Friday, May 18, 2007

MYTHOLOGY by Edith Hamilton

Mythology is classicist Edith Hamilton’s book on Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, illustrated by Steele Savage (no kidding). The bulk of the work is devoted to the Greek, and the Norse is mentioned only in passing. Myths are arranged thematically, not chronologically (except for the initial creation), which is disruptive to the flow of the work.

Hamilton does several things well. First, she gives history on the authors from whom these stories have descended, and differentiates between their styles. Second, she gives good insight into the character of the people of the time as well as into the character of the mythological figures. She obviously knows the material and cares about it.

Mythology reads like a history book. Many stories get wrapped up too quickly, and quite a few are told too simplistically. Many details are left out. The writing is juvenile at times, and paragraph flow is occasionally an issue. This is almost a Cliff’s Notes on mythology. Ultimately, Hamilton makes most of these myths boring. Others, with too many details cut out, the reader will find hard to get into.

Mythology has some good things to offer, but on the whole, this is an inferior way to enjoy the myths. This book may be useful to some as a quick-reference guide, but that’s about it.