Dear Hive Mind

What are your recommendations for excellent, off-the-beaten path books about Greek mythology and/or religion? Feel free to email or leave ’em in the comments. This is one of those topics on which there’s an embarrassment of riches available, but also an embarrassment of mediocre texts; I’m trying to find the former and avoid the latter. The odder the content, the better, as always.

20 thoughts on “Dear Hive Mind”

  1. gwenda: you might want to look into a copy of A Cross of Centuries — Michael Bishop’s new anthology of stories about Christ.
    jeff ford

  2. jennifer, aka literaticat

    Depends – do you want nonfiction (ie, Books Of Myths and Books About Myths) – or fiction (ie, retellings of myths, novels with mythic themes)?
    For a straight-up, clearly written, non-boring book of myths, I agree that D’aulaires is far and away my fave. Followed by Bulfinch’s Age of Fable, Hamilton’s Mythology, and “Gods, Men & Monsters”.
    For novelizations, I liked the Stephanie Spinner books – QUIVER (Atalanta) and QUICKSILVER (Hermes) & Cooney’s GODDESS OF YESTERDAY (siege of Troy).
    Why do you ask?

  3. Jane Harrison’s Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion is pretty much the gold standard on Greek myth, an amazing book — I find something new in it every time I pick it up. First published in the early 20th c., I think it’s available in trade PB from Bollingen. It has great illustrations too, from classic Greek vases and the like. Walter Burket’s Greek Religion is another standard text that’s got great material. I also still refer often to edith hamilton’s Greek Mythology, the same copy I’ve had since 8th or 9th grade, which is useful for getting thumbnail versions of all the best-known myths. Harrison is excellent for the more off-beat, lesser-known (to me, anyway) stuff.

  4. People have already named my go-to books; and you can always go back to The Odyssey. For fictional takes on the stories, I like the Mary Renault novels, and C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces.

  5. Dan Simmons’ “Ilium” and “Olympos” are a remarkable science fictional gloss on Homer.
    Neil Gaiman’s “The Kindly Ones” sequence in the “Sandman” series is thick with references to Greek mythology (and many others).
    Robert Graves'”The Greek Myths” is a useful reference.

  6. Oh, CAAF. I’ve already got Clash of the Titans cued up. (I saw it at the drive-in when I was a kid.)
    I’m mostly interested in nonfiction, and I think you guys have given me plenty of places to start. This is research for the book. There’s a possibility I can weave in slightly more myth-y goodness than I was planning to otherwise (having lost the Aztecs) — also, I find reading weird nonfictional stuff is great for generating ideas. And most of the reference books I’ve been finding haven’t quite been what I’m looking for.
    Danke to all.

  7. “Clash of the Titans”!!
    I used to teach a Greek myth course for a summer school program for kids and I’d always show “Clash of the Titans” on the last day of class.
    The only thing that could make it better is if Harry Hamlin were in rollerskates.
    p.s. I’m not even doing research and I’m getting a few of the books suggested here. So fascinating sounding.

  8. D’Aulaires’ hooked me in third grade, and I never read another book on mythology that made the subject so engrossing. Unfortunately, the myths tend to be sanitized for children (appropriate, since it’s intended for children), but it made enough of an impact on me that I still own a copy today. (Their companion book of Norse mythology was even weirder, and, to me at least, even more fascinating. I loved those illustrations!)
    Ovid’s Metamorphoses has a lot of strange mythological incidents included. Not that you probably need me to point you towards it.

  9. Ovid’s calendar book, which now I can’t remember–ah, Fasti–discusses roman feast days, some of which aren’t mentioned anywhere else. It’s up to you to decide if he made them up or it’s just that no one else cared enough to write them down.
    I find Graves’s stuff to be interesting, but also mostly fictional–or at least he’d insist on having long in-depth discussions of obscure bits of greek myth and what it relates to historically that I have NEVER seen before or since (other than in books that list him as a reference.) but for fiction purposes it’s good. I took it with me to read when I was touring Greece on study abroad. Talk about surreal. 🙂

  10. Hi Gwenda,
    I’ve been going through Endicott’s past reviews since this sounds up our alley and here’s one from Terri that I thought you might find interesting:
    Rufus, Anneli S.: Magnificent Corpses: Searching Through Europe for St. Peter’s Head, St. Chiara’s Heart, St. Stephen’s Hand, and Other Saints’ Relics (Marlow & Co, 1999)
    This fascinating, bizarre “armchair traveler” takes you to 18 holy sites in Europe famed for their relics carved off the corpses of Catholic saints. The volume is chock full of folklore, macabre factoids, and travelers’ tales, both ancient and modern. Rufus’s writing is a bit uneven, but it’s an interesting read nonetheless. (TW)
    I love that sort of stuff…having visited the head of St. Catherine and her right thumb in Siena (“Come to Rome,” a Jesuit told me, “and see the body.”)

  11. The one I found really useful when writing the Greek myth parts of the Time Rangers stories was the old (out of print but available on Amazon) Penguin “Who’s Who In The Ancient World” by Betty Radice. Mythical and historical personalities are juxtaposed and there’s lots of reference (with illustrations) to later music, art and fiction based on the originals.

  12. Celia mentioned Ovid, and I just have to say that I think Metamophoses is one of my all-time faves. I know it’s borderline Roman stuff, but it’s pretty damn great.

  13. Calasso’s Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony is great–not as straightforward as Hamilton’s Mythology, or even Graves’s two-volume set, but full of fascinating insights. His collection of essays, Literature and the Gods, is also worth cracking open, as is Ka, his look at Hinduism’s narratives.

  14. Recent wonderful reads with contemporary versions of myths:
    The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne Valente
    The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
    Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles by Jeannette Winterson
    Non-fiction: Frazer’s The Golden Bough and Campell’s Creative Mythology, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and Primitive Mythology.

  15. I searched for books associated with Heinrich Schliemann and came up with several titles with him as the subject. He is the controversial archaeologist who has been credited with finding the city of Troy. This book looked interesting because Amazon lists Schliemann as the author:
    Troy and Its Remains: A Narrative Researches and Discoveries Made on the Site of Ilium and in the Trojan Plain (Paperback)
    by Heinrich Schliemann (Author)

  16. Agreed on D’Aulaires, and that the Norse version was even more BEE-ZARRE…
    Just for fun (since I haven’t come across any great nonfiction on the subject and will probably pick up whatever you recommend),
    My friend Sarah Deming’s got a book coming out in May that I think you’d dig:
    “”Iris, Messenger” from Harcourt hits stores May 1, 2007. For ages 9 – 109
    Dreamer Iris Greenwold doesn’t care much for the real world. It’s generally pretty disappointing: divorced parents, unsympathetic peers, and a middle school that is hell. But then, on her twelfth birthday, Iris mysteriously receives a copy of Bulfinch’s Mythology and discovers that the entire pantheon of gods are living in the greater Philadelphia area. Poseidon’s running a clam shack, Aphrodite’s doing makeovers, Apollo’s playing tenor sax. . . .
    Suddenly the day-to-day life Iris found so humdrum is rich with new meaning and excitement, and all her dreams are not quite what they seemed.
    “What’s this? A smart, funny, well-written kids’ novel? With Greek gods in it, yet! What is the world coming to?” -Daniel Pinkwater

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