Review – The Hemlock Cup

Posted May 21, 2015 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Hemlock Cup by Bettany HughesThe Hemlock Cup, Bettany Hughes

I got Bettany Hughes’ books because when I graduated from my BA, she was awarded an honorary fellowship by my university. So naturally, after her speech, I was curious about her work. My problem with her book on Helen of Troy was mostly the organisation, and I had that problem again too; she begins at the end of Socrates’ life, jumps forward and back with foreshadowing, tells you about people’s deaths and then mentions them again a few pages later…

I can also imagine that a lot of people would find it a dry read. I found Socrates fascinating, learning about his character; I was sometimes doubtful about how Hughes could really have pieced together certain details about him. There’s plenty of references and so on in the back of the book, but then there’s also careless mistakes like referring to Elektra and Ismene’s brothers. (It’s Antigone, not Elektra. Wrong tragedy, wrong tragedian.) That makes me a little unsure of how to take it all — and of course, Socrates didn’t write down his philosophy in the way that Plato or Aristotle did, so everything we have is second or third hand anyway.

An interesting book, at any rate, but not as fascinating as the one on Helen. I actually read it while reading Jo Walton’s The Just City, to which it makes an interesting non-fictional companion!

Rating: 3/5

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