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Copyright © Bettany Hughes 2009

HELEN OF TROY

As soon as men began to write, they made Helen of Troy their subject; for close on 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 which 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 - acclaimed historian Bettany Hughes reconstructs the context of life for this elusive 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.

 

Translations of Helen of Troy are also available in Dutch, German, Greek, Italian, Latvian, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Serbian and Swedish.

UK REVIEWS

Bettany is the first person to push Helen as a major Bronze Age figure, rather than as a shadowy myth, and to a large extent she’s succeeded. Why should we think all the people Homer mentions are fictitious? I see every reason to believe that the Helen of legend, like Agamemnon or Menelaus, may have been a real character with a real background whose actions have been modified, embellished and distorted over the centuries

DR KENNETH WARDLE, Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology, world expert on the Mycenaean Bronze Age - quoted in the Independent on Sunday

So has Bettany succeeded in her quest and self appointed task [to track down Helen of Troy]? In my view – yes. Magnificently…Bettany controls this complex material beautifully and brings it together in a very satisfying whole...the book is a ‘good read’. The writing is extremely vivid and evocative...underpinned by a sure-footed sense of narrative flow. It will be a resource for students and scholars as well, I think, as a great pleasure for the wider public. I enjoyed it thoroughly and recommend it most highly.

LESLEY FITTON, Chief Bronze Age Curator, British Museum

The most fascinating of subjects, handled with style, learning and a wide engagement with the evidence and its many different landscapes. Bettany Hughes is an author whom everyone will enjoy and she has brought her exceptional talents to bear on the possibilities and impact of the most famous heroine in history.

PROFESSOR ROBIN LANE FOX, NEW COLLEGE OXFORD

Bettany Hughes, already highly and widely acclaimed for her outstanding television histories of the Spartans and many others, now bids fair to prove that the female of the species is more readable than the male historian. Her multi-faceted, multi-hued, and multi-period portrait of la Belle Helene will capture the imagination of professional scholars and general readers alike. I cannot recommend it too strongly.

PROFESSOR PAUL CARTLEDGE, CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY

Helen-ophiles, rejoice! Bettany Hughes' new Helen of Troy gives you everything you ever wanted to know about the Face That Launched A Thousand Ships. There won't be another book on Helen in a long, long time, because Ms. Hughes has brilliantly and exhaustively covered ( or I should say uncovered) her subject from more angles - romantic, historical, archaeological, mythological, psychological - than even Paris could dream of on his best night.

DR STEVEN PRESSFIELD, Spartan expert and bestselling author of Gates Of Fire and The Virtues Of War

This book is a real tour de force. It combines astonishing erudition and knowledge of the early classical world with a wonderful easy fluency of writing. It has taught me a lot, and I have enjoyed every page.

JOHN JULIUS NORWICH

An extraordinarily comprehensive account of one of the most enigmatic women of all time; a brilliant and fascinating history.

PROFESSOR ROBERT WINSTON

I do hope that many readers buy this book.

PETER STOTHARDT, TIMES

Evoking in sensuous and gorgeous prose the citadels, the palaces and the luxuries of that long-vanished world history and mythography have been dazzlingly elided. In this passionate book. Hughes adds to Helen's mystery...powerfully.

TOM HOLLAND, SUNDAY TIMES

Hughes skilfully brings this period back to life. A fascinating window on to the power politics of an age. A genuinely exciting historical narrative.

RICHARD MILES, SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

...very powerfully, Hughes explains why Helen has remained in history when most women have been written out. She splendidly reclaims Helen from centuries of helpless victimhood...This book puts Helen of Troy at the
centre of a world in which, as Bettany Hughes convincingly explains, the primordial power was female.

GERALDINE BEDELL, OBSERVER

Hughes's speculations are spectacular. Hughes's golden girl, sandals slapping through Mycenean wine-cellar, is a stronger construct than any Helen I have met before

VERA RULE, HOT TICKET, INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY

The book triumphantly reclaims Helen from her traducers. Hughes' portrait is as close to a real, living Helen as we are likely to get. In an increasingly sexualised culture, the questions Helen raises are more alive than ever.

FINANCIAL TIMES

Intense debate surrounds Helen whose elopement with Paris sparked the Trojan war. ‘Did she jump or was she pushed?’ has been a key question from the sixth century BC to our own. In Helen of Troy Bettany Hughes has gathered together a startling array of answers, both ancient and modern…an investigative achievement.

MARY BEARD, GUARDIAN

An entrancing story of the making of the ultimate pin-up

MAIL ON SUNDAY, BOOK OF THE WEEK

Bettany Hughes's …meticulously-researched book about Helen, whose text and notes demonstrate her intimate knowledge of her subject. Hughes travelled extensively while doing research and the book is full of anecdotes, accounts of arriving in museums early in the morning, before the public, or taking boat journeys that follow Bronze Age trading routes. These alone would be sufficient reminder that Hughes is, as her publisher immodestly informs us, "widely acknowledged as the best of the new generation of TV historians", but the evidence is also there in her prose.

JOAN SMITH, INDEPENDENT

Full of fascinating details

EXPRESS

The face that launched a thousand ships looks certain to sell quite a few thousand books too.

TATLER

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US REVIEWS

Bettany Hughes biography ‘Helen of Troy’ is a sensuous treat – you will taste the past.…the most exciting thing about this book is its hot fascination with the past, its almost ecstatic pursuit of a sensuous history. And I mean sensuous, the sense in all their glory…The greatest pleasures of this history lie in the author’s capacity to awaken the sense, to carry us with her as she hears, smells, feels, tastes, sees the past. Hughes’ attention to detail calls up a sympathetic experience not only of pleasure but also pain… This is a history where ‘you are there’, where the authors experience of wading through volcanic rock towards the island where Paris and Helen first consumated their love brings a new intensity to old myths. Hughes archaeological research is the most compelling part of this account, she never lets the dustiness of the dig cloud her appreciation of the intimacy with the past that archaeologists enable. Hughes makes us part of the party… Hers is a passionately sensed and recorded homage to Helen… The text’s lavish illustrations, tumbled together, enrich Hughes’ argument and show how deeply the idea of Helen has been engraved in the Western imagination… Hughes reminds us now, at the end of a long history of Puritanism and misogyny, of a time when women’s dominion over the produce of the earth, and their own sexual powers, made some of them potent subjects and radiant objects of worship, adoration and desire.

PAGE DUBOIS - SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE

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 archaeological 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, 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.

US PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

...the nuggets garnered from archaeology in particular are often revelatory…the details coalesce to conjure up an as aspect of this age in its satisfying entirety, a place the reader can enter and explore.

NEW YORK TIMES

When Bettany Hughes published her study of Helen of Troy in 2005, skeptics had good cause for doubt that anything worthwhile could be made out of such a hackneyed and intangible subject. Yet Hughes was vindicated: The result was searchingly intelligent and quite beautifully written.

WASHINGTON POST

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