Critical Review of Stephen Fry's 'Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold'
Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold
Penguin Random House UK
Stephen Fry is an award-winning actor, comedian, director, activist, presenter and author. As an author, he has contributed numerous columns and articles for newspapers and magazines. His four bestselling novels include The Hippopotamus, The Liar, Making History and The Star’s Tennis Balls. On top of this, he also has thee volumes of autobiography such as Moah is My Washpot, The Fry Chronicles and More Fool Me.
Shannon Luminary Lecture Series - Stephen Fry, Actor, Comedian, Journalist, Author
Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold is a refreshing retelling of Greek Mythology, providing us with a coherent narrative from the creation of the gods to the story of King Midas. From a third-person perspective, Fry explores these myths with humorous, entertaining and accessible language.
Although this book is acceptable to anyone of all ages, I felt like the language is targeted towards a PG audience. The language is not overly explicit but at the same time, Greek myths are not the most kid-friendly stories you can get your hands on (anyone who knows of the horrifying and painful death of Uranus will know what I mean) and this book doesn’t sugar coat the myths he discusses. Additionally, anyone who is repelled by sexual themes and violence may not enjoy some of the stories retold in this book.
Fry Splits uses subheadings to show what myths he is talking about. His book is also sectioned into parts: ‘The Beginning: Part One’ which discusses the creation of Chaos and the first (includes Uranus, Gaia, etc.) and second order of gods (this includes Titans such as Kronos, Rhea), ‘The Beginning: Part Two’ that explores the battle of rise of the Olympians (including well-known gods such as Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, and Hades).
Part one and two of ‘The Toys of Zeus’ recounts the creation of humanity and a few more stories about the Olympians, particularly love stories. From that point forward, he retells other Greek myths. He also includes maps of Greece, a family tree of the Greek gods, photographs of paintings and other archaeological findings, an explanation of the themes found in Greek mythology, and helpful footnotes.
Greek Gods of War and Destruction
Personally, I would have loved to have this book around for when I was learning about Greek myths in 10th-grade history class. Fry’s retelling of these myths is straightforward, entertaining and incredibly informative. You do not need to have any prior knowledge of mythology to understand what is happening in the book. If more complex or unfamiliar concepts are not explained in the stories, there is a good chance you will find their definitions in the footnotes. Considering how much is compacted into this one book, it is well worth its cost.
Greek mythology is popular for how human and relatable the gods are. Fry certainly brings these aspects out and brings the gods to life. My favourite set of myths are ‘The Infant Prodigy’, ‘Apollo Reads the Signs’ and ‘Half-Brothers’ which describes an infant Hermes who confuses and shocks his mother and Apollo with his intellect. This was a myth I had never heard of before and I found it incredibly amusing to read.
However, there are a few points to consider when it comes to the reliability of this book. The myths Fry discusses have different variations, such as the story of Echo and Narcissus and Hades and Persephone. For example, he explains that Hades had abducted Persephone although Hesiod’s Theogony (which contains the earliest account of this myth) states Kore walked into the Underworld and decided to live there out of her own volition, and for defying Zeus, her name was changed to Persephone. The myth changed overtime when abduction marriages became the norm in Ancient Greece, leading there to be multiple versions of this one myth.
Fry cannot include all variations of these myths otherwise, the pages would go up in the thousands and will need to be split into volumes. There are endless controversies and debates amongst historians as to which versions are correct or have been altered. Over time, it is inevitably for stories to change and myths are no exception. Given these factors, he effectively retold these myths using the versions of myths he wanted to include.
If anyone tells me that I have the stories ‘wrong’ I believe I am justified in replying that they are, after all, fictions. In tinkering with the details I am doing what people have always done with myths. In that sense I feel that I am doing my bit to keep them alive— Stephen Fry, p. 402
I agree with his statement and believe he succeeds in keeping these stories alive. Myths change along with society, causing there to be multiple versions of one myth. This does not mean one version is more valid than the other.
An alteration of a myth are just reflections on a society, and because all societies have differences, new versions of myths turn out different also. Nonetheless, the opinions he does make such as his self-proclaimed admiration of Hera and Prometheus are important points to consider if you are considering the reliability of this book.
Additionally, for referencing purposes, I would also have liked it if the book had a table of contents to make it easier to find each part of the story. It is a bit difficult searching for specific myths, but this is understandable considering there are so many myths in this book.
For the reasons I have discussed, I give this book 4.4/5 stars and recommend you read it for yourself.
Mythos: Stephen Fry Reads From His Retelling of Ancient Greek Myths
Identification of the Reviewer
Beginner critical reviewer, Simran Singh is a student at Griffith University studying towards a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Creative Writing.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Simran Singh