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Home > Categories > Books > Cultural > Divine Might: Goddesses in Greek Myth review

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Score: 10.0/10  [1 review]
5 out of 5
ProdID: 9203 - Divine Might: Goddesses in Greek Myth
Written/Edited by: Natalie Haynes

Divine Might: Goddesses in Greek Myth
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Disclosure StatementFULL DISCLOSURE: A number of units of this product have, at some time, been provided to KIWIreviews by Macmillan Publishers Ltd or their agents for the sole purposes of unbiased, independent reviews. No fee was requested, offered nor accepted by KIWIreviews or the reviewers themselves - these are genuine, unpaid consumer reviews.
November 2023
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Divine Might: Goddesses in Greek Myth product reviews

In Divine Might, Natalie Haynes turns her focus to the goddesses of Olympus. Here we meet Athene, who sprang fully formed from her father's brow (giving Zeus a killer headache in the process), goddess of war, guardian of the city named for her, and provider of wise counsel.

Here, too, is Aphrodite, born of the foam (or, some sources say, sperm released from a castrated Titan's testicles), the most beautiful of all the Olympian goddesses. dispensing desire and inspired longing - but with a nasty line in brutal punishment of those who displeased her.

And then there is Hera, Zeus's long-suffering wife, whose jealousy of his repeated dalliances with mortals, with nymphs, with other goddesses, led her to wreak elaborate and often painful revenge on those she felt had wronged her. Well, wouldn't you?

We also meet Demeter, goddess of the harvest and mother of the hapless Persephone; Artemis, the huntress, virgin goddess of childbirth (Greek myth is full of confusion); the Muses, all nine of them; wide-bosomed Gaia, the earth goddess; and Hestia, goddess of domesticity but also of sacrificial fire.

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aphrodite   artemis   athene   demeter   divine might   gaia   goddess   greek   hestia   macmillan   muse   myth   natalie haynes   olympus   persephone   zeus
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Review by: savta (Jo)
Dated: 23rd of April, 2024

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This Review: 10/10
Score 10 out of 10
Score 10 out of 10
Value for Money:
Score 10 out of 10
Personal Choice:
Score 10 out of 10

It is difficult to write anything negative about "Divine Might: Goddesses in Greek Myth". For me, it resonates on so many levels. I have rarely enjoyed an academic textbook so much - and make no mistake about it, the research that underpins it is sound. It has all the attributes of a university publication, with supporting evidence gleaned from classical texts such as those of Homer and Aristophanes. There are copious references in the endnotes for those who wish to cross check, and an immediate translation for any Greek and Latin terms used within the text itself is offered. Many I already knew, but some I did not, so this clarification was invaluable.

However, what makes this book so delightful is not the academic rigor - that is a given - but the individual style that author Natalie Haynes brings to her writing. This is the first of her publications that I have read, and on the strength of this one I am motivated to seek out others. She combines a sound knowledge of Graeco-Roman mythology and the writings of philosophers and playwrights of the times with a healthy injection of modern technologies and literature. This makes it accessible to a broad range of readers, some of whom will have little or no previous knowledge of the ancient world. Haynes draws parallels with 20th and 21st century comic books, superhero movies, the effects of warfare (e.g. PTSD) on the combatants, and many other works of literature based on universal themes common in the ancient world such as dysfunctional families and prejudice.

The greatest characteristic of Haynes' style is her irreverent sense of humour. It spills out into every chapter. every description. At times I would stop reading to laugh aloud - and wish that I had written it myself. Her humour is sometimes muted, sometimes cheeky, and sometimes just plain sassy, displaying a healthy disrespect for the elevated status of the gods. But it is always funny! Presenting information in this way is the hallmark of a skilled teacher, something Aristophanes used to his advantage and a technique that Haynes has been quick to copy. Even the acknowledgements at the end of the text are humorous; in the thanks to the proofreaders, there is an honorable mention of the (presumably misplaced) commas, duly rearranged correctly.

This is a book about goddesses, so one would expect a feminist view of the pantheon. Haynes explains that the emphasis has been mainly on the gods in various texts, so she is aiming to redress the balance. Several high-profile goddesses are presented before she turns her attention to Hestia (aka Vesta) who is all but invisible. Instead of skirting round her and moving on to the next important goddess, Haynes admits to being challenged to dig up the dirt on Hestia any way she can! She uses her journey to inform her description of Hestia, the first-born of Kronos' (Saturn's) children. Hestia is the goddess of the hearth and home and as such is often in the background of events, providing stability and comfort. One wonders if it was Hestia who inspired the 20th century "kitchen-sink dramas" and "soap operas" that firmly placed women as wives and mothers, presumably happiest when they were in the kitchen. Yet it is this very aspect of her motivations that makes Hestia a strong goddess just like the others. She has no interest in love or warfare; despite being encouraged by Aphrodite to take a lover, and hit upon by both Poseidon and Apollo, she dedicates herself to her mission to make a safe haven for others. In doing so, she rejects these three "thin-skinned egomaniacs" while still managing to maintain their respect and friendship. Not many could have done that!

There are wonderful examples of Haynes' humour, so many that it is impossible to cite them all so I will confine myself to some of my favorites. The first is in the section where she discusses what Ovid writes about a wild party held by the gods. Obviously, what happens at such events cannot be described for the general public, so "...Just tell the audience that you are not allowed to say much, but everyone drank a lot, and move on." When discussing Botticelli's "Birth of Venus", she refers to the provocative nature of Venus' pose then comments "No wonder Zephyr is blowing hard enough to puff out his cheeks". And in describing the strange ingredients (like grain) that Demeter insists be put into her wine before it is fit to drink, Haynes concludes that "...Suffice it to say, their wine sounds vile."

Finally, the layout of the book offers a glimpse of various artworks relevant to each of the featured goddesses. They range from ancient frescos to free-standing sculptures to modern paintings, each chosen to illustrate the chapter that follows. Some of the older artworks are damaged but are still recognisable in context. It is useful to have these visual prompts although I wish they had been reproduced on glossy paper as it would have made them clearer. The only other improvement I would suggest would be an index to accompany the list of references; I found myself leafing through the pages several times to cross-refer a particular god. However, these are personal preferences and minor in the greater context of the work. It is a book I will certainly be re-reading in the future.

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