Helen of Sparta

Written by Amalia Carosella
Review by Michael I. Shoop

Young and gloriously beautiful, Helen always thought she’d marry her childhood friend, Menelaus, but when her sleep is disrupted by nightmares of a shining city in flames, screams, and death, she is convinced such disaster can only be averted by refusing to marry him. Her decision pits her against her mortal father, King Tyndareus of Sparta, and her fierce mother, Leda. When suitors gather to bid for Helen’s hand, and she discovers she will be given to Menelaus, she persuades the Athenian half-god hero, King Theseus, to help her escape. Theseus, in love with her himself, agrees, and spirits Helen, disguised as a slave, away to Athens. Storms blow their ship off course to Asia Minor, where Helen has a chance meeting with a youthful shepherd who will later play a major role in her life. On reaching Athens, she masquerades as an Egyptian princess, Meryet, and is married to Theseus. Her true identity known only to Theseus’ mother, Aethra, and his sons, Helen remains terrified of being found by Menelaus and causing hostilities to explode. When Theseus goes on a quest to the Underworld with his friend King Pirithous, their charade is discovered and violence erupts. Helen, however, is determined to decide her own fate.

Using an admirable balance of history and mythology, and a readable, smoothly flowing narrative with vivid descriptions of ancient Achaean culture and customs, Carosella manages to illuminate a different aspect of the legendary woman’s life. Courage, love, betrayal, tragedy, and the idea that one’s true destiny is ruled by the gods all figure largely in Helen’s narrative; this story is but a dress rehearsal for Helen’s ultimate fate. A satisfying and entertaining tale about a woman who continues to hold many in thrall.