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An erudite, lively search for the real Helen of Troy-–a chronicle combining historical inquiry & storytelling élan–-from one of Britain’s most widely acclaimed historians. As soon as men began writing they made Helen of Troy their subject. For close to 3000 years she's been both the embodiment of absolute female beauty & a reminder of the terrible power beauty canAn erudite, lively search for the real Helen of Troy-–a chronicle combining historical inquiry & storytelling élan–-from one of Britain’s most widely acclaimed historians. As soon as men began writing they made Helen of Troy their subject. For close to 3000 years she's been both the embodiment of absolute female beauty & a reminder of the terrible power beauty can wield. Because of her double marriage to the Greek king Menelaus & the Trojan prince Paris, Helen was held responsible for enmity between East & West. For millennia she's been viewed as an agent of extermination. But who was she? Helen exists in many guises: a matriarch from the Heroic Age who ruled over one of the most fertile areas of the Mycenaean world; Helen of Sparta, the focus of a cult that conflated the heroine with a pre-Greek fertility goddess; the home-wrecker of the Iliad; the bitch-whore of Greek tragedy; the pin-up of Romantic artists. Focusing on the “real” Helen–-a flesh-&-blood aristocrat from the Greek Bronze Age–-Hughes reconstructs the life context of this prehistoric princess. Thru the eyes of a young Mycenaean woman, she examines the physical, historical & cultural traces that Helen has left on locations in Greece, N. Africa & Asia Minor. This book unpacks the facts & myths surrounding one of the most enigmatic & notorious figures of all time.IllustrationsText AcknowledgementsMapsTimelineDramatis PersonaeFamily TreesForeword & AcknowledgementsIntroductionCherchez la femmeAn evil destiny Helen-hunting Goddess, princess, whore1. Helen's birth in pre-historyA dangerous landscapeA rape, a birthThe lost citadelThe MycenaeansThe pre-historic princess2. The land of beautiful womenThe rape of 'fair Hellen'Sparte kalligynaikaTender-eyed girls 3. The world's desireA trophy for heroes The kingmaker A royal wedding4. KourotrophosHermione A welcome burdenHelen, high priestessLa belle Hélène 5. A lover's gameThe golden apple Bearing gifts Alexander Helenam RapuitThe female of the species is more deadly than the male6. Eros & ErisHelen the whoreThe pain of AphroditeThe sea's foaming lanes7. Troy beckonsEast is east & west is westThe fair Troad The topless towers of IliumThe golden houses of the eastA fleet sets sail8. Troy besiegedHelen, destroyer of citiesDeath's dark cloud A beautiful death, Kalos ThanatosThe fall of Troy 9. Immortal HelenHome to Sparta The death of a queenThe age of heroes ends'Fragrant treasuries' The daughter of the ocean10. The face that launched a thousand shipsHelen in AthensHelen lost & Helen foundHelen, Homer & the chances of survivalVeyn fablesHelen of Troy & the bad SamaritanPerpulchra, more than beautifulDancing with the devilHelen's nemesisAppendicesThe Minotaur's islandLa ParisienneWomen of stone & clay & bronzeElemental Helen, she-gods & she-devilsRoyal purple, the color of congealed bloodEpilogue: Myth, history & historiaAbbreviationsNotesBibliographyIndex...

Title : Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore
Author :
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ISBN : 9781400041787
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 496 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore Reviews

  • Iset
    2018-11-30 08:47

    Bettany Hughes’ debut work is a magnum opus of truly astonishing proportions. Hughes has not only written a thoroughly detailed examination of the evidence for a real Bronze Age Helen, and produced an in depth portrait of the woman if she indeed existed, but she has delved even further, studying perceptions of Helen throughout history and exploring the big question of just why Helen of Troy has remained a subject of fascination, reverence and revilement for millennia. Meticulously researched, Helen of Troy weaves together thousands of strands of evidence to create a comprehensive picture of not only Helen, but also the vibrant world she moved in. Hughes is insightful, discerning and astutely pieces together the long scattered fragments of the Helen of Troy puzzle. At the same time, her work is interesting, engaging and clearly written, you won’t find a stuffy textbook here, Hughes writes in a very personable style which draws upon anecdotes and plain language to get her points across, and her voice shines through just as if I was watching one of her fantastic documentaries. Quite possibly the definitive biography of Helen of Troy.

  • Juliew.
    2018-12-04 07:00

    I absolutely loved this book!Best source out there if you are looking for info on Helen of Troy.I liked how the author brought her to life and put a face on her.I guess it was hard for me to imagine a face that launched a thousand ships before I read this.It also has amazing background information on Sparta.

  • Nikki
    2018-11-24 07:12

    Bettany Hughes was made an honorary Fellow of my university in the same ceremony as I became a graduate, so I've been planning to read this ever since. That, and the story of Troy has always been fascinating to me. There's definitely something very compelling about Bettany Hughes' writing, which though very detailed isn't dry -- or maybe I just have a weakness for descriptions of "sumptuous palaces" and so on trained into me by my early love of a book describing the treasures of Tutankhamen's tomb. She makes the book colourful, anyway. And from whatever I know of Greek history and myths, she chooses her material well and does wonders in digging through the evidence of millennia to look at the idea of Helen of Troy, where she came from and what she has meant to generations of people. I think my favourite section was actually the discussion of what the fabled Helen had to do with Eleanor of Aquitaine: the interaction of real queens with figures of legend like Helen of Troy, Queen Guinevere and female Christian saints fascinates me...I'm not sure how well I think the information was organised, though. Admittedly, Helen is hard to pin down, but I'm not sure I can pinpoint how Hughes wanted to present her ideas. For me, reading cover to cover and for pleasure, it worked fine, but if I were to come back and try to refer to some specific point, I think I'd have trouble finding it.There are extensive notes and a long list of references to other works, so all in all I think this book is very well organised and researched. And -- to me, more importantly -- I really enjoyed reading it.

  • Lydia
    2018-11-28 07:46

    I am so sad that I have finished reading this book.This was such a delight to read. Hughes has such an evocative writing style. I was so sucked into this "biography" of the perhaps-mythical, perhaps-based-in-reality figure. She traces Helen's life and legacy from her conception to the modern western world's perceptions of her. It was just so interesting to read about the different interpretations of Helen throughout time and place, about the different tellings of the Trojan War, about all the different Helen's that have been presented to us, and about how (if she ever existed) the Spartan Queen herself would have lived. Coupled with a delightful writing style, this was just a pleasure to read.(Also, p. 207, "Achilles' lover, the Greek hero Patroclus". Bettany Hughes knows that Achilles and Patroclus were 100% gay for each other. Everything is wonderful.)

  • Carolyn Hembree
    2018-11-22 04:47

    Aside from my electric blanket and my Dickinson, I currently love nothing so much as this book.

  • James F
    2018-11-15 06:13

    The Trojan War was almost certainly a historic event; but it is uncertain, to say the least, that it was caused by the abduction of Menelaus' wife, Helen. I'm not sure after reading this book whether the author, a popular British historian, actually believes Homer's story or not; she does at least make it seem less implausible than it appears at first sight, by showing historical parallels from the same time and region where there were diplomatic (though not actually military) crises over royal marriages. At any event, she uses a "biography" of Helen as an organizing principle for a wide-ranging discussion of Mycenaean and Anatolian archaeology and art, focusing on what can be learned or plausibly inferred about the role of women in Mycenaean culture, the Hittite documents which may refer to Troy or to Greece or otherwise have some relevance to the Trojan War, the ancient religious and literary traditions relating to Helen (she was a figure in later cult), and the ways in which Helen has been represented in literature and art from classical Athens through modern times. She presents a mass of material, much of which I was unfamiliar with, some only discovered since I studied the Iliad in my college Greek classes at Columbia in the 1970's. Not everything she says is convincing to me; I think she sometimes blurred the lines between the historical and the mythical or folklore elements. Her interpretations are sometimes rather subjective; she writes from a very feminist perspective, and although I generally agree with her viewpoint she occasionally becomes too rhetorical and repetitious in making her points; and the material especially in the later chapters on the "reception history" of the Helen story is not well-organized, although it may not have been possible to organize such miscellaneous material in any definite way. The writing is generally good, but occasionally too colloquial for a non-fiction book on a serious topic. On the whole, I learned a lot from the book, and I would recommend it to anyone who is reading Homer and looking for background material.

  • Lauren Albert
    2018-11-25 12:08

    This is not really a biography of Helen so much as a biography of the idea of Helen through the ages. While she does try to uncover what historical facts are available, she spends a lot more time—understandably because of the lack of evidence—discussing all the versions of Helen in Literature and History. She also traces Helen’s path (as it is told in the stories) through the lands of ancient times. She attempts to recreate as much as possible what the life of a woman like Helen would have been. I have two criticisms of the book that downgraded it from a “4” to a “3”: 1) The repetition of the whole “Helen as symbol” thing got boring. 2) She has an awful tendency to lapse into cheesy-novel writing—using expressions like “dripping gore” and such. She also feels the need to fictionalize at the oddest times such, when discussing Goethe’s Dr. Faustus, she refers to an actor, “lone actor as he paced up and down the south bank, desperately trying to remember his lines.” Since this imaginary moment has absolutely nothing to do with Helen or her stories, I’m not sure why she feels the need to write it.

  • Caroline
    2018-11-19 11:09

    If you're looking for a book on Helen of Troy, then look no further. This is a masterful book, despite the paucity of possible information available on Helen. How can anyone write a biography of a mythical figure, a woman who may or may not have even existed? Like this. Exactly like this. Bettany Hughes has written Helen as she may have been, as an historical figure; as people have wanted her to be, as a religious figure and quasi-goddess; as she was written to be, by Homer and Euripides and Aeschylus, right up to the present day. There are a multitude of Helens in this book - historical and fiction, real or imaginary, flesh-and-blood or goddess.It focuses not just on Helen, but also the world she came from and the ages of history she has passed through up to the present. It is also a marvellous exploration of the world of the Bronze Age Mediterranean, and how accurate Homer's story has been proven to be via archaeological discoveries and historical record. It's wonderfully written, eminently readable and absolutely fascinating - I'd highly recommend this.

  • Hardy
    2018-12-09 12:11

    I had seen and heard Bettany Hughes on several DVD commentaries and BBC-produced history specials. Having been impressed by the knowledge and contagious enthusiasm she brought to her TV work, I wanted to see whether these translated to the printed page. In short, do they ever. As an avid student and later teacher of Latin and classical mythology, I was aware of Helen's prominent place in the folklore of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Hughes, however, posits and beautifully illustrates the case for Helen's being not only an actual historical figure, but an even more significant one than I and others had previously believed. Via tales of her own travels to archaeological digs and various museums that hold pieces of the Helen narrative, Hughes demonstrates that the ancients saw Helen in both a reverent and a disparaging light. Further, these differing interpretations have persisted through the art of succeeding ages. There is relatively little written record of Helen's life, and between that and the visual evidence emerging steadily from excavations, those interested in Helen's story can form their own opinions as to her existence. The opinion of Ms. Hughes is fascinatingly laid out in these pages. The book can be appreciated by both a popular and a scholarly audience; Hughes provides copious endnotes for those interested in further exploration, and her prose keeps the story moving for those who prefer not to stop along the way. The book was an enlightening and entertaining read, and I look forward to more from Bettany Hughes in the future.

  • Robert Case
    2018-12-11 08:14

    I love antiquities. Helen of Troy is clearly a five. The book is a detailed and provocative study, or was it a journey, of one of mankind's most celebrated, revered, and demonized women. Her biography is a fascinating read. She is an icon, not just of sex-appeal, but also for personal growth and development. She lived through many roles; from being the victim of a kidnapping and sex assault by the legendary Theseus, into a Spartan queen, then a Trojan princess, and back again into her role as queen and ruler of Sparta, always ascending into positions of power, wealth, and respect. I have two take-aways from the book. First, is the intention to read it again. Second, is the timeline of Helen's life story. She is from prehistory. Assuming that the Trojan War(s) took place between 1275 and 1250 BCE, author Bettany Hughes postulates that Helen's birth was around 1300 BC. Her life preceded the development of the alphabet used by Homer to record her story, by about 500 years.

  • Lisa
    2018-11-16 10:02

    Bettany Hughes’s book, Helen of Troy, is a work of staggeringly epic proportions. It is the story of Helen of Troy – not just as a historical or mythological figure, but a cultural figure. It looks at what life would have been like for a historical Helen, if she existed, at the landscapes Helen’s story has crossed, how Helen has been seen through the lens of myth, religion, art, theatre and more. At over 500 pages, this could make for a dense read. But Hughes’ writing, while detailed and discerning, is lively, insightful and, most importantly, never dull. She injects herself in the narrative, recounting her own experiences of the landscapes where Helen may have walked or was worshipped, which adds a personal touch to the narrative. Perhaps Hughes’s greatest triumph in this book is not that she builds up a wholly believable portrait of both the mythological and historical Helen, but how she examines what portraits the world has made of Helen and what that says about the world. A thoroughly excellent book, the best I’ve read that touches on the Trojan War.

  • Elia Princess of Starfall
    2018-11-30 12:57

    Helen of Troy. A name that needs no introduction, no? Helen of Troy, whether she is from fact or fiction, myth or reality, is a justly famous and enthralling heroine. A legendary Queen of Sparta, so beautiful and eerily godlike in her physical perfection, that two wars were fought over her, one in Athens and the other in Troy in what would have been the Aegean Bronze Age. Helen of Troy, throughout the centuries from ancient Greece to the modern age, has inspired awe, derision, fear, anger, devotion, desire, love, lust, fury, pity, adoration and contempt. Yet the woman herself remains an enigma; an elusive will-o-wisp never to be caught or to be truly understood. Was she real? Had a once mortal Spartan Queen with surpassing beauty been deified by the state of Sparta and became the legendary Helen of Troy? Was she a goddess? Had an ancient earth/fertility goddess changed over the centuries, gradually metamorphosing into the figure of the Spartan Queen? What did she mean to the ancient and classical world of Greece and beyond? Was she simply a character in a story or a divine goddess worthy of respect and adulation? What does she mean to the modern world of today? Do we see a passive, silent and powerless queen ensnared in the machinations of others or something entirely different? In her book, Bethany Hughes seeks to discover, explore and understand all that there is know about the elusive figure of Helen of Troy through a motley assortment of viewpoints. In Helen of Troy cultural history, myth, archaeology, biography, geography, history and a dash of women's studies converge as one to present a detailed, evocative and highly intelligent expose on Helen of Troy. Hughes has crafted an engrossing, insightful, expertly researched historical and mythical study on Helen of Troy and her impact on the world, ancient and modern. All of this ensures a read that is interesting, quirky and exuberant with a spirited and relaxed writing style. Hughes clearly harbors intense devotion and enthusiasm for her subject with the passion shining straight off of the pages. She shows incredible knowledge and respect for her chosen subject matter and this serves to make the book more worthwhile. The purpose of Hughes's book is to document the life, legacy and cultural impact of Helen of Troy in Greece and beyond. The who, what, where, when, why and how of Helen of Troy in analysed and critiqued in a multitude of ways. Hughes asks what if Helen was a real princess and queen of Sparta. If so, what would her life have been like? In contrast, Hughes wonders if Helen was maybe an ancient fertility or earthly spirit who was slowly transformed into the beautiful Queen of Sparta. From Homer's Illiad to Ovid's Metamorphosis, Hughes examines Helen's role in Bronze Age Greece, Troy and in the Middle East. How was she viewed? Who worshiped her? What were her duties? Throughout the book, Hughes explores Helen of Troy in several fascinating and thoughtful arenas from her mythical birth, legendary exploits as Queen of Sparta and prisoner of Troy, ascent into godhood and finally her colorful afterlife in Western culture. She asks whether Helen was a mythical creation or a nameless yet beautiful Spartan Queen transformed into a Goddess through the passing of the ages. She reveals the life of a Spartan Queen and how a Bronze Age Helen would have lived and died in such a world. In such blurred topics, Hughes straddles the lines between myth and reality with finesse and caution. She never succumbs to the outlandish or fanciful route regarding who or what Helen may have been to the ancient Greeks. She always places Helen the Goddess in her proper historical and archaeological context which is gratefully appreciated. Helen's divine origins, parentage and family members are glossed over very rapidly in the beginning of the book; a fact I found irksome and rather annoying. Helen's mythical origins were hugely important to her deification as a goddess and her ascent into Olympus: in this book, however, barely a chapter was devoted to Helen's parents and who they were. Rather Hughes seemed to glide over the topic of family to focus on other aspects of Helen's life. I feel that providing more of a backstory to Helen's past and how her parentage came to define her life and legacy would have illuminated a more nuanced outlook on Helen in general. This is the biggest fault of the book IMHO. Also, I felt that the book in general should have around 200-250 pages longer. Helen of Troy is a fascinating subject that is intertwined with history, archaeology and cultural studies ecetera. Throughout my reading, i couldn't help think that Hughes glossed over or skimmed through several important topics for the sake of keeping the book semi-short. IMHO this did not do the book justice and did not give sufficient weight or analysis to the subjects being discussed. In the end, I would still heartily recommend Helen of Troy as a fun, enjoyable and brilliantly researched expose on all things Helen. Minor nitpicks aside, this book will appeal to both the general public and students wishing to know more about the cultural afterlife of Helen of Troy. And by God is it a fascinating one! Happy reading!!

  • Helena Schrader
    2018-11-14 12:52

    Hughes bills her book as “The Story Behind the Most Beautiful Woman in the World” – which is certainly ambitious. She devotes 312 pages to the main text followed by 130 pages of appendices. The book contains roughly 30 colored illustrations and even more black and white images -- altogether a very impressive and comprehensive treatment of the topic. Hughes furthermore sets out not only to discover the historical reality behind the story of Helen of Troy, but to describe the Bronze Age in which she allegedly lived, and then to describe how the story of Helen of Troy was handled in literature and art down the ages from Homer onwards. Although at times I found the narrative long-winded and had the feeling Hughes was trying to justify what must have been a significant investment in time and money by dragging out some commentary unnecessarily and belaboring some points to the point of exhaustion, the book nevertheless provides some very useful information. Particularly impressive was the amount of information she collected on life in the Bronze Age, something I knew little about. One of her principle thesis is that Helen (or the Helen Pro-type) was a Bronze Age aristocrat (princess and Queen) – and every subsequent treatment of Helen tells us more about the age in which the work of art depicting her was created than about Helen herself. Less successfully, Hughes tries to analyze why the story of Helen of Troy should have fascinated artists and audiences for three thousand years. Perhaps due to my ignorance of the Bronze Age, I found Hughes descriptions of recent archeological discoveries about this period particularly exciting and informative. She succeeded in convincing me that the Bronze Age civilizations were very sophisticated and international, with significant trade across the Mediterranean. A recent trip to Egypt helped me visualize just how rich and yet familiar such ancient societies could be. The art of Minoa and Egypt, with which I am more familiar, provided collateral, flanking evidence, to Hughes’ thesis about a Bronze Age Helen, who was more powerful and independent than the women in ancient Greece. In short, Hughes succeeded in making me change my own views of Helen, by enabling me to see her as a figure from a pre-archaic society with significantly different social structures and traditions. Almost as fascinating was the way in which the character and role of Helen changed depending on the values of the society re-telling the story. For example, the fact that Helen received a comparatively positive treatment in the 12th Century AD due to Eleanor of Aquitaine's patronage of Benoit de Sainte-Maure, author of the Roman de Troie. As Hughes perceptively points out, Eleanor, like Helen, had been the bride of one king, but effectively – if less surreptitiously -- ran away with his arch-rival and became the Queen of an empire that threatened her first husband’s realm. Eleanor had good reason to see Helen as a positive role model and not some tawdry whore or instrument of the devil. After reading Hughes, I admit, I am more sympathetic to Helen than I was before reading Hughes. When she described a 1974-5 staging of Christopher Marlowe’s "The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus" in which Helen is portrayed as “a marionette with blond wig, a mask and a chiffon nightie.” (Hughes, p. 307), I found myself feeling indignant. How could a director show so little respect for Helen? Would a dumb blond in a negligee really have been worth fighting for? For ten years? And worth recovering? Reinstating as Queen? In short, Hughes achieved her presumed of objective of making me see Helen as more than “just a pretty face.”As such, despite its stylistic faults, I think Hughes work makes a significant contribution to our understanding both of the historical and the literary Helen.

  • Penny Cipolone
    2018-11-19 08:03

    Totally enjoyed this book which looked at Helen of Sparta/Troy from all possible angles. Her influence and very existence were judged via archeology, literature, art history, and myth. Great sections on the Myceneans and the Minoans. I had quite forgotten how much I enjoyed reading about this time period.

  • Libby
    2018-12-13 12:46

    I wasn't certain what I was getting into when I opened this book. After all, how could one write a biography of Helen of Troy without sources? It isn't as if there is a Who's Who of the Bronze Age, written on stone tablets in archaic Greek. This is a pretty hefty volume, too, suitable for use as a doorstop and pretty lethal if dropped on your toe. However, any doubts I had were foolish and soon forgotten. Remember when the word awesome, meant something? You know, capable of inspiring open-mouthed, wide-eyed respect? This book is that kind of awesome. The sheer amount of research that went into this work is staggering, and the skill with which the author handles her material is considerable. For the lover of the Greek myths, this book is indispensable, and for the romantic it is a story of the ultimate hottie. How can you lose? Buy it! Read it! Give it to a friend!

  • Lars
    2018-12-14 10:57

    After watching the BBC documentary of the same title, I felt compelled to get this companion book. I had been pleased with the Paul Cartledge companion to Greeks: Crucible of Civilization, and felt this was worth the investment.Ms. Hughes is very descriptive and entertaining in her account of the story of Helen of Sparta (later Troy) and her attempts to reconstruct the myth with what facts are available are well constructed.This is not the "Troy" movie but a serious delving into the idea of a Bronze Age queen and how she shaped the lives of the men around her, for good or ill, and also is an exploration--on some levels--about modern feminism and gender identity.Recommended for anyone with an interest in peeling back layers of myth to get at the history underneath.

  • Ems Dawson
    2018-12-08 06:56

    History is one of those genres that is impossible to pin down. It is what informs us of ourselves, helping us to discover who we really are.Good history telling is a mixture of fact with tantelising snippets of myth and embellishment. part of the joy is of reading History is picking various elements apart to examine them, but also taking them on face value and enjoying the story. Helen is the epitome of this tradition and Bettany Hughes expertly employs the practice.Helen of Troy is a fascinating read, part novel, part history book. It is an inspirational read giving you enough information to keep you interested and make you want to learn more but not boring you by becoming too factual and dry.I have read it three times now and am not about to stop!

  • Pilgrimsoul
    2018-12-05 13:05

    A splendid piece of cross disciplinary writing! Ms. Hughes creates a vivid picture of the Bronze Age using both traditional and experimental archeology, literature, and art. Generally I am impatient with books that focus on the author's experience, but she does it well. Her visits to the places involved or explorations of the literature and portrayals of Helen's story are a genuine enhancement of the history. I cannot recommend this book strongly enough to anyone interested in history or women's studies.

  • Jacqueline Williams
    2018-11-25 08:04

    Didn't enjoy nearly as much as Socrates, I felt like a knew Socrates by the end of that book and Helen is still a mystery as she really is....Totally fascinated by Helen and the power of ladies of this timeLoved the way the book was structured; just as it got a bit heavy Bettany would interject insights from her research trips which helped me to try to feel part of what happening more than 3000 years ago.

  • Megan
    2018-11-22 05:10

    3.5* Good scholarship and very broad study of everything involving Helen, but I would have organized differently in order to make the points better. The read was less engaging because of this more chronological approach, rather than topical.

  • Isabelle
    2018-12-03 08:59

    This is an engrossing book about one of the most elusive figures in History, Helen of Troy. However, it's actually far more than just that - exploring the roles of women, such as Helen, in the ancient world in a society dominated by men and male power. Whether Helen existed or not doesn't actually matter so much. There are obvious parallels to be drawn from Helen's historical portrayal of dangerous beauty and sexuality with another, though very much existing classical figure: Cleopatra. It is also incredibly fascinating to read into the social and political implications that the tale of Helen's adultery had upon the world, despite being very likely fictional (or at least, the Helenweusually think of).

  • Pooja Pathak
    2018-12-09 04:58

    All I knew about Helen of Troy was this: "The face that launched a thousand ships". This book put a meaning to that face. Excellent book that combines myth and reality to give an accurate definition of the timeless beauty.

  • Tara van Beurden
    2018-11-27 10:03

    I can’t quite remember when I fell in love with the idea of Helen of Troy. I’ve loved the Tudors (Helen’s only historical (?) rival for my affections) since I was twelve years old, and distinctly remember what it was that made me fall in love with them (The Horrible Histories books – one about Henry VIII, who remains my favourite English monarch, despite his horribleness – sorry little Prince George!). But I can’t remember with Helen. I just know that I love her. Her story is truly crazy. The most beautiful woman in the world? The face that launched a thousand ships? A battle for ten years over who she should belong to? And in all of it, very little said about what Helen herself wanted. And then, out of all of this, the biggest mystery of all – did she even exist? Is she as much myth as her supposed father, Zeus? For centuries, historians and archeologists and random intrigued people have hunted for the remnants of the great city of Troy, for the battle fought there. I seek out books about Helen (and the Tudors) like normal people read murder mysteries or romance novels. Apparently I’m in the minority there, because I picked up this book on the cheap at a book shop some years ago, but put off reading it only because it is a big thick hard cover that’s a pain to carry around. But at last I’ve read it, and what a book! Rather than just dissecting the story itself, Hughes goes a step further and looks at the time frame in which the story is set, and then analyses the world at that time, to determine whether the story makes sense in context to the time period it relates to. She uses historical artifacts and evidence gained from archeological digs to support her claim that the Iliad is fairly historically accurate for the time period it’s set in. The natural progression of this is the notion that the story might actually be real. It’s a fascinating read. Perhaps the only thing I disagree with is Hughes comment in the Epilogue that she hopes that one day it will be proven that Helen did exist. As much as I would like it, I don’t think Helen ever existed, at least not in the context of the Iliad. Still, Hughes is far more educated on the topic than I, so perhaps her wish has some merit. Either way, it’s an interesting read for anyone who loves Helen as much as me.

  • James Murphy
    2018-11-17 09:14

    I'd had this book for at least 3 years. Despite my interest in classical Greece I'd delayed reading it, partly because the right frame of mind never came on me and partly because the book's appearance and presentation, the more I looked at it and allowed it to gather dust on my shelf, projected itself as a treatment for popular taste rather than a serious historical study. Finally blowing the dust off and taking the plunge, I was delighted to discover it's a weighty, scholarly book about Helen. I believe Hughes tries to touch on every known aspect of the Helen of Troy story. I have no idea whether or not she succeeds, but the vast amount of material she includes as she looks at this woman from every angle, seems convincingly comprehensive. And some of it is beautifully written. What she's done is give us a book which tries to pull fact and history from the swamp of legend surrounding Helen and Troy so that the mud slides away to show the real woman underneath and the facts of the Greece around her. She tells the story chronologically, letting us follow what's known about Helen and the life she must've lived as Spartan princess, then as bride, then as lover of Paris who flees with him or is abducted to Troy, the beautiful spark causing the 10-year firestorm on the shores of what's now Turkey. Hughes loves the story and tells it well. The facts are sketchy, a combination of anthropology and history, but she has a way of bringing permissible drama to the facts that helps make those ancient people and motives a reality. It's a fascinating brew of a book made by steeping the idea of this ancient woman in her known history and her persistent myth. By examining not only the core legend but also how that legend endured from ancient times to the present, how she's been characterized from Homer to Marlowe to Elizabeth Taylor, she's written a book that's everything Helen.

  • Kay ^_^
    2018-11-14 10:10

    "Helen of Troy" is telling about the life and history of a woman who is known throughout the world as the most beautiful woman on earth. It tells about her as a real person and also about the myths that are told about her. Helen was born in Sparta and married Menelaus, who became king. When Helen left Sparta to go to Troy with their prince, Paris, turmoil struck and war began. Menelaus was furious about his wife leaving him, so furious, he ordered an attack on Troy. He got armies from all over so he could see the city crumble. His main goal; to kill Helen. When he found her though, in the midst of battle, he found he loved her too much to kill her. He dropped his sword before her and took her back to Sparta, where she continued her reign as queen.In my opinion, this book was very informative and helpful during my Extravaganza. It was easy to understand and well organized into chapters of her life. A lot of my information for my project came from this book because it had a lot of information to tell. Such as about her life, about the war, and her love affairs with the royalties in Sparta and Troy. I really enjoyed reading this book I would give this book a 6 because although it was very educational and helpful, it was also very slow because of all the information put into it. It is also a history book so there isn't much excitement to the plot of the story, but Bethany Hughes did her best to make it interesting.

  • Old-Barbarossa
    2018-12-07 11:48

    Good look at the environment that a real Helen would have lived in.Good refs to archaeological and textual sources. Very good maps and refs/bibliography. Good selection of illustrations.The author occasionally gets carried away with the whole sacred feminine thing (as does Robert Graves), but on the whole any speculation is solidly backed up.On slightly less convincing ground when the author steps away for her area of obvious expertise and looks at more recent interpretations of Helen.A couple of points I thought were briefly brought up and instantly passed over. One being Achilles relationship with Patroclus, as lovers. The other being her claim that Helen was so fascinating that thousands were willing to lay down their life for her in the war at Troy.Neither seem to be backed up by any old texts. The 1st point seems to be fine if your ref points are mainly from later Greek writings, but the main focus of the book is on older sources. The second seems entirely erroneous as the thousands fight and die at Troy due to obligations to their lords and kings.The more I read on the Trojan war the more sympathy I have with Thersites.Having said all that, I enjoyed this and any book that adds to my vocabulary gets points. I now have the urge to use the following in conversation: excarnation, agnatic, termagant, apotropaic, and (the gloriously smutty) tribadic.

  • Jenn
    2018-11-15 07:06

    I bought the British edition of this seven years ago while in Paris and only just got around to reading it. I'd say I was missing out, but it was exactly what I needed this month so I'm glad I saved it. Engaging, erudite, and refreshing. It is easy to forget that most archaeology writing is from a male perspective, until you finally read something in which women are not continuously dismissed as decorative possessions. My only complaint is my usual one: I miss FOOTNOTES. The notes are extensive and fascinating and I hate flipping back and forth between the body of the text and the notes. Bronze Age archaeology is a deeply rooted favorite topic of mine and it was pure delight to lose myself in this very thoroughly researched exploration of Helen of Sparta. Hughes is fantastic and I look forward to reading anything else she writes. Some of the text has been lifted for the Ancient Worlds TV series she did, so you can get some of the flavor of this book if you YouTube the Helen of Troy episode.

  • Colleen
    2018-11-18 12:10

    Hughes takes a look at several different things here, all of them entertaining. Much of the book is focused not on the myth/legend of Helen, but on "what would a real Spartan princess in the Heroic Age be like?" That alone is endlessly fascinating as she goes on to explore what we've found at various historical sites in Greece and what that tells us about what Helen might have worn, eaten, owned, and lived in.She also goes into the persistent portrayals of Helen, how she is alternately seen as a quasi-divine temptress leading men to destruction, and a victim of a brutal rape and kidnapping. Indeed, there's no really empowering vision of Helen - either she's a victim or a villain, nothing in between.Ending the book is a look at how the myth of Helen has endured and how it, and she, have continued to act as Muse to various people over the years. It's a good look at a woman-centered myth and why it still speaks to us.

  • Susan
    2018-11-25 12:52

    I was familliar with Bettany's peripatetic scholarship, and wanted a better understanding of Helen of Troy. Indeed, Ms Hughes' animated descriptions of vistas around the globe where Helen has been ruminated upon is fascinating. One cannot contest this scholar's thoroughly admirable research of every sniff of Helen through millennia. What disturbs me is an underlying sense that the author is trying to prove something about what Helen represents. For me, the opposite has been achieved. Humans can take any symbol and toss it around as they like, for their own reasons. That says more about them, than the symbol. I remain convinced that Helen's story is most real in its purest form: as a victim of Aphrodite's wiles. Paris, on the other hand, emerges as a reprehensible scoundrel, a selfish demigod with no respect for life or territory.

  • Jeanette Schaeche
    2018-12-14 09:53

    (April-June for thesis one; September-October for thesis two)How could I not give a book that put me on my dream career path 5 stars? Hughes was one of the first influences o ever had in wanting to do archaeology and ancient history, through watching her documentary based off of this work, not long after watch the TV Mini Series "Helen of Troy" (2003) and the film "Troy" (2004). Now, after doing my own accumulative work on Helen, I've finally had a reason and purpose to reading through this work, rather than leaving it on my book shelf, acting like a shrine item. Hughes puts Helen in her context. Her actual history. Not exclusively her mythology. She explores Helen as the mortal woman she would have been as a Mycenaen queen. She touches on Helen and the religion associations she has. Very well written. I cannot fault her.