71. The Oath of Tyndareus

Once upon a time, Helen, the stepdaughter of King Tyndareus of Sparta, was outstandingly beautiful and many suitors from the entire Hellas came, to win her hand. Tyndareus was afraid of choosing any suitor, as it would provoke a quarrel among all the other suitors.

In the meantime, King Odysseus of Ithaca also came as a suitor of Helen, but when he saw Tyndareus’s niece Penelope, the daughter of Icarius, he desired to marry Penelope. Observing the plight of Tyndareus, Odysseus offered to reveal a way by which any one suitor may be selected, without any quarrel erupting among the other suitors. In exchange, he asked Tyndareus to help him win the hand of Penelope.

Tyndareus agreed and Odysseus told him to exact an oath from all the suitors. Helen would choose any one suitor from them, and all the other suitors would respect her choice by calmly accepting it. Further, all the other suitors would protect the chosen suitor, for any wrong done at any time, pertaining to his marriage with Helen.

Tyndareus accepted this stratagem of exacting an oath, and he arranged a sacrificial ceremony for the performance of the oath. He invited all the suitors and sacrificed a horse. Thereafter, he made all the suitors stand on the pieces of the sacrificed horse, to swear the oath. All the suitors swore the oath and the sacrificed horse was buried at that place, which later was known as the Tomb of the Horse, located near the road leading from Sparta to Arcadia. The oath was known as the Oath of Tyndareus.

The day came for Helen to make a choice and she chose Menelaus, the brother of King Agammenon of Mycenae. All the other suitors, being sworn to their oaths, silently accepted her choice, accompanied with deep sighs. Helen married Menelaus. Tyndareus spoke highly of Odysseus to his brother Icarius, who gave Penelope’s hand in marriage to Odysseus.

Excerpt from the book “Once Upon A Time-II: 150 Greek Mythology Stories” by Rajen Jani

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