It may seem a simple name, but it’s not. Because accompanied with the five-lettered name is a weighing history heavier than plutonium; mythology sending shivers through the dead and Courage. Courage as bold as sin!
Having skimmed through the story of the city, Troy in history books and American movies, the book – Helen of Troy already held my interest. But it wasn’t until the opening lines in the Prologue, which provided an invitation of curiosity, that I knew that not only I but none in the world would be able to turn away from her tale.
‘I speak of Helen as if you knew. But who is Helen?
Listen, and I shall tell you. Hold your breath, and you will hear her speak.’
Helen of Troy (Review)
Margaret George, who’s known for her historical and fictional biographies, writes Helen (the illegitimate daughter of Zeus) as not just a character in the ashes of Earth but as her own. The author uses her words to construct a tragic story of six pillars – Passion, Bravery, Foolishness, Betrayal, Revenge, and Guilt.
Helen of Troy begins inside Aetolia’s walls, where Helen, a mere child, was throwing a tantrum to return to her birth palace – Sparta. Aetolia was the kingdom of her grandparents, and Helen’s family had taken refuge since their own Kingdom – Sparta, was conquered. I noticed how the irony of the story had begun in the early chapters itself since it was the same Helen (who grew up within the walls of Sparta after it had been conquered back by her adopted father, King Tyndareus) who desired to be free of Sparta.
However, when one may think that things might be slow in this 749-paged book, Margaret George cooks a riot in the first chapters. She penned that though Helen was just a child, her fate and her course of life are decided then when her family encounters a Sybil (ancient women who declare prophecies).
‘The oracle. The future. Omens. Prophecies. Until then I was free. I was a child of no importance – or so I believed. After this, they ruled my life…’ said Helen as the book paints a horridly realistic picture of the Sybil crying at Helen –
‘… she will be the ruin of Asia, the ruin of Europe and because of her a great war will be fought…’
‘Troy,’ she muttered ‘Troy…’
This depicts that the Ballad of Troy and Helen could’ve just as taken a different route if not for the Sybil since after that unceremonious meet, Helen was forbidden to leave the palace grounds, halted from meeting people even fellow Spartans, and worst of all – prohibited from looking at a mirror. The pages gave me a detailed image of Sparta’s family’s life and movements, which showcased the character’s traits splendidly. The princess’s imprisoned life in Sparta, the secrets of her mother, the boldness of her sister, and the traditional bindings of her father are some of the characters who stand out from the protagonist’s narration. I soon landed on the part when Helen would have to wed one of the Kings or Princes who’ve come to ask for her hand at marriage.
Although fiction, a reader is seemingly felt at home at Sparta and couldn’t help cheering on the ritual games and contests to impress Helen while at the same time sharing her anxiety for her upcoming future. As she weds Menelaus, the brother of her brother-in-law (Agamemnon) and her friend into a passionless marriage, one may think that Helen’s worst days are over until Margaret George turns the tables with the utmost grace and vigor.
Entering the palace of Sparta was Paris – The Prince of Troy whom the queen of Sparta, the most beautiful woman in the world – Helen fell in love with. Nonetheless, the author though subtle, plays with words such that the reader can notice that it wasn’t love which bonded Paris to Helen and Helen to Paris but passion.
– ‘I felt the hot and cold run through me.’
‘That voice. That inimitable voice! I heard it again and my heart sang.’
‘Had any other queens fallen into a mad passion for a stranger?’
Drowned in the threads of love and passion, Helen, who’s in her 20’s elopes with the sixteen-year-old Prince of Troy in a naïve fashion. Sadly, for Helen, hell breaks loose as her choice of freedom brings a loom upon Troy, who welcome her with unopen arms and coldness in their hearts, for they fear the prophecy made upon Paris being the doom of Troy will become a reality.
Margaret George brilliantly portrays Troy’s proud city with its mighty walls and lavish colors whose people walked with pride in their stride reduced to tension and hopelessness with a cloud of darkness hovering over it brought by the wrath of the Greeks who claimed the Trojans had stolen their queen. Though Helen is considered the protagonist of the story, the author spares her no bounds as she strips Helen from an unfairly imprisoned princess to a mighty queen to a love-stricken fool to a courageous fugitive to a mere excuse for war.
Menelaus – her unfaithful husband; Agamemnon – The vile seeker of war; Clytemnestra – the bold queen of Mycenae and her sister; Paris – a coward; Hector – Troy’s spirit; Achilles – the war demon; Priam – a fool for omens and last but not least; Aphrodite – the Greek Goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation who Helen unconsciously offends, serves as the epic puppet master as she watches the game, she cast upon Helen unfold.
The author has deciphered the characters as such that they serve the essence of the epic tale, if not the soul, making Helen of Troy one of the raw and lively replications of the Bronze Era. The power held by one breath-taking woman shook the Earth’s core, varnishing the lands with blood and regret. Whether fair or unfair, Helen’s actions could only depend upon the reader’s interpretations, but no matter the judgment, I urge one to pick up the book, for it is a narrative that deserves a read.
Helen of Troy
It may seem a simple name, but it's not. Because accompanied with the five-lettered name is a weighing history heavier than plutonium; mythology sending shivers through the dead and Courage. Courage as bold as sin!
Author: Margaret George