Is this Alternate History or an educated guess about the life of one of the most famous names in history?
Book of Helen
by Sherry Antonetti
MuseItUp Publishing (Discounted right now!)
At 65, the famous Helen of Troy finds herself in a new role, that of having no title, husband or things to do as she faces exile on the island of Rhodes. Her hoarded wealth, fabulous stories of the past, and a newly acquired servant/scribe named Pythia , should allow Helen to establish her own legacy, but there are some who won’t be courted.
Helen begins to ply her legendary charm, wit and capacity to create beauty and spectacle in her new home to win the hearts of the people with great effect. But Helen rarely recognizes that as she ascends, others might resent her casual winning over of everyone. Queen Polyoxo has granted sanctuary to her childhood friend for reasons other than friendship, leaving Pythia caught in the wake of two very powerful women with very different means of conveying and maintaining authority.
Can Helen with all her treasures and stories and charisma win over everyone? Or will the need for revenge, threaten the life of the most beautiful woman in the world and those who serve her? You may think you know what happened in the Trojan War and afterwards, but as Helen observed, "No one ever bothered to ask me."
What started this story?
Answer: Back in 2005 I started writing. I discovered the wonderful writer's forum, Absolutewrite.com and began submitting pieces that amazingly enough, got published.
By 2007, I'd begun to think, I should try something more than articles. I should write a book...but about what? My daughter Regina was born and a month after, contracted RSV. When a baby is sick and
you're the mom stuck at the hospital, you can do three things...pester the doctors, watch bad television and worry.
Having done all three, while she slept, I tried reading. My husband had bought the new translation by Fagles of the Odyssey. Reading it, the line about Helen slipping a drug (opium) into the wine to allow the men to think about the Trojan war without getting upset, jumped out at me. I wrote my first Helen story with the tag, "It started with an apple." The original idea had been to do a series of stories (sort of an Arabian Nights) based on the various trinkets and treasures Helen deemed sentimental. It turned into something more.
Helen had to manipulate and charm and work the ancient world. I envisioned her as a CEO in a predatory world. Helen became a composite of multiple strong women I've known in my life plus a goodly dose of the mythic woman from all the literature. As I researched, I discovered Helen to be the original Fan Fiction woman, as she has been reinvented in almost every age of Western civilization.
Writing this book, I sought to answer three basic questions that go unanswered in the original texts and many of the subsequent reinvisionings of the Helen/Paris/Menelaus Trojan war story.
1) What made Helen leave Sparta? (She's queen, she's in charge; she's the actual power of that world). Most of the time it's simply Paris being beautiful or the gods directly compelling the action or Menelaus bashing which oddly is designed in most cases to exonerate Helen for leaving.
2) What made the Trojans keep her? They could have ended the siege by sending her out or killing her. Her beauty alone would have been sufficient perhaps for Paris, but what made all of Troy decide to stick it out for her? If you read the Trojan women, you’ll find not all of Troy found her beguiling, but the Helen in that play is strong and defeats the seemingly justified wrath of Queen Hecuba. So Helen had to be more than a pretty face to warrant a ten year war that ended a civilization and hurt so many others.
3) What made Menelaus take her back after all of that? She’s the most famous adulterer of the Greek world. She’s shamed him. She’s forced Greece to empty its city states of grown men on her behalf to bring her back. She’s caused the deaths of countless people and suffering to those left behind. The line in the Aeneid, “She bared her breasts, he dropped his sword.” is all the explanation of their reconciliation we get. Yet in the Odyssey, it is clear that the two of them have a happy marriage later in life. So how do we get from running away and a 10 year bloody war to apparent tranquil domestic hearts in accord with one another?
The story became something about friendship, about women in power, and about the power of both beauty and forgiveness, and the darkness left behind when either beauty or forgiveness is denied. I hope everyone who reads The Book of Helen has as much fun discovering her secrets, her flaws, her sins and her virtues as I did writing about her.