Helen of Troy Beauty, myth, devastation

Ruby Blondell, 1954-

Book - 2013

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Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press [2013]
Physical Description
xvii, 289 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 261-276) and index.
Main Author
Ruby Blondell, 1954- (author)
  • The problem of female beauty
  • Helen, daughter of Zeus
  • Disarming beauty: the Iliad
  • Happily ever after?: the Odyssey
  • The many faces of Helen: archaic lyric
  • Behind the scenes: the Oresteia
  • Spartan woman and Spartan goddess: Herodotus
  • Playing defense: Gorgias' encomium of Helen
  • Enter Helen: Euripides' Trojan women
  • Two-faced Helen: Euripides' Helen
  • Helen MacGuffin: Isocrates.
Review by Booklist Reviews

The mythic Helen of Troy, who, 2,500 years ago, set off a war that "launched a thousand ships," need not be real, but the obsession with female beauty as blessing and curse surely is. Scholar Blondell studies the details behind the myth: Was Helen taken by the Trojan prince Paris or did she elope on purpose? Was she the scourge of ancient Greek myth or the object of worship? Was Helen a victim of her beauty or a free agent in full command of her power? As a stand-in for female beauty and sexual power, the myth of Helen and ancient texts written about the Trojan War are suggestive of male attitudes on control of women and what constitutes heroism. Blondell explores Helen's relationship to other figures of Greek myth and her treatment by philosophers and historians, from Homer to Herodotus and Euripides to Gorgias, and examines the broader issue of perspectives on femininity represented by the myth of Helen. Readers need not be scholars of Greek poetry and culture to appreciate this engaging look at an epic tale with modern resonance. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

This engaging book on Helen of Troy is the third major study of this complex mythological figure since 2006. It is more focused than its predecessors, Laurie Maguire's Helen of Troy: From Homer to Hollywood (CH, Nov'09, 47-1230) and Bettany Hughes's Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore (CH, Jan'07, 44-2846). Blondell (Univ. of Washington) limits her scope to archaic and classical Greek authors (except for a brief epilogue on modern adaptations), and her approach is literary. Offering close readings of Helen's story from epic, lyric, tragedy, history, and rhetoric, Blondell shows how the ancient authors engaged with the concepts of female beauty, desire, and agency. This study does not simply summarize the myths; instead, it subtly analyzes how Greek authors used Helen to explore issues of Greek identity, the destructive and productive powers of desire, and even the power of rhetoric. Blondell's style is lively, with few footnotes and minimal explicit references to previous scholarship beyond a few pages of bibliographic notes in the back. All sources are quoted in English translation only. This format makes the book suitable for readers outside the academy, but the argumentation and ideas are best suited to students and scholars of antiquity. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates; Upper-division Undergraduates; Graduate Students; Researchers/Faculty. M. L. Goldman Vanderbilt University Copyright 2013 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

As one of the central characters of Greek legend, Helen of Troy makes an ideal subject for an examination of Greek attitudes toward women, beauty, and erotic desire. Blondell (classics, Univ. of Washington) looks at the reception and significance of Helen in Greek epic, poetry, drama, and history. This examination does not consider Helen as a historical personage, as does Bettany Hughes's Helen of Troy, but it takes as a given that to each writer Helen represented something real. This reality was a woman depicted as, by turns, "beautiful evil," a tragic heroine, deeply misunderstood, or a figure for ironical sophistry, with the role of self-control as a virtue particularly tied to matters of chastity as a central theme throughout. How each writer adapted Helen's story indicates something about how that person and that time perceived a woman's place and proper behavior. VERDICT Blondell makes a convincing case for the continued importance of Helen to modern sensibilities as feminism struggles with issues of femininity. An entertaining and lively narrative that will be of interest to scholars while still accessible to general readers.—Margaret Heller, Dominican Univ. Lib., River Forest, IL [Page 93]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

The face that launched a thousand ships has inspired just as many—if not more—stories and interpretations of what exactly happened between Helen and Paris, and how it drove Troy to war. Even today, third-wave feminists, postfeminist intellectuals, and contemporary pop culture engage with the enduring reputation of Helen. In this scholarly work, Blondell (The Play of Character in Plato's Dialogues) casts the real Helen by the wayside, focusing instead on the ways in which the mythical beauty has been depicted in Greek literature, including the Iliad and the Odyssey, Sappho's poetry, the tragedy Agamemnon, and Herodotus's Histories. The University of Washington classicist's primary concern, expounded upon in thematic chapters, is how these stories depicted, promoted, and transformed ideals of beauty and female agency. This is a fine work of scholarship, but it has limited attraction for a general readership—Blondell declines to connect with modern-day interpretations, though it's clear she isn't a hermit of the ivory tower: chapter epigraphs comprise snippets from pop culture, such as a few lines from the Eagles' song "Lyin' Eyes." In tracing her development, it would've been interesting to see how the Helen of today holds up to the Helen of old. 19 b&w illus. (May) [Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

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 threatinseparable 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 offemale 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 Homerand 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 bymaidens and newlyweds. The result is a compelling new interpretation of this alluring figure.