The ancients – whether it be Roman, Greek, Chinese – have always drawn my attention. Their tales of Gods, heroes, villains and mythical creatures create a fantastical realm that I’ve always dreamed about exploring. I almost wish it were real! Even from a young age, I would find myself drawn to the tales of Zeus, Heracles, Midas and many more.
I think what draws me to the mythology is actually the “humanness” behind each tale. As with any legend or like any fairy tale, there is always a moral behind them and they touch upon what it means to be human (our mistakes, success, and errors in judgement). An interesting point to realise is that we fall into these same traps nearly a millennia later.
It’s no surprise, then, that when I heard that Stephen Fry had written a book reimagining these tales in his own words that I had to pick up a copy!
Transport Yourself to Ancient Mythical Greece
At first read, I thought it was brilliant. Stephen Fry has such a simple but also an enthralling way of telling these famous stories. He puts it in a way that’s easy to read but also almost modern. He uses humour that we, ourselves, would understand today.
The first third of the book details the Old Gods. Now, this was something I wasn’t very familiar with. I’ve heard some references on the Titans (the name given to the first beings that created everything), but I hadn’t actually read deeply into them. I’ve always just skipped ahead to the tales we’ve all heard and recognise with Ancient Greece. So to begin here, was very interesting to me. It set the groundwork’s for the whole family tree which helped a lot.
It was nice to focus on these lesser known characters and to learn their stories. The book gave a whole new depth to Greek Mythology that I never had before. I’ve learnt, and have a respect for, the fact that the Gods had certain agenda that they upheld. You learn that Zeus, for example, upholds hospitality to others as divine which I found honourable.
However, you also hear of the dark side of the Gods. And this is especially the case from the Gods that you assume to be ‘good’. Funnily enough, I don’t think Stephen mentions much of anything ‘hellish’ with Hades (other than taking Persephone, I guess!).
Of course, just like any religion, there is always some sort of negative wherever Gods are depicted. Unfortunately, they can’t be perfect like we expect them to be – just as they created us in their own forms, so we have the same failures as they do whether it’s jealousy or rage. This is very true in the form of the ‘human’ characters that we learn of in Mythos. I would definitely recommend this book to those who want to learn new tales other than the ones told time and time again.
But before I give anything away and become Pandora by opening the box, I shall leave my description of Mythos there.
I never like pointing out the negatives although to be fair, for this book, there’s not many.
One of the biggest flaws I found with this book was that there wasn’t an in-depth enough description/family tree of all the Gods and the offspring. Of course, I can understand that it would be hard to fit into one page, but I found myself having to make my own references and look up how everyone related to each other myself online. Perhaps if there was was a more detailed family tree or even just an index of all the Gods and characters each with a little biography, it would have been helpful.
Also, for those of you looking for the stories of famous Greek heroes and characters such as Jason and the Argonauts, you’re not going to find them here. Instead, you will find them in his latest books. Whilst this could be a disappointment for some, Stephen Fry does make a point of explaining from the start that this focuses on the Gods and that to talk about every single character in Greek Mythology would need hundreds of books written.
My only other point to make is that I wish it was longer. But I guess there’s only so much you can write until it turns into a massive anthology.
My Overall Thoughts
Despite a few flaws, I still fully recommend this book especially for people who, like me, have an interest in Greek mythology but are complete beginners (and don’t find the idea of translating ancient texts all that appealing!). And with Christmas just around the corner, why not look at getting it as a Christmas present (for yourself or for a friend)?
Stephen Fry has also recently released a sequel (not sure if you can call it that, but oh well) called “Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Adventures” which is definitely on my wishlist!