To kick off my 2020 Reading Challenge, I chose Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold by Stephen Fry.
I have always been enamored with mythology – the word mythos meaning the story-of-the-people, and logos for word or speech – so the spoken story of a people, which is how they were passed along originally.
What always struck me was how they were designed to find meaning and order in a world which often presents itself as chaotic and meaningless. These sacred tales or fables of a culture ‘s stories deal with various aspects of the human condition: good vs evil; the meaning of suffering; human origins; cultural values, and traditions; the meaning of life and death as well as the afterlife. I was fascinated by their interpretations and values.
But I also recognized that Greek myths were filled with some incredibly colorful characters with thrilling or frightening adventures or consequences, each which could be very quirky and strange.
Fry’s depiction is done in such a fun way, that their distinct personalities leap from the pages while still making them incredibly relatable and human. His writing can be rather comical, interjecting his commentary through the book, making it even more enjoyable.
“Brooding, simmering and raging in the ground, deep beneath the earth that once loved him, Ouranos compressed all his fury and divine energy into the very rock itself, hoping that one day some excavating creature somewhere would mine it and try to harness the immortal power that radiated from within. That could never happen, of course. It would be too dangerous. Surely the race had yet to be born that could be so foolish as to attempt to unleash the power of uranium?”
Not only a witty humorous re-telling, Fry even connects to the relevance of today including customs or words.
For example, Fry goes into lineage and detail fo the Birth of Medicine.
Appolo’s son Ascliepius was put in the care of the centaur Chiron when he was born. After showing to have remarkable talents in the field of medicine and gift for healing, Asceliepius was trained in the medical arts. He later married Epione, whose name means ‘soothing’ or ‘relief from pain’ and together they had 7 children.
“The oldest Hygieia who Ascliepius taught the practices of cleanliness, diet and physical exercise that are today named ‘hygiene’ after her.
To Panacea, he revealed the arts of universal health, of medicinal preparation and the production of remedies and treatments that could heal anything – which is what her name means ‘cure-all’.
Aceso he instructed in the healing process itself, including what we would now call immunology.
The youngest girl Iaso specialized in recovery and recuperation.
The elder boys, Machaon and Podalirius, became prototypes of the army doctor. THeir later service in the Trojan War was recorded by Homer.
The youngest son, Telessphorus, is usually depicted as being hooded and very restricted growth. His field of study was rehabilitation and convalescence, the return of a patient to full health.”
The book is littered with footnotes that provide extra information including not just how some words are still used today but also references to pop culture, literature and music, modern politics and the naming of many constellations and elements.
He also reminds you of earlier stories or personalities mentioned when something appears, later on, that is connected. This is something I really appreciated due to the sheer number of players and their complex relationships and lineages, not to mention that many names look similar at a quick glance.
This is a laugh-out-loud re-telling that probably captures exactly what you were thinking about some of the bizarre stories or behaviors while providing an incredible education at the same time.
“Gaia visited her daughter Mnemosyne, who was busy being unpronounceable.”
I highly recommend it to anyone who has a fascination with Greek Mythology or is looking for a modern readers digest version of a good chunk of the myths. This is not for those looking for a serious deep dive.