Women since the dawn of time, have been labelled, scorned, vilified or regarded as ball-busters if they show strength. Throughout history there have been numerous examples where women were condemned: Helen of Sparta, Nefertiti, Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, Mata Hari, Marilyn Monroe to just name a few. The question one has to ask is why? They’re all famous whether by chance or choice for their actions. Or was it simply the male ego, bruised and beaten because of the strength of their character?
Let’s look at Helen of Sparta and Mata Hari; both have intriguing mythologies because of their mystique and sexuality.
Each was condemned for perceived actions/behaviour: Helen who supposedly had an affair with a foreign prince that precipitated a war; and Mata Hari, an exotic dancer who was regarded as a double-agent during World War 1.
Helen of Sparta
Depending on which mythology you read, Helen was blamed not only for the Trojan War but also for the deaths. A burden she had to carry until she died. The question remains, did she really have an affair or raped and kidnapped according a few ancient sources? Then there is the compelling possibility she did not meet Paris and not go to Troy. Regardless, a war did happen and a city was destroyed all in her name. The running theme throughout Homer’s Iliad, Euripides’ play Trojan Women and other ancient writers was Helen’s beauty. She compelled people to behave contrary to their norm. She was revered and reviled for her beauty.
During this time in history, women were a commodity, and in times of war, often taken by force by triumphant warriors who bring them back home as concubines or sold on the slave market. In my story The Curse of Troy, I wanted to present an alternative point of view on the events leading to the Trojan War. We will never know the truth but it certainly makes research and reading all the more fascinating. I read Bettany Hughes’ Helen of Troy an exceptional and detailed resource. Worth reading if you are interested in learning more about Helen and women in Ancient Greece.
From an early age she showed a flair for flamboyance, telling friends about an illustrious ancestry to living in a castle. Popular and bright, with the gift of learning various languages, it was recommended she become a kindergarten teacher. That didn’t last long. Had an affair with the owner of the training school and condemned for her behaviour (the proprietor was blameless apparently). She left the school, her name sullied.
She did marry. The marriage didn’t last very long because of her husband’s jealous rage. Men were attracted to her and though she never did anything, he was abusive. She filed for divorce after five years and left for Paris. She then changed her name to Mata Hari, which is Malay and means ‘eye of dawn’. She was an overnight success. Mata Hari was one of the few dancers who would strip to almost nothing. As she got older, her life as a courtesan began. She had many lovers including military officers. It has been alleged this was the time she became a spy. First, for the Germans and then for the French. Both intelligence groups used her to filter misinformation about the other. The French arrested her for being a German agent, which she denied even when face to face with the firing squad. To this day, there is no real evidence to suggest she was a spy, only speculation.
What these two had in common was their ability to deceive or rather induces uncharacteristic behaviour. Renowned for their beauty, garnered with an inner quality that changes and binds men in such a way, they create havoc. On the other hand, were these women scapegoats by circumstance? Used as pawns in a scrupulous plan? We will never know the whole truth but it certainly makes for great stories.
Would love to know what you think.