I came across a couplet today in Ben Jonson's verse letter "Epistle to Elizabeth Countess of Rutland" which I'm still trying to understand:

How many equal with the Argive queen,
Have beauty known, yet none so famous seen?

Who was this Argive queen? In history and mythology, the city of Argos had many queens, and I'm told that, in both ancient and Renaissance literature, 'Argos' is often used to mean 'Mycenae', broadening the field of candidates even further. Does anyone know which particular monarch or consort Jonson was referencing here?

1 Answer 1


The Argive queen is Helen, also known as Helen of Troy. The hint that Argos could refer to Mycenae (Helen was the wife of Menelaos), combined with the mention of beauty (see Marlowe's "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?" in Doctor Faustus) was very helpful.

The phrase "Argive queen" was used in George Chapman's translation of Homer (the famous Chapman's Homer that impressed John Keats). Chapman´s translation of Homer´s Iliad, edited by Richard Hooper, 2nd edition, 1865, contains the following lines:

Amongst her maids was set the Argive Queen,
Commanding them in choicest works.

Hooper provides the following gloss:

Argive queen - Helen, formerly queen

Other sources, somewhat ironically, identify her as "Helen of Troy", even though Troy was famously never her real home, let alone that she was a queen there. See for example:

  • A Ben Jonson Companion by Dewey Heyward Brock (Indiana University Press, 1983): "Argive Queen: Helen of Troy";
  • The Ben Jonson Encyclopedia by D. Heyward Brock and Maria Palacas (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016): "Argive Queen: Helen of Troy. Mentioned in Forest 12". (The Forest contains the "Epistle to Elizabeth Countess of Rutland" quoted in the question.)
  • I thought it must have been Helen. But Helen was queen of Sparta, which is the other side of the Peloponnese from Argos and Mycenae! Never mind; the Chapman quotation leaves no room for doubt. Thank you.
    – Tom Hosker
    Aug 5, 2020 at 15:24

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.