The Birth of Humanities: Mythology by Edith Hamilton

MythologyMythology by Edith Hamilton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The essence of myths is threefold: it is a branch of natural science, trying to explain what humans saw around them. It is also a genre of pure classical literature. Besides, mythology is religion, the deepening realization of what human beings needed in their gods and goddesses. That is, mythology is a way to show us the way the human race thought and felt untold ages ago. Through mythology we are connected to the men who had close relationship with nature, who had no real distinction between the real and the unreal, unchecked by reason but with the spirit. In this light, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology breathes life into the Greek, Roman, and even Norse myths, which are the bedrock of the western civilization – the stories of gods, goddesses, and heroes that have imbued the humankind with multifarious creativity from time immemorial to present.

The aim of this book is to produce knowledge of the myths that had been recorded by ancient writers and poets. In fact, the myths as we know now are the creation of great poets, one of which is the Iliad by Homer. Unlike the Egyptian, the Greeks made their gods in their own image and breathed them with their emotions and feelings. It is uncertain how the genesis of the Greek mythology came into being; however the earliest Greek poets arrived at a new point of view which had never been dreamed of in the world before them. It was at this point that mankind regarded itself as the center of the universe, intent upon producing the beauty of human, which was the very consummation of reality.

According to Hamilton, what distinguishes Greek mythology from others is it’s foundation on the factual reality. The nonsensical took place in a world, which was essentially rational and matter-of-fact. For example, Hercules always had his abode in the city of Thebes, save when he took of a journey to accomplish his twelve labors; Aphrodite’s birthplace was just offshore from the island of Cynthera; Pegasus’s comfy stable was in Corinth. There was a sense of reality in the mythological world but no place for magic.

Mythology is not a tome that requires of modern readers perquisites for scholarly knowledge of academic languages, intellectual superiority, or historical knowledge of the ancient time. It is an anthology of entertaining and inspiring tales of gods, goddesses, nymphs, and mortals who fell out of favor with the divine, written in plain English; it’s like listening to a very well-read story-teller. In Mythology, we meet all from the mercurial gods and jealous goddesses on the Mount Olympus even to Norse gods in Valhalla. We are fascinated with tales of Cupid and Psyche, Odyssey’s Golden Fleece, and forlorn Clytie whose love for Apollo pined away. We discover that Paris of Troy used to live with a nymph called Oenone before deserting her for Helen of Sparta. Also, we listen to the legends of constellations of the stars as well as many other references for literature, paintings, and music that have been deeply inspired by Greek mythology.

Mythology is the most comprehensive and lucidly accounted tales of mythology based upon Hamilton’s extensive collection of the sources from great ancient poets and writers. Of all other books on mythology of the western civilization I have encountered, this book is by far the most excellent in providing readers with both entertainment and knowledge without academically esoteric approach or literary pompousness. Mythology succeeds in  offering education and appreciation of art that has been passed down to our present time for thousands of years. For this reason, Mythology by Edith Hamilton is a touchstone for books on mythology.

 

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