We proceed on the assumption that the story of Helen really is the charter myth behind the Ionian migration (see the history page) and that the Iliad (and the Odyssey in some places) is a comment on it. Let me list the main items that are connected in this respect:
We do not need to take the above story by Herodotus at face value but it is a hint that something was going on with respect to women in the Ionian migration. Of course every new settlement had to find women to marry from among the local people since the colonists did not take women with them(1). That does not mean that it was normal for settlers to go out and seize women by force. Homer, if I read the Iliad right, was exceedingly angry about it. The mere fact that he tells the story of Chryseis, dishonorable as it is, at the very beginning of the poem, is enough for me to draw this conclusion. But there are many more points.
Clearly, many people will think I am reading the Iliad through modern glasses. After all, taking slaves in war was common practice and the 8th century public would not have expected anything else. I was also told that, for instance, the hanging of the servant girls in the Odyssey was not nearly as offensive to the ancient Greek mind as it is to us. Well, maybe so. But if one looks carefully at the rhetoric and the pathos that the poet manipulates, a different picture emerges. In this page I will try to clarify how this works, using the above list as the main points of interest.
Paris' abduction of Helen was such a great crime that an army had to be sent to Troy to get her back. Then what about Chryseis or Briseis? The irony is almost too harsh. And Agamemnon's argument for keeping her ('I like her better than my wedded wife') and the way he dismisses the girl's father must be offensive to ancient Greek ears as well as to ours. Note Achilles' commentary on the situation in Il 9.332- and Thersites Il 2.232-.
So first the poet brings on Chryseis and shows us how Agamemnon is in the wrong. Then he plays the rhetorical "what if they did this to you?" card and he lets Agamemnon take Briseis away from Achilles. Briseis has a double role: a girl who was his prize, his honour, but also a girl who is loved by Achilles (that is what he claims, Il 9.340-) and is not just a slave (though I doubt if she could refuse to sleep with him). So she is taken away from Achilles and the poet leaves it up to the public to make the connection, that this is an evil thing to do.
But what was evil, the attack on his honour or the taking away of a loved one? This is not a difficult question. Achilles lets many of his comrades be slaughtered to restore his honour. Honour is everything and it knows no pity. But the crux of honour is: 'what will people say about you'. The scandalous story by Herodotus above shows exactly what will happen to your honour if you let such a story become public. Seizing women was not ok. This poet surely knew exactly how honour works, and he still said those things.
Note that this presupposes that Helen was unwilling, abducted by Paris. The wording suggests rape. This may fit the charter myth but it is not how Homer tells the story. He gives us a Helen who followed Paris for love and feels bad about it (Il 3.171-, 3.390-, 24.764).
In Homer's rhetoric, the above has the function of absolving the Trojans from the accusation of "coming over here and stealing our girls". But if Paris is not to blame, then Helen must be.