Aria Cunningham’s Valentine’s Day Picks
Archaeologist, author, and self-proclaimed “History Geek,” Aria Cunningham’s debut novel The Princess of Sparta hits shelves this April. When not dreaming about sword-wielding, heroic men, she’s reading about them…
What’s on my nightstand this Valentine’s Day? I use books to escape reality, to give me a glimpse into other worlds far removed from my humdrum life. Hand me a tale about powerful love that transcends all obstacles to change the fate of the world. Give me epic storytelling with tragic endings, and I’ll disappear into the pages. You know the type—where men are noble and women captivate your heart and soul. Surprisingly, they aren’t all fiction…
Cleopatra and Mark Anthony – The queen of Egypt captivated not one but two rulers of Rome. After Julius Caesar’s death, Mark Anthony fell to her charm. He ultimately lost standing with the roman public because of his scandalous behavior with the foreign queen. He could deny her nothing, and it cost him everything. A great example of how powerful and destructive love can be. Many great writers, including Shakespeare, have tackled their tragic tale.
Romeo and Juliet – “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name; or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.” A classic Shakespeare tragedy; an incomparable tale of love at first sight made more poignant by the fact that Romeo’s true love is the daughter of his sworn enemy…ah, forbidden fruit is the most delectable. Like Cleopatra and Anthony, Romeo and Juliet would rather die than be separated.
Heathcliff and Catherine – Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Rough, rugged Heathcliff (sigh). The age-old tale of Passion verses Pragmatism. Heathcliff was lowborn, and tragically couldn’t woo the Lady Catherine despite their real connection. I read this when I want a bittersweet moment, always wishing for true love would win out…but alas, not in an English gothic novel.
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn – Their scandalous affair was followed by a very public divorce and beheading. Talk about a passion that runs hot and cold! For Anne, King Henry defied the Catholic Church, breaking with Rome to have England stand apart. Their daughter became the greatest queen in English history, Queen Elizabeth I. Check out: The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret George.
Lancelot and Gwenyvere – The ultimate forbidden fruit, the wife of King Arthur, your liege-lord. Lancelot and Gwenyvere fought hard to deny their love, but in the end it was impossible. I prefer The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley for the female-centric version of this tale. Otherwise you get Richard Gere’s First Knight movie, which just doesn’t do it for me.
Helen and Paris of Troy – My personal favorite: the love that lead to the Trojan War. Homer and Virgil, both epic in scope and poetry, have shown the ugly side of their adulterous affair. My new book, The Princess of Sparta retells the myth as star-crossed lovers. After digging through the mythology, I found two tragic souls who deeply deserved love but were denied it. Had they never met and fell in love, had the Trojan war never happened, Greece wouldn’t have become the bastion of philosophy and democracy that ultimately led to our “Western” world. If ever there was a love that was written in the stars, it was theirs.
And no list is complete without the dog-eared book that I read and re-read —The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It’s a beautiful parable about a shepherd boy’s struggle to follow his dream. Words of wisdom about that journey from Coelho’s forward: “In the silence of our hearts, we know that we are proving ourselves worthy of the miracle of life. Each day, each hour, is part of the good fight.” It reminds me that following your heart is difficult, but worth all the suffering, because—in the end—we are rewarded for our faith and hard work.
What are your favorite love stories?
The youngest of seven children, Aria Cunningham grew up, determined to follow the footsteps of Indiana Jones. She studied Marine Archeology at UC Berkeley and then set forth to create her own adventures: She helped excavate a Roman palace from 200 AD at Tel Dor, Israel, traveled the expansive fjords of Norway, castle hopped from Wales to the Rhineland, and explored the funeral complexes along the Egyptian Nile. An avid scuba diver, she has navigated shipwrecks on the ocean floor, explored the immense kelp forests off the Channel Islands, and swam the legendary Cenote caverns of the Yucatan. For more information, visit: www.ariacunningham.com.
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