Genre: Mythology, Historical, Young Adult, Teen, Reference
Greek and Roman Mythology is everywhere. Even if you have never actually read any, you still probably know some. The Greek Gods, Heroes and legends have firmly planted themselves in the English language. Jupiter is the Roman version of the Greek God Zeus and the largest planet in the solar system. Phrases like opening Pandora's box, Herculean task, or words like echo, aphrodisiac, narcissistic are rooted in the fascinating stories of Greek mythology.
A few years ago I thoroughly enjoyed reading the 10 Percy Jackson et al books, and some time later The Trials Of Apollo Series. Riordan has done such a great job of embedding his stories in the world of Greek and Roman mythology, that sometimes it is difficult to tell which parts of the stories come from mythology, and which parts are exaggerated in Riordan's fertile imagination. Although, some research on Wikipedia at that time made it quite clear that embellishment can hardly make Greek mythology more bizarre than it already is.
Recently, during the #NinaAndNana mythology month, I had to look up some Greek myths and that left me thirsty for more.
That's when I came across Mythos and it's sequel Heroes, by Stephen Fry, where he strings the various and numerous Greek myths and legends together in to two novels, with somewhat coherent over all story arcs.
Mythos briefly deals with the origin of the world, the birth of the Titans, monsters, giants, and later, the Olympians. After glossing over the war in which the Titans are overthrown by the Olympians, it focuses on the family drama of the Olympians. How many Olympian Gods are there? Who are they? How did they come to be? How many of the immortals made it to Zeus's inner-circle of governance? What did they stand for and how did they feel about each other? How did the immortal divine beings keep themselves busy and entertained?
Powerful as they were, Greek Gods were still susceptible to insecurities. Jealousy, pride, envy, vengeance were as much a part of their divine personalities, as they are part of being human, making the family drama of Greek Gods just as convoluted as a soap opera, but far more bizarre with all the shape shifting preceding copulation.
Zeus the Olympian boss soon, started finding his interactions with Titans, Olympians, Nymphs, Oceanids and animals insufficiently satisfying. He longed for some interesting toys. He approached his best friend, the Titan Prometheus. Prometheus along with Athena helped him create the first humans. Prometheus, eventually, became a champion of humankind and was brutally punished by Zeus for it. Read the book to find out the intriguing story of what caused Zeus to be so cruel to his best buddy.
In the early days of humanity the Gods roamed freely among the humans, interacted with them, and mated with them. The earliest rulers could claim divine lineage.
The interactions between Gods and humans led to the age of the Heroes which is the subject of the second book. Heroes were mortal men of extraordinary abilities. They distinguished themselves by accomplishing a series of seemingly impossible tasks, which made the world a better place.
Heroes and other humans, sometimes, unwittingly or unknowingly got caught up in the rivalries and jealousies between the Gods and suffered for it. The Olympians were often petty, jealous and greedy. Any devotee of Artemis was likely to incur the wrath of her rival Aphrodite. Artemis herself was petty and unforgiving. The Gods, especially Apollo, despised being outdone and such hubris was cruelly punished. Athena, for all her wisdom, wasn't above being offended by the idea of a mortal being more skillful than her.
Heroes themselves almost always had tragic lives, with the exception of Perseus. Mortals, who somehow got entangled with the Gods, usually met with some terrible fate, often for no fault of their own. One exception was Pygmalion, whose life was improved by Aphrodite's meddling.
In many ways it was a world so unlike our own, with miracles, magic, shape-shifting gods, strange hybrid creatures, monsters and heroes, but yet it seems that the Gods were quite human in their insecurities and pleasures making the stories timeless and engrossing.
What I Liked About The Books
The books do a great job of consolidating the scattered stories of Greek mythology and threading them together in a somewhat chronological story arcs. There is some back and forth in the time-line, but given the large number of characters involved that is unavoidable.
Many of our words and phrases trace their origins to the stories of Greek mythology. Fry explains the etymology of many words and how they connect with other words of the same root, which I found illuminating and interesting.
The thing I found most fascinating about the book was the easy fluid understanding of sexuality in an ancient culture. Sex change, homosexuality, sexual attraction for animals are all talked about without the slightest embarrassment. On the flip-side, the sense of entitlement and the lack of consideration exhibited by the Gods and kings forcing themselves upon mortals or less powerful beings is disturbing. Victims of Zeus's rape or their progeny are often hounded by Hera, simply because she finds it easier to bully them, than to stop Zeus. Aceleme was impregnated by Zeus who pretended to be her husband and then the next morning by her actual husband, thus giving birth to twins. One of the twins went on to become the most celebrated Greek hero and you must read the book to find out how he got the name he is best known by.
The contemporary writing style, modern references and lighthearted, humorous tone make the book a delightful read. I particularly enjoyed the conversation in which Theseus' mother tells him the story of his dual conception by a king of a far away land, as well as the Greek God Poseidon.
'That night, after Aegeus, your father, had … had …'
'… had loosened his bulging wineskin?'
‘Yes, that. He rolled off and fell asleep. I couldn’t sleep, though. I went to the spring, the one down there dedicated to Poseidon, to cleanse myself and think. My father had sent me to sleep with a stranger so that he could play at politics. I was angry, but I had found to my surprise I liked Aegeus. He was kindly, manly and … exciting.’
‘Mother, please …’
‘But when I washed myself in the waters of the spring, who do you think arose from the pool?’
‘The god Poseidon.’
‘And he … he took me too.’
‘He … he … he …?’
‘It’s not funny, Theseus …’
‘I’m not laughing, mother. Believe me, I am not laughing. I’m just trying to understand. Don’t tell me Poseidon loosened his bulging wineskin?’
Theseus the hero revered by the Athenians, relied on his brains more than brawn, but here is a most amusing passage from the book about his rescue from the underworld by Heracles.
In order to release Theseus, Heracles had to jerk him quite violently from his seat. Theseus was pulled free but his buttocks were left behind. It was as if they had been superglued to the stone of the chair. Athenian representations of the older, post-Hades Theseus, portray him as apygous, essentially arseless.
This book has romance, drama, gore, comedy and adventure all rolled in to one!
The mother of all soap operas penned down in style!
Thanks PlusMinus’N’More, for everything I learned from you about reviewing books.