The Memoirs of Helen of Troy

Written by Amanda Elyot
Review by Suzanne J. Sprague

Helen’s memoirs are a gift to Hermione, her only remaining child, written with the intention of justifying her seemingly selfish decisions. At age five, Helen discovers that her father is Zeus, not her mother’s husband, giving her the gift of phenomenal beauty and the inability to die. Soon after this revelation, Helen finds her mother dead of suicide. The remainder of this first-person account spans her life, beginning with her lonely childhood, tormented by her sister Clytemnestra and despised by her father, through her reunion with her husband Menelaus. Substantial coverage of Helen’s abduction by Theseus, affair with Paris Alexandros, and involvement in the Trojan War fills the pages between.

Elyot’s research into Greek mythology shines as the stories intertwined with Helen’s recollections conform to the popular versions of many recognizable myths, including the requisite animal sacrifices and overt sexuality of the time. The author does provide a disclaimer, however, that a few liberties were taken. Elyot does not overly elaborate on the history of secondary characters like Odysseus, but gives background information when needed—such as the myth of Helen’s conception and the curse on the house of Mycenae.

While previous knowledge of Greek mythology is helpful, anyone interested in stories about ancient gods and goddesses will find Helen’s memoirs to be compelling and persuasive, especially concerning the argument that the fall of Troy was due to greed, not revenge.