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Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  1,058 ratings  ·  96 reviews
An erudite, lively search for the real Helen of Troy-–a chronicle combining historical inquiry & storytelling élan–-from one of Britain’s most widely acclaimed historians. As soon as men began writing they made Helen of Troy their subject. For close to 3000 years she's been both the embodiment of absolute female beauty & a reminder of the terrible power beauty can wield. B ...more
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published January 1st 2005 by Alfred A. Knopf/Random House (NY)
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 ·  1,058 ratings  ·  96 reviews

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Bettany Hughes’ debut work is a magnum opus of truly astonishing proportions. Hughes has not only written a thoroughly detailed examination of the evidence for a real Bronze Age Helen, and produced an in depth portrait of the woman if she indeed existed, but she has delved even further, studying perceptions of Helen throughout history and exploring the big question of just why Helen of Troy has remained a subject of fascination, reverence and revilement for millennia. Meticulously researched, He ...more
Mar 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
If you're looking for a book on Helen of Troy, then look no further. This is a masterful book, despite the paucity of possible information available on Helen. How can anyone write a biography of a mythical figure, a woman who may or may not have even existed? Like this. Exactly like this. Bettany Hughes has written Helen as she may have been, as an historical figure; as people have wanted her to be, as a religious figure and quasi-goddess; as she was written to be, by Homer and Euripides and Aes ...more
Nov 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: greece
I absolutely loved this book!Best source out there if you are looking for info on Helen of Troy.I liked how the author brought her to life and put a face on her.I guess it was hard for me to imagine a face that launched a thousand ships before I read this.It also has amazing background information on Sparta.
Czarny Pies
Oct 13, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who love mangles of literary and social references .
"Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore" is a scatter-gun, scatter-brained work that is nonetheless highly entertaining. Reading it is something like inviting your friends from your undergraduate years over for dinner, plying them generously with alcohol and letting them rant on about whatever literary or artistic idea comes into their minds. History students will express themselves on Beethoven. English lit graduates will give you their opinions on Rabelais while philosophy students will tell ...more
Helena Schrader
Jun 24, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: sparta
Hughes bills her book as “The Story Behind the Most Beautiful Woman in the World” – which is certainly ambitious. She devotes 312 pages to the main text followed by 130 pages of appendices. The book contains roughly 30 colored illustrations and even more black and white images -- altogether a very impressive and comprehensive treatment of the topic. Hughes furthermore sets out not only to discover the historical reality behind the story of Helen of Troy, but to describe the Bronze Age in which s ...more
James F
May 02, 2016 rated it liked it
The Trojan War was almost certainly a historic event; but it is uncertain, to say the least, that it was caused by the abduction of Menelaus' wife, Helen. I'm not sure after reading this book whether the author, a popular British historian, actually believes Homer's story or not; she does at least make it seem less implausible than it appears at first sight, by showing historical parallels from the same time and region where there were diplomatic (though not actually military) crises over royal ...more
Bettany Hughes was made an honorary Fellow of my university in the same ceremony as I became a graduate, so I've been planning to read this ever since. That, and the story of Troy has always been fascinating to me. There's definitely something very compelling about Bettany Hughes' writing, which though very detailed isn't dry -- or maybe I just have a weakness for descriptions of "sumptuous palaces" and so on trained into me by my early love of a book describing the treasures of Tutankhamen's to ...more
Lauren Albert
This is not really a biography of Helen so much as a biography of the idea of Helen through the ages. While she does try to uncover what historical facts are available, she spends a lot more time—understandably because of the lack of evidence—discussing all the versions of Helen in Literature and History. She also traces Helen’s path (as it is told in the stories) through the lands of ancient times. She attempts to recreate as much as possible what the life of a woman like Helen would have been. ...more
Carolyn Hembree
Oct 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Aside from my electric blanket and my Dickinson, I currently love nothing so much as this book.
Feb 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, non-fiction
I am so sad that I have finished reading this book.
This was such a delight to read. Hughes has such an evocative writing style. I was so sucked into this "biography" of the perhaps-mythical, perhaps-based-in-reality figure. She traces Helen's life and legacy from her conception to the modern western world's perceptions of her. It was just so interesting to read about the different interpretations of Helen throughout time and place, about the different tellings of the Trojan War, about all the di
The thing I love about ancient history and myth is that it is, consistently and unfailingly, stranger, weirder, more astonishing and more subversive than you would ever think it would be. I learnt some things from reading this about prehistory, Spartan society, war and religious rituals that, to me, really are stranger than fiction. Some of these things are just mind-bending. You couldn’t make it up. It forces cracks through your most fundamental assumptions about people who lived and died in th ...more
May 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. The author delves into, all the bits and pieces of bronze age museum artifacts, Greek myths, Homer's Illiad along with countless writings throughout the ages, personal visits to historical antiquity field sites etc., to mold a story that reveals a woman who must have been monumental. The author conjures up wonderfully colorful and insightful metaphors. For those interested in ancient, bronze age history, the book for me, was a delight. ...more
Jul 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had seen and heard Bettany Hughes on several DVD commentaries and BBC-produced history specials. Having been impressed by the knowledge and contagious enthusiasm she brought to her TV work, I wanted to see whether these translated to the printed page. In short, do they ever.

As an avid student and later teacher of Latin and classical mythology, I was aware of Helen's prominent place in the folklore of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Hughes, however, posits and beautifully illustrates the case
Bettany Hughes’s book, Helen of Troy, is a work of staggeringly epic proportions. It is the story of Helen of Troy – not just as a historical or mythological figure, but a cultural figure. It looks at what life would have been like for a historical Helen, if she existed, at the landscapes Helen’s story has crossed, how Helen has been seen through the lens of myth, religion, art, theatre and more.

At over 500 pages, this could make for a dense read. But Hughes’ writing, while detailed and discern
Robert Case
Aug 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I love antiquities. Helen of Troy is clearly a five. The book is a detailed and provocative study, or was it a journey, of one of mankind's most celebrated, revered, and demonized women. Her biography is a fascinating read. She is an icon, not just of sex-appeal, but also for personal growth and development. She lived through many roles; from being the victim of a kidnapping and sex assault by the legendary Theseus, into a Spartan queen, then a Trojan princess, and back again into her role as qu ...more
Nov 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: greeks
After watching the BBC documentary of the same title, I felt compelled to get this companion book. I had been pleased with the Paul Cartledge companion to Greeks: Crucible of Civilization, and felt this was worth the investment.

Ms. Hughes is very descriptive and entertaining in her account of the story of Helen of Sparta (later Troy) and her attempts to reconstruct the myth with what facts are available are well constructed.

This is not the "Troy" movie but a serious delving into the idea of a Br
Elia Princess of Starfall
Jun 03, 2016 added it
Recommends it for: Fans of Greek myth, history, archaeology and cultural studies
Helen of Troy.

A name that needs no introduction, no?


Helen of Troy, whether she is from fact or fiction, myth or reality, is a justly famous and enthralling heroine. A legendary Queen of Sparta, so beautiful and eerily godlike in her physical perfection, that two wars were fought over her, one in Athens and the other in Troy in what would have been the Aegean Bronze Age. Helen of Troy, throughout the centuries from ancient Greece to the modern age, has inspired awe, derision, fear, anger, devo
Penny Cipolone
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Totally enjoyed this book which looked at Helen of Sparta/Troy from all possible angles. Her influence and very existence were judged via archeology, literature, art history, and myth. Great sections on the Myceneans and the Minoans. I had quite forgotten how much I enjoyed reading about this time period.
James Murphy
Jun 18, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd had this book for at least 3 years. Despite my interest in classical Greece I'd delayed reading it, partly because the right frame of mind never came on me and partly because the book's appearance and presentation, the more I looked at it and allowed it to gather dust on my shelf, projected itself as a treatment for popular taste rather than a serious historical study. Finally blowing the dust off and taking the plunge, I was delighted to discover it's a weighty, scholarly book about Helen. ...more
I wasn't certain what I was getting into when I opened this book. After all, how could one write a biography of Helen of Troy without sources? It isn't as if there is a Who's Who of the Bronze Age, written on stone tablets in archaic Greek. This is a pretty hefty volume, too, suitable for use as a doorstop and pretty lethal if dropped on your toe. However, any doubts I had were foolish and soon forgotten. Remember when the word awesome, meant something? You know, capable of inspiring open-mouthe ...more
Ems Dawson
Feb 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: study, for-pleasure
History is one of those genres that is impossible to pin down. It is what informs us of ourselves, helping us to discover who we really are.

Good history telling is a mixture of fact with tantelising snippets of myth and embellishment. part of the joy is of reading History is picking various elements apart to examine them, but also taking them on face value and enjoying the story. Helen is the epitome of this tradition and Bettany Hughes expertly employs the practice.

Helen of Troy is a fascinatin
Sarah -  All The Book Blog Names Are Taken
The author's own experiences were distracting throughout - it's bothersome, honestly - but the information presented about Helen was fascinating. Certain sections were dry, dragging on and on, having seemingly little to do with Helen herself, but of the world in general at the time. I feel like the sections pertaining to how Helen has been viewed through the Middle Ages were unnecessary - though it is understandable, given how little we will ever really know about her. The book is worth reading, ...more
Aug 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A splendid piece of cross disciplinary writing! Ms. Hughes creates a vivid picture of the Bronze Age using both traditional and experimental archeology, literature, and art. Generally I am impatient with books that focus on the author's experience, but she does it well. Her visits to the places involved or explorations of the literature and portrayals of Helen's story are a genuine enhancement of the history. I cannot recommend this book strongly enough to anyone interested in history or women's ...more
Jacqueline Williams
Aug 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Didn't enjoy nearly as much as Socrates, I felt like a knew Socrates by the end of that book and Helen is still a mystery as she really is....
Totally fascinated by Helen and the power of ladies of this time
Loved the way the book was structured; just as it got a bit heavy Bettany would interject insights from her research trips which helped me to try to feel part of what happening more than 3000 years ago.
Sandra Wagner-Wright
Sep 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a fabulous book for anyone interested in Greek Mythology, Archeology, History, the Bronze Age, and/or women's history. Bettany Hughes is a brilliant writer and stellar researcher. I was genuinely sorry to complete the book and will not be passing it on to the library book sale. ...more
3.5* Good scholarship and very broad study of everything involving Helen, but I would have organized differently in order to make the points better. The read was less engaging because of this more chronological approach, rather than topical.
Camille Siddartha
Nov 13, 2015 rated it it was ok
This is what whores do to men with no brains...The whole world dies for two dicks.
Nina Ive
Aug 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Who can resist a history book with the title “Goddess, Princess, Whore”! This was a chronicle of Helen of Sparta, Helen of Troy and Helen through the ages. Bettany faithfully traced Helens beginnings through myth, archaeological findings, literature and history itself.

If you have any interest at all in the origins of the ‘face that launched a thousand ships’, this is the book for you. It is incredibly well written and small chapters focusing on a theme or a fragment in time, make it easy to dig
Absolutely brilliant. A page turner and really superbly written. Bettany Hughes is engaging and accessible, whilst still producing a fairly academic history/archaeology book. She writes about Helen of Sparta (ahem) and how her life (if indeed she was a real person), image, cult and meme have survived since the early Bronze Age.

Like Mary Magdalene, and Eve, her name is not just synonymous with her earthly existence but has taken on a life of its own. She is idol, image, muse and fantasy for mill
Rabeaa Hayar
May 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Bettany Hughes is the first person to talk about Helen as a major Bronze Age figure, rather than as a shadowy myth, and to a large extent. She raised many questions that changed my thought, why should we think all the people Homer mentions are fictitious? Helen, 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.
In my view, Bettany talks about this complex material beautifully and brings
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Bettany Hughes is an English historian, author and broadcaster. Her speciality is classical history.

Bettany grew up in West London with her brother, the cricketer Simon Hughes. Her parents were in the theatre: she learnt early the importance and delight of sharing thoughts and ideas with a wider public. Bettany won a scholarship to read Ancient and Modern History at Oxford University and then cont

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