Suggestions for Books on Greek Mythology

I’d like to read a book on Greek mythology, but I’m not necessarily looking for an introductory work. Rather, I’d prefer one with interesting stories and / or commentary (e.g., stories that are less well-known, or original interpretations of Greek myths). Suggestions?

For all its venerable age, Bulfinch is still pretty damned good. If you want something a little more up-to-date, try Singer.

I have the collection by Robert Graves, which includes a lot of historical and anthropological interpretation and is pretty thorough about covering different versions of the same story. I think it might be what you’re looking for.

Another classic is Mythology by Edith Hamilton, but it covers more than just Greek mythology.

Bulfinch and Hamilton are the introductory texts.

I’d agree that Graves has interesting interpretations. Take them with a gigantic amount of salt. Graves frequently became enamored of his own bizarre, unsupported theories, but he had a good knowledge of the myths, and his books are worth it for the references and footnotes.

Better than Graves – both more readable and less flaky – are Karl Kerenyi’s books. Get The Gods of the Greeks and The Heroes of the Greeks. They also have great references and footnotes, albeit in terse form
If you want the grand-daddy of interesting mythology with interesting ideas, you MUST read A.B. Cook’s massive Zeus: A Study in Ancient Religion, which he published in three volumes (five actual bound books, since two “volumes” are actually two books each) over a period of a quarter of a century. Unfortunately, the damned thing is out of print, and few libraries have copies. Definitely woirth tracking down.

There are a lot of college-level texts (most of which I don’t know the authors of) that are good reads. Rose’s Handbook of Greek Mythology is an old but good one. John Pinsent’s Greek Mythology has the advantage of lots of color pictures of ancient artwork (and it’s still in print).

If you want the Straight Dope on the oldest sources and variations, I recommend Timothy Ganz’s Early Greek Myth, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

This may not be what you are looking for, but there is a wonderful youth series that is premised on the idea that the gods of Greek mythology still exist and interact with modern humans (including creating demigod children who live among us). They’re ripping good yarns, I think. They start with “The Lightning Thief.”

I’m going to go with Graves, too. He is who I read when I first seriously read Greek mythology.

Another vote for Graves. His Greek Myths is widely available–often at very good prices–in one volume or two.

Each brief chapter covers one aspect of Greek myth or legend–from the several Creation myths through the return of Odysseus. The first section of each chapter tells the story; if there are different versions, they are included. The second section reveals his sources–the Greek & Roman authors. The final section is his personal interpretation, which may contain obsolete anthropological or archaeological theories. His devotion to The Goddess in her many forms is evident here.

The clarity of his style makes the best of the rather dense material. And his Classical education was undoubtedly excellent. (Thus equipped, a generation headed to the Trenches of the Western Front.) His opinions are enjoyable & have been highly influential on other writers & even some of the neo-Pagans.

I have to weigh in again against Graves. I don’t find his Greek Myths the best telling of the myths – you can find much better. And his interpretations (especially when he references his own way-out book The White Goddess can be extremely dippy. I doubt that you’d find a classics professor who’d give them his or her wholehearted support.
as an example, Graves steadfastly believed in his iconotropaic theory of myths, where myths were created by the storyteller’s misinterpretation of someone’s artwork depicting the myth. This has undoubtedly happened in the past, and I can give examples. But Graves believes it happened a lot, and he authoritatively explains several myths on this basis even when the artwork that supposedly inspired the myth doesn’t exist. A prime example is his explanation of the myth of Perseus and Medusa (one dear to my heart, for obvious reasons) as a misinterpretation of a picture of Hermes receiving the bag with the Sacred Alphabet in it from the Triple Goddess. The bag is “sealed” with the gorgoneion, the apotropaic face of Medusa. Graves put a picture of this supposed scene at the front of his book. It’s on the cover of my paperback edition (but not o all editions). Nothing like Graves’ supposed “original misinterpreted image” has ever been found. I predict it never will be. I defy you to find a Classics professor who will defend this as a likely hypothesis.

but it’s in “The Greek Myths”, along with plenty of other examples of such speculative (but not identified as such) iconotropaic explanations. And with a huge number of equally spacey “explanations” that he tosses off as if they are the unquestioned truth.

That’s why I say to read the “numbered” sections of his book with lots of skepticism.

That’s who I meant. I don’t know where “Singer” came from. :smack:

You could go straight to reading translations of the original texts. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is an odd one, because it’s almost exactly what you describe–retellings of the old myths with some commentary sprinkled in, yet it’s 2000 years old.

Edith Hamilton’s book is a pretty good introduction. And her opinions are rather more generic than Graves’–although they are worked into the text, **not ** in their own sections.

Aside from the Classical myths, she only includes a few chapters of Norse material. Everybody ought to meet Thor & Loki!

Another one I enjoyed is Asimov’s Words From the Myths, which talks about words and phrases which can be traced to Greek, Roman, or Norse mythology. Not sure if it is still in print.

ETA: According to Amazon, it isn’t. But they do have used copies available.

Yes, my son has really enjoyed this series, too: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lightning_Thief

Mary Renault wrote a number of books on Greek mythological themes; see the bibliography here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Renault

When you’ve exhausted all of the Greek stuff (which may be impossible, I suppose), check out J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, which extensively covers the mythology of Middle-earth. Kind of like the Bulfinch’s Mythology that lies behind LOTR. Not for everyone, but I love it, and just re-read it for the third or fourth time: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Silmarillion

Moving from IMHO to Cafe Society.

twickster, moderator

On the general theme of Greek myths, if you have the time it’s worth checking out Roberto Calasso’s The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. He does kind of a strange and occasionally wonderful thing by seamlessly weaving mythical retellings, history, and philosophy into something that might be described as fiction. It’s pretty dense, heavy, literate stuff that will from time to time bend your mind in ways you thought it couldn’t go.

I didn’t make it through Cadmus and Harmony (this stuff is DENSE, and the book didn’t grab me right away), but his work on Indian Mythology, Ka, is one of my “take to the desert island” books. To begin with, it’s pure poetry, even in translation. It’s just a beautiful book to read. Secondly, it gives an incomplete but in depth understanding of Indian mythology that goes beyond the stories, and even beyond the culture and history. It manages to make you feel not only the stories but the entire world view that created them. This stuff can warp your mind and inform you at the same time. I couldn’t recommend this book enough for anyone interested in Hindu mythology. One of my top ten books ever.

There’s Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon, by our very own CalMeacham.