The story of Helen is partly based on fact and part legend. Her story is featured in Homer's Iliad and Oyssey, amongst others. She was the daughter of Tyndareus but legend holds her to be daughter of the god Zeus.
She was so beautiful that countless suitors came to woo her with rich gifts. These suitors included Ajax and Odysseus who later dropped out of the contest to wed Penelope. Tyndareus was afraid that when he announced the winner of Helen's hand, it would start an all out fracas amongst the others. So he devised an agreement with the help of Odysseus, in which all the suitors vowed to support the one chosen as Helen's husband against anyone who would quarrel with him.
In the end he chose Menelaus, King of Sparta as Helen's husband. The others remained true to their vow and didn't contest the decision.
But one man, Paris of Troy, heard of Helen's beauty and fell in love with her from a distance. Now comes one part of the story where accounts differ. Some versions hold that Paris raped and abducted Helen. Other accounts say she fell in love with him and went willingly. In any case Paris took her to Troy and set her up as his own.
Now Menelaus made arrangements to rescue his fair Helen, persuading the other suitors who had promised to support him to join him in his quest.
We've all heard the story of the siege of Troy and the Trojan horse which ended the war and resulted in the death of Paris and the return of Helen to her husband Menelaus.
Here again stories differ. Some accounts say she mourned the death of Paris and others say she was grateful to be able to return to her husband Menelaus whom she truly loved. One account says Menelaus was so enraged that he was about to strike her with his sword, but when she dropped her robe and stood before him in all her beauty he relented.
In any case she was returned to Sparta to live again with her family.
Helen will go down along with Cleopatra as a woman who, because of her beauty and the love it inspired in men, changed the course of history.