(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
APHRODITE’S CURSE is about a dynasty’s fall from grace, unrequited love and retribution.
A powerful family is brought to ruin, the consequences unforeseen and irreparable. The trouble begins with King Mino who asks the gods for a bull to be sacrificed so that he may become ruler of Kretos and surrounding lands. Poseidon sends him a gift of a white bull and instead of sacrificing it, King Minos keeps it. Poseidon is angry by his supplicant’s actions and as punishment glamour’s the king’s wife, Pasiphae to lust after the bull.
The story is told by PHAEDRA, Theseus’ wife, who witnesses first-hand, the rise and fall of her family. She grows up in a privileged environment, a princess and daughter of King Minos. From a very early age she knows the power her father wields, but is also aware his actions may have precipitated the misfortunes that followed.
She reflects on the different and disturbing events from a detached perspective. Her tone can sometimes be one of a spoilt child, then at other times resigned and on occasion shows an uncanny insight. This retrospective musing comes from her sighting of Hippolytos, her husband’s son from a previous marriage. She falls in love with him and finds it difficult to contain this secret and eventually tells her nurse.
Phaedra asks for Aphrodite’s help, even builds a temple, however Hippolytos spurns her advances. Shamed by her actions and by his revulsion, she poisons herself, leaving a letter to her husband writing that Hippolytos had raped her.
[Full disclosure: I was never asked to review Aphrodite’s Curse like I was Luciana Cavallaro’s other books, but instead received it for free when I signed up for her newsletter. As always, this review is honest.]
Out of all the women Luciana Cavallaro has written about, I liked Phaedra the least. This is more of a matter of personal preference because I didn’t find her the least bit sympathetic. But could I understand her motives and did I care about what she had to say? Absolutely!
The fact that I didn’t like Phaedra but actually really enjoyed this story is a testament to Luciana Cavallaro’s skill as a writer. Phaedra had believable motivations for what she did because of her personality, which we glimpse both through her reflective flashbacks as well as her present day commentary as she is dying.
I’m not exactly familiar with the myth of Phaedra because it was relatively minor in the scheme of things, but after a bit of research I find that I appreciate Aphrodite’s Curse even more. It was well researched and the level of detail was enough to make me feel like I was there in Phaedra’s world. I could see the handsome Hippolytos, the temples, Phaedra’s deathbed, etc. The description wasn’t on par with the beautiful descriptions in The Curse of Troy, but it was certainly up there.
Really, Aphrodite’s Curse is what a short story should be: short and sweet but powerful. The descriptions are great but they’re not overdone, the characters come to life and I felt like I was back in the time period the story took place in.
I give this short story 5/5 stars.