Helen of Troy: The Story Behind the Most Beautiful Woman in the World

ISBN: 1400076005
ISBN 13: 9781400076000
By: Bettany Hughes

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Ancient History Biography Classics Currently Reading Greece History Mythology Non Fiction Nonfiction To Read

About this book

For 3,000 years, the woman known as Helen of Troy has been both the ideal symbol of beauty and a reminder of the terrible power beauty can wield.In her search for the identity behind this mythic figure, acclaimed historian Bettany Hughes uses Homer’s account of Helen’s life to frame her own investigation. Tracing the cultural impact that Helen has had on both the ancient world and Western civilization, Hughes explores Helen’s role and representations in literature and in art throughout the ages. This is a masterly work of historical inquiry about one of the world’s most famous women.

Reader's Thoughts

Ems Dawson

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 fascinating read, part novel, part history book. It is an inspirational read giving you enough information to keep you interested and make you want to learn more but not boring you by becoming too factual and dry.I have read it three times now and am not about to stop!


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 studies.


I was familliar with Bettany's peripatetic scholarship, and wanted a better understanding of Helen of Troy. Indeed, Ms Hughes' animated descriptions of vistas around the globe where Helen has been ruminated upon is fascinating. One cannot contest this scholar's thoroughly admirable research of every sniff of Helen through millennia. What disturbs me is an underlying sense that the author is trying to prove something about what Helen represents. For me, the opposite has been achieved. Humans can take any symbol and toss it around as they like, for their own reasons. That says more about them, than the symbol. I remain convinced that Helen's story is most real in its purest form: as a victim of Aphrodite's wiles. Paris, on the other hand, emerges as a reprehensible scoundrel, a selfish demigod with no respect for life or territory.


I loved this book. At the time I read it I was in a reading group discussing "The Odyssey". We are an all woman group and were disgusted at the misogyny of those who wrote about Helen at a later period than Homer. Bettany Hughes accords Helen the benefit of the doubt on the bad things written about her; she just delves deep into the Mystique and finds a woman who had a wonderful, exciting life. Perhaps and understatement. If you believe that Helen of Troy was a Queen in her own right due to matriliny, you will enjoy this book even more. It all starts to make sense after that realisation.

Lucy Gibson

This is truly one of the best and most enjoyable books I have read. It's very well written and uses a brilliant combination of sources, archaeological, literary and mythological to give a really interesting investigation in the life and preceding fame ( and infamy) of Helen of Troy - or Helen of Sparta as she began. After studying Homer for my last course I didn't feel I wanted to read it ever again but this book has made me want to revisit it.


Wonderfully entertaining and curiously informative account to Helen of Sparta or of Troy, take your pick. Very illuminating on the background to The Iliad and The Odyssey and also very good with other types of evidence. Wholeheartedly recommended for those taking up Classical Studies.


Architecture. People. Influences of all what I at first glace, thought if this would be richer in history spreading as it did once, then the little cusp of a culture everyone takes for granted today, I only wonder what inspired so much. It's history in a giant way. I supppose reading mystery's and suspense’s novels off and on as I may do, makes me less tedious and so I turned again to something to examine myself. Here is mystery that will need a lot of answers from historians.


Awesome research on the most famous woman of the Greek world with comprehensive stories. It is well sourced, well written and takes you through the various art, versions of Helen such that by the time you finish, you feel you know this unknowable person from the epic poems, and you understand why she has existed in every age.


Wonderful book! It's more about the time when Helen lived - what archaeology can tell us about the people of that age and how she "fit in" with that time period. I also recommend the novel by Margaret George about Helen - everything George includes is in agreement with Hughes' work.


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, however the 100+ pages of appendixes were a little much and I only skimmed some of them.

Kayla Marie

This book gave me the resources to write the most incredible 15 page essay for school this last year!! Bettany really made history come alive for me. Helped me to not only learn about important Historical figures, but the text was packed with a lot of historial events, Greek culture, and mythology.


A delightful and engaging biopic of one of the few well known women in the ancient world.Drawing on Minoan and Mycenean history, the author paints a picture of Helen, her environment and her impact on history.


Engaging read supported with historical facts and the authors travel experiences.


Highly recommended. It's an in-depth look at the Bronze Age Mediterranean world a real-life Helen of Troy would have inhabited that is very different from the classical Greek setting we usually put her in.


Read this book along with watching her documentary on the same subject matter. The only problem with it is the same problem with all of Bettany Hughes things. It is a very romanticised version of Helen of Troys Story and the Grecian World at the time. However Helen is the original tragic heroine, a sex symbol and a Goddess Princess and Wore so it must of been very difficult not to romanticise her. But still extremely informative and a wonderful thing to read after watching the documentary. One world of warning make sure you read the Iliad First or you could get really stuck.

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