Reclaiming Helen: discovering the facets behind the infamous face
Aumann, Josephine E. (Karcz)
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A vivacious demigod, a scapegoat, an intercessor of love, a shameful adulterer, a pawn traded between men, a victimized woman persecuted by her society, a border crosser: Helen of Greek mythology has played all of these roles in myths, stories, songs, and allusions across time and cultures. How a culture treats Helen is a barometer for how that society judges women, their bodies, their sexuality, and their autonomy. Artists like Chaucer, Shakespeare, Yeats, and Atwood objectify Helen as the most beautiful woman of Greek mythology and vilify her for her part in the catastrophic Trojan War. Their portrayals overlook the agency she exhibits to survive a male-dominated society or how she is being scapegoated to avoid revealing flaws of the patriarchy. As revisionists, artists such as Sappho and H.D. give Helen a major role and draw back the curtain of ignominy to peer into her face, her identity as a woman, and the qualities she may share with other women. The foundational texts, Homer and Virgil, support these explorations in their ambiguous portrayals of Helen as both a victim and a villain. Textual analysis of Helen in works across time reveals how cultural expectations affect women, and, in particular, how women can still gain authority of their lives and rebel against oppression.
Helen of Greek mythology
Helen of Troy