When I saw this book featured by Audible, it was a no-brainer. I’m still spinning out the major work (76 listening hours) of Stephen Fry’s narration of the Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes – the man could make the telephone directory compulsive listening. As an early fan of Greek mythology, I was sure this would make marvellous listening – and I wasn’t wrong…
The Greek myths are the greatest stories ever told, passed down through millennia and inspiring writers and artists as varied as Shakespeare, Michelangelo, James Joyce and Walt Disney. They are embedded deeply in the traditions, tales and cultural DNA of the West. In Stephen Fry’s hands the stories of the titans and gods become a brilliantly entertaining account of ribaldry and revelry, warfare and worship, debauchery, love affairs and life lessons, slayings and suicides, triumphs and tragedies.
Yep. All of the above. In a chatty, unthreatening manner, Fry charts the doings of those Greek gods, from the violent beginnings in the creation stories, to the establishment of the pantheon and on into the creation of mortals. Throughout, in addition to telling the stories, Fry ensures we also understand how the names of various gods, goddesses, demi-gods, muses and nymphs has impacted upon our language, by pointing out the words that have sprung up around the various names, as well as giving the Roman versions. I also liked how he not only mentions classical power couples – but also cites Kim and Kanye West…
Just a warning for those of you with small people in your household – these stories contain a lot of violence and death. So I’d advise you to listen through this alone to decide whether it would make suitable family listening on a long car journey, for instance. I certainly wouldn’t be happy for my nine-year-old grandson to hear many of the stories as they would raise far too many awkward questions around sexual violence that I wouldn’t want to answer at this stage in his development. Those conversations and decisions need to be directed by his parents, not me.
I was also struck at how few of the stories ended happily. Most seem to be warning mortals not to be too boastful – or too good at anything. And whatever you do, receive wandering, scruffy strangers into your home and treat them well – oh, and ideally, don’t be too beautiful – that rarely ended well if you happened to take the fancy of a god, or goddess, especially Zeus. What I especially enjoyed was how Fry is at pains to depict the ongoing consequences of a particular event – even if you, the listener, may have lost track of exactly who this new character is, if he or she is related to a former protagonist, he points it out, joining up the dots.
All in all, this is an outstanding book – and I am warmly convinced that actually hearing it is by far the best way to experience all those complicated Greek names and torrid stories. This is probably one that I shall want to hear again – something I very rarely ever do – because there is just so much richness and depth of perspective that I am sure that while decorating the bathroom, I lost track of some of those nuances. Highly recommended for anyone with any kind of curiosity about some of the linguistic, moral and cultural beginnings of Western civilisation.