In Greek mythology, Menelaus (Ancient Greek: Μενέλαος, Menelaos) was a legendary king of Mycenaean (pre-Dorian) Sparta, the husband of Helen, and a central figure in the Trojan War. He was the son of Atreus and Aerope, and brother of Agamemnon king of Mycenae and leader of the Greek army during the War. Prominent in both the Iliad and Odyssey, Menelaus was also popular in Greek vase painting and Greek tragedy; the latter more as a hero of the Trojan War than as a member of the doomed House of Atreus.
Ascension and reign
Sources for the early life of Menelaus are quite late, post-dating 5th-century BC Greek tragedy. According to these sources, Menelaus' father Atreus had been feuding with his brother Thyestes over the throne of Mycenae. After a back-and-forth struggle that featured adultery, incest and cannibalism, Thyestes gained the throne after his son Aegisthus murdered Atreus. As a result, Atreus’ sons, Menelaus and Agamemnon, went into exile. They first stayed with King Polyphides of Sicyon, and later with King Oeneus of Calydon. But when they thought the time was ripe to dethrone Mycenae's hostile ruler, they returned. Assisted by King Tyndareus of Sparta, they drove Thyestes away, and Agamemnon took the throne for himself.
When it was time for Tyndareus' daughter Helen to marry, many Greek kings and princes came to seek her hand, or sent emissaries to do so on their behalf. Among the contenders were Odysseus, Menestheus, Ajax the Great, Patroclus, and Idomeneus. Most offered opulent gifts to win Tyndareus' favor. But Tyndareus would accept none of the gifts, nor would he send any of the suitors away for fear of offending them and giving grounds for a quarrel. Odysseus promised to solve the problem in a satisfactory manner if Tyndareus would support him in his courting of Penelope, the daughter of Icarius. Tyndareus readily agreed, and Odysseus proposed that, before the decision was made, all the suitors should swear a most solemn oath to defend the chosen husband in any quarrel. Then it was decreed that straws were to be drawn for Helen's hand. The suitor who won was Menelaus. This stratagem succeeded, the rest of the Greek kings swearing their oaths, and Helen and Menelaus were married. Following Tyndareus' death, Menelaus became king of Sparta because the only male heirs, Castor and Polydeuces, had died when they had ascended Mount Olympus. Together, Menelaus and Helen had only one daughter, Hermione.
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