Here’s some excerpts that appealed to my wayward nature from the excellent book Helen of Troy: The Story Behind the Most Beautiful Woman in the World by Bettany Hughes, a full review of which will appear in Friday’s hardhitting edition of RADIOFREEUBU:
The scene is enigmatic. But the proliferation of trees and vegetation suggests that a fertility rite is in progress. And the poppies make one thing clear – these women are employing narcotics to approach their gods.
A number of women are dancing through lilies, while a figure hovers above them: the ecstatic hallucination of a transported priestess perhaps – or a vision of a godhead conceived by a worshiper who had enjoyed the mind altering gift of the goddess?
Whether or not it was sexualized, the female breast was certainly idolized in the Late Bronze Age. Women appear with bare breasts during rituals involving trees and plants clearly associating the mature female figure with a celebration of fertility and procreation.
Simon Magus’s teachings appeared to have advanced sex as a path to salvation. According to Hippolytus’s Refutation of All Heresies, Simon endorsed ideals of free love, and his followers had a proclivity to drug abuse and sexual excess. They used aphrodisiacs and love charms, they summoned up demons and they tampered with men’s dreams…it is certain that this was a sect that both embraced women, and promoted the idea of a charismatic, potent female.
The Eunoia was then reincarnated as (among others) Helen of Troy – a female spirit, the very cognition of God himself, trapped inside an exquisite female body. This female spirit in the form of Helen of Troy is taken and abused by many men, polluted by many lovers.
Simon Magus first caught sight of Helene as she held a torch one night on a rooftop in Tyre.
Helen was put on earth to catalyze desire. And for three millennia she has been hated for it: because in entertaining desire, we recognize our needs and our disappointments. Helen embodies mankind’s drive to covet, yearn, raven for what it does not have.
Female divinities seem to have been worshiped with the most frenzied devotion at extreme points in the landscape.
Perhaps even, in this case, she was someone whose sexual power was indeed so marked that it was presumed by her peers (people who made little distinction between the physical and the spiritual) that she must be some kind of human incarnation of the spirit of fecundity.