First published in Sunday Midday, 12 April 2009
Leda was the wife of the king of Sparta. One day she saw a swan being chased by a hawk. The swan fell into her arms and she offered the swan protection not knowing that the swan was actually Zeus, the king of gods. As soon as he fell into her arms Zeus seduced the innocent Leda. Some say he raped her and she became pregnant. The very same night she lay with her husband.
As a result of two unions, one with the god and the other with her human husband, she gave birth to two pairs of children: twin boys and twin girls. In each pair, one child was divine and the other mortal. The divine pair comprised of a girl called Helen and the boy called Pollux. The human pair comprised of a girl called Clytemnestra and the boy called Caster. Helen and Clytemnestra were inseparable sisters while Castor and Pollux were inseparable brothers.
Everybody wanted to marry Helen because her divine origins made her the most beautiful woman on earth. To prevent wars between the suitors of Helen, Helen’s father made a demand: he asked all the suitors to agree to protect, in body and in reputation, the man who Helen eventually married. When everyone agreed, Helen was given in marriage to Menelaus as a result all the Greek kings became obliged to become guardians of Menelaus. Clytemnestra married Melanaus’s elder brother, Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, the most powerful king in the land. Both marriages were however loveless.
When Paris, Prince of Troy, came to Greece, Helen fell in live with him and eloped to Troy. A furious Menelaus approached his brother who raised an army of a thousand Greek ships to bring Helen back. Thus started the famous Trojan war. It was a long and bloody battle which lasted for 10 years and in the end the city of Troy was sacked and destroyed and Helen was brought back.
The story goes that Menelaus was determined to kill Helen, however when he came towards her, sword in hand, she undid her blouse and exposed her beautiful breast reminding him once more about her celestial beauty. Menelaus then gave up all desire to punish his unfaithful wife and brought her back to Greece. There are stories, however, of how the Greek women were not so forgiving of Helen – for they did lose their sons and brothers and husbands in the war. In one tale, the women lynch and kill Helen on one of the islands (Rhodes, probably) the couple visited on their way back from Troy because Helen refused to shave her head as a mark of respect for the dead warriors (she was willing to only trim the edges of her beautiful hair).
While Agamemnon was away, his wife, Clytemnestra, had an affair with another man. She was angry with her husband for he had sacrificed their only daughter, Ipigeniah to the goddess, Artemis, in order to ensure a safe and successful voyage to Troy. More angry when she learnt that he was bringing back from Troy a concubine – Cassandra, the sister of Paris. In her fury, she killed her husband while he was taking his welcome bath after his return. Agamemon’s killing by Clytemnestra, infuriated their children Orestes and Electra, who then killed both their mother and her lover. This killing of the mother to avenge the father’s death by the children inspired many Greek plays and the concept of Electra Complex (women who love their fathers and so are jealous of their mothers) in psychoanalysis.
Castor and Pollux were two brothers who loved each other immensely, and they were seen as twins called Discouri even though Castor was born of a human father and Pollux had a divine father. When Castor was attacked and killed by the enemy in a battle, Pollux could not bear separation from his brother and he wondered what he should do. He begged his father Zeus, king of gods, to help. Zeus informed Pollux that he had the option of living the rest of his immortal life alone or give part of his immortal life to his dead mortal brother. Pollux chose the latter option enabling the two brothers to spend half the time in Olympus and half the time in the land of dead. Whenever they rise up to the heavens they are known as the constellation Gemini or the twins.