In Greek mythology, Menelaus, king of Sparta*, was the son of King Atreus of Mycenae and the brother of the great warrior Agamemnon*. Menelaus's beautiful wife, Helen, the daughter of Zeus* and a woman called Leda, was at the center of the events that led to the Trojan War.
Before her marriage to Menelaus, Helen lived with Leda and Leda's husband, King Tyndareus of Sparta. When the time came for Helen to marry, she had many suitors. To prevent any violence against her future husband, the Greek warrior Odysseus made his countrymen swear to protect the man she agreed to wed. Helen chose Menelaus, who later became king of Sparta.
The conflict with the Trojans was set in motion when Aphrodite, the goddess of love, took steps to win a beauty contest judged by Paris, a prince of Troy. If declared the most beautiful goddess, Aphrodite promised to give Paris the most beautiful woman in the world—Helen. Aphrodite won the contest; Paris went to Sparta and took Helen away with him to Troy. The Trojans refused to send her back. Agamemnon raised an army of Greek warriors to retrieve Helen, reminding them of their oath to her husband. The story of the war between Greece and Troy appears in Homer's* epic the Iliad.
During the war, Menelaus played a minor role in the fighting, but he did face Paris in single combat. Although Menelaus came close to killing Paris, Aphrodite intervened and saved Paris, her personal favorite.
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After the Greeks defeated Troy, Menelaus returned to Sparta with Helen. However, the journey home was very difficult because he had neglected to offer sacrifices to the Trojan gods. The story of the voyage is told in Homer's Odyssey]. When Menelaus died, he became immortal because he had married a daughter of Zeus. He joined Helen in Elysium, a place of ideal happiness in the afterlife.
See also Agamemnon; Greek Mythology; Helen Of Troy; Paris; Trojan War.
MENELAUS (d. c. 162 b.c.e.), high priest in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. Menelaus was the brother of Simeon and Lysimachus, both mentioned in ii Maccabees. According to ii Maccabees 3:4, Simeon and Menelaus belonged to the tribe of Benjamin, and Simeon did not therefore belong to a priestly family. This raises a difficulty and attempts have been made to amend the text, or to suggest that he belonged to a priestly family named Benjamin or Miamin (cf. i Chron. 4:24). It seems preferable to accept the reading found in some Latin manuscripts which reads "Bilgah" instead of Benjamin. Bilgah was the name of one of the priestly divisions (i Chron. 24:14) and probably Menelaus and his brothers belonged to it. The statement of Josephus (Ant., 12:238–9) that Menelaus was a brother of *Jason and a son of *Oniasiii, is certainly erroneous. Merelaus was one of the leaders of the Hellenists and one of the extremists among them. When sent by the high priest Jason to Antiochus Epiphanes, he intrigued against his principal, bribed Antiochus and received from him appointment as high priest (ii Macc. 4:23–24). At the beginning of his tenure of office he plundered the Temple of its gold vessels (ibid., 4:32). He also instigated the murder of Onias iii (ibid., 4:34). His appointment and policy aroused the opposition of the people and caused uprisings and disturbances. Jason attempted to seize the high priesthood back from him, but Menelaus succeeded in retaining power, chiefly with the assistance of the Syrians. He remained loyal to Antiochus and sent him large amounts of money. As leader of the Hellenists he must be considered responsible to a great extent for the persecution of Antiochus (see Bickermann in bibl.; cf. ii Macc. 13:4). It seems, however, that later, when it became clear that this policy brought no advantage to the Hellenists, he was partly responsible for the more conciliatory policy of Antiochus Epiphanes (164 b.c.e.; ii Macc. 11:29). Later he lost favor in the court of the Seleucids and on the advice of Lysias was put to death (apparently in 162 b.c.e.).
F.M. Abel, in: Miscellanea Giovanni Mercati, 1 (1946), 52–58; Rowley, in: Studia Orientalia loanni Pedersen… Dicata (Eng. 1953), 303–15; V. Tcherikover, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (1959), 70–74, 216–20, and index; E. Bickermann, From Ezra to the Last of the Maccabees (1962), 106f.
Menelaus (mĕnəlā´əs), in Greek mythology, king of Sparta, son of Atreus. He was the husband of Helen, father of Hermione, and younger brother of Agamemnon. When Paris, prince of Troy, abducted Helen, Menelaus asked the other Greek kings to join him in an expedition against Troy, beginning the Trojan War. Menelaus, although subordinate to Agamemnon, took a prominent part in the war. After the fall of Troy, he became reconciled with Helen, but before they finally reached Sparta they experienced a long series of adventures. Menelaus appears in the Iliad and the Odyssey.