Bettany Hughes: Venus and Aphrodite

Mar 24, 2022 | Announcements, News & Media

World-famous historian, author, and broadcaster Bettany Hughes to deliver her fourth Ramsay Lecture

Sydney, Thursday 24 March 2022: What can we learn about being human from the goddess and mythological figure known to the ancient Romans as Venus, and ancient Greeks as Aphrodite?

Is she a goddess as vacuous as her modern day representation: a mere pin-up creature, floating around on Valentines’ Day cards, and being used to sell women’s razors?

Or is there far more to this immortal deity, more to learn from her various iterations over time that can teach us about the intersection of love and war, women’s rights, lust, aggression, and all forms of human desire?

To piece together the story of Venus and Aphrodite throughout the ages, and explain why she is a ‘goddess that really matters’, award-winning author, historian, and broadcaster Professor Bettany Hughes OBE will deliver the first Ramsay Lecture for 2022, ‘Venus and Aphrodite: A Biography of Desire’.

In this lecture, to be broadcast on March 31, Professor Hughes draws upon research from her 2019 book Venus and Aphrodite: History of a Goddess, as well as recent discoveries, delving into ancient art, evocative myth, exciting archaeological revelations and philosophical explorations.

Professor Hughes reveals Venus was of course a goddess of desire, but in its broadest terms, encompassing the social, political and ptolemical. Far from the modern ‘misused picture of perfect female beauty’, she was often represented as gender fluid. She was both a goddess of war, and a patron goddess of cities, central to the ‘good functioning of a city state’.

Such was Venus’s multi-faceted and enormous appeal she even survived the advent of Christianity, remaining throned in Christian cities, with some of her imagery transferred to that of the Virgin Mary. But the last ‘three and a half thousand years of misogyny’ have trivialised Venus, says Professor Hughes, resulting in her being portrayed more as a gorgeous sexual creature than a complex study of love, sex, war and human desire.

“She reminds us that we need to make desire our ally and not our undoing, and she’s also the goddess who looks after human relations of all kinds. And I think in her very best iteration she reminds us of the swelling possibilities of human relations, whether that be societal or sexual or intellectual or civilisational. She reminds us that we should always make love not a pursuit of self-satisfaction and gratification but an act of symbiosis.”

Professor Hughes is an author and specialist in ancient and mediaeval history and culture. She has written and presented over 50 documentaries for the BBC, Channel 4, Netflix, Discovery, PBS, The History Channel, National Geographic, BBC World, and ITV, that have been watched by more than 250 million people worldwide.

This is her fourth lecture for the Ramsay Centre, following Odysseus’ Journey and His Women in 2020 and Istanbul, Constantinople, Byzantium – the Queen of Cities and Socrates and his Athens in 2021.

An undergraduate scholar at Oxford University, Professor Hughes has taught at Oxford and Cambridge and lectured at Cornell, Bristol, UCL, Maastricht, Utrecht, Manchester and Swansea. She is a Tutor for Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education and a Research Fellow of King’s College London; she recently joined the New College of the Humanities as Visiting Professor.

Her first book Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore has been translated into ten languages. Her second, The Hemlock Cup, Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life was a New York Times bestseller and shortlisted for the Writer’s Guild Award. Her book Istanbul – A Tale of Three Cities was shortlisted for the Runciman Award, was a Sunday Times bestseller and has already been translated into twelve languages.

This Ramsay Lecture is recorded and will be available via as both a video and podcast from Thursday 31 March.

Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098 /