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The Greek Myths

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The Greek Myths, By Robert Graves. (London & New York: Penguin, 1993. Pg. 782.) ISBN: 0-1401-7199-1.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - January 29, 2002

Mythology is the window into the soul of a people. When viewed from the standpoint of a cultural anthropologist, mythology can provide insights into a given peoples overall culture, history, and religious and scientific believes. A study of a group's mythology can also provide some indication of the other cultures with which they interacted with and from whom they may have borrowed ideas and ideologies. Most importantly, mythology provides a glimpse into the mind set of a given group, and how they view the world and their place in the world. In The Greek Myths, Vol I and II Robert Graves has elected to tackled the subject of Greek mythology from such an anthropological viewpoint.

Robert Graves was a respected historian and classical scholar, and he was a professor of poetry. He was a prolific writer, and his works ranged from books on Greek Mythology and Primitive Christianity, to general fiction, including his famous historical novels I, Claudius and Claudius the God. His monumental opus was his two volume work, The Greek Myths. This work contains nearly two-hundred unique sections, in which the full breadth of Greek Mythology and Legends is traversed. Each section contains detailed commentaries based upon Graves's detailed knowledge of the subject, and upon modern archaeological and anthropological evidence. This work is encyclopedic in scope, and it has become the standard reference book on Greek Mythology.

This is a massive book, and it covers a wide range of Greek Myths. It delves into the various creation myths, and births and lives of the various Greek gods, the role of the elemental forces in Greek mythology such as Chaos and Eros, as well as exploring the roles and stories of the Titans, the lesser gods, and other supernatural figures, such as witches. The Greek Myths also includes a detailed overview of the Greek Heroes and their adventures, including Perseus, Hercules, Ajax, Jason, Odysseus, Achilles, and Agamemnon. Also included is a survey of the Trojan War, the adventures of the Argo and Jason search for the golden fleece, and the many labors that Hercules underwent.

Approaching the myths from an anthropological perspective, Graves's does more than merely offers the reader an authentic retelling of the tales. He also offers his interpretations of the various myths, as well as explaining the myths in historical and anthropological terms - based upon modern research. Graves is also quick to point out where and why problems have arisen in interpreting the various myths, either due to scholarly disagreements, or simply due to lack of credible evidence. Most important, he also explains the myths from the viewpoint of the Ancient Greeks, what the different myths meant to them, and how the myths reflect their religious beliefs and world view.

The Greek Myths is a virtual Who's Who of Greek Mythology, and it can be approached both as a standard reference book, as well as a wellspring of fantastic short stories. The Greek myths are great to read, simply for the pure enjoyment that comes from reading well-crafted and exciting stories.

Related Reviews:

Greece! Rome! Monsters!, by John Harris and Illustrated by Calef Brown.
An energetic romp through Ancient Greek and Roman mythology written for young readers.

Life, Myth, and Art in Ancient Greece, by Emma J. Stafford.
An illustrated, general guidebook to the world of the ancient Greeks - for readers of all ages.

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