Greek mythology has always been something that I’ve been incredibly interested by, yet I’ve never really had a proper introduction to it, or indeed a way of learning more about it as a whole. The study of Classics was never something that we focused upon in my education, somewhat perpetuating the belief that Classics were only accessible to the elite or upper class. Thankfully this is a notion which I think many are working to dispel, encouraging others like myself to allow our interest to gain fruition and to delve into this fascinating world. One of my particular favourites is the ‘That’s Ancient History’ podcast hosted by the Classics PhD student and wonderful BookTuber Jean Menzies, which provides a wonderful insight into this world.
Another discovery I have made with regards to making Greek mythology more accessible has to be Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold by the iconic Stephen Fry. As the title aptly suggests, this book is basically Stephen Fry telling the Greek myths in his own words. It covers an impressive span of time, with everything from the beginning of the world with Chaos and the primordial deities, right through to the infamous Olympians. If, like myself, these words at first mean nothing to you, don’t worry, as the book takes us through each stage explaining everything as cohesively as the author can.
One of the things which struck me from the very first page was the clear passion that Stephen Fry has for Greek mythology. This is evident even from the introduction, as well as the fact that this is a passion he wants to share and inspire within others. As Fry shows, you don’t need to be an academic or have a lengthy background in the Classics in order to enjoy the myths. He takes it away from the possession of a more privileged society and reminds us that these are stories for everyone. What struck me forcibly in this book was the reminded that these myths in their purest forms are essentially entertaining fictional stories, without the need of being broken down and analysed bit by bit. What Fry does is remind us of this and facilitate the myths so that all can enjoy.
Stephen Fry is well known for his comedy, and this is a quality that he brings to his re-tellings of the Greek myths. This humour makes reading the Greek myths all the more enjoyable, adding another dimension to what could often be a quite depressive or violent set of stories. This extra element also works very well to further characterise and humanise the Gods (if we can ever compare them to mankind), enhancing and refreshing their personalities. Often these humorous moments remind us that not only are we being guided by an author, but that the author in question is aware of how his readers might feel. One such example is when Stephen tells us how ‘Next Gaia visited her daughter Mnemosyne, who was busy being unpronounceable’ (p. 11). The author knows that for many first time readers of Greek myths even things such as names might be difficult to wrap our head around. He acknowledges this, poking fun at this idea and lightening the readers mind and heart through his comedy.
Whilst I enjoyed the use of humour throughout and think it produced a better reading overall, I do think at times that the writing came across as slightly too modern. I couldn’t help but read some passages as quite silly and a bit too similar to many YA tropes and stock characters that are so overused in modern literature. Whilst I commend Fry’s determination to modernise the Greek myths, a mission he executed fantastically most of the time, there were still these moments which made me cringe somewhat. At one point in the novel when Rhea is talking to her mother, Gaia, she asks, ‘Put in a good word for me, mummy, please! He’s just so dreamy’ (p. 13). I find it hard to believe anyone would utter those lines in today’s society, let alone in the time of the Greek Gods. Even so,there are many other times where these modern turns of phrases and behaviours actually worked to improve the telling of the myth, adding yet another element of humour. It’s just a shame that too many of these embellishments spoiled the authenticity somewhat for me, producing a bit of a weird anachronistic backdrop.
One of the things which I think puts people off so strongly with regards to Greek mythology is the vast and and quite often overwhelming nature of them. These myths are thousands of years old, with a wealth of different variations and added side stories often confusing matters further. Where do you even begin? What makes these re-tellings work so well is that it takes all of this into consideration. The author makes things as structured as he can, not only trying to give us things as chronologically as possible, but also recapping and adding extra context when necessary. Even with this extra help in making the myths accessible it never feels as though things have been oversimplified, allowing this book to be enjoyed as a new retelling by all levels.
Stephen Fry’s retelling of many of the Greek myths was a joy to read. He allows us to get lost in the stories we are being told, whilst simultaneously increasing our knowledge. He doesn’t try to over analyse or find new interpretations for these Classical stories, instead pouring new life into age old stories. For Greek myth beginners or well established followers; this is a book which allows us the simple pleasure of entertaining stories.
‘Mythos is an incredibly successful book in that it facilitates Greek myths for all to enjoy. Fry’s re-tellings are refreshingly modern, turning a confusing web of myths into as cohesive a unit as possible. He encourages us to enjoy Greek mythology in the simple form of entertaining stories, destroying any preconceptions we may have that exclude the everyday folk from the Classical word.’