Mythology by Edith Hamilton
Illustrations by Steele Savage
Published in 1942
“Greek and Roman mythology is quite generally supposed to show us the way the human race thought and felt untold ages ago.”
This sentiment, which begins Mythology by Edith Hamilton, expresses the limited worldview of not only the author, but the book itself. Primarily concerning the Greek and Roman myths and gods, Mythology collects some of the most famous stories in one place. All the greatest hits are here, including Jason and the Golden Fleece, the Judgement of Paris and Fall of Troy, and Oedipus’s folly at trying to escape fate. Mythology also contains lesser myths and the histories of tragic families; the only kind that the Greeks had in their myths.
The introduction to Mythology puts myths and their sources in context. It describes why some retellings are barely used in the book. Hamilton covers the Greek pantheon; she goes over their names in both Greece and Rome, their attributes, histories, and differences in mythic retellings from varying sources. Illustrations are placed throughout the book which show pivotal scenes in the myths, which are also supplemented by quotations from various sources, poets, and storytellers.
There are myths of tragedy and love, most of which end with a dead beauty who has caused the creation of known flowers. Greek and Roman myths are filled with passion and emotion; people do terrible things in the heat of passion, often finding intense regret and grief in the aftermath. Heroes do great things, but almost always end their lives in tragedy. If someone is loved and they die, it is a safe bet that their lover will kill themselves in grief; this is more often the case than not.
Hamilton’s voice comes through not only in the myths, but in the short descriptions that preface them. She comments on which sources she chose for the retelling and often criticizes those she omitted; she calls some poetic and other dull. Though there is a short chapter covering Norse mythology at the end of the book, it feels tacked on and the condescending tone Hamilton takes toward it really makes the reader question the necessity of its inclusion. She reduces the pantheon to five gods worth mention, and makes haughty judgments about their stories and character.
Mythology is a bit of a misnomer in that it really only covers two sequences of myth, and one of those far more than the other. I did like that it focuses more on the gods than heroes, in contrast to Gods and Heroes, while visiting the same myths and adding lesser stories. The myths are easily digestible and make for entertaining reads despite Hamilton butting her opinion in at times. This is a good repository of both well and lesser known Greek myths that is a decent addition to any collection.
Verdict: 3 Greek tragedies out of 5
Recommended for: People looking for an introduction to Greek mythology, the passionate, and people looking to expand their collections of mythological literature.
Not recommended for: The passionless, fans of Norse mythology, those looking for happy stories, or people who don’t like mythology.