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Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whoreby Bettany Hughes
Synopses & Reviews
An illuminating, erudite, lively search for the real Helen of Troy — a chronicle that combines historical inquiry and storytelling élan — from one of Britain's most widely acclaimed and popular historians.
As soon as men began to write, they made Helen of Troy their subject; for close to three thousand years she has been both the embodiment of absolute female beauty and a reminder of the terrible power that beauty can wield. Because of her double marriage to the Greek king Menelaus and the Trojan prince Paris, Helen was held responsible for an enduring enmity between East and West. For millennia she has been viewed as an exquisite agent of extermination. But who was she?
Helen exists in many guises: a matriarch from the Age of Heroes who ruled over one of the most fertile areas of the Mycenaean world; Helen of Sparta, the focus of a cult that conflated Helen 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-and-blood aristocrat from the Greek Bronze Age — Bettany Hughes reconstructs the context of life for this pre-historic princess. Through the eyes of a young Mycenaean woman, Hughes examines the physical, historical, and cultural traces that Helen has left on locations in Greece, North Africa, and Asia Minor. Vivid and compelling, this remarkable book brilliantly unpacks the facts and myths surrounding one of the most enigmatic and notorious figures of all time.
"Helen of Troy has been a part of the Western cultural consciousness for thousands of years, an often troubling figure of female sexual power. Now British historian Hughes investigates the history and myth of Helen, using a mix of archeological evidence, literary sources and personal observation to flesh out this archetypal creature. Acknowledging that Helen has long served as a lens through which male thinkers have projected their views of women, Hughes traces the uses to which the ancient princess has been put, from the prehistoric Mycenaean world, in which she would have been admired for her beauty and strength, through the Elizabethan age, when she was reviled as a demonic harlot. Although the resulting book could use a generous dollop of editing, and there are too many instances in which the author has to step back and state that 'there is no way to know for sure' whether the narrative she builds is accurate or not, the resultant tale is fascinating and illuminating. The elucidation of prehistoric social, political and religious systems is especially interesting and serves as a needed corrective to Christian-influenced constructions of Helen and, through her, all women. (A PBS documentary on Helen of Troy featuring Hughes will air on October 12.) 32 pages of illus., 616 in color. 60,000 first printing. (Oct. 4)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Helen of Troy, this Bronze Age princess, is still seen as a paradigm of absolute beauty and as a reminder of the terrible power beauty can wield. Acclaimed historian Bettany Hughes reconstructs the context of life in Bronze Age Greece for this elusive prehistoric princess.
A major new book about the life and legend of the world's 'most beautiful woman' - by the new star of TV history.
As soon as men began to write, they made Helen of Troy their subject. Hesiod, a poet born around 700BC and one of the first named authors in history, called her 'the most beautiful woman in the world' and the description endured. Even though we have no contemporary representations of her, this Bronze Age princess is still seen as a paradigm of absolute beauty and as a reminder of the terrible power beauty can wield.
Because of her double marriage to the Greek King Menelaus and the Hittite Prince Paris, Helen was held responsible for the enduring enmity between East and West. But who was she? She exists in many forms: the historical figure of the Bronze Age Spartan Queen who ruled over one of the most fertile areas of the Mycenaean world; the goddess subject of an eighth-century BC heroic cult which conflated Helen the person with a pre-Greek goddess; the mythological and literary home-wrecker figure of the Iliad; the icon and the first recorded sex-goddess, a symbol of the power of beauty and love.
Focusing on the 'real' Helen (the possibility of a flesh and blood Helen), acclaimed historian Bettany Hughes re-constructs the context of life in the Bronze Age Greece for this elusive pre-historic princess. Hughes brilliantly unpacks the facts and myths surrounding one of the most enigmatic and notorious figures of all time.
About the Author
Bettany Hughes is a cultural and social historian, writer, and television presenter. She received degrees in ancient and medieval history at Oxford University and has carried out research in the Balkans, Greece, and Asia Minor. She has presented numerous documentaries and historical series for the BBC, PBS, and the Discovery Channel, and also writes pieces on popular history for several newspapers and magazines.
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