Saturday, March 18, 2023

Review of Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (11/04/2023)
Intriguing Connections = 1) Get To Know The Peoples Of The World (Greece), 

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“The Greeks did not believe that the gods created the universe.  It was the other way about: the universe created the gods.  Before there were gods heaven and earth had been formed.  They were the first parents.  The Titans were their children, and the gods their grandchildren.” – Edith Hamilton, Chapter 1: The Gods, Page 24

“For the most part the immortal gods were of little use to human beings and often they were quite the reverse of useful: Zeus a dangerous lover for mortal maidens and completely incalculable in his use of the terrible thunderbolt; Ares the maker of war and a general pest; Hera with no idea of justice when she was jealous as she perpetually was; Athena also a war maker, and wielding the lightning’s sharp lance quite as irresponsibly as Zeus did; Aphrodite using her power chiefly to ensnare and betray.  They were beautiful, radiant company to be sure, and their adventures made excellent stories; but when they were not positively harmful, they were capricious and undependable and in general mortals got on best without them.” – Edith Hamilton, Chapter 2: The Two Great Gods of Earth, Page 47

“But why Zeus changed his mind and whether Prometheus revealed the secret when he was freed, we do not know.  One thing, however, is certain: in whatever way the two were reconciled, it was not Prometheus who yielded.  His name has stood through all the centuries, from Greek days to our own, as that of the great rebel against injustice and the authority of power.” – Edith Hamilton, Chapter 3: How The World And Mankind Were Created, Page 73



These myths were meant to explain reality, a primordial science.  Stories that were meant to provide a lesson on how to behave.  To provide warnings against making some choices.  The later authors of these myths did not think much of the priests to the gods temples.  For it was the poet who had a connection with the gods.  With the rise of rationality and reason, the gods were made in the image of the people rather than beings with no resemblance of reality.  There were monsters which took on no real shape, as these monsters were meant to provide the challenge for the heroes to overcome. 

Although the gods were radiant and immortal, they were not omnipotent.  Their behavior was not righteous.  Their behavior was unscrupulous.  A lack of understanding between right and wrong.  They were fickle with their favor, and used their power arbitrarily.  Few were generally friends of human kind, for they were generally harmful or undependable.  Better for humans to make do without them.  Heroes themselves were generally the offspring of the gods, who had more power than normal humans, but also their own more powerful flaws. 

The stories are usually told about the interactions between the heroes and the gods.  But it was not the gods that created the universe.  The first parents were heaven and earth.  Their children were the Titans.  The gods were the children of the Titans. 

The myths provided are shortened versions of the original long stories.  The author put in a lot of effort going through various ancient sources, to construct a more consistent version of the stories.



The myths are primarily Greek.  As the author notes, the Roman’s lacked their own, and were influenced by Greek culture.  Romans took on the Greek gods into their own pantheon, and changed their names to Roman equivalents.  Romans did add some myths, and also favored different gods than the Greeks. 

There is also very little on Norse mythology, which stands in contrast to the Greek mythology.  As the author claims, not much has survived of the Norse texts.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•Which myths, gods, or heroes interested you?
•What are myths?
•What was the purpose of the myths?
•Do the myths serve a religion purpose?
•What changes to the gods did the Greeks make?
•What were the Roman gods?
•How did the gods behave? 
•How did the heroes behave? 
•What are themes of the Greek and Roman myths?
•What are themes of the North myths?
•How to choose between the gods? 
•How did people share the myths to others?
•How did the gods come to be?

Book Details
Publisher:             Little, Brown & Company
Edition ISBN:      0451623754
Pages to read:       310
Publication:          1969
1st Edition:           1940
Format:                 Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          2
Overall          3