The World’s Desire

Author: Henry Rider Haggard


The period in which the story of /The World’s Desire/ is cast, was
a period when, as Miss Braddon remarks of the age of the
Plantagenets, "anything might happen." Recent discoveries, mainly
by Dr. Schliemann and Mr. Flinders Petrie, have shown that there
really was much intercourse between Heroic Greece, the Greece of
the Achaeans, and the Egypt of the Ramessids. This connection,
rumoured of in Greek legends, is attested by Egyptian relics found
in the graves of Mycenae, and by very ancient Levantine pottery,
found in contemporary sites in Egypt. Homer himself shows us
Odysseus telling a feigned, but obviously not improbable, tale of
an Achaean raid on Egypt. Meanwhile the sojourn of the Israelites,
with their Exodus from the land of bondage, though not yet found
to be recorded on the Egyptian monuments, was probably part of the
great contemporary stir among the peoples. These events, which are
only known through Hebrew texts, must have worn a very different
aspect in the eyes of Egyptians, and of pre-historic Achaean
observers, hostile in faith to the Children of Israel. The topic
has since been treated in fiction by Dr. Ebers, in his /Joshua/.
In such a twilight age, fancy has free play, but it is a curious
fact that, in this romance, modern fancy has accidentally
coincided with that of ancient Greece.

Most of the novel was written, and the apparently "un-Greek"
marvels attributed to Helen had been put on paper, when a part of
Furtwängler’s recent great lexicon of Mythology appeared, with the
article on Helen. The authors of /The World’s Desire/ read it with
a feeling akin to amazement. Their wildest inventions about the
Daughter of the Swan, it seemed, had parallels in the obscurer
legends of Hellas. There actually is a tradition, preserved by
Eustathius, that Paris beguiled Helen by magically putting on the
aspect of Menelaus. There is a mediaeval parallel in the story of
Uther and Ygerne, mother of Arthur, and the classical case of Zeus
and Amphitryon is familiar. Again, the blood-dripping ruby of
Helen, in the tale, is mentioned by Servius in his commentary on
Virgil (it was pointed out to one of the authors by Mr. Mackail).
But we did not know that the Star of the story was actually called
the "Star-stone" in ancient Greek fable. The many voices of Helen
are alluded to by Homer in the /Odyssey/: she was also named
/Echo/, in old tradition. To add that she could assume the aspect
of every man’s first love was easy. Goethe introduces the same
quality in the fair witch of his /Walpurgis Nacht/. A respectable
portrait of Meriamun’s secret counsellor exists, in pottery, in
the British Museum, though, as it chances, it was not discovered
by us until after the publication of this romance. The
Laestrygonian of the Last Battle is introduced as a pre-historic
Norseman. Mr. Gladstone, we think, was perhaps the first to point
out that the Laestrygonians of the /Odyssey/, with their home on a
fiord in the Land of the Midnight Sun, were probably derived from
travellers’ tales of the North, borne with the amber along the
immemorial Sacred Way. The Magic of Meriamun is in accordance with
Egyptian ideas; her resuscitation of the dead woman, Hataska, has
a singular parallel in Reginald Scot’s /Discovery of Witchcraft/
(1584), where the spell "by the silence of the Night" is not
without poetry. The general conception of Helen as the World’s
Desire, Ideal Beauty, has been dealt with by M. Paul de St.
Victor, and Mr. J. A. Symonds. For the rest, some details of
battle, and of wounds, which must seem very "un-Greek" to critics
ignorant of Greek literature, are borrowed from Homer.

H. R. H. A. L.


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Chicago: Henry Rider Haggard, "Preface," The World’s Desire, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Evans, Sebastian in The World’s Desire Original Sources, accessed June 7, 2023,

MLA: Haggard, Henry Rider. "Preface." The World’s Desire, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Evans, Sebastian, in The World’s Desire, Original Sources. 7 Jun. 2023.

Harvard: Haggard, HR, 'Preface' in The World’s Desire, ed. and trans. . cited in , The World’s Desire. Original Sources, retrieved 7 June 2023, from