Venus and Aphrodite: History of a Goddess by Bettany Hughes

venus and aphroditeTitle: Venus and Aphrodite: History of a Goddess

Author: Bettany Hughes

Genre: Biography, History, Non-Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 12th November 2019

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 242

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A vivid history of the ancient goddess Venus by the bestselling historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes

Through ancient art, evocative myth, exciting archaeological revelations and philosophical explorations Bettany Hughes shows why this immortal goddess endures through to the twenty-first century, and what her journey through time reveals about what matters to us as humans.

Charting Venus’s origins in powerful ancient deities, Bettany demonstrates that Venus is far more complex than first meets the eye. Beginning in Cyprus, the goddess’s mythical birthplace, Bettany decodes Venus’s relationship to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, and, in turn, Aphrodite’s mixed-up origins both as a Cypriot spirit of fertility and procreation – but also, as a descendant of the prehistoric war goddesses of the Near and Middle East, Ishtar, Inanna and Astarte. On a voyage of discovery to reveal the truth behind Venus, Hughes reveals how this mythological figure is so much more than nudity, romance and sex. It is the both the remarkable story of one of antiquity’s most potent forces, and the story of human desire – how it transforms who we are and how we behave.

~*~

Many gods and goddesses from various religions and myth cycles from all over the ancient world have not only fascinated people throughout the decades and centuries, but often have many counterparts. Aphrodite and Venus are two such goddesses – the same goddess from two different societies, who have gone from Greek  to Roman origins, and have been found in other incarnations in other Near East or Middle Eastern ancient cultures where they have evolved and changed as the society has needed them in their pantheon of gods and goddesses in polytheistic religions that either pre-date or run concurrently with the monotheistic religions we associate with the modern equivalents of those places.

Bettany Hughes explores the Grecian and Roman sides of the same goddess – Aphrodite and Venus, and her role in art and the pantheon, and how she came to be in each tradition, and how this influenced arts, stories and other narratives and characters throughout history.

Venus-Aphrodite is a figure that is more than nudity, romance and sex. Like many gods and goddesses, she has many more roles and layers to her, and what she brings to mythology and the understanding of humanity and human emotion. This history adds to our understanding of a goddess who is often reduced to what she is known to represent and stand for in mythology, rather than the complexities behind what she does.

Rather than justify her actions throughout the various myth cycles, Bettany Hughes explores these as part of the history of Venus-Aphrodite and how she has been represented, and what this has meant in how she is viewed and builds on this with layers and complexities.

This is an intriguing book for anyone interested in antiquity, and especially women and their role in antiquity, which is only going to build on our understanding of women and their role in the ancient world. It will help bring to life these myths in a new and exciting way.

Mudlarking: Lost and Found of the River Thames by Lara Maiklem

mudlarking.jpgTitle: Mudlarking: Lost and Found of the River Thames

Author: Lara Mailkem

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus

Published: 15th October 2019

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 320

Price: $32.99

Synopsis:  Mudlark (/’mAdla;k/) noun A person who scavenges for usable debris in the mud of a river or harbour

Lara Maiklem has scoured the banks of the Thames for over fifteen years, in pursuit of the objects that the river unearths: from Neolithic flints to Roman hair pins, medieval buckles to Tudor buttons, Georgian clay pipes to Victorian toys. These objects tell her about London and its lost ways of life.

Moving from the river’s tidal origins in the west of the city to the point where it meets the sea in the east, Mudlarking is a search for urban solitude and history on the River Thames, which Lara calls the longest archaeological site in England.

As she has discovered, it is often the tiniest objects that tell the greatest stories.

For thousands of years human beings have been losing their possessions and dumping their rubbish in the River Thames, making it the longest and most varied archaeological site in the world. Lara Maiklem has trekked miles along the banks of the Thames, scouring the shores for over fifteen years in pursuit of the objects that the river unearths: these objects tell her about London and its lost ways of life. Where others only see the detritus of city life, expert mudlarker Lara Maiklem unearths evidence of England’s captivating history, with some objects dating back as far as 4 AD, when London was an outpost of the Roman Empire, up to the present day. A mudlarker can expect to find Neolithic flints, Roman hair pins, medieval buckles, Tudor buttons, Georgian clay pipes and Victorian toys.

~*~

Discovering history and archaeology is a unique process for everyone – from those who study the fields and work within them writing books and reports, to those whose interest lies in simply discovering the facts through these sources, and finally, people like Lara Maiklem, a mudlarker. A mudlarker is someone who scavenges for debris in the mud of a harbour or river.

For Lara, this scavenging area is the River Thames, stretching from the Tidal Thames and all the way through Central London. As a result, Lara has divided the book into sections of the River Thames, and within each section, it appears that different times in history are reflected in certain areas, from prehistoric times to the current day, where Lara discovers items made of all kinds of materials, from coins to buttons, old toys and remnants of war uniforms and battles that shaped the history of London and give a deeper insight into the lesser known stories than what is written in the history books.

Whilst discovering toys and buttons, Lara has also discovered old printing press letters, which have been used in the book, and she also gives a brief history of the printing press, and upper and lower case: Upper Case letters, or capital letters, where in the upper case of the press. So, naturally, the smaller letters, known as Lower Case, were in the cases below. This was one of the most interesting stories amongst many, where the items were not linked to anyone in particular, and perhaps this is what makes them so interesting because they would have belonged to someone whose name we might not know from history, and it is the potential to discover these stories and make links to those that have come before, as well as ensuring that even those without a voice are in a way, recognised even though their stories and names may never be known.

This is a history book with a difference: it gives insight into a world that is often hidden or unknown and provokes the ideas that history and archaeology is everywhere. It makes you wonder what could be in the waterways in other areas other than London, and what this could mean for local histories and what it could contribute to local, national and world history. It provided a unique and personal view of how mudlarking works, and the individual journey it can take you on, exploring the ethics and personal questioning of what to do with items, and when to collect them, as well as what to collect. It depends on the value the individual sees in them, and what one person sees will be different for someone else.

The Honourable Thief by Meaghan Wilson Anastasios

the honourable thief.jpgTitle: The Honourable Thief

Author: Meaghan Wilson Anastasios

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published: 31/7/2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: ‘Achilles? Because…?’
‘Obsession of mine. Half man, half god – and his own worst enemy. 
My kind of man.’ He laughed.

Istanbul, Turkey 1955

Benedict Hitchens, once a world-renowned archaeologist, is now a discredited – but still rather charming – shell of his former self.

Once full of optimism and adventure, his determination to prove that Achilles was a real historical figure led him to his greatest love, Karina, on the island of Crete and to his greatest downfall, following the disappearance of an enigmatic stranger, Eris.

He has one last chance to restore his reputation, solve the mystery of Eris and prove his Achilles theory. But it is full of risk, and possibly fatal consequences…

In her breakout novel, Meaghan Wilson Anastasios weaves an action-packed tale of honour, passion, heroes and thieves across an epic backdrop of history.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn 1955, archaeologist Benedict Hitchens is searching for proof that Achilles, a hero from the Trojan War legends, was a real person, and not just a myth in Homer’s Iliad and other interpretations of the Trojan War myth cycle. This is the main crux for the novel, despite there being no evidence to suggest Achilles existed, and it makes for a very compelling story about the intersection of mythology, history and archaeology, especially given that in ancient history, archaeological remains are perhaps what tell us the most about a society where written records may be mythology based or fragmented. But there is more to Benedict (Ben) than discovering the burial place and shield of Achilles. It’s been ten years since World War Two ended, and he is living with the scars and memories of loss, and tragedy that will never leave him. Living a lonely existence on archaeological digs across the peninsular that was home to the Trojans and the islands of Greece, such as Crete, where the Minoan and Mycenean civilisations thrived, Ben has become obsessed with proving the existence of Achilles.

This obsession deepens when he stumbles across the mysterious Eris, travelling to a home in Turkey where she reveals a cache of hidden treasures and archaeological finds that are linked to the period of history he is obsessed with, that he hopes will lead him to Achilles and in the aftermath of his fall from grace as an archaeologist, he hopes the discovery will restore his reputation.

But Eris has secrets, secrets she’s not willing to share with Ben, and throughout the novel, his encounters with Eris, Ilhan, a shady figure whose dealings helped bring about Ben’s downfall, and many other nefarious people, weave a mystery through the novel – the disappearance of Eris and the treasures, thieves, and forgery in the archaeological and ancient art community comes to light, and Ben is caught up in this web, finding items in unconventional ways, where he doesn’t realise whom it is for, and where secret upon secret is layered on to ensure he does not find out the truth.

The end was quite the surprise – equal parts unexpected and something I thought might happen, and as the novel moved back and forth between Ben’s present and his past, his motivations and reasons for feeling what he felt at times became clear, though there was always a sense that a Big Bad Thing had happened and happened to someone Ben cared about very deeply.

As a student of ancient history, the references to Crete, the Minoans, Homer and his lliad were some of my favourite things about the book – they instantly fell into a timeline in my head of this period and imagined him traipsing around the various sites such as Knossos and Troy in Turkey, where Schliemann excavated during the nineteenth century. It was an aspect of the novel I really enjoyed and found engaging, just as much as the mystery was, which mainly took place in Turley and Greece, but occasionally went back to England and America. It is a gripping novel, where action and adventure, history and mythology intersect to create a chase to solve a question and obsession that has plagued Ben, and that he will do anything to ensure finds its rightful place in history.

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Mayan Mendacity by LJM Owen

Mayan-Mendacity_low-res.jpgTitle: Mayan Mendacity

Author: L.J.M Owen

Genre: Crime/Historical Crime

Publisher: Echo Publishing

Published: November 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 357

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Dr Elizabeth Pimms has a new puzzle.

What is the story behind the tiny skeletons discovered on a Guatemalan island? And how do they relate to an ancient Mayan queen?

The bones, along with other remains, are a gift for Elizabeth. But soon the giver reveals his true nature. An enraged colleague then questions Elizabeth’s family history. Elizabeth seeks DNA evidence to put all skeletons to rest.

A pregnant enemy, a crystal skull, a New York foodie, and an intruder in Elizabeth’s phrenic library variously aid or interrupt Elizabeth’s attempts to solve mysteries both ancient and personal.

With archaeological intrigue, forensic insight and cosy comfort, Mayan Mendacity takes readers back into the world of Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth. Really cold cases.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseAs Elizabeth’s new life as librarian and volunteer archaeological detective continues, a new mystery begins to unfold at the university as she bumps into Luke, and the girl he’s agreed to marry after having an affair with her. His gift to Elizabeth upon his return, is the betrayal and the delivery of remains from a Mayan site, that need sorting, cataloguing and investigating. Corralled into doing this, and writing a report on it, Elizabeth must find a way to spend time with her family, especially brother Matty, and attend the counselling sessions with her siblings, Matty and Sam, their sister. The family dynamic is complicated by work colleague Mai, who has been hostile without explanation to Elizabeth since Olmec Obituary, and the two are equally stubborn, refusing to talk, despite Nathan’s attempts, and Elizabeth’s resolve to remain calm throughout as she grapples with interference with the Mayan remains, and family expectations that she feels guilty about missing, though her loving grandparents are supportive.

The pregnancy that has trapped her ex, Luke, into a relationship with Kaitlyn, is yet another obstacle to overcome, and Kaitlyn’s determination to make Elizabeth look bad in her Mayan reports threaten to thwart all the hard work Elizabeth and Matty have done for the reconstruction. Between the challenges presented by Kaitlyn and Mai, will Elizabeth solve the case of Lady Six Sky?

Interspersed throughout the novel, the ancient case of Lady Six Sky and the remains is told in between chapters, slowly revealing what happened to the reader as Elizabeth investigates what happened based on the bones and archaeological remains.

The second in the Dr Elizabeth Pimms series, Mayan Mendacity, continues some of the questions left unanswered at the end of book one, and brings together the threads of relationships that started there. Elizabeth’s analytical, logical mind is constantly at work again, as she tries to put together pieces of various puzzles without muddling them up – and it is enjoyable to read about her doing this, and working in a field she loves, whilst being surrounded by the books and archaeology she so loves. As it is the second in the series, it moves along with a good pace and has a decent gap between the final events of the first book and the events of this one, ensuring the flow of characters works effectively and that will hopefully flow nicely into the subsequent books, the third of which, Egyptian Enigma has just been released and will be reviewed on this blog soon.

I think of all the characters, Matty, Taid, Elizabeth and Nai Nai are my favourites. Matty, for his resilience in the face of a disability that has affected him for most of his life, and his quest to overcome the obstacles thrown into his face to become a chef. Elizabeth, for her love of books, cats and history, and desire to uncover the truth behind the bones. Taid and Nai Nai are awesome grandparents, and all round fabulous characters. The diversity of the characters adds to what I enjoyed about this book, and the various ways in which they interact. I did feel poor Elizabeth was pressured by her sister Sam into things at times, and Sam often demanded, but I’m hoping her character grows over the course of the series.

Another great read from LJM Owen.

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