... one part antiquity, one part Renaissance, one part Smash Hits. Erudition, with an erotic frisson ... lively, wide-ranging ... After reading this book, there’s no excuse for standing ignorant and philistine before Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and thinking: 'Cor, check out the clam shells on her!' ... Hughes can perhaps be forgiven for overdoing the desirous, tempestuous, tumultuous, odiferous, fructuous, uberous goddess stuff. This is Venus we’re talking about, after all, not the nice-looking girl next door. A beauteous subject calls for a beautiful cover and Tomás Almeida’s gold and indigo wreath and waves would look a picture peeping from the Christmas stocking of the classicist in your life ... Less forgivable is the sense that A Very Short Introduction to Venus has been bumped up with wide spacing and white pages to make a hardback. A couple of the colour plates are out of focus and some of the black-and-white illustrations are barely legible.
Hughes moves quickly from antiquity to the present day. The breakneck speed leads to some sweeping statements. And it can make for some fast leaps ... There are also signs of haste in the research ... The value of the book lies not in its broader claims, but in its pleasurable selection of interesting objects on which to reflect, and fascinating nuggets of information ... The style is so overwrought that reading about the “throbbing primal power of Aphrodite” becomes a bit wearing. Is Bettany Hughes’s breathy enthusiasm a style that she developed in response to the misogyny of a media that finds it hard to accept women’s voices as authoritative? ... Or is the idea that in a book about desire, the medium must be the message? Either way, such heightened prose is difficult to keep up, and the ending of the last chapter collapses, spent, in a conclusion that few will argue with: 'Until love is redundant, the goddess of love looks unlikely to lose her appeal'.
... thoroughly enjoyable ... From antiquity through modern day, historian Hughes (Istanbul, 2017) artfully weaves together elements of myth, history, religion, philosophy, literature, art, and pop culture to demonstrate this deity’s centuries-long impact on matters pertaining to love, lust, sex, creation, destruction, and just about everything else. The extensively documented (and quite entertaining) text demonstrates time and again that no matter what name she’s had (Astarte, Ishtar, Aphrodite, Isis, Mary) or role she’s played (mother, lover, seductress, epitome of beauty, wanton wild woman), Venus has exerted a profound influence on western civilization. Readers are treated to scandalous tales of romping gods and cross-dressing emperors, saucy tidbits about aphrodisiacs and festive fertility rites, and historical insights. Julius Caesar claimed to be her descendant; Cleopatra claimed to be her, and just about everyone from Ovid to Sappho to Savonarola (not a fan) to Shakespeare to Napoleon, Freud, Andy Warhol, and Lady Gaga have considered her a muse. Fun and fascinating history.