The origins of Western patriarchal history are based on a few epic poems written hundreds of years after the events—mainly The Iliad and The Odyssey—by two men on the winning side of a 10-year war, Homer and Hesiod.
Their myths forged the very bones of Western Civilisation—and culturally programmed us to think of women as the backdrop to men’s history.
This saga brings the most maligned woman in antiquity—HELEN OF TROY, QUEEN OF SPARTA—into the present day. She’s back.
The young Irishwoman, Nearby, who works for MI6,
stumbles upon this at the end of Chapter 2:-
At various times, The Jericho Café had been frequented by Helena Blavatsky, W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde—and James Joyce.
But Nearby was only pretending to read his novel, Ulysses.
Sure everyone must pretend to read Ulysses, she mused.
The power was still out but, being in the window, she could see the page. The character in the novel, Mr Deasy, had been pinching the wings of his nose, and variously slagging off Jews, women—and Helen of Troy.
A woman brought sin into the world.
For a woman who was no better than she should be,
Helen, the runaway wife of Menelaus,
ten years the Greeks made war on Troy.
Nearby checked on the chess game. Grinin was capturing Blanka’s white bishop with his characteristic Russian zest.
A faithless wife first brought the strangers
to our shore here.
But what if Helen wasn’t a faithless wife? What if she wasn’t raped either? What if both versions are as true as Shakespeare’s Richard III? A fucking fabrication? Spartan girls were trained as warriors too. She was strong. She’d been kidnapped—but when she was a young girl.
A ghost of Nearby’s childhood choked her off, brought a lump to her throat. She turned her head, and studied Grinin intently.
And here he is: this Ulysses, this tricksy man—Mr Metapox. Creator of a deceitful monster. A virus that hides in a perfume bottle. It is the ultimate Trojan Horse!
And what if the truth about Helen is domestic? Domestic abuse? Maybe the Greek kings weren’t so noble; but brutes. Agamemnon murdered his daughter for a fair wind to Troy after all.
Maybe it was his brother, Menelaus, who was no better than he should be. Maybe she ran because he beat her.
She gave up being queen to go to Troy.
With Paris. What if he saved her?
Nearby finished her Virgin Mary, set the glass down, and closed the book. She looked at Grinin; she looked at Blanka; but she thought of Helen.
I wonder what sort of queen she was…?
Her mind ran on.
If she came back, what would she be like? Where would she go? What would she do?
Just then, the lights came on. In seconds, the shops and the Children’s Hospital came back to life; followed by the honking of car horns as the traffic lights shone red and green once more. In the distance, alarms began to howl.
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SAPPHO – HYMN TO APHRODITE – TRANSLATED BY ANNE CARSON
Deathless Aphrodite of the spangled mind,
child of Zeus, who twists lures, I beg you
do not break with hard pains,
O lady, my heart.
But you, oh blessed one,
smiled in your deathless face
and asked what (now again) I have suffered and why
(now again) I am calling out
and what I want to happen most of all
in my crazy heart.