“Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes” by Edith Hamilton

Cover of "Mythology: Timeless Tales Of Go...
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I’ve been meaning to read this book ever since I once snuck into a classical mythology class while I was in college. I love mythology and folklore and fables and I always wanted to take a class on it but my schedule never allowed for it. So when I saw Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes chilling on a bookshelf in Barnes & Noble, I had to buy it and begin reading immediately.

I was already familiar with most of the stories thus reading Mythology was more of a refresher than an introduction. Still, if you are unfamiliar with Greek/Roman mythology and would like to know about it, Hamilton’s book is one you should pick up. Hamilton relates these stories by summarizing various plays and epic poems by great dramatists and poets such as Ovid, Apollodorus, Virgil, Pindar, Aeschylus, and many others.

Hamilton’s retelling is in story form and is engaging. She also includes small excerpts from the original sources to give readers examples of how the god, goddesses, and other notable people were described:

“Golden-throned Hera, among immortals the queen,
Chief among them in beauty, the glorious lady
All the blessed in high Olympus revere,
Honor even Zeus, the lord of the thunder.”

She begins by introducing the poets known for relating many of the stories and informing us of their styles and how the period during which they lived affected how they presented their work. She then introduces the gods and other mythical creatures such as the muses and satyrs. Then she relates the wonderful tales, which will keep you in rapture.

The stories are just as appealing today as they were many years ago. Although told long ago, they still apply to situations today since they are based on simple human nature. It’s hard not to get caught up in the drama of them, like love affair between Cupid and Psyche.

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss (by Antonio Canova)
Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss (by Antonio Canova)

Psyche almost lost Cupid because she listened to her jealous sisters, who goaded her into doing exactly what Cupid told her not to—she looked upon his face. This reminds me of situations where a girl listens to her jealous girlfriends and cause her relationship to fall apart. Luckily for Psyche, her willingness to do anything to get back Cupid enabled her to win his love. And so Soul—which Psyche stands for—was united with Love.

One element of myths that I favor is that they are used to make sense of the world. Take for instance the Aegean Sea. This sea got its name because King Aegeus, the great Theseus’ father, threw himself into it from the Acropolis in Athens. This he did because he thought his son was dead.

As it happens, Theseus volunteered to be one of the seven youths (and seven maidens) who were sent to Crete to be sacrificed to the Minotaur that dwelled in the Labyrinth. On the ships, black sails soared to represent the sad occasion. Theseus made plans with his father that if he was successful in defeating the Minotaur, he would instead raise white sails. Unfortunately, Theseus forgot about the white sails. Upon seeing the black sails, King Aegeus took his life by throwing himself into the sea. And that’s how the Aegean Sea got its name.

Speaking of taking one’s life, this seems to be a trend. Always whenever someone lost a love, the person left would commit suicide. I guess the heartache was too much to handle. But it’s usually the women who kill themselves. For example, Dido killed herself because Aeneas decided to listen to Jupiter (Zeus), stick to his plan, and go discover Rome.

Besides that you know what else I realized? The gods are freaking psychos!

Zeus is a sex addict and he needs help. He simply cannot bypass a pretty face in a robe. Dude needs to learn self-control. Hera needs to file for divorce. Seriously, she is driving herself mad with her jealous rages due to Zeus’ antics. She needs to find someone new or at least get a different hobby—blowing up everyone your husband falls in love with or starting a war because of your husband or torturing your step-children are not great hobbies. It changes nothing. Zeus will simply find another way to get the girl. And Aphrodite needs to get over herself. Seriously, as the goddess of love, she shouldn’t care about silly contests that decide which goddess is the fairest of them all. Such things cause war and the destruction of a city—Troy.

I didn't plan to include this but I couldn't help myself. He's so fine! Chris Hemsworth as Thor.
I didn’t plan to include this but I couldn’t help myself. He’s so fine! Chris Hemsworth as Thor.

As you can see, Greek/Roman mythology is very entertaining and there’s much to be learned from it. It documents human nature therefore it documents history. Sometimes there’re more than one version of the stories and Hamilton does allude to this. Therefore if you would like to know more about Greek/Roman mythology, I suggest that you read other books on the topic as well but Hamilton’s Mythology is a great start.

By the way, a snippet on Norse mythology was also included. I was so elated to find this. It’s pretty brief but the chapter discusses the basis of Norse mythology and the texts they’re learned from and the major gods.


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