Ancient Greek visual representations of the recovery of Helen by Menelaos are generally thought to depend closely on two distinct poetic sources. This paper argues that this belief is untenable. The principal theoretical assumption underlying it, that there will always be a close fit between ancient Greek poetic and artistic representations of a given story, is not the only conceivable relationship between poetry and art in Archaic and Early Classical Greece. The empirical evidence advanced to support the belief, the occurrence of similar motifs in both the poetic sources and the visual representations, is strained: scholars have read into the pictures motifs or intentions, including nudity and seduction, that are known from literature but have not been given unambiguous visual form in the pictures. This paper argues that the relationship between the artistic and literary representations of the recovery of Helen is much more distant and less direct than most scholars have thought. The same general story underlies all the pictorial representations of the subject in the Archaic and Early Classical periods, but no specific poetic source was necessarily behind the story circulating among the artists. This study draws attention, in particular, to methods of storytelling that are unique to the visual arts. It addresses in detail one of the most striking and problematic aspects of the iconography of the recovery of Helen, the variety of physical settings of the event, and argues that the pictorial elements of setting provide important narrative information that verbal narratives would convey in a different way.
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