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A cultural history of the goddess of love, from a New York Times bestselling and award-winning historian. Aphrodite was said to have been born from the sea, rising out of a froth of white foam. But long before the Ancient Greeks conceived of this voluptuous blonde, she existed as an early spirit of fertility on the shores of Cyprus -- and thousands of years before that, A cultural history of the goddess of love, from a New York Times bestselling and award-winning historian. Aphrodite was said to have been born from the sea, rising out of a froth of white foam. But long before the Ancient Greeks conceived of this voluptuous blonde, she existed as an early spirit of fertility on the shores of Cyprus -- and thousands of years before that, as a ferocious warrior-goddess in the Middle East. Proving that this fabled figure is so much more than an avatar of commercialized romance, historian Bettany Hughes reveals the remarkable lifestory of one of antiquity's most potent myths. Venus and Aphrodite brings together ancient art, mythology, and archaeological revelations to tell the story of human desire. From Mesopotamia to modern-day London, from Botticelli to Beyoncé, Hughes explains why this immortal goddess continues to entrance us today -- and how we trivialize her power at our peril.


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A cultural history of the goddess of love, from a New York Times bestselling and award-winning historian. Aphrodite was said to have been born from the sea, rising out of a froth of white foam. But long before the Ancient Greeks conceived of this voluptuous blonde, she existed as an early spirit of fertility on the shores of Cyprus -- and thousands of years before that, A cultural history of the goddess of love, from a New York Times bestselling and award-winning historian. Aphrodite was said to have been born from the sea, rising out of a froth of white foam. But long before the Ancient Greeks conceived of this voluptuous blonde, she existed as an early spirit of fertility on the shores of Cyprus -- and thousands of years before that, as a ferocious warrior-goddess in the Middle East. Proving that this fabled figure is so much more than an avatar of commercialized romance, historian Bettany Hughes reveals the remarkable lifestory of one of antiquity's most potent myths. Venus and Aphrodite brings together ancient art, mythology, and archaeological revelations to tell the story of human desire. From Mesopotamia to modern-day London, from Botticelli to Beyoncé, Hughes explains why this immortal goddess continues to entrance us today -- and how we trivialize her power at our peril.

30 review for Venus and Aphrodite: A Biography of Desire

  1. 4 out of 5

    Maja - BibliophiliaDK ✨

    SHORT AND SOMEWHAT CURSORY 'BIOGRAPHY' OF APHRODITE One the one hand I really liked that this was a short book. Often times I want to read non-fiction, but get tired halfway through because of the sheer length. It was nice to get a short non-fiction book for once. On the other hand, it did leave some things to be desired because of the length. So I am of two minds. Still, overall, it was a good, informative read. 👍 What I Liked 👍 Evolution: When I have read other books about mythology or gods and g SHORT AND SOMEWHAT CURSORY 'BIOGRAPHY' OF APHRODITE One the one hand I really liked that this was a short book. Often times I want to read non-fiction, but get tired halfway through because of the sheer length. It was nice to get a short non-fiction book for once. On the other hand, it did leave some things to be desired because of the length. So I am of two minds. Still, overall, it was a good, informative read. 👍 What I Liked 👍 Evolution: When I have read other books about mythology or gods and goddess, the author often dedicates a lot of time and space to talking about the persona and the worship of the goddess in question. I really liked that this was not the focus of this book. This book focused more on her evolution over time and her geographical travels. I liked that angle. Writing: The writing was easy to get into and the tone was more conversational than scholarly. 👎 What I Disliked 👎 Superficial: Because of the length of the book, some of the points did seem a little superficial and could have done with a bit more elaboration. ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review Follow me for more book loving content! Blog ✨ Facebook ✨ Instagram ✨ Twitter Blog Post: 15 Books to Read if You Love Jane Austen

  2. 4 out of 5

    Iset

    Well here’s a surprise from Bettany Hughes. Although Aphrodite has been a persistent background theme, particularly in her early work on Helen of Troy, the release of this book took me unawares, and I’ll admit the only reason I didn’t read it straight away was because I thought I would have to set aside a solid chunk of time for it. But unlike Hughes’ previous books, which have been thick, solid tomes of academia, this one is a little lighter and breezier – both in tone and volume. That the audi Well here’s a surprise from Bettany Hughes. Although Aphrodite has been a persistent background theme, particularly in her early work on Helen of Troy, the release of this book took me unawares, and I’ll admit the only reason I didn’t read it straight away was because I thought I would have to set aside a solid chunk of time for it. But unlike Hughes’ previous books, which have been thick, solid tomes of academia, this one is a little lighter and breezier – both in tone and volume. That the audiobook only takes three hours and ten minutes should indicate just how quick of a read this is. The professionalism is still there, but Hughes picks out very select examples to quickly make her points, rather than launching us into in-depth analyses of mountains of evidence. I can’t help but feel that Hughes specifically wanted this book to be picked up by everyone and to be easy to read even if you have no prior knowledge of ancient Greece or interest in history at all, mirroring the universal appeal of Aphrodite herself. I’ve always enjoyed Hughes’ writing style – at once intelligent and erudite, but also conversational and almost conspiratorial – but that’s a personal preference. Hughes cuts a broad swathe through a huge span of time, too, taking us from earlier iterations and divinities from distant lands which may have contributed to the evolution of Aphrodite, but also examining the latter day goddess, her treatment by Christianity, Renaissance thinkers, and alternately as a symbol of power, oppression, and then power once more in the modern age. I’ll admit, as I’ve enjoyed Hughes’ work in the past maybe I would have liked another rich tome to sink my teeth into, but I’ll happily take this. 8 out of 10

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Roose

    I devoured this little book while lazing on the almost mythic, dreamy beaches of Australia’s South West. Something about that region always draws me to read/write/paint Greek mythology, so coming across this in a tiny bookshop seemed like serendipity. Bettany Hughes writes really beautifully. Her writing style is smooth, evocative and never dry—I enjoyed her creative way of presenting historical information. While I thoroughly enjoyed this analysis, it felt a little too brief. It read more to me I devoured this little book while lazing on the almost mythic, dreamy beaches of Australia’s South West. Something about that region always draws me to read/write/paint Greek mythology, so coming across this in a tiny bookshop seemed like serendipity. Bettany Hughes writes really beautifully. Her writing style is smooth, evocative and never dry—I enjoyed her creative way of presenting historical information. While I thoroughly enjoyed this analysis, it felt a little too brief. It read more to me like an (intelligent & scholarly, don't get me wrong) university paper rather than a book-length historical biography. I was just left wanting so much more. In all, this is a lovely, however brief, introduction to the myth of Aphrodite.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Viktoria

    Three stars - I liked it. Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book to read! We are all familiar with the Greek myth about Aphrodite' s birth, a much violent act — Kronos throwing his father' s genitals in the sea. It might seem paradoxical, at first, that after such an act was born the goddess of Love, Beauty and Desire, but after all, pain and destruction always accompany those, very much like the Horai accompanying Aphrodite when she came out of the sea on the island o Three stars - I liked it. Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book to read! We are all familiar with the Greek myth about Aphrodite' s birth, a much violent act — Kronos throwing his father' s genitals in the sea. It might seem paradoxical, at first, that after such an act was born the goddess of Love, Beauty and Desire, but after all, pain and destruction always accompany those, very much like the Horai accompanying Aphrodite when she came out of the sea on the island of Cyprus. Hughes takes a look at how a female deity, combining the opposite and yet complimentary characteristic of war and love, both springing from desire, be it Inanna, Ishtar or Astarte, took shape in the Middle East, at a very tumultuous, and vitaly important for the birth of the first civilizations, period. Her focus is mostly on Phoenician Astarte, as the most similar to Aphrodite-Venus. As it is known, not only food, building materials, luxury items and etc. were exchanged between traders in prehistoric times, but also ideas. And indeed the phoenicians were pioneers in the area of long-distance (and not-so-long distance) trade, so it comes natural to suggest that their portrayal of a love-and-hate goddess would be the one to influence the newly arising Mediterranean civilizations and their forming cultures. Of course, Cyprus with its abundance of copper, was a highly preferred client for trade. At the point of arrival of the idea of Astarte on Cyprus, there were already established cults, Hughes starts her work with what is left of a Chalcholitic fertility cult — stone intersex figurines, abundant in quantities, found near what is thought to have been birthing centers. After this cult lost its influence, another began, headed by a wanassa (local priestess/goddess/queen), in which central role was played by the production and trade of perfumes. For a long time this wanassa lacked a name, so how did it adopt that of Aphrodite? As Hughes finds out, it is quite impossible to tell. We are only (almost) certain that the Cypriot Goddess began being called Aphrodite during the Iron Age and was worshipped in Paleo Paphos as a heavily sexualized figure. Venus, the roman aspect of Aphrodite, was most powerful in the city of Pompeii, known after 89 BC as Colonia Cornelia Veneria Pompeianorum. In fact, Hughes finds connections between Venus-Aphrodite and port towns overall, she also seems to have protected sailors and of course, where sailors are, there are prostitutes. Aphrodite's relationship with the last, from what we can gather of the ancient sources, was a protective one and even motherly. According to Hughes, Aphrodite also promotes “sexual fluidity and experimentation.” The author spends a whole chapter on this matter, and from the archaeological and written evidence she has gathered, it seems androgyny was at all times prevalent in connection to fertility cults. The Aphrodite portrayed by Hughes is not just a goddess of love and desire, she is much more, she is the one who “mixes-it-all-up”, the one who encourages socialization and civic harmony, the one who unites and of course, being able to hold that power, she also holds its opposite — the power to ruin, to drive men to battles, to create conflict whenever she wants (the Trojan war, for example). Under her epithets of Mechanitis and Epistrophia she was known as a deviser and deceiver. Aphrodite, above all other gods, stands as a proof of the morale and ethics of her worshippers. Under what epithet she was venerated showed the reality of society and its aspirations. Hughes also criticizes the gradual sexualization of the goddess, visible through art and literature, from being an appropriately clothed woman at the beginning to, after the fourth century BC, a woman slowly shedding her garments. Overall, Hughes has written a very easy-to-read, wide-ranged and brief (sometimes too brief, like seriously, I would like more information on some of the topics) book about Aphrodite-Venus, her past and her future, reaching even to contemporary times. The author knows her sources and uses them abundantly which I really appreciate. There is also an extensive bibliography for the curious reader with a lot of great suggestions for further reading! The book also includes illustrations, which I always appreciate.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Caidyn (he/him/his)

    I received an ARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review! I went into this book expecting a larger "biography" of Aphrodite. But this is a very short book and really is a cursory examination of the goddess, from proto-Aphrodites to now and a more modern look at her. Sadly, I didn't get into this. I thought that this would be 3 stars at the most, but then I hit the chapter that was about Aphrodite and sexuality. However, I could tell that the author didn't do a review on terms. She see I received an ARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review! I went into this book expecting a larger "biography" of Aphrodite. But this is a very short book and really is a cursory examination of the goddess, from proto-Aphrodites to now and a more modern look at her. Sadly, I didn't get into this. I thought that this would be 3 stars at the most, but then I hit the chapter that was about Aphrodite and sexuality. However, I could tell that the author didn't do a review on terms. She seems to think that sexuality and gender (specifically gender expression) are the same, something that anyone who has done any sort of gender studies would be able to tell you is not true. Her big example was about a statue of Aphrodite with a beard but also breasts and a vulva, saying the goddess's sexuality was fluid. But those things are gender expression, which don't necessarily have much to do with sexuality. It was also very cis-centered, as in it didn't think about transpeople who also have vaginas or women who don't have them. It was all about women and vulvas, as if that's it in the world when it's not and suffered from trans-erasure. I know it's a brief overview, but editing and research for gender studies and making the language more inclusive would have gone a long way.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jelena Milašinović

    My friend Antonia kindly lent me her copy of Venus and Aphrodite so I stared reading it as soon as I could. Bettany Hughes has this amazing talent for writing - the text is wonderfully written, when you read the paragraphs you feel as a friend is excitingly telling you about their research. In her approachable and lovely way of writing Bettany Hughes shows her readers that Venus is far more complex than we thought she is. Venus and Aphrodite is truly a lovely and refreshing read, where you learn My friend Antonia kindly lent me her copy of Venus and Aphrodite so I stared reading it as soon as I could. Bettany Hughes has this amazing talent for writing - the text is wonderfully written, when you read the paragraphs you feel as a friend is excitingly telling you about their research. In her approachable and lovely way of writing Bettany Hughes shows her readers that Venus is far more complex than we thought she is. Venus and Aphrodite is truly a lovely and refreshing read, where you learn so much about the subject, but the information is presented in a manner that the reader isn't bogged down with unfamiliar and too technical language, but you still learn so much.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Prpages

    Aphrodite and Venus is both a history, and a love letter to the goddess Aphrodite. It tells the tale of the Goddess Aphrodite (Venus) painted primarily through the gaze of her impact on the very humans who worshiped, admired or were otherwise infatuated with her. This book definitely had many compelling moments though at times I felt the story would jump too quickly from one bit of information to the next leaving me struggling to catch up, though overall I enjoyed how the story was laid out. I li Aphrodite and Venus is both a history, and a love letter to the goddess Aphrodite. It tells the tale of the Goddess Aphrodite (Venus) painted primarily through the gaze of her impact on the very humans who worshiped, admired or were otherwise infatuated with her. This book definitely had many compelling moments though at times I felt the story would jump too quickly from one bit of information to the next leaving me struggling to catch up, though overall I enjoyed how the story was laid out. I like how this delved deeper into the history, or the making of the goddess Aphrodite, and her characteristics of which before I only had a surface level understanding; knowing her only as the Greek Goddess of beauty and not much else. I appreciated that the author gave her a voice and gave us a more in depth view on the goddess herself as well as the ways ancient societies viewed her, as well as, her impact on contemporary society and ideas of womanhood, sexuality, and femininity. The author paints an interesting and vital picture; in that the more someone is mythologized the less human they become, thus opening their image up to be used for exploitation. All in all while though this book had its flaws it’s also definiently enjoyable and perfect for people who are interested in ancient history, or just the goddess herself.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    This is a sort of biography of the Greek goddess looking at the people who worshipped her, the stories that created her and how her image has been used and continues to be used to this day. Short and sweet and a good introduction to the mythology.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Justine

    Thanks to NetGalley and Basic Books for providing an ARC! _______________________ I was glad to find this book on NetGalley! I love mythology and discovering more about gods, goddesses, their history, what they become as time goes. Aphrodite's history is fascinating to read. Her duality is there almost from the beginning of her "life": she is both sweet, charming, loving and destructive, dark, a killer. She is both a love goddess and a war goddess in a way. She is beauty and contention, desire and Thanks to NetGalley and Basic Books for providing an ARC! _______________________ I was glad to find this book on NetGalley! I love mythology and discovering more about gods, goddesses, their history, what they become as time goes. Aphrodite's history is fascinating to read. Her duality is there almost from the beginning of her "life": she is both sweet, charming, loving and destructive, dark, a killer. She is both a love goddess and a war goddess in a way. She is beauty and contention, desire and lust. The reader learns a lot about Aphrodite-Venus's use in art, politics and History: she is portrayed in a certain way to deliver a certain message to the population - and, mostly to women. They get to see the evolution of her representation, of what she means. Her body is clothed in the beginning of her cult, then naked, then clearly exposed. She goes from an object of veneration to an object of desire and lust. She goes from goddess to whore, by way of the Virgin Mary when Christinity needed to shut down her cult, and so used her for their own. The book was well-organised: the reader is gradually guided through Aphrodite-Venus's history, and gets to see her thanks to illustrations. I loved that some of them were present in the book to support what was written. I also loved the conclusion: despite everything, despite patriarchy, despite slut-shaming and all that, Aphrodite-Venus left a mark and is still part of our lives today. She might still be used to objectify women, but she is also used to empower them.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Seher

    This was a lovely little book that complicated our understanding of what Aphrodite represented in the past. I do wonder what this book would be like if we decentralized Aphrodite-Venus and instead made an Egyptian goddess or African goddess the center of the story. Or even if we introduced one of the others such as Athena or Hera alongside her. At this point it seems a bit convenient to reduce everything to her.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sophie (RedheadReading)

    This is an immensely readable history of Venus-Aphrodite! Takes you through from Aphrodite's origins to her Greek and Roman representations, along to Renaissance interpretations and all the way up to modern depictions and views. Very light and easy to read, but with a definite thoroughness of knowledge. Most enjoyable!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

    Thank you to Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for a free copy in exchange for an honest review. You can read the illustrated version of this review (and what seltzer I paired with it) here: http://thecarbonatedscholar.com/venus... I’ve had a special affinity for Aphrodite after spending a Fulbright year on Cyprus, the legendary birthplace of the goddess of love and beauty. It’s hard to overstate the cultural importance of Aphrodite on the island. The Cyprus Tourism Board even has an Aphro Thank you to Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for a free copy in exchange for an honest review. You can read the illustrated version of this review (and what seltzer I paired with it) here: http://thecarbonatedscholar.com/venus... I’ve had a special affinity for Aphrodite after spending a Fulbright year on Cyprus, the legendary birthplace of the goddess of love and beauty. It’s hard to overstate the cultural importance of Aphrodite on the island. The Cyprus Tourism Board even has an Aphrodite Cultural Route, and I’m happy to report I’ve been to every stop. I highly suggest it when planning your next trip to Cyprus! It’s clear that Hughes has also journeyed this route around the island of Cyprus and traveled the wider Mediterranean in search of the cultural and material legacy of Aphrodite. A standout feature of Venus and Aphrodite is Hughes’s incorporation of her own travels and experiences of her research. Not only does this add narrative interest, but it also underscores one of the main arguments of the book, namely that the material record of Aphrodite can provide an “alternative to the myth” by complicating and challenging our assumptions about the goddess. Hughes extracts the goddess from the realm of the synchronic imaginary and portrays her in an array of spatial and temporal contexts. By focusing on the materiality of Aphrodite’s legacy, Hughes is able to draw out the second of her major themes, namely that Aphrodite “acts as a barometer for the way the world has viewed desire and lust and the pleasures, purpose, and preoccupations of flesh-and-blood women and men–and indeed of those who inhabited diverse points across the spectrum of sex and sexuality.” Hughes follows the trail of Aphrodite in time and space through twelve short chapters starting with Aphrodite’s birth and ending with her place in contemporary society. The chapters are filled with brief anecdotes and bold, thought-provoking claims, though not all are, in my opinion, sufficiently argued. This is in part because the book is for a popular audience, not for professional classicists, and also because the book is, in my opinion, too short. There are, however, occasional lapses in her argumentation, which are unexpected given the quality of the author’s previous books. Bettany Hughes is an English historian, writer, and broadcaster with a specialty in classical history. Her previous books on classical topics, Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore and The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life, were well-received, with the latter, a New York Times’ bestseller, shortlisted for the Writer’s Guild Award. She has won numerous awards for her writing, broadcasting, and work as an historian, including an OBE for services to history. Hughes is currently a Professor of History at the New College of the Humanities and a research fellow at King’s College, London. Hughes is clearly thoughtful about the ancient world and has dedicated significant time, effort, and travel to pursuing Aphrodite’s legacy. I feel, however, that this book doesn’t always reflect her skills and effort. I found the book overly short. There could be some benefits to such a short book (e.g. great for an airplane, great weekend book, could assign in full to undergraduate students), but I think the costs are too great to outweigh the benefits. While her major themes are valuable contributions to the public conversation about Aphrodite and gender more widely, Hughes spends a significant portion of the book repeating her rather bold (and undoubtedly important) claims, while not actually providing sufficient discussion or evidence for these claims. I thoroughly enjoyed Hughes’ style and approach and honestly would have been thrilled to read hundreds of more pages on this topic from her. Given the brevity of the book, I was flummoxed by the sparse citations and lack of further reading suggestions. Not all readers will know how to find additional sources to continue their engagement with Hughes’s fascinating material. Either the book should have been more thorough or should have helped readers connect to additional resources. Before I conclude my review, I would like to discuss three specific criticisms I have with the book. I intended to be brief, but…here we go: 1. The epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter: I love how Hughes incorporates quotations from a broad range of ancient texts, especially because she focuses more on material culture in the chapters themselves. I, however, could not stand and was terribly annoyed by the fact that the identifying information about the texts (author, title, date, original language, etc.) were banished to the endnotes and not in the text itself (like pretty much every epigraph ever). Could you imagine quoting Benjamin Franklin in the epigraph of a text and then making your readers flip to the back of the book to find out lo-and-behold it’s a quote by Benjamin Franklin. No! Benjamin Franklin’s name would be right there below the quotation. So why not do this for ancient texts. It devalues the ancient texts, and it’s a disservice to the readers. Sure, put the translator and edition in the endnote but contextualize the quotes. Doing so would also further Hughes’s arguments. Just like Aphrodite, ancient texts themselves don’t live merely in the imaginary. They were written in a specific time (even if we don’t always know it), by a specific person (even if we don’t always know that person), and in a specific cultural context (even if we don’t always understand it). Divorcing the text from its identification divorces the texts from these contexts for the reader. 2. The inclusion with no contextualization nor qualification of the provenance of Sappho’s “Kypris Song,” especially its acquisition by Dirk Obbink. (For all not in the know about this controversy surrounding Dirk Obbink, the articles by Charlotte Higgins and Ariel Sabar are good starting places; and trust me, the ride is worth it.). This text is controversial, and non-specialists NEED to know why. As Charlotte Higgins says in her 2020 article in the Guardian, “Now, in the light of the revelations of the alleged thefts of the Oxyrhynchus papyri, scholars are looking at the Sappho story with new eyes, and asking, with a fresh sense of urgency, whether the manuscript can have been legally obtained. There are even doubts as to its authenticity. The latest gossip in classical circles is that it might even be a fake. “Everything about it seems too good to be true,” one senior Cambridge classicist told me. Doubts about the Sappho papyrus have niggled away at scholars because Obbink’s account of how it was acquired – all the time reporting, he said, what he had been told by its nameless owner – has been at best sketchy, and at times contradictory.” I believe it is unethical and misleading to mention this text without also mentioning the problems surrounding its provenance and acquisition. Hughes discusses political and controversial contexts around other materials and is remiss in not mentioning this one. 3. Not discussing Aphrodite-Isis in her Egyptian and Nubian contexts. Hughes briefly discusses the relationship between Aphrodite and the Egyptian goddess Isis in Chapter 8: Eastern Queens. She mentions that Ptolemaic queens were shown as Aphrodite-Isis, including Cleopatra VII, who Hughes states, “actively exploited the connection between herself and this deity who was sex and power incarnate.” I think Hughes missed an important opportunity to discuss Isis-Aphrodite in her Egyptian context outside of the elite, Greco-Macedonian ruling class. Moreover, she neglects to discuss Isis-Aphrodite in her Nubian context. I know this is not a book about Isis, but Hughes herself includes Isis in her discussion as well as a vast array of other Mediterranean and Near Eastern goddesses. A hieroglyphic inscription at the Temple of Isis at Philae from the Ptolemaic period provides evidence for an important aspect of Isis’ mythological and political power. In the inscription, Isis says to Ptolemy II, a Greco-Macedonian pharaoh of Egypt, “I have given you the kingship of Atum on earth; I have given you the land with what is in it; I have given you victory over the north” (Žabkar (1988) 31). Isis is the arbiter of royal power. Furthermore, in a hymn inscribed on the same temple, Isis is shown to share the same bellicose and incandescent features Hughes attributes to Aphrodite: Isis is she, “Who attacks the powerful ones, Mightier than the mighty, stronger than the strong; Who smites millions (by) cutting off (their) heads, Great of massacre against her Enemy Mistress of flame who assaults the rebels, Who slays Apopis in an instant” (Hymn V on the Temple of Isis at Philae, (Žabkar (1988) 58) Such Egyptian sources, written in hieroglyphs, would have both complicated and enhanced Hughes’ argument. I was disappointed with the choice of Greek and Latin sources about Egyptian Isis over Egyptian-language sources. I was similarly disappointed in Hughes’s lack of engagement with ancient Nubia. Isis-Aphrodite worship was an important feature of Nubian culture and religion. Just as in Ptolemaic Egypt, Isis was equated with the Nubian queens, called Kandake (the origin of the name Candace), and had a significant role in Nubian kingship. There are inscriptions to Isis in the Meroitic language, statues found of Aphrodite in the capital of Meroë, and vast evidence for Nubian presence at the Temple of Isis at Philae (you can read more about this in Dr. Solange Ashby’s forthcoming book Calling Out to Isis: The Enduring Nubian Presence at Philae, based on her excellent dissertation from the University of Chicago in 2016), just to name a few examples. In my opinion it’s a significant oversight not to mention the political, culture, and religious importance of Aphrodite-Isis in Nubia. Since the book is otherwise holistic in its approach, the exclusion of a black ancient society is very troubling. This omission seems to me especially stark because the only time Hughes mentions black interactions with Venus-Aphrodite is during her discussion of the colonial “black Venuses” and Sarah Baartman, the so-called “Hottentot Venus” in Chapter 11. Hughes rightly repudiates these colonialist sins: “Venus was a thinly veiled excuse for disturbing and degenerate sexism and racism.” However, if she had previously included a discussion of ancient Nubians, Hughes would have found a much stronger argument for her overarching theme of Aphrodite as a societal mirror and her specific claim in Chapter 11 that “the once-feisty goddess had become a functionary.” Aphrodite-Venus-Isis, who had once been a force of black political power, had, through millenia in the hands and minds of white, patriarchal, European societies, morphed into a weapon of orientalism, colonialism, and misogyny used to objectify and exploit black women and black cultures. I believe this could have been a valuable addition to her book. Despite these (not-so-minor) gripes, I think Venus and Aphrodite: A Biography of Desire provides a valuable addition to the public discourse about Aphrodite and gender in the longe durée. As mentioned before, this topic would have been better served in a longer format with more room to flesh out the important claims made by the author. Nevertheless, I think many readers will enjoy this book and will be a valuable addition to many bookshelves. I would recommend this book to readers interested in the ancient world, mythology, and gender, especially those readers who might be new to the topic. This book is enjoyable to read and is short, so I would recommend this book to people who want to dip their toes into the topic but might not have the time to commit to more detail. Finally, I think this book should be required reading for people preparing to travel to Cyprus. It is chock full of details about ancient Cyprus, including interesting anecdotes from the author’s own travels to Aphrodite’s island.

  13. 4 out of 5

    ☼ Sarah ☼

    I've always been interested in mythology - the final year of my recently-obtained Masters degree in English Literature was devoted to a dissertation on the representation of the Hades/Persephone myth in several texts - yet I knew comparatively very little about Aphrodite. I found Venus and Aphrodite to be a fascinating read, and I learned a lot: each page, barring those that hold an image of a painting, a sculpture, a photograph, holds at least one intriguing fact. Hughes invites the reader to fo I've always been interested in mythology - the final year of my recently-obtained Masters degree in English Literature was devoted to a dissertation on the representation of the Hades/Persephone myth in several texts - yet I knew comparatively very little about Aphrodite. I found Venus and Aphrodite to be a fascinating read, and I learned a lot: each page, barring those that hold an image of a painting, a sculpture, a photograph, holds at least one intriguing fact. Hughes invites the reader to follow Aphrodite's trail from the goddess' birth stemming from the castration of sky god Ouranos, through her worship in Pompeii and Cyprus, through Rome, through the Renaissance, and at last, to the modern day. For those interested in a feminist exploration of myth, this proves itself to be a more than suitable choice: we begin with a fearsome goddess of desire (both for love and for war) and end with, arguably, Aphrodite as we know her, the scantily-clad muse, her gradual stripping charting society's progression towards escalating misogyny. While I would have liked to have seen a bit more depth here, this was a pleasure to read. I particularly appreciated the inclusion of hymns and poems at the start of each chapter!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Selkis

    This little book is a short biography of the Venus/Aphrodite and explains how the perception of the goddess has shifted through time. It is a very quick and easy read, always accessible, and never dry. The author seems to be very knowledgable and passionate about the topic. I really enjoyed her writing style, at times it felt like she was telling Aphrodite's story to a good friend over a nice cup of coffee. There is no background knowledge of Greek/Roman mythology needed in order to understand t This little book is a short biography of the Venus/Aphrodite and explains how the perception of the goddess has shifted through time. It is a very quick and easy read, always accessible, and never dry. The author seems to be very knowledgable and passionate about the topic. I really enjoyed her writing style, at times it felt like she was telling Aphrodite's story to a good friend over a nice cup of coffee. There is no background knowledge of Greek/Roman mythology needed in order to understand the book, the author keeps it light and doesn't go into too much detail. That's my only criticism, I think. I would have loved to read more and more depth. However, it was a very enjoyable read and I would highly recommend it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    Check out this review and more on my blog! We all know Aphrodite. She’s the spiteful, mostly naked love goddess who started the Trojan war and gads about on seashells. Right? Well, classic historian Bettany Hughes has something to say about that. In this short and sweet book, Hughes traces the origins of Aphrodite from the early goddesses who influenced her to her ancient Greek golden age, her time stripped and sexualised at the height of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity through to her Check out this review and more on my blog! We all know Aphrodite. She’s the spiteful, mostly naked love goddess who started the Trojan war and gads about on seashells. Right? Well, classic historian Bettany Hughes has something to say about that. In this short and sweet book, Hughes traces the origins of Aphrodite from the early goddesses who influenced her to her ancient Greek golden age, her time stripped and sexualised at the height of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity through to her appearances in Renaissance art and modern-day pop culture. Needless to say, there’s a lot more to Aphrodite than immediately meets the eye, and I’m so glad Hughes brought attention to the many sides of her and how, through her, we can view how societies throughout history have viewed love, sex and even war. In many ways this book is an exploration into the development of western religion through the eyes of one goddess, and as someone very into religious history I was fascinated by how Aphrodite has snuck into Christian art and imagery; how there are certain poses Eve or even the Virgin Mary have been painted in that were poses traditionally associated with Aphrodite. My only wish was that this book had been longer. This is very much an introduction to the history of Aphrodite, which in many ways was great because my ancient history knowledge isn’t the best, but in a way Venus & Aphrodite feels more like a long essay than a book. I’d’ve loved more, particularly about how Aphrodite still pops up in our culture today. I understand that Venus razors and their slogan to ‘reveal the goddess in you’ is a blatant reference to Aphrodite, but I’d’ve loved Hughes to explore this further. That being said, Hughes is a classic historian, so perhaps this book needed to be an anthology of essays where historians who focus on more modern history, and anthropologists who study human behaviour today, wrote essays about Aphrodite through time. I also wasn’t the biggest fan of Hughes’ writing style. The book wasn’t badly written by any means, but I sometimes found myself having to re-read a sentence a couple of times to understand the meaning because punctuation hadn’t been used where I would expect it to appear. In future, I think I’d like to experience Hughes’ work via audiobook; I enjoy her documentaries a lot so, for me personally, I think I digest her research best when it’s spoken. This is still a very quick and easy read, though – it’s very much an accessible piece of ancient history – and it’s made me reconsider everything I thought I knew about Aphrodite. If you’re a fan of mythology, religion and history, this is one I’d recommend picking up!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    It's no secret to say there has been a longstanding connection - in patriarchal societies and religions at least - between sexual passion and violence. Bettany Hughes here gives us a strong, clear history of Aphrodite, who became Venus, and who subsequently became all sorts of sub-creatures - good Venus, bad Venus, the goddess and the whore, the duality of insecurity in mostly male minds: the allure of beauty, and the power of female sexual power to turn that allure into slavery, uncertainty, pa It's no secret to say there has been a longstanding connection - in patriarchal societies and religions at least - between sexual passion and violence. Bettany Hughes here gives us a strong, clear history of Aphrodite, who became Venus, and who subsequently became all sorts of sub-creatures - good Venus, bad Venus, the goddess and the whore, the duality of insecurity in mostly male minds: the allure of beauty, and the power of female sexual power to turn that allure into slavery, uncertainty, paranoia and madness at the notion of cuckoldry, of female sex unfettered by male exclusivity. She even draws lines between Aphrodite and Venus (and her son Eros) and the Virgin Mary and Jesus. There are neat historical diversions into the likes of Julius Caesar (who claimed descent from Venus) and Cleopatra VII, (she of the asp), whom he publicly identified with the goddess. See also Caligula and his sister Drusilla, whom the emperor identified as a 'new Aprodite.' It's a thorough look at the history and mythology of the goddess and what she has represented historically, and how we still use her and her symbology even today. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys mythology, symbology and the evolution of ideas through time. Give Bettany Hughes a go - she'll probably surprise you at least a handful of times.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Iolanthe

    Interesting and beautiful, but too many stories and ideas were introduced without enough explanation, leaving you wanting more. The book did teach me a lot about the symbolism and representation of Venus/Aphrodite through time. I guess I just wished it was more in-depth.

  18. 5 out of 5

    John Teller

    Sound scholarship This journey through the iterations of Aphrodite captures the ambivalence with which this important figure has been held. Excellent scholarship.

  19. 4 out of 5

    penny

    This book is a great introduction to the goddess Aphrodite-Venus that we’ve all heard about before. Venus and Aphrodite: A Biography of Desire is a new non-fiction book by Bettany Hughes. Unlike her previous titles, this one is briefer in its explanation of its topic. The book presents the story and meaning of Aphrodite-Venus through time, from its first appearance in history up to modern times. It covers an overview of what this goddess is associated with and the way it’s been viewed and used in This book is a great introduction to the goddess Aphrodite-Venus that we’ve all heard about before. Venus and Aphrodite: A Biography of Desire is a new non-fiction book by Bettany Hughes. Unlike her previous titles, this one is briefer in its explanation of its topic. The book presents the story and meaning of Aphrodite-Venus through time, from its first appearance in history up to modern times. It covers an overview of what this goddess is associated with and the way it’s been viewed and used in societies in different parts of the world. The language of this book is easily accessible to the general public. The book contains images of art to accompany the text. It also has references at the end. Since the book offers an introduction to the topic, these can be used by the reader to continue their journey of knowing more about this goddess. If you are new to the subject of this book, I would recommend this read. It offers an accessible overview for anyone to read. It is not detailed nor complex, since this isn’t its goal. I would suggest this read to people who want to know how Aphrodite-Venus came to be and what that figure has meant before and what it means today. I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dilek

    This book is a beautifully written chronicle of the Greek goddess Aphrodite who had become Venus in Roman Empire. Starting with her Middle-Eastern predecessors, Inanna and Ishtar, and citing the archaeological findings of her first forms in Cyprus, this is a very exciting book about the journey of Aphrodite and Venus from East to West, from iron age to modern day. Myths and history go hand in hand in this thoroughly well researched book, with the beautiful images and representations of goddess th This book is a beautifully written chronicle of the Greek goddess Aphrodite who had become Venus in Roman Empire. Starting with her Middle-Eastern predecessors, Inanna and Ishtar, and citing the archaeological findings of her first forms in Cyprus, this is a very exciting book about the journey of Aphrodite and Venus from East to West, from iron age to modern day. Myths and history go hand in hand in this thoroughly well researched book, with the beautiful images and representations of goddess through different ages. It is easy to read thanks to the aptly named chapters which follow the chronological order and describe the transformations of the goddess from mighty and victorious to pagan myth and then to beauty symbol through time and different geographies. It was an enlightening read and I want to thank you to NetGalley and Basic Books for giving me access to this wonderful book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Joanne

    Despite being a history book rather than a spiritual one, Venus & Aphrodite by Bettany Hughes was one of the books recommended to me as food for thought when I asked for advice regarding learning more about Aphrodite as a deity. While this is a really interesting and fascinating book, I was a little disappointed. Venus & Aphrodite an academic view of the worship of Aphrodite-Venus through history. While it takes you through her origins, the goddesses she evolved from, and what she has meant and s Despite being a history book rather than a spiritual one, Venus & Aphrodite by Bettany Hughes was one of the books recommended to me as food for thought when I asked for advice regarding learning more about Aphrodite as a deity. While this is a really interesting and fascinating book, I was a little disappointed. Venus & Aphrodite an academic view of the worship of Aphrodite-Venus through history. While it takes you through her origins, the goddesses she evolved from, and what she has meant and symbolised to those who worshipped her and society at large, how her meaning evolved throughout history, I found it to be quite short. At 241 pages, with quite large, spaced text, with photos and artwork scattered throughout, it's a very quick read. And because of that, I personally felt it didn't into as much detail as I expected, or wanted. I feel this is more of an overview of what she meant ot humanity, than an indepth look. And the emphasis is very much on the human relationship to Aphrodite-Venus, rather than a huge amount about the goddess herself. I feel Venus & Aphrodite had the potential to be a really fantastic book, but fell short for me. But if you're after a fairly quick introduction, Venus & Aphrodite isn't a bad place to start.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Laura Newsholme

    This was an interesting but ultimately, a little bit too brief exploration of Aphrodite/Venus throughout history. Following a chronological structure, we see the origins of the goddess through to how she is represented in modern day in art. I thought that the writing style was really accessible, which is always welcome in a non-fiction book and that the structure was a great contributing factor in this accessibility. I just wish that this was a bit more of a deep dive into the subject matter, as This was an interesting but ultimately, a little bit too brief exploration of Aphrodite/Venus throughout history. Following a chronological structure, we see the origins of the goddess through to how she is represented in modern day in art. I thought that the writing style was really accessible, which is always welcome in a non-fiction book and that the structure was a great contributing factor in this accessibility. I just wish that this was a bit more of a deep dive into the subject matter, as it seems to be an area that Bettany Hughes has long had a passion for, so it seems a shame that she didn't go into more detail here. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sammi

    Cover art: 5/5 so pretty Aphrodite the goddess of sex! I leaned a lot of fun facts about Aphrodite & the way ancient Greeks thought about sex. It was a fascinating read and having pictures made it eve better. This book was very well researched but a tad dry - I feel like Venus is such a juicy topic there was so much more entertainment and fun to be had. But overall it was a super quick read, about 200 pages and didn’t drag on too long. I was happy to learn more about a topic I knew very little of Cover art: 5/5 so pretty Aphrodite the goddess of sex! I leaned a lot of fun facts about Aphrodite & the way ancient Greeks thought about sex. It was a fascinating read and having pictures made it eve better. This book was very well researched but a tad dry - I feel like Venus is such a juicy topic there was so much more entertainment and fun to be had. But overall it was a super quick read, about 200 pages and didn’t drag on too long. I was happy to learn more about a topic I knew very little of.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kelsey

    As far as I'm concerned, anything Bettany Hughes touches turns to gold. She's one of my favorite historians, and I'm so glad she narrated her own audiobook! I wish this had been longer, but it's a fascinating quick study of the history of the goddess of love, and her influence on global society over the centuries.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    Listen to Venus by Lady Gaga instead, trust me it’s more fun.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gerard White

    Masterful! There is so much here that goes beyond what I thought I was getting myself into when I picked this up. I've always been a fan of Bettany Hughes's documentaries, but up until now, I had never read one of her books. Suffice to say, I am now a fan of her writing as well! Thoroughly researched, painstakingly laid out, and masterfully written, Venus and Aphrodite goes beyond simply chronicling the history or life-cycle of the goddess, but shows humanity's relationship with the goddess over Masterful! There is so much here that goes beyond what I thought I was getting myself into when I picked this up. I've always been a fan of Bettany Hughes's documentaries, but up until now, I had never read one of her books. Suffice to say, I am now a fan of her writing as well! Thoroughly researched, painstakingly laid out, and masterfully written, Venus and Aphrodite goes beyond simply chronicling the history or life-cycle of the goddess, but shows humanity's relationship with the goddess over the years and what our part in that relationship says about us. Wonderful in voice and filled with energetic language, this book is a must read for all, but I'd certainly recommend it for all readers interested in female empowerment and feminism. One more thing, the "Conclusion" of the book could be one of the most powerful and thought provoking pieces I've ever read. However, you must read the entire book to understand its significance, so flipping to the back and reading simply reading the conclusion will not have the power that it has for the one who follows the journey entire, the twin born journeys of both the goddess and Bettany Hughes herself.

  27. 5 out of 5

    John

    Excellent little book introducing the history of the goddess Aphrodite/Venus. This was an incredibly readable book that I devoured in three days. It presents a history of how the goddess of love developed from ancient Middle Eastern goddesses of Love and War such as Astarte, Ishtar and Inanna to the Graco-Roman deity we now know and how she has been worshiped, depicted and viewed throughout history. I would have liked the book to have been a little bit more in depth, since some chapters glossed o Excellent little book introducing the history of the goddess Aphrodite/Venus. This was an incredibly readable book that I devoured in three days. It presents a history of how the goddess of love developed from ancient Middle Eastern goddesses of Love and War such as Astarte, Ishtar and Inanna to the Graco-Roman deity we now know and how she has been worshiped, depicted and viewed throughout history. I would have liked the book to have been a little bit more in depth, since some chapters glossed over their subject very quickly. It would have been interesting to have had a greater discussion on the modern reception of Aphrodite/Venus, which was a bit lacking I felt. Having said this, 'Venus and Aphrodite' is an enjoyable read that introduces readers to the fascinating history of the deity of love and sex. I recommend it both to Classicists in addition to the interested layperson. Both will find this book entertaining and informative.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

    This is a quick, yet informative history of the goddess throughout history. Well researched and told with passion and energy by the author herself. The audio version of this was well worth the listen.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Deepak Rana

    Interesting history

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tina

    A superb history of the goddess figure, tracing the lineage from far beyond the Roman and Greek myths. Well written, witty and very informative; strongly recommended.

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