22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History, mythology, archeology and paleo-social science
Bettany Hughes is one of the most able and articulate writers on ancient history we have; and this is a fine example of her work.
Bringing together her extensive research into Helen and demonstrating that the best historians are polymaths, it is possible to imagine that Hughes left out as much detail as she put into her book. What is in is very well presented...
Published on 4 May 2008 by Jules
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lacks focus but enjoyable
Hughes both suffers and succeeds in trying to link a wide number of sources and contexts and look at them through a Helen-tinted window. The book isn't really about Helen as much as it's about women in the ancient world and then periperhal representations of her.
Where it's good it is genuinely fun to read, you feel Hughe's love for the subject and get whisked...
Published on 7 July 2011 by Scamander
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History, mythology, archeology and paleo-social science,
Bringing together her extensive research into Helen and demonstrating that the best historians are polymaths, it is possible to imagine that Hughes left out as much detail as she put into her book. What is in is very well presented and superbly written. The deep understanding of the subject is communicated by a turn of phrase and literary expression that is rarely found today, and all the more valuable when it is.
This book is a treat for greco-philes and lovers of history a-like; it pulls together fact, deduction, inference and supposition, is always credible and completely absorbing. You really should order it - Now!
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Helen Unbound,
This review is from: Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore (Hardcover)In every biography there is an element of myth but in Helen's case the myth is the story and Hughes brilliantly uses this as the starting point for her unique exploration of the making and meaning of Helen across human history. This is a wonderfully ranging read, moving across times and continents from the bronze age civilisation that kindled the first idea of Helen to the modern world that refuses to let her die. This is certainly not, and never could be, a `standard' biography but is instead a wonderful synthesis of archaeology, mythology and history and stands as a testament to the ever-changing image of Helen that we all still carry with us.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Meticulously researched, passionate entertaining and thought-provoking,
The book is a dazzling exploration of Bronze Age history and, particularly, the role of women in it which is threaded on a figure who is universally known and relevant today. The trick of imagining and pursuing Helen as a real person gives a cogency, life and focus to a field which might otherwise have little or no appeal to a modern non-academic audience. Furthermore, combining that history with an analysis of how views of Helen have changed and developed over time gives an essential cultural context for the whole exercise. All-in-all, easily one of the best history books I have ever read.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I felt like a time traveller: marvellous,
Hughes investigates Helen through the study of written sources, legends and archaeological finds. In addition, she visits famous and less known places in the Mediterranean where Helen has left her marks. By piecing together all snippets of information, the writer has managed to not only bring Helen, but a whole Mediterranean Bronze Age society to life. Together with the flow of the book and Hughes' writing style "Helen of Troy" has made such an impression on me that I felt a time traveller. I was bowled over for weeks after finishing this book.
I cannot praise "Helen of Troy" highly enough to everybody interested in classical antiquity. Fasten your seatbelts, close your eyes, count down and before you know it you have landed in the Bronze Age in Greece. Marvellous!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If Only Real Life Were This Good!,
This review is from: Helen Of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore (Kindle Edition)I read that some people who watched James Cameron's Avatar (I haven't) were left feeling depressed because they had to return to the real world. This book leaves me feeling the same way. The exotic, erotic and often extraordinary descriptions that Bethany Hughes refers to leave me wanting to immerse myself in the very same world. But I can't
Miss Hughes descriptions of ancients texts and images drawn on rocks before even the Jews had written the (OT) Bible points to a world where the female spiritual element was worshiped in a way that is unknown in our modern day.
Of course, the problem is that Miss Hughes, like all historians, can only imagine what the world was really like. The historical clues suggest a reality with which we cannot grasp, at least not at the moment. But reading about it cannot only grip the imagination. If there is any afterlife, I hope it's something like the original world in which Helen may, or may not, have lived in.
Miss Hughes has an agenda. But it an agenda I agree with, being familiar with her other work. If many of the modern religions could assimilate the female spiritual element that Helen represents, then they would have less of the problems they now have.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In Search of Helen,
I am wary of TV spin off books in case they are all presentation and no content. This is in no way the case here. Ms Hughes has a point to make about Helen of Troy and even without her impressive visual aids she tells an gripping and fast moving story. Her talents clearly include writing, her knowledge and research are impressive, and the sensuality of her subject is matched by her language. She has an eye for a seductive word and uses it with pleasure.
On the debit side, she occasionally feels the need to throw in a 21st century quip to bring the subject alive for the modern reader. That technique works on television but it strikes an odd note in a book which is already more than lively enough and the readers have long since willingly suspended modern reality to immerse themselves in the wine dark sea. Occasionally you feel that the central theme which is the power and influence of femininity is being hammered out at excessive length. These are pretty minor criticisms. If there is a more interesting and enjoyable book about the Bronze Age out there I haven't found it.
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-researched and insightful,
This book is a brave and highly readable attempt to explore the many manifestations of Helen. Hughes certainly does not jump erratically but sets out each chapter clearly, fulfilling her intentions nicely. She would have failed if she stuck to merely the classical Helen, Medieval Helen, prehistoric Helen, or whichever.
Hughes has clearly done plenty of research. Not only is ancient history her specialism, but more importantly she has travelled extensively in researching her passion for the ancient world. The book is full of fascinating anecdotes about her journeys and her trips to the museums and galleries of the world. Her enthusiasm shines through on every page.
The thing that I liked best about this book was the evocative way that Hughes brings the Mycenaean world to life: the sights, smells and sounds. She paints a tantalising picture of how life might have been for a high-born Mycenaean woman.
Worth reading for its insights and simply because it is entertaining.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect History,
This review is from: Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore (Hardcover)Helen is that rare thing - a female character who travels through three millennia of human history. Hughes is the first author brave enough to take her on. This book is brilliantly researched and beautifully written. The bite-size chapters make it a perfect volume to pick up anywhere - on the train, at the beach, in your favourite armchair. The scholarship and pages of flawless footnotes assure you you are in the hands of a writer who knows precisely what she is doing. The narrative is fast-paced and the arguments are original and fascinating. Hughes deals with the tricky question of why it is that men love to love, and love to hate `the perfectly beautiful' Helen. Highly recommended.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ah, but where's she buried,
This review is from: Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore (Hardcover)The first half of this book is very enjoyable. Bettany Hughes does quite a good job in following in the footsteps of Michael Wood, but her slant is different. This is really an exercise in mythoography; how could it be otherwise with such scant archaeological remains to traipse around. She builds up a good, convincing picture (case?) by virtue of pulling all the strands together. (I'd have liked more pictures, but perhaps I'm supposed to buy the DVD to go with it). And in some ways it's quite a revealing picture, granting Helen high status and power, not only in Mycenean times, but down the ages since. In some ways this is familiar feminist mythological territory, and Hughes does quite a good job of subtly implying what a mysogynist lot western European society has been ever since Helen's time. I do think the book is a touch over-written, though. The incantatory celebrations of Helen that come round at the end of chapters get a bit tedious; we do feel we've got the point already about half-way through. That said, this is a good revisionist approach and does much to re-energise our concepts of this character from the ancient past.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Look,
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Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore by Bettany Hughes (Hardcover - 6 Oct 2005)
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