Classical historian Bettany Hughes (THE SPARTANS) travels across the eastern Mediterranean on an epic journey to find out the truth about Helen of Troy, once called the most beautiful woman on earth. Known as "the face that launched a thousand ships," she has been blamed for causing the Trojan War, a conflict that caused countless deaths. HELEN OF TROY premieres on PBS Wednesday, October 12, 2005, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET (check local listings). Hughes holds a bachelor's and master's degree, with honors, in Ancient and Modern History from Oxford University and her first book, "Helen of Troy, Goddess, Princess, Whore," published by Knopf, is due in bookstores across the U.S. on October 4. During her own voyage in Helen's wake, Hughes separates the reality from the romantic myths that have been told about Helen. She travels from the city where Helen is said to have been born, Sparta in the mountains of Greece, to the archaeological site in modern Turkey that will be forever linked with the war fought in her name: Troy. On the way, Hughes discovers some fascinating facts. In a small tourist hotel in Mycenae, the "Belle Helene," the powerful and famous from more recent times have left their mark. Author Virginia Wolfe and other members of the famous literary circle, the Bloomsbury Group, stayed there, as did leaders of the Nazi party, among them Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels, perhaps in search of the origins of the Aryan race. Hughes notes their faded signatures, now framed on the hotel's walls. Hughes also follows the path of Henry Schliemann, the man who put Mycenae on the map in 1876 and who, when he unearthed a cache of ancient jewels, adorned his young Greek wife with them. Says Hughes, "Helen's story is important and irresistible because it deals with that strange and worrying combination of pleasure and pain, sex and violence, love and hate. However, it is not just a story. Helen and the Trojan War have become epic and iconic, retold again and again over the centuries. But if you look at them closely they're not all fantasy; they are very human, too. "The drama starts with a messy love affair and it ends up in a bloody and disastrous conflict," she adds in the introduction to HELEN OF TROY. "I think that Helen's tale is rooted in 3,000-year-old reality and that if you look for her in the eastern Mediterranean, you'll find that many of the ancient stories are closer to history than they are to myth." So many images of Helen, says Hughes, from Hollywood movies to romantic paintings and literature, have gotten her all wrong, drawing on later fantasies rather than the truth of the Late Bronze Age world Helen inhabited more than 3,000 years ago. In the course of her journey, Hughes discovers just what a real woman like Helen would have looked like in the sumptuous and mysterious royal courts and cult centers of ancient Greece, heavy with religious rituals dominated by powerful women. Hughes travels by boat across what Homer called "the wine dark seas" in pursuit of Helen, who sailed that route with Paris, her Trojan lover. While Hughes explores the Late Bronze Age reality behind the story of Helen, she takes in some of the most beautiful scenery of the ancient world, from the magnificent citadel at Mycenae to the spectacular site of the shrine to Helen, high in the hills above Sparta. She also tastes the food of the ancient world -- based on the latest archaeological research -- and discovers how the conflict in Helen's name would really have been fought. Working with weapons experts and accurate replicas of chariots pulled by local gypsy horses, Hughes experiences firsthand how chariots and archers battled beneath the still looming walls of Troy. Bettany Hughes' previous documentary for PBS, THE SPARTANS, charted the rise and fall of one of the most intriguing and extreme civilizations of the ancient world. HELEN OF TROY is the result of her lifelong fascination with the story of Helen and the influence it has wielded on both men and women for more than three millennia.