Mythos by Stephen Fry Read Online (FREE)
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I was lucky enough to pick up a book called Tales from Ancient Greece when I was quite small. It was love at first meeting. Much as I went on to enjoy myths and legends from other cultures and peoples, there was something about these Greek stories that lit me up inside. The energy, humour, passion, particularity and believable detail of their world held me enthralled from the very first. I hope they will do the same for you. Perhaps you already know some of the myths told here, but I especially welcome those who may never have encountered the characters and stories of Greek myth before. You don’t need to know anything to read this book; it starts with an empty universe. Certainly no ‘classical education’ is called for, no knowledge of the difference between nectar and nymphs, satyrs and centaurs or the Fates and the Furies is required. There is absolutely nothing academic or intellectual about Greek mythology; it is addictive, entertaining, approachable and astonishingly human.
But where did they come from, these myths of ancient Greece? In the tangle of human history we may be able to pull on a single Greek thread and follow it back, but by picking out only one civilization and its stories we might be thought of as taking liberties with the true source of universal myth. Early human beings the world over wondered at the sources of power that fuelled volcanoes, thunderstorms, tidal waves and earthquakes. They celebrated and venerated the rhythm of the seasons, the procession of heavenly bodies in the night sky and the daily miracle of the sunrise. They questioned how it might all have started. The collective unconscious of many civilizations has told stories of angry gods, dying and renewing gods, fertility goddesses, deities, demons and spirits of fire, earth and water.
Of course the Greeks were not the only people to weave a tapestry of legends and lore out of the puzzling fabric of existence. The gods of Greece, if we are archaeological and palaeoanthropological about it all, can be traced back to the sky fathers, moon goddesses and demons of the ‘fertile crescent’ of Mesopotamia – today’s Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The Babylonians, Sumerians, Akkadians and other civilizations there, which first flourished far earlier than the Greeks, had their creation stories and folk myths which, like the languages that expressed them, could find ancestry in India and thence westwards back to prehistory, Africa and the birth of our species.
But whenever we tell any story we have to snip the narrative string somewhere in order to make a starting point. It is easy to do this with Greek mythology because it has survived with a detail, richness, life and colour that distinguish it from other mythologies. It was captured and preserved by the very first poets and has come down to us in an unbroken line from almost the beginning of writing to the present day. While Greek myths have much in common with Chinese, Iranian, Indian, Maya, African, Russian, Native American, Hebrew and Norse myths, they are uniquely – as the writer and mythographer Edith Hamilton put it – ‘the creation of great poets’. The Greeks were the first people to make coherent narratives, a literature even, of their gods, monsters and heroes.