Helen of Troy and Paris

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

In Greek mythology, the face that launched a thousand ships

by David Johnson

Recounted in Homer's Iliad, the story of Helen of Troy and the Trojan War is a Greek heroic legend, combining fact and fiction. The earliest written work in Western civilization, it has inspired writers and artists through the ages.

Known as "The face that launched a thousand ships," Helen of Troy is considered one the most beautiful women in all literature. She was married to Menelaus, king of Sparta. Paris, son of King Priam of Troy, fell in love with Helen and abducted her, taking her back to Troy. The Greeks assembled a great army, led by Menelaus's brother, Agamemnon, to retrieve Helen.

An armada of 1,000 Greek ships sailed across the Aegean Sea to Troy. For nine years the city remained impregnable until the Greeks built a large hollow wooden horse with warriors hidden inside. Despite warnings to "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts," the Trojans accepted the horse and brought it inside the city walls.

That night, the warriors emerged from the horse, and opened the city gates to admit the Greek army. Troy was destroyed. Helen returned safely to Sparta, where she lived happily with Menelaus for the rest of her life.

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