Menelaus and Hector
Ancient Greek Mythology, Religion, Art
Unlike most Greek heroes, Menelaus (Menelaos) was not born of a union between a mortal and an immortal. He was, instead, fully mortal - but his deeds were so great during the Trojan War that he earned a place in ancient Greek cult veneration of ancestral heroes. Like with the Greek gods, one must understand Menelaus' relationships with others in his story in order to understand Menelaus himself.
Menelaus was the son of Arteus, king of Mycenae, and brother of Agamemnon. Both brothers fled Mycenae because their cousin, Aegisthus, killed Arteus and assumed the throne (later, though, they drove out Aegisthus and Agamemnon became king of Mycenae).
Menelaus and Agamemnon were taken in by Tyndareus, king of Sparta, where they were promised to his two daughters, Clytemnestra and Helen. Here a divine connection arises because these two were the also the daughters of Leda after a union with Zeus disguised as a swan (though neither daughter was immortal). Tyndareus also had two sons, Castor and Pollux, who after death were taken up to Mt. Olympus.
Helen had many suitors but Menelaus was chosen - and the other swore an oath to protect the marriage. Several years later Paris of Troy came to take Helen because she was promised to him by Aphrodite. Helen fell in love with Paris and left with him, abandoning both Menelaus and their nine-year-old daughter Hermione. All of the suitors travelled with Menelaus to Troy to retrieve Helen and, after a siege of ten years, Troy was defeated. Menelaus did not have the same position in the Trojan War as the other heroes, but his exploits were sufficient to bring honor to both Mycenae and Sparta.
No actual evidence of either Menelaus or his brother Agamemnon have been found, although romanticism drove German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann to associate many of his finds at Mycenae with Agamemnon. Historical connections to a site were generally beside the point when it came to hero cults. Heroic ancestors did not belong to the historical record; instead, they belonged to an entire different time when gods and mortals communed on an immediate rather than mediated basis. Theirs was an age of great deeds and greater character to which the present could only dream about.