Helen of Troy had many sides

Helen of Troy may not have been who you thought she was.

Bettany Hughes, author, historian and broadcaster, was at Butler on Friday to present her lecture titled “Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore; How to Write the Biography of a Hole.”

Her book, “Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore,” has been translated into 12 languages and was made into a documentary.

Hughes said she needed to find out how to jigsaw together all the pieces of Helen’s story when she wrote this book.

It took Hughes 15 years to research and write it.

“It almost killed me, really,” she said, jokingly.

At one point during her research, she interviewed a group of Gypsies, and when she asked them if they knew of Homer and the Illiad or Achilles, no one in the group knew what she was talking about, but once she asked about Helen, they knew exactly.  This is when it hit her. She was covering a woman known all around the world, for somewhat of the same reason.

Ellie Pochyly, a Butler freshman, said she noticed from this lecture that Helen of Troy is seen very differently in other cultures and countries.

In a poem written by Sappho, Helen is a desired woman who is out of reach to everyone. She also writes that the Trojan War was not Helen’s fault, but Aphrodite’s instead.

Helen was a creature of power, and Hughes said this is why people respected her in the first place, not for her beauty like everyone thinks. For 700 years, Spartan girls adored Helen.

In Troy, however, Helen is still referred to as “Helen the Destroyer.”

Sophomore Brittany Staten said she originally didn’t know a lot about Helen. She said she always thought Helen was supposed to be beautiful, but this lecture showed her that it was really about her power.

Hughes points out that most men and some women only see Helen of Troy as a whore, someone who used men for their power. But really, she was the powerful one.

“We think of her as white, western and floozy,” Hughes said. “Men want to remember her as a whore.”

“Just lay off her,” she said.

Hughes described and had examples of portraits and depictions of Helen’s abduction and rape. Some portrayed Helen as willing to be taken by a man she had never seen before and others showed Helen struggling against the men taking her from her palace.

“[Helen] took advantage of her power, and she didn’t know what she was doing to cause the war,” freshman Olivia Nelson said.

“She knew what men liked and wanted, and she used that to her advantage,” sophomore Brittany Spiller said.

Before this lecture, Pochyly said she thought Helen was just a pretty girl who took advantage of a city, but now she sees how truly important she is in different cultures and how she influenced the way men look at women as a whole.

“I really liked [Hughes],” Pochyly said. “She came at her research with a sense of humor, and a willingness of all opinions of cultures.”

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