Menelaus of Troy: Mythology, Overview

Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson we will learn who King Menelaus of Sparta was. Together, we will take a closer look at his history, his personal life and his legacy. We will analyze his role in precipitating the Trojan War.


Menelaus was a main figure in the Trojan War because he was the husband of Helen. Helen's kidnapping by Prince Paris of Troy precipitated the beginning of the Trojan War.,_Giacomo_(1822-1881)_-_n._4140_-_Roma_-_Vaticano_-_Menelao_-_Busto_in_marmo.jpg


Menelaus was the son of Atreus. Atreus was murdered by his nephew over a struggle for the throne of Mycenae, an area in southern Greece. Atreus' sons Menelaus and Agamemnon went into exile after his murder. When the sons felt it was safe to return, they did so with the help of King Tyndareus of Sparta.

When it was time for the Spartan king's daughter, Helen, to marry, it was agreed that all of the many suitors would draw straws. Menelaus was one of the suitors. Tyndareus, fearing violence for her future husband, made all of the suitors agree that they would all support Helen's future husband in any battle - called the Tyndareus oath. Menelaus won her hand in marriage and soon became king after her father died. Together they had two sons and a daughter while ruling Helen's homeland.

Trojan War

Troy's Prince Paris came to Sparta in an effort to rescue his aunt. Menelaus was not in the city due to a funeral he was attending. Paris kidnapped Helen and brought her to Troy. Due to the Tyndareus oath, this caused all of the Greek fleets to come together to fight to bring back Helen to Sparta.

The adventures of Menelaus are detailed in Homer's Iliad. At one point Menelaus directly challenged Paris to a duel that was never finished due to the gods intervening. It is written that Menelaus killed eight men during the Trojan War and was hidden in the Trojan Horse that eventually resulted in Troy being burned to the ground.

There are many different accounts of what happened when Menelaus encountered Helen in Troy - but all accounts revolve around her returning unharmed with him to Sparta.

During their trip home, Menelaus' ships encountered a lack of wind and ended up floating to Egypt. In order to determine what to do, he consulted Proteus, the prophetic old man of the sea. After an aggressive fight, Proteus told Menelaus what he needed to relay to the gods in order to obtain safe passage and winds home. Menelaus and Helen returned to Sparta safely.

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