Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore

Bettany Hughes, Author . Knopf $30 (458p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4178-7

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)

Reviewed on: 10/03/2005
Release date: 10/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 412 pages - 978-0-307-48588-5
Hardcover - 458 pages - 978-0-224-07177-2
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Paperback - 458 pages - 978-1-4000-7600-0
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