Stephen Fry, 'Mythos'
by Martina Hysi
Stephen Fry, illustration by Enxhi Mandija
I have been a fan of myths, legends, and fairytales ever since I was capable of understanding narrative. Aged 3, I would re-watch Bambi’s mother’s death scene on repeat, crying my eyes out. No, I was not a masochist. I did not enjoy the pain. I just knew that, even though his mother would die, Bambi was going to be okay in the end; I knew that his grief was not pointless. Greek mythology is in that same way born out of suffering. One can imagine the early civilizations first experiencing the same aches that are to us so familiar and commonplace: death, heartache, jealousy, ambition, hubris. Greek mythology imparts meaning and significance into these fundamental experiences.
Stephen Fry, everyone’s favourite uncle and living compendium of knowledge and erudition, brings us Mythos, a book that is by turns hilarious, intelligent, philosophical, and everything else in between. His work provides an exhaustive chronology of Greek creation myths that is extensive and well-organized. Not only that, but all the stories are retold from an honest, modern perspective, with the intention of familiarising readers with Ancient Greek thought. The stories are written in a digestible, entertaining style that is sophisticated yet completely comprehensive. Reading on, one cannot help but be entranced by the fascinating stories which are reflective of our notions of, well, everything.
Chaos, primordial nothingness, Gaia, the Earth, and Tartarus, a deep abyss, came first. Out of Chaos, Erebus and Nyx, Darkness and Night, came forth. Darkness and Night joined together and brought us Aether and Hemera, Brightness and Day. Our light and our days come to us from the union of darkness and night, a concept that stands diametrically opposite to our modern common understanding of darkness and night. They are not the mothers of evil plans and shady ulterior motives, but rather imbued with the power to create beautiful, powerful things. The Ancient Greeks saw life from a perspective that we, the products of modern medicine and technology, do not know anymore. Our basic understanding of what is frightening, of what mortal peril is has drastically changed since then. This conceptualization provides some insight into our primitive, instinctual human selves, or rather, into ideas that, having grown up mostly non-religious, were almost alien to me.
For the fanatic nerds out there, Fry has also included extensive appendices and bibliographies, therefore turning Mythos into an excellent starting point for the Greek mythology novice. He has also embedded the text with extensive etymological and semantic work, as he explains the journey of certain words from antiquity into our daily lives. I was lucky to listen to the audiobook, narrated by the author himself, with his characteristic mastery as a voice actor. If you have ever had any kind of tangential interest in Greek mythology, but felt limited by choices that were either tailored for children or too academic, this is the book to start from.