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Worrying Wives

Helen King: The Invention of Sparta, 7 August 2003

Spartan Women 
by Sarah Pomeroy.
Oxford, 198 pp., £45, July 2002, 0 19 513066 9
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... did not do it in person; she just owned the team. Furthermore, the sources claim that her brother, King Agesilaus, urged her to enter in order to show that victory was a function of wealth, so her participation does not seem to have been her own idea. Again, Xenophon claims that Spartan women did not do their own weaving – a task paradigmatic of the female ...

That Stupid Pelt

Helen King: Wolf’s retelling of Medea, 12 November 1998

Medea: A Modern Retelling 
by Christa Wolf, translated by John Cullen.
Virago, 256 pp., £16.99, April 1998, 1 86049 480 3
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... a reading of the play that makes sense of her appalling crime. The story of Medea, daughter of the King of Colchis, has a number of variants. In some versions, having fallen in love with Jason and used her magical powers to help him steal the Golden Fleece from her father, she murders her brother on the voyage from Colchis and scatters his dismembered corpse ...

In praise of Geoffrey Lloyd

Helen King, 8 October 1992

Methods and Problems in Greek Science: Selected Papers 
by G.E.R. Lloyd.
Cambridge, 457 pp., £45, May 1991, 0 521 37419 7
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... Geoffrey Lloyd has held the position of Professor of Ancient Philosophy and Science in the University of Cambridge since 1985. The creation of this personal chair not only honoured a great and generous scholar, but also gave a much-needed boost to the growing interest in ancient science: a subject which, over the last two centuries, had been pushed to the margins of Classical scholarship while simultaneously being eclipsed by the rise of modern science ...

Women at the Mercy of Men

Simon Goldhill: Greek Gynaecology, 4 March 1999

Hippocrates’ Women: Reading the Female Body in Ancient Greece 
by Helen King.
Routledge, 322 pp., £16.99, October 1998, 0 415 13895 7
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... will cure the problem of what modern society would recognise as the norm of menstruation. As Helen King remarks drily: ‘In Hippocratic terms, most Western women today are very sick indeed.’ The construction of the female body of medical science starts here, then, and it would be hard to overestimate the influence of this authoritative model as ...


Marina Warner: Medea, 3 December 2015

... and shock, rather than elucidate, that accounts for its lasting presence. She is a daughter of a king of Colchis on the Black Sea, a princess from a country beyond the bounds of civilisation as the Greeks saw it. The golden fleece (of a magical sacrificed ram) is the sacred cult object of her country, guarded by terrible fire-breathing monsters (a colossal ...

Some girls want out

Hilary Mantel: Spectacular saintliness, 4 March 2004

The Voices of Gemma Galgani: The Life and Afterlife of a Modern Saint 
by Rudolph Bell and Cristina Mazzoni.
Chicago, 320 pp., £21, March 2003, 0 226 04196 4
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Saint Thérèse of Lisieux 
by Kathryn Harrison.
Weidenfeld, 160 pp., £14.99, November 2003, 0 297 84728 7
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The Disease of Virgins: Green Sickness, Chlorosis and the Problems of Puberty 
by Helen King.
Routledge, 196 pp., £50, September 2003, 0 415 22662 7
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A Wonderful Little Girl: The True Story of Sarah Jacob, the Welsh Fasting Girl 
by Siân Busby.
Short Books, 157 pp., £5.99, June 2004, 1 904095 70 4
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... the place her pain is centred, the place where metaphors converge. She calls Jesus ‘the powerful King of Hearts’. Hélène Cixous has pointed out that the heart is the place where male and female metaphors become one. Both sexes agree it is there that love is bred and contained. The heart beats faster when you see your lover, or in the sexual act. It is ...

Gentlemen’s Spleen

Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen: Hysterical Men, 27 August 2009

Hysterical Men: The Hidden History of Male Nervous Illness 
by Mark Micale.
Harvard, 366 pp., £19.95, December 2008, 978 0 674 03166 1
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... then, that he cites in a footnote the ‘able revisionist analyses’ of the classicist Helen King, which irrefutably establish that this is not the case. Not only does the term ‘hysteria’ appear nowhere in Greek texts, but the various symptoms attributed to the migrations of the hustera – including respiratory discomfort, neck pain and ...

They Supped with the King

Bee Wilson: Mistresses, 6 January 2011

Mistresses: A History of the Other Woman 
by Elizabeth Abbott.
Duckworth, 510 pp., £20, 0 7156 3946 3
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... but she didn’t like it much (no Coca-Cola). Together, they nurtured their beloved dachshunds, Helen and Gandhi; and they mourned together when Helen and Gandhi died. Yet for all the time they were united, Hearst remained officially married to his social-climbing wife, Millie, who bore him five sons. When Hearst ...

The One We’d Like to Meet

Margaret Anne Doody: Myth, 6 July 2000

Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India 
by Wendy Doniger.
Chicago, 376 pp., £43.95, June 1999, 0 226 15640 0
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The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth 
by Wendy Doniger.
Columbia, 212 pp., £11.50, October 1999, 0 231 11171 1
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... Do real queens or goddesses get raped? Can beauty become vile? Such problems are raised by Helen of Troy, wife of King Menelaus, and by Sita, wife of Rama. Their stories (in multiple versions) are entertainingly retold and analysed by Wendy Doniger, a professor of the history of religions and of South-East Asian languages and civilisations ...


Malise Ruthven, 2 June 1983

The Helen Smith Story 
by Paul Foot and Ron Smith.
Fontana, 418 pp., £1.95, February 1983, 0 00 636536 1
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... technically these are crimes punishable by imprisonment, flogging or worse. When Abdul Aziz became king after conquering the Hejaz in 1926, he allowed Jeddah’s foreign community to import alcohol openly: he was forced to end this concession when the British consul, who used to serve drinks to his Saudi guests, was shot dead by a drunken young prince. Since ...

Best Known for His Guzzleosity

Helen Hackett: Shakespeare’s Authors, 11 March 2010

Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? 
by James Shapiro.
Faber, 367 pp., £20, April 2010, 978 0 571 23576 6
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... as part of that biographical evidence: Constance’s grief over the death of her son Arthur in King John must reflect Shakespeare’s grief at the death of his own son, Hamnet; a reference to cuckoldry in Sonnet 93 indicates that Anne Hathaway was unfaithful; and so on. As Shapiro comments, perhaps Shakespeare was thinking of his own life at those ...

Family Fortunes

Helen Cooper: The upwardly mobile Pastons, 4 August 2005

Blood and Roses: The Paston Family in the 15th Century 
by Helen Castor.
Faber, 347 pp., £8.99, June 2005, 0 571 21671 4
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... So violent and motley was life that it bore the mixed smell of blood and of roses.’ Helen Castor quotes Johan Huizinga’s description of the waning of the Middle Ages at the very end of her book, with something approaching a denial of its relevance to her own account of the same period. ‘Blood and roses’ suggests violence and sex – or at least violence and sentimentality ...

No One Left to Kill

Thomas Jones: Achilles, 24 May 2001

by Elizabeth Cook.
Methuen, 116 pp., £12.99, March 2001, 0 413 75740 4
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... be a serf in the house of some landless man, with little enough for himself to live on, than king of all these dead men that have done with life.’ This is sometimes taken to mean that he regrets the choice he made; but more than that, he’s saying that once you’re dead, it doesn’t make any difference. Not that the living will ever really believe ...

Fill it with fish

Helen Cooper: The trail of the Grail, 6 June 2002

Parzival and the Stone from Heaven: A Grail Romance Retold for Our Time 
by Lindsay Clarke.
HarperCollins, 239 pp., £14.99, September 2001, 0 00 710813 3
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Merlin and the Grail: ‘Joseph of Arimathea’, ‘Merlin’, ‘Perceval’ The Trilogy of Arthurian Romances Attributed to Robert de Boron 
translated by Nigel Bryant.
Boydell and Brewer, 172 pp., £30, May 2001, 0 85991 616 2
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Le Livre du Graal. Tome I: ‘Joseph D’Arimathie’, ‘Merlin’, ‘Les Premiers Faits du Roi Arthur’ 
edited by Daniel Poirion and Philippe Walter.
Gallimard, 1993 pp., £50.95, April 2001, 2 07 011342 6
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... in this manner?’ ‘No word came from my mouth.’ She then tells him that the maimed Fisher King will remain unhealed as a result of his failure to speak. Perceval’s unfulfilled task, in fact, was not to find an answer, but to ask a question. So far as he is concerned, the answer is beside the point. Several thousand lines later, he is told, without ...

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