MYTHOS and the art of storytelling

“Greeks did not grovel before their gods. They were aware of their vain need to be supplicated and venerated, but they believed men were their equal.”

Mythos by Stephen Fry

I passed the blue covers of Stephen Fry‘s Mythos each time I went to a bookstore. Maybe because of its famous author or maybe because is an excellent read, this book enjoyed a lot of attention from the public. It is needless to say that between the covers, the most fascinating stories in history are once again brought to life by one of the best storytellers of our times.

As a great fan of (Greek) mythology, I am very excited by any book that covers this subject. One of my favorites as a child was the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, a wonderful introduction to this mythic world for both children, teens and adults. In fact, anything that has gods, dragons, monsters, heroes and magic is a win and a very important part of our culture. It was an obvious choice to try this new take on mythology that is Mythos.

The way in which Gods are portrayed in this book never disappoints. I liked that the author finds a lighter and a darker side for each immortal character, which makes them more approachable and closer to humans. As a talented storyteller, Fry takes us on a beautiful journey and makes it very difficult to even take a break. I find it more and more challenging for writers to keep their readers focused and many don’t succeed these days, but this is not the case. On the contrary, he even manages to create an addiction that makes us come back for more.

Even though the stories in Mythos are not new, the way Stephen Fry uses his humour and passion for Greek culture is truly impressing. It is a very thorough account of Ancient Greece and its myths, full of intricate details and at times it seems difficult to remember all the names, but some definitely stick.

Talking about names, Stephen Fry did a very interesting thing in his book: whenever he introduces a character to the plot, he includes a footnote on how the name of the character inspired words we still use today. One example, for instance, is “hermetically sealed”, which comes from the god Hermes. I will not say more, you have to discover the beauty of words’ origins by yourselves. I promise, you’ll have a big “Ohhhh” moment when you read about Electra or Melissa. And wait till you read about the constellations!

Why should we read mythology? I mean, there are other good stories as well, some that were invented this century. Why go back as far as Ancient Greece?

I’m not a specialist to find an answer, but it might have to do with the fact that stories play an important part in our lives since we are born and until we die. And everything started from mythology. It is the base on which poets, bards and writers built their artworks. Myths contain all the major literary themes about which we write to this day, such as love and death. Only the characters are slightly different because of their immortality and supernatural powers. Nevertheless, on the inside they remain the same.

The gods are flawed, just like humans. They are happy, sad, maddened, excited, infuriated and many times they fall prey to their feelings instead of following reason. Therefore, some situations described in the myths do not make sense at all. However, life doesn’t either. And people trying to face their destinies and their gods is a defining characteristic of humankind. Is something we still do today, even if we do not acknowledge it. We keep finding ourselves in these patterns.

One way or another, we are all Sisyphus trying to reach the peak.

This retelling of the myths is also available as an audiobook narrated by Stephen Fry himself. It is followed by Heroes and Troy, but as the author suggests, one can read either of the volumes without reading the others before. Enjoy!

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