Venus and Aphrodite: A Biography of Desire

Bettany Hughes. Basic, $27 (208p) ISBN 978-1-5416-7423-3
British historian Hughes (Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities) presents a brisk and incisive cultural history of the mythological goddess of sexual love. Called Aphrodite by the ancient Greeks and Venus by the Romans, she “acts as a barometer for the way the world has viewed desire and lust,” according to Hughes, and incarnates “fear as well as love.” Hughes traces Aphrodite’s origins to intersex fertility symbols in Copper Age Cyprus, her transformation in Greek and Roman mythology into a “laughter-loving” goddess often seen gazing into a mirror and emerging from sea shells, and her influence on Christian iconography of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Hughes enriches her wide-ranging analysis with images of archaeological findings and artworks by Botticelli, Rubens, and Titian, as well as references to Shakespeare’s plays, Sappho’s poems, and Lady Gaga’s songs. Among many interesting tidbits, readers will learn that the female sex symbol derives from a combination of Aphrodite’s mirror and the Christian cross, and that prostitutes were once called Venuses. This informative and entertaining history deserves a wide readership. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 06/29/2020
Release date: 09/22/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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