116. This the priests said was the manner of Helen’s coming to Proteus; and I suppose that Homer also had heard this story, but since it was not so suitable to the composition of his poem as the other which he followed, he dismissed it finally, making it clear at the same time that he was acquainted with that story also: and according to the manner in which he described the wanderings of Paris in the Iliad (nor did he elsewhere retract that which he had said) it is clear that when he brought Helen he was carried out of his course, wandering to various lands, and that he came among other places to Sidon in Phoenicia. Of this the poet has made mention in the “prowess of Diomede,” and the verses run this:[Illiad VI 289 – JL]]
There she had robes many-colored, the works of women of Sidon,
Those whom her son himself the god-like of form Paris
Carried from Sidon, what time the broad sea-path he sailed over
Bringing back Helene home, of a noble father begotten.
And in the Odyssey also he has made mention of it in these verses:[IV 227 – See Note 1 – JL]
Such had the daughter of Zeus, such drugs of exquisite cunning,
Good, which to her the wife of Thon, Polydamna, had given,
Dwelling in Egypt, the land where the bountiful meadow produces
Drugs more than all lands else, many good being mixed, many evil.
And thus too Menelaos says to Telemachos:[Oddyssey IV 351 – JL]
Still the gods stayed me in Egypt, to come back hither desiring,
Stayed me from voyaging home, since sacrifice was due I performed not.
In these lines he makes it clear that he knew of the wandering of Paris to Egypt, for Syria borders upon Egypt and the Phoenicians, of whom is Sidon, dwell in Syria. 117. By these lines and by this passage it is also most clearly shown that the “Cyprian Epic” was not written by Homer but by some other man: for in this it is said that on the third day after leaving Sparta Paris came to Ilion bringing with him Helen, having had a “gently-blowing wind and a smooth sea,” whereas in the Iliad it says that he wandered from his course when he brought her.
– Herodotus, Book II
These references to the Odyssey are by some thought to be interpolations, because they refer only to the visit of Menelaos to Egypt after the fall of Troy; but Herodotus is arguing that Homer, while rejecting the legend of Helen’s stay in Egypt during the war, yet has traces of it left in this later visit to Egypt of Menelaos and Helen, as well as in the visit of Paris and Helen to Sidon.
Herodotus uses geography loosely here. For example, “Syria borders Egypt”.
Herodotus made his living by being interesting. In a world where most people did not read and could not afford to buy a book even if they could, they would pay to listen to Herodotus recite from his books. They would not pay to be bored. In that world, the names that populate his stories would have some general familiarity to his audience. Their obscurity to us is a barrier that this series seeks to break down.
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