the other slain, besides Alkandros, are Koiranos ‘War Leader’ and Prutanis ‘Magistrate’, suggests that Alkandros too, variant of Alexandros, designates a similar, hierarchic position.