In Greek mythology, Helenus (Ancient Greek: Ἕλενος) was a son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, and the twin brother of the prophetess Cassandra.
He was also called Scamandrios. According to legend, Cassandra, having been given the power of prophecy by Apollo, taught it to her brother.
Alternatively, Helenus’ gift came from the gods, for as a child Helenus may have slept in the temple of Apollo, and during the night the ears of Helenus were said to have been licked out by snakes. This method of receiving the prophetic ability was a relatively common one in Greek mythology.
Like Cassandra, he was always right, but unlike her, others believed him.
Helenus was part of the Trojan forces led by his brother Hector that beat the Greeks back from the plains west of Troy, and attacked their camp in the Iliad. In the Iliad, Helenus is said to have killed the Greek hero Deipyrus, before he himself is injured by Menelaus. When the Myrmidons led by Achilles turn the tide of battle and Hector is killed, foreshadowing Troy's imminent fall, Helenus - like most of the greatest heroes - survived the poem.
In the final year of the Trojan War, Helenus vied against his brother Deiphobus for the hand of Helen of Troy after the death of their brother Paris, but Helen was awarded to Deiphobus. Disgruntled over his loss, Helenus retreated to Mount Ida, where Odysseus later captured him.
He told the Greek forces—probably out of his disgruntlement—under what circumstances they could take Troy. He said that they would win if they stole the Trojan Palladium, brought the bones of Pelops to Troy, and persuaded Neoptolemus (Achilles' son by the Scyrian princess Deidamia) and Philoctetes (who possessed Heracles' bow and arrows) to join the Greeks in the war. Neoptolemus was hiding from the war at Scyrus, but the Greeks retrieved him.
At the end of the war, treasure and war prizes were divided amongst the surviving Achaean heroes; and some tell of Agamemnon, being in a generous mood, giving a proportion of the taken Trojan treasure to Helenus, as well as his freedom.
Neoptolemus had taken Andromache, Helenus's sister-in-law, and Hector's widow, as a slave and concubine after the fall of Troy, and fathered Molossus, Pielus and Pergamus with her (while his mother Hecabe/Hecuba was being given to Odysseus and his sister Cassandra to Agamemnon). After the fall of Troy, Helenus went with Neoptolemus, according to Apollodorus' Epitome 6.13.
He traveled with Neoptolemus, Andromache and their children to Epirus, where Neoptolemus permitted him to found the city of Buthrotum. After Neoptolemus left Epirus, he left Andromache and their sons in Helenus's care. Neoptolemus was killed by Orestes, Agamemmon's son, in dispute over Hermione, the daughter of Menelaus and Helen, whom Orestes had been promised as wife, but whom Neoptolemus had taken.
As the kingdom of Neoptolemus was partitioned, this led to Helenus acquiring the rule of Buthrotum, as king. "Helenus, a son of Priam, was king over these Greek cities of Epirus, having succeeded to the throne and bed of Neoptolemus." Thus a Trojan prince had become a Greek king.
As detailed by Virgil in Aeneid Book III, Helenus’ kingdom was centred on the city of Buhrotum (modern Albania), and Helenus made his former sister-in-law Andromache his new queen. Andromache would give birth to a son for Helenus, Cestrinus, who would later become king of the region called Cestrine.
Helenus would appear briefly in the adventures of Aeneas, for the Trojan hero would visit the court of Helenus, as he travelled the ancient world. Helenus was able to provide much information about what the future would hold for Aeneas, including the founding of Rome, and Helenus would give him much treasure to help in the quest that was to come.
Nothing is said about the death of Helenus, although it was Molossus, rather than Cestrinus who succeeded to the throne of Helenus’ kingdom. It was also said in later times that Helenus was not buried within his realm, but was instead buried in Argos.
West (2013). The Epic Cycle. Oxford University Press. p. 263.
Virgil (1990). The Aeneid. Penguin Books, David West. pp. 65, line 292.
Virgil, Aeneid III.295-96
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