Book Review: Mythos By Stephen Fry
As a child, I was very interested in Greek mythology. I have always loved the Iliad and The Odyssey and thoroughly enjoyed the Percy Jackson books when I discovered them as a teenager. More recently, I appreciated the Netflix series ‘Troy: Fall of a City’. Thus, when I saw that Stephen Fry had written a book about Greek mythology, I was very intrigued. Through ‘Mythos’, I have been able to rediscover some of the myths I adored as a child and have uncovered many new ones that I had not heard of.
My excitement for this book went beyond the topic; it was also related to the author Stephen Fry. I have liked him for a number of years now. I first discovered him through Just A Minute, my favorite radio show that I highly recommend you listen to. I then became aware of A bit of Fry and Laurie, a tv series of sketches that aired during the 1990s. If you have never seen an episode, you are missing out! If you check it out, you will recognize the second half of the duo as Hugh Laurie aka Dr. House. Any Potterhead reading this article might know that Stephen Fry is the voice behind the UK version of the Harry Potter audio books. His claims to fame are not limited to what I have mentioned above. Overall, he is known for his intellect, general knowledge and wit. To me, Greek Mythology and Stephen Fry are a match made in heaven.
The first forty pages of the book focus on the creation of the Universe, Orders 1 & 2, and end with Zeus freeing his siblings from their father and setting up the creation of the third Order. Until now, the book had been fast-paced and very dynamic. With the creation of the third Order, the rhythm temporarily slows down so that Stephen Fry can introduce all of the secondary entities that result from the gods successful rebellion against the Titans. Once this is done, the reader gets to properly meet the gods for the first time. I found this was the most enjoyable part of the book as I had forgotten the origins of many Olympians. I got to rediscover the events leading to the births of Hephaestus, Athena, Ares, Artemis and Apollo.
Now that most Olympians are alive and Zeus has enjoyed the companionship of many female nymphs, much to the displeasure of his jealous wife Hera, they feel the need for something more to distract them. Zeus reaches out to his friend Prometheus the Titan and asks for his help in creating a new semi-intelligent race in their image: humans. From now on, the Gods will have something to distract them when they are bored.
Throughout the rest of the book, we will see how petulant the gods can be, how they always get their way regardless of the consequences for their subject of interest. My personal conclusion from this book is that mortals are much better off when the gods do not notice them. Very few lives were improved by interacting with the divine.
All of these myths are retold with a touch of humour that modernises them and breathes new life into them. Fry does this by adding sarcastic comments/observations within his stories. He also provides readers with the context in which we now know those deities as can be seen here in his introduction of the muse Kleio:
“Now relegated to a model of Renault motorcar and a series of awards in the advertising industry, Clio or Kleio (famous) was the muse of history.”
When various versions of one myth exist, Stephen Fry retells one version and presents the other versions through notes. This is something I found very interesting and I appreciated that he took the time to go through this process as it helps remind us that these are ancient myths that have known many iterations over the centuries.
I believe that the best way to appreciate this book is to slowly but surely work your way through it, reading only a couple myths at a time. The format perfectly allows for pace as most tales are contained within a few pages. Regardless of how much you know about Greek Mythology, you will learn something in this book and will enjoy it. Thanks to this book, my small talk capabilities have quadrupled as I can now discuss the Greek myth that inspired Romeo and Juliet as well as the creation of the bee, the spider and the swan. I guess all that is left for me to do is go socialize and impress everyone with my newly gained knowledge.
This book also reminded me of the importance of humility. Many characters whose tales are told in Mythos have an exceptional talent that makes them special in the world. Initially, as they use their talent all goes well for them, but as time passes they grow overconfident with their gift and become arrogant. That tends to be when the gods notice them and decide that it is time to punish these humans for abusing their power. Although I am fairly certain the greek gods do not exist, we can all learn a lesson from these fictional characters. If there is something you are great at, others will respect you, admire you and encourage you for it; but this will only last as long as you keep your feet on the ground. This is just one of many examples through which Greek myths continue to relate to the human experience and proves that we are not so far from our ancestors after all.