Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold, Stephen Fry
If you have ever listened to any of the podcasts or audiobooks from Stephen Fry, you will hear him tell these myths in his warm, highly entertaining voice in your head as you read this book.
Most of us know certain ‘basics’ of the Greek myths. They are, it seems, part of our collective memory. But it all seems quite fuzzy at the edges, doesn’t it? Zeus, yes, he did something with thunderbolts. Hera, she was his wife, wasn’t she? Aphrodite, off course, goddess of love! Ares, god of war. Hermes, that was the one with wings on his shoes? Like certain sneakers now? And for my generation (I am 27 as I write this) the Disney film Hercules introduced us as children to the world of the Greek gods. (There is laughter in my head as I write that sentence. Oh, the hilarity, the millennials.)
In other words, I was delighted with this book. It filled in the ‘gaps’ and added new stories, names, characters, places and gave an insight in the structure of those gods, goddesses and titans. Structure sounds too organised, it soon becomes clear that timelines, and lineages are quite chaotic. But Stephen Fry directs you through all the family dramas throughout Ancient Greece and on Olympus with an excellent sense of humour and some 21st century comparisons that make you chuckle as you read them. (For example: “… Was Chaos a god – a divine being – or simply a state of nothingness? Or was Chaos, just as we would use the word today, a kind or terrible mess, like a teenager’s bedroom only worse? …”
And he offers you, in the footnotes on the pages, all kinds of facts that originate from the words and stories of the ancient Greeks. For example, the story of Eros, god of sensual love, and Psyche, a human princess, sounds at some parts quite familiar to us and reminds us in the first part of the story of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ a very well-loved and know fairy tale today. And in the second part of the story you find an echo to the fairytale of Rumpelstiltskin. And besides these kinds of notes, you also find facts on the names of planets in our solar system, how we named certain chemicals, flowers, natural phenomenon and so on, after Greek word that come from certain tales or characters.
What interests me most is the duality of all the gods, goddesses, titans, and heroes. I am from Belgium, and here Christianity and it is ‘one, almighty god’ are woven into our culture. And this god can do no wrong, I believe, from what I have heard. So, this duality in the Greek Gods fascinates me. They are divine, they love, they help humans, they delight the world with their gifts. At the same time: They are jealous, they cheat, they punish for a triviality, they are vain, they cheat and lie, they take revenge, and they disturb with their neurosis all the natural phenomena. Remind you of anybody? Humanity perhaps? It is perhaps in the nature of a religion with multiple deities, that these deities are not ‘all good’ but have a darker part to their character.
My personal favourite goddess: Artemis.
It is a good book, recommend.