Saturday, July 14, 2007

iPod Shelf: HELEN OF TROY


We all know who she is: the woman whose face launched a thousand ships. Helen of Sparta, then of Troy.

This audio presentation was ideally suited for a listening experience--it was a long book, and I thought the reader did a good job covering a lot of characters. And I've never read a Margaret George work before, but I'm really impressed with all her detailed narrative. She really gets into Helen's skin, even though I'm still not fond of the queen/princess as a fictional or real person.

Depending on the source of literature, I've pretty much had a problem with Helen, and that's part of the reason I wanted to read this book--to see if she could be humanized in the midst of making such an epically selfish decision. (In the ILLIAD, there was some question about whether or not she fled her kingdom because of Aphrodite's blinding interference, and in some versions, she's actually kidnapped. In this book, it's definitely not a kidnapping and there is an Aphrodite influence, even though Helen seems to make the decision to leave more than anything else.) You might remember the basics of Helen: she was the royal daughter of Queen Leda, who had a tryst with Zeus while he was in the form of a swan. (I know. Yuck. But according to this book, when the gods took a fancy to any human, they could never reveal themselves--no mortal could survive the sight. BTW, this book is very good at weaving these fantasical elements into a pretty realistic, at times gritty, portrait.) Anyway, Helen grew up having to hide her face because of her great beauty. When she was in her teens, she married Menelaus. While it wasn't a deliriously wonderful union, he was fairly kind to her...just not that great in bed. (He also had a mistress, as was normal for the culture, per this book.) Then Helen met Paris, a younger, hotter man, and she left her husband and young daughter behind in order to marry this stud and live with him in Troy.

Unfortunately, Greece has been looking for a reason to attack this wealthy city, and Helen provides it. The thing is, as far as this book is concerned, Helen and Paris are well-aware of the ramifications of their choice, but their love trumps all that common sense phooey. This bothered me immensely, especially when you consider that Helen also chose to leave her daughter behind. Even worse, Helen occasionally gets a bit whiny about all the terrible things that are happening to her, and I didn't have an ounce of sympathy. Sure, she balances the whoa-is-me with some self-awareness, but every time she starts to get out the world's tiniest violin, I couldn't help thinking, "Can it, doll. You reap what you sow."

However, the author did such a strong job of pulling me into the story with the history and cultural details that I kept listening. And listening. For over 32 hours. (Oh, just you wait--the next George book on my To Be Listened To shelf is a fictional treatment of Cleopatra--all 50+ hours of it!)

Next up? THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy.

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