ABSTRACT – ROBERT GRAVES – THE GREEK YTHS. VOLUMES 1 & 2. 1955. Penguin Classics. The most comprehensive study of Greek myths and legends available, with more footnotes than actual text in many cases. (Though these also provide a mine of information if you don’t skip over them). Graves begins appropriately with the creation myths. Unlike the Judao-Christian creation, the Greek one does not involve Gods making the universe out of absolutely nothing. Everything already exists, but it has collapsed in a swirling maelstrom of chaos. The Gods simply compose the Universe into a sense of order, as we would put together a jigsaw puzzle. They separate sea from sky, and put the land between them etc. Life is generated when the Goddess Eurynome makes love to the breeze that she creates in her wake as she glides around this new creation. She turns the breeze into a serpent, Boreas, The North Wind, and gives birth to the Gods from her copulations with him. Greek myths follow patterns in Greek philosophy in making sense of an existing world, rather than contriving an explanation for it. With our World established, the Gods fight over possession of it. Zeus has his father, Chronos, God Of Time, castrated, imposing a finite time limit on life and happiness. The Titans rise and fall. Prometheus gives humans the secret of fire to give them independence and freedom of choice despite the Gods.
Zeus has Prometheus chained to a rock where his eyes will be pecked by birds for eternity, but the human race has been liberated in his sacrifice. Now come the familiar myths, Icarus, Medusa The Gorgon, Medea, Midas, The Minataur, etc. The most fascinating chapters are the twelve labours of Hercules. He was given the impossible challenges as a punishment for a destructive fit of madness following the death of his wife. The labours included cleaning out the foul and extensive Stygian Stables in a single day. Hercules accomplishes this by causing a river to flood through the stables cleansing away the dung as it pours through. Originally, Hercules only had ten labours, but he cheated by getting outside help on two of them, so an extra two were added accordingly. All of the colour, splendour and power of the myths that inspired films by Ray Harryhausen and shows like Hercules & Xena@ Warrior Princess are here at the hands of a true master poet and storyteller.