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Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore Hardcover – October 4, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First American Ed edition (October 4, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400041783
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400041787
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #277,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Historian Hughes provides an intriguing series of what-ifs as she attempts to flesh out the life of one of the most celebrated women in the annals of Western civilization. The catch? She may or may not have actually existed. What is of seminal importance, however, is the influence the legend of Helen of Troy has had on history, music, literature, and the sociology of male-female relationships. Serving as a "paradigm for the female sex" through the ages, Helen's often contradictory legacy has been enormous. Interweaving history, archaeology, and mythology, Hughes manages to illuminate the tremendous effect this classical character has wielded upon society, art, religion, politics, and culture across time. Following Homer's lead and other significant historical and literary clues, Hughes chronicles Helen's multifaceted odyssey across Bronze Age Greece and through the ensuing centuries in fascinating detail. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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The book is packed with information, but it is easy to read.
John M. Lemon
For almost as long as writing itself has existed, the story of Helen and the Trojan war has been a staple of literature.
John Matlock
Those amazingly apt words give some idea of Ms. Hughes own writing skill.
Bruce Owen Brady

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 43 people found the following review helpful By D. Blankenship HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on April 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is popular history. This work is not a history text. The reader needs to keep this in mind when starting this work. The author, in my opinion has done more than an excellent job. Her prose alone make the book worth the read. Granted, there is much speculation in this work, but if you read the author's comments, she is the first to point this fact out. That being said, with what we know today, and the author has done an amazing job of gathering her facts, then much of the life of Helen must be speculation. The author has given us this although I would choose the words "educated speculation" in the case of this work. I enjoyed ever word of it, learned a lot and was stimulated to read other works. What more could I ask for? Not only do we get a speculative look at a shadowy figure, but we get an excellent look at bronze age history. The author's discription of present day sights is absolutely wonderful and makes one want to travel.

As a side note, after years and years of reading and the study of history, I have found that an expert in the field of history does not absolutely have to have a worn tweed jacket,gray beard and monotone speech to know his or her subject.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By David B Richman on February 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Troy has always fascinated people and the "cause" of the Trojan war, the Spartan princess Helen, is now perhaps only second to Cleopatra in the modern iconography of ancient women. Indeed, while we are not even sure that a real Helen existed, there certainly was a Troy and a Sparta, and their histories, although now obscured by the mists of time and lack of contemporary written record, had to have been quite turbulent. Through the writings of Homer and others, Helen has come down to us as intelligent, obviously beautiful, and as either victim or schemer, goddess or mortal, violated virgin or whore. In any case something very bad happened to Troy around the projected time of Helen's life, even if she really did not exist.

Bettany Hughes in her lengthy (458 pp)"Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore" has covered the background of this period. Helen is part of a complex Greek mythology based on the early history of ancient Greece (including Magna Grecia - Modern Turkey, Crete, Cyprus etc.) The house of Atreus and the Tyndareids make modern dysfunctional families look tame, with cannibalism, incest, murder, torture, congress with gods, etc. commonplace. While Hughes concentrates on the story of Helen, these various behaviors occasionally come through, especially in regard to the murder of Agamaemnon by Clytemnestra, Helen's half sister, and Orestes subsequent murder of his mother and her lover, and later of Helen herself (if the later was not wafted up to Olympus as Apollo is said to have done.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. Cheryl A. Bullock on April 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The book is up to Ms Hughes usual high standard. It discusses Helen in the context of the Bronze Age (including Homer) and how she has been regarded throughout history. The discussion about the Bronze Age and the Trojan War era is particularly thorough and reveals a great deal of knowledge about this little known time. For example when discussing (some) women's high status in the bronze age she points out that the Lion Gate Lions at Mycenae are in fact lionesses. The book is also interesting and entertaining and does not necessarily require some knowledge of the subject.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Owen Brady on February 9, 2008
Format: Paperback
Bettany Hughes' "Helen of Troy" might well have been called Helen of Troy and What People Think About Her, for both the historical Helen (if such a person actually existed) and people's reactions to the idea of Helen are at the heart of Ms. Hughes tale.

The author, an Oxford-trained historian, is also guest lecturer, writer, and the creator of PBS/BBC television specials, such as "The Spartans" and "Athens: Dawn of Democracy." In describing her "Helen," she says, "There is no single arterial route to the truth of Helen of Troy, but a number of paths that wind across time..." Her own quest begins by sifting through remaining Bronze Age shards and stories and then continues with a literate romp through evolving Western thought and opinion since that long ago time until our own.

Ms. Hughes calls her work an "historia." Those whose words or images are woven into its tapestry include: Euripides, Goethe, Yeats, Rimbaud, Camus, Ovid, Dante, Sappho, Rupert Brooke, Dorothy Parker, William Blake and Christopher Marlowe.

Her chronicler in chief, of course, is Homer. The masterworks we attribute to him were created during a time when a pre-literate oral tradition of singers was giving way in Greece to the written word. She describes this as a "fault-line in the development of European Literature." Those amazingly apt words give some idea of Ms. Hughes own writing skill.

She needs the skill. At 458 pages, "Helen" is stuffed text-book dense with facts, ideas and conjecture. As such, it could be a soporific far more potent than the largest turkey dinner. Instead, it's a joy to read. Even the notes are interesting. While Ms. Hughes writes about the past, her effort will, almost certainly, become the definitive "Helen" for the foreseeable future.
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