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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 there exists no contemporary representation 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. 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.
“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, Chair of Classics Faculty at 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.” —Steven Pressfield, author of Gates of Fire and The Virtues of War
“An extraordinarily comprehensive account of one of the most enigmatic women of all time; a brilliant and fascinating history.” —Lord Robert Winston
“The nuggets garnered from archaeology in particular are often revelatory. . . . The details coalesce to conjure up an aspect of this age in its satisfying entirety, a place the reader can enter and explore.” —The New York Times
“Hughes 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.” —The Observer (London)
“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 in the department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, British Museum
“Hughes’s portrait is as close to a real, living Helen as we are likely to get. In an increasingly sexualized culture, the questions Helen raises are more alive than ever.” —Financial Times
“The most exciting thing about this book is its hot fascination with the past, its almost ecstatic pursuit of a sensuous history. . . . A passionately sensed and recorded homage to Helen. . . . 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, professor of Greek History and Cultural Studies, University of California, San Diego, in The San Diego Union-Tribune
“Fantastic. . . . I have never, EVER, read anybody write so well about travels in Greece and going to explore archaeology.” —Edith Hall, professor of Greek history at Durham University
“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 investigative achievement.” —The Guardian (London)
“A wonderful read. It’s what great history is all about—excitement, a fastmoving story, packed full of information, accessible and brainy, a dazzling combination. Bettany Hughes puts women slap-bang right back at the heart of things.” —Kate Mosse, author of Labyrinth
“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.” —The Sunday Times (London)
“Never before has the world of Homer’s epic, the thirteenth century BC, been brought so vividly to life. Hughes brilliantly evokes the sights and sounds of the Bronze Age, the heady smells of women’s perfumes and oils, the rustle of linen over their thighs and breasts, the whisper of their prayers and liturgies. . . . A fascinating, compelling argument. . . . A gripping read.” —Dr. Jenny Wallace, Director of Studies in English, Peterhouse College, Cambridge University, in Times Higher Education Supplement
“Hughes skilfully brings this period back to life. A fascinating window on to the power politics of an age. A genuinely exciting historical narrative.” —The Sunday Telegraph (London)