Ancient Greek and Roman mythology has always fascinated me. First I fell in love with D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. But then, even as a young teenager, I remember reading Mythology by Edith Hamilton, one of the first “pop culture” books that brought Greek mythology into the main stream for the general reader.
It’s easy to see why. Edith Hamilton’s Mythology has taken thousands of different ancient Greek and Roman texts and whittled them down to the very essence of the story, summarizing both ancient belief system and traditional folkloric stories in a slim, easily accessible volume. I still like this all these years later, but I can see it for what it is now, and better understand how much is missing from it.
My favorite aspect of Ms Hamilton’s volume is that she tells the reader where she is finding the stories before she retells the stories. Thus, I learn the difference between the Roman writers approach to the gods (sarcastic, as in, these are just fables) versus the earliest of Greek writers (who actually believed in the divine entities). I learned that some stories were told by people who were dull storytellers, and others were told with humor. Since I will never be able to read Greek and Latin, this is as close as I’ll get to Ovid and Pindar, probably. I can’t image I’ll sit down with those volumes myself. I am not a true classical scholar.
That said, I wanted to know a little bit more as to where to go next. Which are the best and most accessible plays to pick up, for example?
Ms Hamilton’s volume was first written in the 1940s. Students before that time probably would have studied Latin and Greek in school. Or, it was just past that time. Classical education has now gone the way of the Dodo bird. I’m not sure I can picture myself sitting down with even Aeschylus and Sophocles for my free reading. I intend to try with some of them, but I mourn the realization that Ms Hamilton’s volume may be as close as I get to some of the fascinating stories.
Mythology is a great start to learning the basics of the tales, but I’m just not sure where to go next. I kind of feel like there must be something better out there by now.
I love ancient lit and I wish that more of it was taught in schools. Alas, what can we do? I have to admit that I’ve never read this despite it sitting on my shelf. I think I have a very, very old copy with very, very tiny print, and it’s so uninviting that I bypass it consistently.