Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bacchus: A Biography by Andrew Dalby

Bacchus is affectionately known to some as the Roman god of good wine, but to others, he is the god of debauchery and whips women into a cannibalistic frenzy. Andrew Dalby, an English linguist, classical historian and graduate of Cambridge University, has left food writing to delve into the lives of the Greek and Roman gods. In his book Bacchus: A Biography, Dalby encourages you to review the evidence about this little-known god and to make the decision yourself: is Bacchus merely trying to have a good time, or is he a dangerous and fearsome god, one who should never be crossed?

By using quotes from classical literature, as well as a storybook format that, but for its adult subject matter, reads like something you would read to your children as a bed-time story. He covers the major parts of Bacchus's story: his birth from Zeus's thigh, his childhood game of cross-dressing hide-and-seek from the vengeful goddess Hera, his creation of the grapevine and wine as a young adult, to his marriage to the jilted Princess Ariadne. Dalby describes in detail what is currently known about the mysteries of Bacchus, as well as the truth behind the maenads, Bacchus's devoted and frenzied female followers. Illustrations of Bacchus through archaeological antiquity are included to help the reader see how Bacchus has been portrayed through the centuries.

The combination of story, myth and scholarship works well here, and treatment of other gods and goddess in this regard would be a welcome addition to any classical library. Luckily, there is also one about Venus, the goddess of love, and hopefully there are more on the way.

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