The Heroes of the Iliad as Indo-European Gods: A Mythological Rosetta Stone: Part 8 of 9

The Heroes of the Iliad as Indo-European Gods: A Mythological Rosetta Stone: Part 8 of 9


Helen – Ushas (The Dawn Goddess)

Helen in the Iliad occupies the “central young queen” position comparable to that of Draupadi in the Mahabharata. Draupadi's divine affiliation is not specified and so we are left to speculate; however, her epithets such as “maker of garlands,” “one who never grows old,” and “born from sacrificial fire,” (as the Dawn itself was seen as brought on by the morning sacrifice) as well as the accusation that she is “unchaste” (a common attribute of the Dawn goddesses, a result of all of the forces that center around her and seem to compete for her each morning; perhaps as well the analogy of dawn with Spring and its theme as a time of procreation) due to her five husbands, leave open the possibility that she could have a Spring or Dawn association. The greatest obstacle to this identification may be Draupadi's epithet “krsna,” meaning “dark.” However, this could reasonably refer to the darkness out of which dawn first arises. The dawn is at first a shadowy and shrouded time. Of course, other explanations could be imagined.

Draupadi is the subject of a competition for her hand in marriage, and when Arjuna is selected, all the other Pandava brothers become her husband in common, by accidental pronunciation of their mother. This marriage competition parallels the competition for Helen's hand and the Oath of Tyndareus in which her suitors all become bound to each other, sworn to come to the aid of whoever wins her. When Yudhishthira loses the dice game he loses not only the kingdom but Draupadi as well, who is taken as a slave by Duryodhana. This causes all the Pandavas, now doubly bound by blood and marriage, to seek together to gain back kingdom and wife. When Helen is taken from Menelaus by Paris, this causes all the kingdoms linked by the Oath of Tyndareus to join the fight to bring her back. In Irish myth, the goddess consort of the Sun God Bres is the Dawn Goddess Brigid, repeating the marriages of the sun heroes Paris with Helen and Gronw with Blodeuwedd. In Welsh, the woman stolen from the Lawful Sovereign by the solar figure Gronw Pebr (“The Radiant”) is Blodeuwedd, who seems at first to be more of a Spring or Love goddess, entirely created out of flowers as she is. Yet, as Angriff and Redbeard, together in discussion with Thomas Rowsell, have reminded us: the Spring was the time of love making and was associated with Dawn goddesses (Brigid, Eostre, etc) and their festivals, and so, as Freyja whom they mention may fall under this same category, this “flower face” goddess Blodeuwedd may also have only been another aspect of this same goddess. As previously noted, the specific plot roles of Aphrodite and of Helen, conspirator and stolen wife, combine in the figure of Blodeuwedd, quite a smoking gun suggesting that after all they are perhaps simply different faces of one goddess of Love, flowers, Spring, and the glow of new morning.

Helen herself has been suggested to be the same figure as Vedic Sarama. This was believed by both Max Muller and Sri Aurobindo to be a name of the Dawn Goddess Ushas, as one of Sarama's two epithets, “the fortunate/beloved one,” was shared by Ushas. However, Muller also hypothesized that “Helene” could derive from Selene, goddess of the moon. This would make Paris the Sun God who steals the moon. On the other hand, Otto Skutsch claims her name derives from *Suelena, which he relates to “svarana,” “the shining one.” It is the opinion of Ceisiwr Serith that this etymology makes Helen the Daughter of the Sun (Sawélyosyo Dhugətḗr), a figure who he claims was habitually confused or combined with the Dawn Goddess. This explanation could fit with Helen's role as well, considering that Serith describes this Sun Daughter as “a maiden who conducts the sun through the sky.” However, the epithet “the shining one” would not in itself seem to exclude the idea that she could be the Dawn Goddess.

It is a knotty problem that we may have to reserve an absolute judgment on. However, beyond mere etymology, Helen's own family relations greatly strengthen the case that she is nonetheless The Dawn: her father is Zeus and her brothers are said to be the Horse Twins Castor and Polydeuces, just as the Dawn Goddess is often said to be daughter of the Sky Father [see Rig Veda 6.64.5, and see Brigid as daughter of the Dagda] and a sister or close relation to the Horse Twins [Brigid as sister of Aengus, Ushas as mother of the Ashvins]. Helen is by no means depicted as daughter in the sun in the Iliad, and if anything she becomes the lover of his representative. The clear divinity of Helen's father and brothers in the end emphasizes the divinity of Helen and indeed by analogy that of all the central Iliad characters.

Importantly for the deeper meaning of the epic: just as the Vedic Dawn Godess Ushas was seen as a bringer of strife and a waster of human life, a bringer indeed of the passage of Time each day, so Helen causes the great war by her beauty and acquiescence to the Sun God, leading to the wasting of the lives of untold thousands of men. Hers is the face that launches every ship, each day, with all that it brings.

Dawn Goddess: (Helen, Draupadi/Ushas, Brigid, Blodeuwedd)

- The most beautiful of women

- Promiscuous, multiple husbands and multiple suitors

- Her marriage to the Lawful Sovereign ends up linking all of the Gods of Society and allies together

- Is taken from her husband the Lawful Sovereign by the Sun God, sparking the war

- Is not killed but may be cursed in punishment

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