Book Review: Mythology by Edith Hamilton

nerdy side

tumblr_m33ldnv0e91rnav7ro1_500This book took me forever to read. It was so dry and uninteresting. Really, it’s an art to make a book about Greek and Norse mythology this irritatingly bad. I would have been better off reading English translations of the stories themselves than this.

Soon after I finished this book, I picked up Richelle Mead’s The Immoral Crown and felt like I was welcoming an old friend. I’m just not meant to read books like this one. I actually worry my own book may have suffered because I wasn’t reading a good example of excellent writing. Sorry Edith, but this was just no fun to read.

On this positive side, Greek mythology is extremely interesting. Please don’t accept this poor review as a review of the mythological stories. There were a lot of small facts I found fascinating. For example, there was a minor character in the stories named Lucifer. I thought it was amazing that the name existed before the dawn of Christianity. It makes me wonder why Christianity chose that name for the devil.

I was also delighted to find that the anime Sailor Moon is loosely based of Greek mythology. I mean, the names are even the same. Selene, the Moon, fell in love with Endymion. In the Greek story, Endymion is a shepherd, not a prince like Sailor Moon says. Either way, I found this connection entertaining.

What really struck me was what author attributed to the decline of Greek mythological beliefs. The claim is that this decline started when the stories of gods took a more human turn. Later stories of the gods showed them with far more human emotions, eventually making it hard for them to be held above humanity.

At the very end of this book, Edith touches on stories in Norse mythology. This was honestly the most interesting part of the book. The Norse gods were mortal and, while they fought incessantly for good, understood that eventually evil would overcome. All their epic tales were about warriors who ran to battle despite inevitable death. That courage to fight for good with the knowledge that one would eventually succumb to death marked one as a hero.

My interests in mythology hasn’t left me, but my interest in reading text books on the subject has. I’m just going to have to grab a copy of the Iliad and live the adventure myself. I don’t need someone to explain it to me.

Mythology

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31 thoughts on “Book Review: Mythology by Edith Hamilton”

  1. I actually enjoyed this somewhat.i do agree though it is on the boring side of mythology texts. It is like you said though a textbook haha. I love mythology as well so I am pumped to see others do as well. On the anime note a decent amount get names and other stories from myths.

    1. I’m always excited when I find mythological connections to my favorite books, games or animes. I think I’ll just have to pick up the original Greek stories. At least I can say I finished this book.

      1. There you go, it is a achievement type book when you read it. You definitely should check out Neil Gaiman’s American Gods book. You would enjoy it I think. It is all about the modern gods v.s the gods of old mythology.

  2. My kids and I love classical mythology to the point of minor obsession. There are lots of great translations of original texts out there. Once one is familiar with the myths, one can spot their narrative structures, characters and tropes in everything. One if my proud parent moments was letting my kids watch ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ for the first time and them picking up every single reference to The Odyssey. So definitely stay away from dry tomes and read the original texts instead.

    1. I’m going to have search out a list of Greek mythology stores. I mean, I know of the Iliad and the Odyssey, but certainly there are many more.

      1. The Theban plays are great (Oedipus Rex, Antigone and Oedipus at Colonus) so I highly recommend that. I also love Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Those plus Homer are my “must read” recommendations for anyone interested in the classics through mythology.

  3. It’s been a while since I’ve read anything in Greek mythology, I’m planning to read Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey sometime soon, post definitely gave me some nostalgic feeling.

  4. For a Sci fi Iliad check out Dan Simmons Hyperion books (though I found them a hard slog in places, you have to admire the scale of what he attempted.) To study up on my myths, I read children’s versions of them to my daughter. Their simplicity helps me retain the nucleus of each story well…but then maybe that’s just how my childish mind works.

  5. I love a book review like this, as long as I’m not the author of the subject! Thanks, I thought your review was brilliant. Perhaps the humour of your review is why bad books are written?

    1. Hahaha. Well, I’m one of those people who must finish a book I start, so a review like this may happen again. It just takes me forever to read through books I don’t enjoy.

  6. While it’s not about mythology per se, The Greeks by HDF Kitto is a great and fun read that covers greek culture in overview from the mythic period through the end of Classic Greece, and offers some interesting insight into the religion and cosmology of the Greek city states. While most states had their own patron deity, as territories shifted and cities were conquered, new gods and new traditions were introduced. Often the explanation would be “Well, god X married god Y, which is why we worship both now.” Except since these explanations were happening in parallel throughout all of Greece, you ended up with “Well, god x married god Y and god Z… and god A, B and C…” after you put it all together.

    Of particular interest, by the time that Old Comedy had emerged, mythology had been so thoroughly bowdlerized, and often used to criticize and deconstruct the decadence of classical Greece with the heroic mythic age, one could make the case that the Old Comics were the first post-modernists.

    1. Yeah, I learned about the marriage thing via Zeus. I think it was in this book that the author mentioned that, as Greek mythology spread, stories about Zeus being in love or at least in a sexual relationship with other godesses became the norm… to Hera’s great dismay, of course ^_^

      1. One of the disadvantages we have, as well, is that so many of the extant sources are from the Athenian perspective, so other than how the gods are portrayed in the surviving Ionic epics, we have very little idea of how the ancients saw their gods and religion outside of the lens of Athenian thought.

  7. I have three different versions of Hamilton’s book. It’s definitely more of a reference for me, except for the huge, colorful one that I use as a coffee table book. I used it when writing my novella “Sol Invictus” which was about ancient gods adapting to modern times by taking on new forms (i.e. Santa Claus is actually a guise of Saturn.) Hell…I even gave her book a shoutout in the story. =)

    Slainte!

    1. Your book sounds intriguing. I’ll have to look into it. Some of my favorite authors love to mix mythology in their stories.

  8. I love Edith’s Mythology, but I agree that I use it as more of an encyclopedia of the myths than a story I would read all the way through. When I’ve forgotten a character, though, I love pulling my copy out and reading about them.

  9. Oh TK… this is an old, old textbook. I’m pretty sure I read this by way of my grandmother’s old copy that came into my possession; she was a teacher that specialized in reading. The Norse mythologies– the stories of my ancestors– I found incredibly depressing, but then, we don’t have clear, intact copies of those legends. There was too much religious interference of the RCC at that time.

    And why haven’t I seen you at my blog? Really, now, as I’m writing about Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey– I should be writing about mythology all day long. I’ve tried to focus on modern stories, though.

    1. I had a different view of Norse Mythology. I actually found them inspiring and uplifting. I may have to explore that feeling more.

      And I’m sorry I haven’t been around your blog lately. I though getting laid off would free up some time, but it’s only made me busier than ever.

      1. I would re-read specifically what Hamilton had to say. She pointed out that much of the legends reflect the cold life that Scandinavians still live in to this day. (I met someone from Trondheim onlinr– her tagline for ages was “p.s. it’s really cold here!”) I’ve been told modern Scandinavians burrow in after a fashion during the winter months.
        Then there’s the matter of Ragnarok and the Norse gods supposedly all being dead– Cimmy said that’s likely meddling by Christian missionaries who wanted to discredit the Norse pantheon and get the peoples to convert.

        That’s not to say the imagery and symbolism isn’t deeply inspiring to me– an epic fantasy I am writing but still have under wraps is DEFINITELY influenced by Norse mythology. One of my protagonists is named Tjask– tjas is Old Norse for “storm giant”. And much of my ancestry is either directly Danish, or Danish by way of ancient immigration. When I got married, I got re-introduced to a lot of Danish culture. I definitely have a vested interest to be involved with that. (Inheriting an ableskiver pan from my grandmother recently helps, too.)

  10. My brother had to read that in the sixties for one of his college courses. I remember it on his shelf. I never read it, but for some reason, the cover is stuck in my brain. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

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