Friday, March 27, 2009


Gods, Heroes and Men of Ancient Greece: Mythology’s Great Tales of Valor and Romance is a 1934 book of Greek mythology by W. H. D. Rouse, who was known for pioneering the Direct Method of teaching Greek and Latin in Britain. This book contains the Greek creation myths, the tales of Heracles, Jason, Theseus, and Perseus, and miscellaneous smaller stories. It is geared to a young adult audience.

Gods, Heroes and Men of Ancient Greece has been heavily edited for content and length. The book is only 200 pages, which isn’t enough space for half of these stories. Some of the tales are completely butchered; there’s so much left out of Odysseus’s story, for example, that one wonders why Rouse bothered with it in the first place. At times, Rouse rushes through stories and recounts events in a dry, history book way that completely robs these tales of their charm and appeal.

Rouse doesn’t tell the stories in the most coherent fashion – not that the reader can’t follow what is going on, but Rouse often leaves out characters’ motivations for doing things. He will trudge through a pedestrian narrative only to omit some of the most interesting parts of many of these stories, as well as explanations for why or how things happened. Frequently the reader will reach the part of a story where he expects the payoff, only for Rouse to say, as he often does, “I can’t tell you about that now.”

This book includes commentary from the author in the text (example: “You see, Achilles and King Agamemnon had both lost their temper. I do not make any excuse for either of them; I am just telling the story.”). Few of his observations are particularly astute or clever, and almost none of them would be necessary if he had done a better job telling the story.

In the best books of mythology, a writer breathes life into the ancient stories. Rouse, conversely, has made them dry and tedious. There’s no real need to be lenient here because there are a million books on Greek mythology, for every target audience, and it shouldn’t be difficult to find a better one than Gods, Heroes and Men of Ancient Greece, which is frustratingly poor.