Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, Devastation

Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, Devastation


By (author) Ruby Blondell


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  • Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
  • Format: Hardback | 320 pages
  • Dimensions: 160mm x 236mm x 23mm | 567g
  • Publication date: 25 July 2013
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0199731608
  • ISBN 13: 9780199731602
  • Edition statement: New ed.
  • Illustrations note: 18 illus.
  • Sales rank: 316,676

Product description

Ancient Greek culture is pervaded by a profound ambivalence regarding female beauty. It is an awe-inspiring, supremely desirable gift from the gods, essential to the perpetuation of a man's name through reproduction; yet it also grants women terrifying power over men, posing a threat inseparable from its allure. The myth of Helen is the central site in which the ancient Greeks expressed and reworked their culture's anxieties about erotic desire. Despite the passage of three millennia, contemporary culture remains almost obsessively preoccupied with all the power and danger of female beauty and sexuality that Helen still represents. Yet Helen, the embodiment of these concerns for our purported cultural ancestors, has been little studied from this perspective. Such issues are also central to contemporary feminist thought. Helen of Troy engages with the ancient origins of the persistent anxiety about female beauty, focusing on this key figure from ancient Greek culture in a way that both extends our understanding of that culture and provides a useful perspective for reconsidering aspects of our own. Moving from Homer and Hesiod to Sappho, Aeschylus, and Euripides, Ruby Blondell offers a fresh examination of the paradoxes and ambiguities that Helen embodies. In addition to literary sources, Blondell considers the archaeological record, which contains evidence of Helen's role as a cult figure, worshipped by maidens and newlyweds. The result is a compelling new interpretation of this alluring figure.

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Author information

Ruby Blondell is Professor of Classics at the University of Washington.

Review quote

"This excellent volume takes the reader on a tour with Helen of Troy, as she journeys from the Archetype (Pandora) through her complex identities in the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Oresteia, the lyric poets, Herodotus' Histories, Gorgias' Encomium of Helen, Euripides' Trojan Women and Helen, and finally Isocrates' Encomium of Helen. The book is descriptive in its focus, and shows that Helen, 'who is a concept, not a person' (p. xi), occupied roles that are important both in themselves and also for understanding the works in question. ... [Blondell] has achieved a miracle of lucid, useful and responsible accessibility. This jargon and footnote free volume will benefit scholars and students in classics, the humanities and beyond." --The Classical Review"Blondell's stimulating and provocative book demonstrates how Helen is 'an ever-refreshing screen for the projection of ideas and ideals about beauty, women, sex and power.' Demonized, idolized, allegorized, or humanized, Helen of Troy remains no woman and every woman." --Bookslut"A compelling new portrait of the most famous femme fatale in history as she appears in Greek myth and literature."--Publishers Weekly"Readers need not be scholars of Greek poetry and culture to appreciate this engaging look at an epic tale with modern resonance." --Booklist"If you have an appreciation for the classics or even just strong feminine roles, you will want to pick this book up. It will easily become a favorite amongst the rest of your library for years to come." --citybookreview.com"An entertaining and lively narrative"--Library Journal"An insightful book, filled with salacious tales of morality that the ancient Greeks did better than anyone since, Blondell's Helen of Troy is a real beauty." --Clifford Cunningham, Sun News Miami"A marvelously comprehensive look at Helen of Troy and her interpretations--literary, dramatic, and historical-through the ages. Every

Table of contents

Illustrations ; Preface ; 1. The Problem of Female Beauty ; 2. Helen, Daughter of Zeus ; 3. Self-Blame and Self-Assertion: the Iliad ; 4. Happily Ever After? The Odyssey ; 5. Refractions of Homer's Helen: Archaic Lyric ; 6. Behind the Scenes: Aeschylus' Oresteia ; 7. Spartan Woman and Spartan Goddess: Herodotus ; 8. Playing Defense: Gorgias' Encomium of Helen ; 9. Enter Helen: Euripides' Trojan Women ; 10. Two-Faced Helen: the Helen of Euripides ; 11. Helen MacGuffin: Isocrates ; Epilogue ; Bibliographical Notes ; Bibliography ; Index