Reviews of “Venus Uncovered: Ancient Goddess of Love” (2017) and related work
- Spin-off: “Bacchus Uncovered: Ancient God of Ecstasy” (2018)
- Spin-off: “Mars Uncovered: Ancient God of War” (2019)
“Venus Uncovered: Ancient Goddess of Love” (2017)
Seen in 2020.
I saw a 59-minute version on SVT.
Starting with Mary Richardson’s 1914 vandalism of the Rokeby Venus for being sexist and superficial, Bettany Hughes discusses Aphrodite and Venus, perceived as continuations of Ishtar and Inanna, who in their time had more substance. The modern Cypriotic tradition of preparing a bier for Jesus at Easter is described as repurposing a similar rite honouring Adonis, Aphrodite’s lover.
There’s an interesting dialogue between Hughes and Paul Cartledge on the emotional lives of the ancient Greeks, on the idea that they used their pantheon to confront harsh realities and maintain a nuanced understanding of their own nature, but even in this discussion, it’s acknowledged that the myths are internally (and mutually) contradictory. The lack of first-hand sources on the immediate subject is not discussed. This throws some doubt on the subsequent line of reasoning connecting Praxiteles’s Aphrodite of Knidos to Botticelli, the Rokeby Venus and Francis Dashwood’s prostitute “hellfire club” with an oval vulval opening to his backyard temple of Venus: The goddess’s meanining shifting to her being a symbol of gynophilic lust, compatible with worsening sexism.
Seen in 2019.
Dionysus, a.k.a. Bacchus, with an emphasis on gender.
One of Bettany Hughes’s documentaries on the legacy of Roman deities. They’re almost, but not quite, video essays. Hughes interprets John 15:1 as a reference to Bacchus, the two cults being in direct competition due to their similar narratives. Cf. Reasons to invent Jesus. It’s two thirds ancient-world material, the 20th century being quite limited to the example of Dionysus in '69 (1970).
‣ “Mars Uncovered: Ancient God of War” (2019)
Seen in 2019.
The cult of Mars, its precursors and its successors. Illustrating the importance of war to Christianity, for the 14th–17th century Hughes quotes Christine de Pizan’s Book of Knighthood, where Pizan says Mars “may well be called the son of God” (Yahweh), thus equating him with Jesus.
Pretty vague, which is natural, given the breadth of the topic. For the modern period, Hughes mentions The War of the Worlds (1953) but not The War of the Worlds (1897), nor Holst, nor the use of Holst in Quatermass II (1955) etc.