Helen of Troy

helen of Troy“Helen of Troy” airs on WOSU TV at 9pm, Tuesday, July 6.

Bettany Hughes’ Epic Journey to Learn the Truth About “The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships”

Classical historian Bettany Hughes (THE SPARTANS) travels across the eastern Mediterranean on an epic journey to find out the truth about Helen of Troy, once called the most beautiful woman on earth. Known as “the face that launched a thousand ships,” she has been blamed for causing the Trojan War, a conflict that caused countless deaths.

Hughes holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees, with honors, in ancient and modern history from Oxford University. Her first book, Helen of Troy, Goddess, Princess, Whore, is published by Knopf

During her own voyage in Helen’s wake, Hughes separates the reality from the romantic myths that have been told about Helen. She travels from the city where Helen is said to have been born, Sparta, in the mountains of Greece, to the archaeological site in modern Turkey that will be forever linked with the war fought in her name: Troy.

On the way, Hughes discovers some fascinating facts. In a small tourist hotel in Mycenae, the “Belle Helene,” the powerful and famous from more recent times have left their mark. Author Virginia Wolfe and other members of the famous literary circle, the Bloomsbury Group, stayed there, as did leaders of the Nazi party, among them Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels, perhaps in search of the origins of the Aryan race. Hughes notes their faded signatures, now framed on the hotel’s walls.

Hughes also follows the path of Henry Schliemann, the man who put Mycenae on the map in 1876 and who, when he unearthed a cache of ancient jewels, adorned his young Greek wife with them.

Says Hughes, “Helen’s story is important and irresistible because it deals with that strange and worrying combination of pleasure and pain, sex and violence, love and hate.

– Scott