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51 of 51 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Re-issue for a much loved book on classical mythology., 14 Aug 2002
I first read this book as a ten year old- a hand me down from an uncle interested in classical literature and history. It was instantly captivating, fleshing out popular myths I already knew the basics of and introducing me to new ones.
This is definatly a long overdue re-print and comes complete with the original black and white illustrations by a certain Steele Savage. Great name and great art work! They fully capture the style and grace of Greek mythology.
Hamilton- a former teacher- is a good communicator and this comes across in the text which is neither long winded or prone to skipping on detail. All the action, adventure, monsters, gods, romance and tradgedy are here in spades. The tales of Jason and the Argonauts, Theseus and the Minotaur, versions of the Oddyssey (Ullyses) and the Illiad, Perseus and the gorgon's head and the trials of Herakles (Hercules) are all present and correct with many other minor legends given space. However, the section on Norse mythology feels superflous and rather dissapointing for anyone looking for a good catalogue of myths from that genre. This is primarally a classical mythology book and it's bulk is devoted to the stories from Ancient Greece and Rome.
Charts and an index are included to help piece the chronology and relationships in the stories together but I suspect most people will be happy reading this from cover to cover.
Basically this is a must for anyone, even younger readers, who want a highly readable and engrossing collection of myths. As an introduction it is very good indeed.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars oh my gods!, 7 Mar 2005
By 
Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Edith Hamilton's Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes is a very basic, very popular and very good text for the introduction of Greek and Roman mythology. In our Western culture, the term 'mythology' is most often equated with these tales, and this book, first written before World War II, has helped to reinforce that equation with the current generations of readers.
Those looking for the mythological stories of other cultures will be disappointed -- with the exception of a brief section on Norse mythology at the end (about five percent of the entire volume), it covers nothing outside the Greek and Roman pantheons. Of course, part of the difficulty of approaching mythology of other cultures is that, in many instances, it is not mythology to them; or, in the case of mythology, one needs a firmer grounding in the culture and religious aspects of that culture before the mythology becomes accessible.
Hamilton (raised, as I was astonished to discover, in Indiana, where I currently reside) studied at Bryn Mawr, and had a distinguished teacher career in addition to writing this useful text. Hamilton's writing is not complicated and very easy to follow -- this has made this text one used in high school and undergraduate courses in Greek and Roman mythology more frequently perhaps than any other text produced in this century.
Hamilton begins the text with an essay giving an overview of what mythology is, and what the purpose of it was.
'Through it,' she wrote, 'we can retrace the path from civilised man who lives so far from nature, to man who lived in close companionship with nature; and the real interest of the myths is that they lead us back to a time when the world was young and people had a connection with the earth, with trees and seas and flowers and hills, unlike anything we ourselves can feel.'
She proceeds with a brief history of the development of Greek mythology, the origins of the stories lost in the mists of time. She tells of the influences of Greek thought on subsequent developments in thought and religion: 'Saint Paul said the invisible must be understood by the visible. That was not a Hebrew idea, it was Greek.' Unlike most religious constructs, the Greek mythological world tried to make sense of the greater life of the universe in terms that were very human indeed, with a minimum of mystery. 'The terrifying irrational has no place in classical mythology.'
This is not to say, of course, that there were not terrible stories and fantastic creatures -- indeed, the mythological stories are full of them -- Gorgons and hydras and chimaeras dire. But these are mostly metaphorical (and were understood as such), and primarily used for a hero to be made (this same idea has pervaded to the most recent Mission Impossible movie).
Hamilton proceeds after this essay to describe the members of the pantheon, the major and minor gods and goddesses, the ideas of creation, the heroes (human, semi-divine and divine), stories of love and devotion, justice and injustice, and, of course, of warfare, victory, defeat, and courage. Those heroes before the Trojan War, perhaps the Greek-mythological-equivalent of a world war, had battles and dire circumstances to fight and overcome. The Trojan War figured largely in the mythological frameworks of Greece and Rome -- all the gods and goddess were involved in this conflict, it seemed, as were many of the heroes of Greek mythology.
Hamilton, writing in a fairly conservative period of time, and in a fairly conservative culture, sanitised the mythological stories to a large extent. The Greeks were a very human and often rather bawdy bunch; the Romans were even moreso. Much of the sexuality in the mythological stories is omitted, save to demonstrate the less-desirable aspects. Quite often, undergraduates who study mythology are astonished to discover, if they had used Hamilton's text in an earlier high school setting, that there is a lot more sex and violence in the 'real' stories than they had been previously exposed to.
Of course, one of the primary aspects of the mythological tales was not to explain the cosmos or to build complex theological constructs (reason did these, often with help from the myths, but not using the myths as the basis), but rather the illustration of moral truths -- those of honesty, virtue, and courage as primarily valued in Greek and Roman society. Evil befalls those who do not lead a moral life; rewards come to those who do. Of course, there is a bit of whimsy in the cosmos -- bad things happen to good people, etc., even in ancient Greece. The fluctuating personalities of the gods (and the number of them) ultimately gives a satisfying explanation (if not a satisfying reason) why such things might occur.
Hamilton's book is a good one to use in teaching, but it must not be considered the final authority on any of the topics it addresses. Nonetheless, it has earned its place in the pantheon of influential books, and will most likely continue to be so for some time to come.
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Edith Hamilton tells the timeless tales of gods and heroes, 28 Jan 2004
By 
Lawrance M. Bernabo (The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
Edith Hamilton's "Mythology" tell the "Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes" of classical mythology and this volume, first written in 1942, is now a timeless classic itself. This was the first book of mythology that I ever read and it is still the best. When Hamilton retells the love story of Cupid and Psyche or the tragedy of Agamemnon and his children, she does so with a full sense of what it meant when first told by Apuleius or Aeschylus. These are not children's tales, but the heroic legends and religious beliefs of the ancient Greeks. Furthermore, the illustrations by Steele Savage have the elegance of wood block prints, which, for all I know, is exactly what they are. I appreciate Hamilton's choice to avoid relying on Ovid, for while the "Metamorphoses" is the most comprehensive ancient text dealing with the classical myths, Ovid is an unbeliever. For Hamilton the writings of Homer, Hesiod and Pindar are more abbreviated in terms of providing details for the myths, but at least they take the tales seriously.
Another strength of the book is how she organizes the myths in her seven parts: (1) Covers the complete pantheon of deities, including the lesser gods of Olympus and Earth and the later Roman additions, as well as the earliest heroes. (2) Retells the various tales of love, between mortals and the gods or each other, along with the Quest for the Golden Fleece and other early heroic adventures. (3) Focuses specifically on the greatest heroes, Perseus, Theseus and Hercules, with Atalanta thrown in the mix in a curious but understandable editorial decision by Hamilton. (4) Puts together Homer's Iliad and Virgil's Aeneid into a giant epic stretching from the Judgment of Paris to the founding of Roman, with the Odyssey and the tragedies of Euripides. (5) Tells about the great mythological families, namely the House of Atreus (Agamemnon), the Royal House of Thebes (Oedipus and Antigone), and the Royal House of Athens. (6) Covers all of the lesser myths, most notably Midas. (7) Goes off in a new direction, providing a very brief introduction to Norse mythology that seems woefully inadequate given the comprehensive compilation of classical mythology that precedes it.
If you want analysis of these myths, then you certainly want to look elsewhere. But if you want a solid retelling of the key stories of classical mythology, then Edith Hamilton's volume is still at the top of the list as far as I concerned. I fully admit that I am biased because I read this during my formative years and her language and rhythms are engrained in my brain.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars By Zeus!, 4 May 2005
By 
Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Edith Hamilton's very popular 'Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes' is a very basic, very popular and very good text for the introduction of Greek and Roman mythology. This book by Hamilton, simply entitled 'Mythology' is an expansion of the material in the shorter book. Largely, however, it is a repetition of the same material.
In our Western culture, the term 'mythology' is most often equated with these tales, and Hamilton, first writing before World War II, has helped to reinforce that equation with the current generations of readers.
Those looking for the mythological stories of other cultures will be disappointed -- with the exception of a brief section on Norse mythology at the end (about five percent of the entire volume), it covers nothing outside the Greek and Roman pantheons. Of course, part of the difficulty of approaching mythology of other cultures is that, in many instances, it is not mythology to them; or, in the case of mythology, one needs a firmer grounding in the culture and religious aspects of that culture before the mythology becomes accessible.
Hamilton (raised, as I was astonished to discover, in Indiana, where I currently reside) studied at Bryn Mawr, and had a distinguished teacher career in addition to writing this useful text. Hamilton's writing is not complicated and very easy to follow -- this has made her texts selected often for high school and undergraduate courses in Greek and Roman mythology, more frequently perhaps than any other text produced in this century.
Hamilton begins the text with an essay giving an overview of what mythology is, and what the purpose of it was.
'Through it,' she wrote, 'we can retrace the path from civilised man who lives so far from nature, to man who lived in close companionship with nature; and the real interest of the myths is that they lead us back to a time when the world was young and people had a connection with the earth, with trees and seas and flowers and hills, unlike anything we ourselves can feel.'
She proceeds with a brief history of the development of Greek mythology, the origins of the stories lost in the mists of time. She tells of the influences of Greek thought on subsequent developments in thought and religion: 'Saint Paul said the invisible must be understood by the visible. That was not a Hebrew idea, it was Greek.' Unlike most religious constructs, the Greek mythological world tried to make sense of the greater life of the universe in terms that were very human indeed, with a minimum of mystery. 'The terrifying irrational has no place in classical mythology.'
This is not to say, of course, that there were not terrible stories and fantastic creatures -- indeed, the mythological stories are full of them -- Gorgons and hydras and chimaeras dire. But these are mostly metaphorical (and were understood as such), and primarily used for a hero to be made (this same idea has pervaded to the most recent Mission Impossible movie).
Hamilton proceeds after this essay to describe the members of the pantheon, the major and minor gods and goddesses, the ideas of creation, the heroes (human, semi-divine and divine), stories of love and devotion, justice and injustice, and, of course, of warfare, victory, defeat, and courage. Those heroes before the Trojan War, perhaps the Greek-mythological-equivalent of a world war, had battles and dire circumstances to fight and overcome. The Trojan War figured largely in the mythological frameworks of Greece and Rome -- all the gods and goddess were involved in this conflict, it seemed, as were many of the heroes of Greek mythology.
Hamilton, writing in a fairly conservative period of time, and in a fairly conservative culture, sanitised the mythological stories to a large extent. The Greeks were a very human and often rather bawdy bunch; the Romans were even moreso. Much of the sexuality in the mythological stories is omitted, save to demonstrate the less-desirable aspects. Quite often, undergraduates who study mythology are astonished to discover, if they had used Hamilton's text in an earlier high school setting, that there is a lot more sex and violence in the 'real' stories than they had been previously exposed to.
Of course, one of the primary aspects of the mythological tales was not to explain the cosmos or to build complex theological constructs (reason did these, often with help from the myths, but not using the myths as the basis), but rather the illustration of moral truths -- those of honesty, virtue, and courage as primarily valued in Greek and Roman society. Evil befalls those who do not lead a moral life; rewards come to those who do. Of course, there is a bit of whimsy in the cosmos -- bad things happen to good people, etc., even in ancient Greece. The fluctuating personalities of the gods (and the number of them) ultimately gives a satisfying explanation (if not a satisfying reason) why such things might occur.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A nice walk through Greek and Roman myths and a small introduction to Norse mythology, 4 July 2011
By 
Andre Nobrega (Porto, Portugal) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes proposes to give the reader a walk through the most important myths drawing as possible directly from the texts and original authors that brought their knowledge to later civilizations. Examples as Homer, Virgil, Ovid and Euripides are surely known to most people that are interested this theme. I was a bit disappointed to find out that it was mostly about Greek and Roman mythology, I'd have enjoyed reading more about others but this by no means kept me from enjoying it. The author covers a lot of what is known, ranging from creation myth to specific stories of gods and human heroes, including of course the epics as the Quest of the Golden Fleece, the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Aeneid but is by no means limited to those. In fact, some of my favourites were short ones about lesser gods or humans' not at all epic as for example Biton and Cleobis'. The way Edith Hamilton decided to transmit these stories is also quite interesting. At the start of each chapter she talks about the poets who first wrote those specific tales, which were the ones she decided to use as source and why, whether it was because they were the most complete or because she likes their style best. As she writes, she adapts most of the original texts, adds some quotes, comments, interprets and gives context to the tales. Although the beginning feels slow and at times confusing, as one continues it enthrals the reader and becomes easier and pleasurable. The last part of the book is the small introduction to Norse Mythology, with some stories and the identification of the main characters, while at the same time comparing it to the Greek and to humanity itself, showing it as a more sombre myth, frustrating and simultaneously somewhat conformed to the hardness of life and inescapable death.

More than only getting to know the classic mythologies, this book allows one to peek into the minds of the Greek and Roman people, notice the evolution of the stories and feel the belief fading as they are told by more recent authors. One thing that came to mind often is how human centred they are, how the gods end up behaving pretty much as humans do, being petty, loving, hating, envying, powerful and immortal as they are. The Norse gods seem to me more inspiring, probably because, not being omnipotent - themselves just living until Ragnarok, when they are sure to be defeated and die - they are more similar to humans and would probably help people fight through their lives, face the problems to which they found no solution, giving them purpose, even if it's not fighting for a blissful eternity as nowadays more prominent religions came up with. I must say though that I still have much to read and find out about the Mythology of the Norsemen.
Overall, Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes is good as a first look into the theme, interesting enough for those that already know some of the stories but want a closer look and an organized source and is probably even good to keep as a myth encyclopaedia to peek into it once in a while.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Graeco-Roman only - Norse myths not really there, 7 Mar 2012
By 
J. D. Burnell - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I have a copy of this book which was handed down from about thirty years ago, and it's never been off my bookshelf since. It's genuinely encyclopedic where the Greeks and Romans are concerned, and I can't recommend it highly enough. The only minus - as others have pointed out - is that the Norse myths take up a tiny section at the back of the book; one reviewer suggested it was about five per cent, but I think that's far too generous: about one per cent is a maximum.

That said, it's about the best one-volume compendium of the Greek and Roman myths out there.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good summary of Greek Myths, 2 Sep 2011
This books is quiet easy to understand for those reading it in their own time, rather than to analyse. Although i find this book great for background knowledge on Greek Mythology, the stories are very summarised and don't go into as much detail as i would like. Some Gods are also only mentioned in passing as part of another story, when they should be actual full length stories themselves. Aside from the very summarised form, i find this book very good to read for leisure without being confused by an overwhelming amount of names and history to remember all at once.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book easy to read, 21 May 2014
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This review is from: Mythology (Kindle Edition)
Well written and very accessible. I never enjoyed Greek mythology at school but this book has really taken me into that world
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5.0 out of 5 stars d review, 20 May 2014
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This review is from: Mythology (Kindle Edition)
This seems a good book would like more Norse mythology in it but can't complain for the price was good
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5.0 out of 5 stars The classics start here - learn your gods and goddesses, 18 Sep 2013
By 
M Poole "The Tillerman" (The wilds of Yorkshire) - See all my reviews
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Like many of the other people who have reviewed this book, I first read Hamilton's book on mythology when I was quite young. I was fortunate to have grown up in a time when bookshelf sets of stories were the norm in family homes. I read my way through Hamilton's stories of the gods in no time flat, and then re-read the book several more times. When I took a folklore course at Uni, it was still considered a standard book for teaching, and I greeted it like the old friend it was.

Now, my son has had his interest sparked in mythology through the Percy Jackson books, so he is now deep into the world of myth. It's so exciting to see another generation being drawn into the world of the gods and heroes.
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