Mythology is a collection of all the important—and some unimportant—myths from the Greeks and Romans. Hamilton also adds some Norse myths; however, they comprise a very small part of the book. Hamilton provides an introduction to classic mythology, Greek and Roman, that describes what historians in 1942 knew of mythology and how to approach the myths. I found this invaluable in deciphering the rest of the book, which goes into the ancient gods, the creation myths, heroes, love stories, the epic poems, and some less important myths.
Before I read Mythology, I thought I knew a bit about the ancient Greek myths. I was wrong. I may have known some of the gods’ names and a few of the stories surrounding their creation, but I knew little about how the gods interacted with mortals and how mortal heroes interacted with one another and the gods.
Hamilton both creates and translates. She writes as if she is telling the reader a story that is true, trying to emulate the ancient authors. When writing about the myths, however, her style is non-fiction. There is no pretense of the myths being true, as some of the original authors might have believed.
Hamilton usually summarizes the myths beforehand in an italics section. While not long, this sentence or two prepped me for the myth by explaining what it is about, what it might have meant to the Greeks or Romans, and what author she based her translation on. This made each story accessible and understandable.
Mediterranean mythology is often gruesome in its details. Hamilton doesn’t leave any of this out. It’s not like she describes babies being chopped up and eaten, but she does not leave anything out. I thought this was a good thing and a testament to how this is not a child’s book about mythology: it’s the real deal.
I read The Iliad before Mythology, and the Odyssey and Aeneid afterward. Having the knowledge of Hamilton under my belt was a great help in understanding and appreciating these epic poems. One reason was that Homer and Virgil make many references to myths I would not have known or mentions names such as Io, and if I hadn’t read Mythology, I would have been lost. In Hamilton’s introduction to the various mythologies, she talks about the authors she based her translations on, the scribe’s style, what time period he wrote in, and how much she liked him. This was, again, very helpful because, besides Homer and Virgil, I didn’t know of any of the scribes who captured the myths.
The only reason Mythology was not a ten for me was because of the small amount of Norse myth Hamilton included. I understood the book was mostly about the Mediterranean stories but still wish that she could have added just a bit more of the Norse. What she did add was very interesting though, and I give her credit for that. On Greek and Roman myths, this book is definitely a ten. I would recommend it to anyone who likes mythology at all, or who is about to read one of the epic poems.
Grand Central Publishing, 495 pages