Are there any adjectives inspired by Helen's beauty?

I can see examples from more recent history like:

Boycott from Charles C. Boycott

or Bowdlerize from Thomas Bowdler.

Some Greek mythology inspired words/phrases are : Herculean

Achilles Heel


However I could not find anything that refers to Helen of Troy's beauty.If you could also talk of some other lesser known mythological figure based adjectives/phrases, kindly share.

  • 3
    In Italian you have the expression "troia" which is Italian for slut/whore or a prostitute. Not really a compliment to one's beauty but rather a reminder of Helen's infidelity or to her numerous suitors and male admirers.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 8:11
  • 4
    Just double-checked, troia is really derived from a celtic word "torc" meaning wild pig!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 8:35
  • Some related words or phrases involving the Trojan War are a Trojan horse, a Trojan (malicious software), work like a Trojan, or fight like a Trojan. Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 13:47

5 Answers 5


From OED:

Helena, n.
Etymology: < Latin Helena, < Greek Ἑλένη female proper name. The Greek Helene was the sister of Castor and Pollux, the name given to double meteors at sea; but there was perhaps association also with Greek ἑλένη torch.

A meteoric light seen about the masts of ships: cf. corposant n.

helenium, n.
Etymology: modern Latin, < Greek ἑλένιον, possibly commemorating Helen of Troy.
An early name for elecampane, the European herb Inula helenium, of the family Compositæ.

From Wikipedia:

Helen: feminine given name derived from the Greek Ἑλένη Helenē, meaning torch or corposant.

That's about it. You can forget about Hellenic, which is just a synonym for Greek.


There is the (humorous) definition millihelen

  • 2
    That's hilarious!
    – Jim
    Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 6:34
  • That wins the Interwebs for today.
    – aeismail
    Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 17:09

If you could also talk of some other lesser known mythological figure based adjectives/phrase...

There are really too many to name. Just following one of your leads:

echo from the nymph who loved Narcissus
echolalia "talk, prattle, a speaking," from lalein "to speak, prattle," of echoic origin.
Psyche The personification of the soul, from which we get Psychology and all it's offspring. Originally a mortal princess who later married Eros/Cupid, (the god of love), was deified, and bore him a daughter, Hedone/Voluptas. From above, erogenous, voluptuous, hedonist/ic
cupidity "passionate desire, lust; ambition," and every word from cupere "to desire" (concupiscence, covet), Cupid's bow (of the mouth)
Tantalize from Greek Tantalos, king of Phrygia, son of Zeus, punished in the afterlife (for an offense variously given) by being made to stand in a river up to his chin, under branches laden with fruit, all of which withdrew from his reach whenever he tried to eat or drink. His story was known to Chaucer (c.1369).
Pandora's Box: refers to her gift from Zeus, which was foolishly opened by Epimetheus, upon which all the contents escaped. They were said to be the host of human ills (escaping to afflict mankind), or, in a later version, all the blessings of the god (escaping to be lost), except Hope, which alone remained.

Start with the Titans (titanic), and you have heliocentric (from Helios), Mnemosyne, source of the word mnemonic, was the personification of memory in Greek mythology.
Chimera, a sibling of Cerebus, was a fire-breathing female monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail, from which we get chimera: any mythical animal with parts taken from various animals; a thing that is hoped or wished for but in fact is illusory or impossible to achieve; an organism containing a mixture of genetically different tissues, formed by processes such as fusion of early embryos, grafting, or mutation; a DNA molecule with sequences derived from two or more different organisms, formed by laboratory manipulation.

These words can fill books.


The face that launched a thousand ships

Yes. I know. It's neither an adjective nor a word, but this is the mythical phrase that comes to mind whenever Helen of Troy is mentioned.

Helen was considered to be the most beautiful woman of all time, it is said to be the raison d'etre for the start of the Trojan War. A fleet of a thousand ships set sail to win her back from Paris after he had abducted her.

  • 1
    I know that expression, it is from Christopher Marlowe's Dr.Faustus: Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships And burnt the topless towers of Ilium? Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss. Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 11:22
  • 2
    Or as I remember from years ago, "Is this the face that lunched on fish and chips / And burnt the topless bars at Ilium?"
    – Jim Mack
    Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 14:16
  • @JimMack: That's hilarious. Where's that from?
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented Jan 29, 2017 at 12:22
  • @TusharRaj - It's been decades, so I don't remember. I probably slightly misquoted it too -- same issue. (-: If you track down a source let us know.
    – Jim Mack
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 23:08

I have found some more words related to Ancient Greece along with their background stories:

draconian: characterized by very strict laws, rules and punishments

Draco was an ancient Athenian ruler who believed that the city-state's haphazard judicial system needed to be reformed. In 621 B.C.E., he issued a comprehensive but very severe new code of laws. Whether trivial or serious, most criminal offenses called for the death penalty. Draco's laws were so severe that they were said to be written not in ink but in blood.

laconic: very brief; concise; succinct; terse

The ancient city-state of Sparta was located in a region of Greece called Laconia. The Spartans were fearless warriors who had little time for long speeches. As a result, they were renowned for being laconic or very concise. For example, Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, sent the Spartans a long list of demands. The laconic Spartans sent it back with a one word answer: "No!"

spartan: plain; simple; austere

The Spartans were more than just laconic. They also prided themselves on being tough warriors who avoided luxuries and led hardy lives. For example, Spartan soldiers lived in army barracks and ate meager servings of a coarse black porridge.

halcyon: idyllically calm and peaceful; an untroubled golden time of happiness and tranquility

In Greek mythology, Alcyone was the daughter of Aeolus, god of the winds, and the devoted wife of Ceyx. When Ceyx tragically drowned in a shipwreck, the distraught Alcyone threw herself into the sea. Out of compassion, the gods transformed Alcyone and Ceyx into a pair of kingfishers. The ancient Greeks named this distinctive bird halkyon after Alcyone. According to legend, kingfishers built a floating nest on the sea at about the time of the winter solstice in December. To protect their nest, the gods ordered the winds to remain calm for a week before and after the winter solstice. The expression "halcyon days" refers to this period of untroubled peace and tranquility.

sophistry: a plausible but deliberately misleading or fallacious argument designed to deceive someone

The Sophists were originally a respected group of ancient Greek philosophers who specialized in teaching rhetoric. However, over time they gained a reputation for their ability to persuade by using clever and often misleading arguments. Today, sophistry is a negative word that refers to a plausible but deliberately misleading argument.

chimerical: given to fantastic schemes; existing only as a product of an unchecked imagination

The Chimera was one of the most fearsome monsters in Greek mythology. A fire-breathing female, it had the head and body of a lion, a serpent's tail, and a goat's head protruding from its midsection. This frightening combination was unusually fantastic even for the ancient Greeks. The creature's element of unchecked imagination survives in the word chimerical.

ostracized: to deliberately exclude from a group

In ancient Athens, an ostrakon was a broken fragment or shard from an earthen vessel. The Athenians used these pot shards as ballots in an annual vote to decide who, if anyone should be banished from their city. Each voter wrote a name on his ostrakon. If at least 6,000 votes were cast and if a majority of them named one man, then that man was banished or ostracized and had to leave Athens for a year.

taken from the book SAT I Direct Hits I - Core Vocabulary of SAT

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.