Reviewed by Mireille M. Lee
Not a “companion” in the conventional sense, this volume is a collection of papers presented at a conference held at the University of Reading in 2008. The project is ambitious in scope, with contributions from an international group of philologists, archaeologists, and art historians at all stages of their careers, on topics ranging from Asertu/Aphrodite in ancient Near Eastern poetry to the influence of ancient sculpture on twentieth century French painting. While admirable in its breadth of vision, such an interdisciplinary approach does not naturally lend itself to cohesion, and the result is rather mixed.
The volume is arranged thematically, following the organization of the conference, with a two-part introduction. Vinciane Pirenne-Delforge’s keynote address provides an overview of scholarship on Aphrodite since the 1970’s, in which she identifies three general themes: increased focus on the regional contexts of Aphrodite, the political and martial roles of the goddess in various poleis, and the continual search for her origins. Pirenne-Delforge offers several explanations for the “success” of current scholarship on Aphrodite. While the author acknowledges the perennial erotic appeal of the goddess, she emphasizes the ambiguities of Aphrodite, who encompasses a kind of polytheism in herself. The editors’ introduction likewise underscores Aphrodite’s polyvalence, as the goddess of “not only love, sex, fertility, and abundance, but also work, war, craft, politics, and many others” (25).