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Helen of Troy
- Narrated by: Bettany Hughes
- Length: 15 hrs and 39 mins
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Helen of Troy is one of the most evocative names in ancient history. For nearly three thousand years she has been both the embodiment of absolute female beauty and a reminder of the terrible power that it can wield. Held responsible for both the Trojan War and enduring the enmity between East and West, for millennia she has been viewed as an exquisite agent of extermination. But who was she really?
Focusing on the 'real' Helen, bestselling historian Bettany Hughes reconstructs the true life for this elusive Green Bronze age princess and places her alongside the heroes and heroines of myth and history. Vivid and compelling, this remarkable audiobook brilliantly unpacks the facts and myths surrounding one of the most enigmatic and notorious figures of all time.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.
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- Amazon Customer
Bettany Hughes is the best
I have seen every one of the documentaries Bettany Hughes ha done for the BBC. She is my favorite historian [full stop]
- george said
I just love everything Ms. Hughes does!
Informative, insightful, entertaining. She has a way of making every topic she delves into so accessible without sacrificing details and information. And, as it can really make or break an audiobook, she’s also a really great narrator. Really, I can’t say enough good things about this book.
Revisiting "Helen," Two Decades Later
On the morning of December 15, 2022, I checked my email in my car before heading into work. There it was in my inbox from Audible: "New, On Sale, From An Author That You Know: 'Helen of Troy' by Bettany Hughes." Immediately flooded with nostalgia, I clicked "buy."
I received this book as a Christmas gift in 2005. I had never heard of Bettany Hughes at that time. But the book engulfed me over the next few weeks into early 2006. I loved it and eagerly Bettany Hughes's works just as soon as they're released. I was so grateful that she took the time to record her own narration of this first, amazing book. I was wondering what it would be like to 'read' this book again, nearly two decades later. Could the same spell be cast twice?
Here's my review.
This book is written with a captivating lyricism and eloquence. Bettany Hughes reads each line delicately. The performance is not melodramatic, but clearly delivered so that the listener can take the time to absorb and enjoy the rich content and eloquence of this work.
As opposed to my first reading of this book, I enjoyed finally hearing the correct pronunciation of words that I had completely botched in my own mind! I finally enjoyed hearing how 'Troad,' 'Hermione' and countless other words are correctly pronounced.
I am an Ohioan, so simply listening to how Bettany Hughes pronounces words in her far more eloquent British English is just simply enchanting. For example, I pronounce the word 'environs' in a brutish way: "In-VIY-rons," whereas Bettany Hughes draws it out as "Ahn-Veer-OHNs." It's just lovely and makes me smile! It reminded me of how the American rock journalist Chuck Klosterman introduced his own audiobook, "But Maybe We're Wrong" by explaining that he insisted to his publisher that an English woman was to narrate his audiobook because that accent is so much more beautiful to listen to than any American man's. Too true. And who better to narrate a book about how a woman can captivate men than Bettany Hughes herself?
Bettany Hughes uses the legend of Helen of Troy as a platform to provide both a rich panorama of the Bronze Age Mediterranean world as well as the role and perception of women from prehistory to present. This is no simple book.
So we readers get a 'true' telling of a clash between the Mycenaeans and the Hittites with substantial archaeological, literary and historical evidence to support what possibly might have happened some 3,000 years ago. We also read so much of what the lives of women were like both in the late Bronze Age as well as how the perception of the feminine power has evolved from deep pre-history to present. In telling the story, Bettany Hughes introduces you to all of the evidence in a very personal way. She describes the tablets, the statues, the ruins and it all as if you were right there with her. You get a visceral feel for the history.
The greatest works of history don't just hit you in the frontal cortex, but in the guts and heart. This happened to me relatively early in the book, Chapter 13, which was about 'kourotrophos' or maternal love. Bettany Hughes begins with the evidence of Bronze Age archeology to present how precious maternal love and the lives of children were at a time when the average life-span was around 30. I was genuinely moved.
So many historical figures that the hellenophiles who will be drawn to this book already know will be cast in new light, such as Sappho (Ch 19), Herodotus (Ch 23) and Homer (the whole book!). But in telling the story of Helen, new and (for me) surprising figures are exposed in how the story of Helen has reached us in the 21st century: Christian Gnostics (Ch 41); Christopher Marlow (Ch 43); Eleanor of Aquitaine (Ch42); and World War One poets (Ch 30)! What we readers get is the grand sweep of the evolution of history, and in particular the lives and role of women--and one very special iconic, archetypal woman.
The history that is so eloquently presented this book is substantially supported by a wide variety of evidence. But for me, some of the most fun stuff is what Bettany Hughes presents from her own personal excursions throughout the Mediterranean World. From the stories she tells, she has not only spent a great deal of time in libraries and museums, but at least two decades simply exploring. There are great anecdotes of tramping through the Peloponnese looking for ancient sanctuaries or attempting to hail boatmen to taxi her to small islands in the Aegean. This is history and historiography at its finest.
The book seems to end abruptly, at the dawn of the 21st century. Luckily, the end is not the end. There are several very substantial essays of both a personal and archeological nature that Bettany Hughes includes at the end of the book as 'appendices.' I'm so happy that these were included in the audiobook as well. These essays leave the modern world far behind, and go back to ancient Crete. In one of the very last ones, "Appendix Four: Elemental Helen," Bettany Hughes lays out for us her personal interpretation of who Helen really was.
I can't summarize this book. There's too much in it and I don't have the same powers of eloquence as Bettany Hughes. But it's so rich in content and delivery. This was a book that captivated me two decades ago. It was so fun to listen to and read again. It's held up so very well. I believe it will hold up for another two decades and more.
I can only say, in my simple way, if this looks like a book you'd enjoy, get it. You won't be disappointed.