Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Mythology by Edith Hamilton
This book gives a great overview to all the major stories that are prevalent in Greek and Latin mythology. She does a good job of explaining where she took her source information from and why at the beginning of each chapter, which is good because there are many stories that were told by more than one major Greek poet, and then modified when the Romans took over. Included in the book are descriptions of the major and minor gods and goddesses, and information about them is compiled from the major stories in a condensed format, so that you can get the full picture of how each was depicted in the section. It also describes the great heroes (Perseus, Hercules) and their many adventures, and takes a whole chapter to condense the Iliad in a format that is much easier to read. It does the same for the Odyssey. It then describes the tragedies, most chiefly those of Oedipus, and at the end there is a little section on Norse myths, which have been made popular by Wagner's operas. At the end of the book are family trees, which really help to display how the gods and heroes and major characters are interrelated. All in all a very informative book that is easy to read. Highly recommended for every mythology buff.
The term mythology can refer to either the study of myths or a body of myths. The term "myth" is often used colloquially to refer to a false story, however, the academic use of the term generally does not pass judgment on its truth or falsity. In the study of folklore, a myth is a symbolic narrative explaining how the world and humankind came to be in their present form.
One of the foremost functions of myth is to establish models for behavior. The figures described in myth are often the result of circumstances which may have a moral interpretation. They are worthy role models of human beings because they embody certain combinations of human and animal traits. For example, the Centaur is part man, part beast. The upper body, being human is a symbol of rationality. The lower body, being of a horse is a symbol of animal instinct. The Centaur thus represents the uniquely human psychological challenge of animal instinct in relation to the rational mind. This example shows that myths are not only valuable due to cultural assumption (or 'spirituality'), but because they portray a set of symbols which can be interpreted morally. It is not necessary to introduce divine experience to explain these symbols, since a symbol is by definition a depiction of an idea in physical form. (bird = power, horse = beast, tree = knowledge).
In Greek mythology, the oldest known sources are the Iliad and the Odyssey, both of which depict the events of the Trojan War. They also tell us a great deal of the Greek gods and goddesses, and of their personalities and abilities.
Greek mythology has exerted an extensive influence on the culture, the arts, and the literature of Western civilization and remains part of Western heritage and language. Poets and artists from ancient times to the present have derived inspiration from Greek mythology and have discovered contemporary significance and relevance in these mythological themes.
Other books to consider:
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, American Indian Myths and Legends by Richard Erdoes, and Chinese Ghost and Love Stories by Pu Singling