Recently, I’ve had multiple requests for book recommendations from readers who are new(ish) to Greek mythology. What’s a good entry point? they asked. My brain immediately exploded with possibilities, of course, but after I reassembled it, these five came floating to the surface.
The Penguin Books of Classical Myths by Jenny March
March’s book is a great choice if you’re interested in mythological characters and stories. She compactly covers major ancient Graeco-Roman myths by family in a lively and engaging voice. Her introduction is concise and informative, providing just enough context without being overwhelming. Neither the introduction nor the number of myths covered is exhaustive, which is a good thing for someone new (or newish) to Graeco-Roman mythology. What especially makes this book stand out among the many summaries and retellings I’ve read: March provides ancient sources for the myths she discusses via translated passages and line references, making this a helpful resource for readers who are also interested in dipping into ancient texts.
Greek Mythology: A Traveler’s Guide from Mount Olympus to Troy by David Stuttard
Like The Penguin Book of Classical Myths, Stuttard’s book provides retellings of mythical stories, but his angle is different. If you’re interested not only in the stories but also in the geography of myth, Stuttard’s book is a fun read. He takes you to the sites of myth, providing descriptions—both his own and from ancient sources. He talks about the gods and heroes associated with specific places…and it’s illustrated!
The Gods of Olympus: A History by Barbara Graziosi
I have gushed about Graziosi’s book recently, as is right and proper. The book is what it says it is: a history of the Olympian gods from archaic Greece through the Renaissance. An eminent scholar, Graziosi writes for a non-specialist audience with wit and clarity. I recommend this book especially for readers who are interested in the history of mythology and its transmission across history.
Homer by Barbara Grazsiosi
When I first read this book, it wasn’t packaged as one in the “Very Short Introduction” series, but it now seems to be, which is a sign of the series publisher’s wisdom, as far as I’m concerned. For readers who want context on Homeric epic and to understand the complex issues around those texts, I cannot imagine a better introduction that the one Graziosi provides in this book.
Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicholson
This meditative book was a pleasant surprise. It elegantly and movingly blends history, literary analysis, and cultural criticism with memoir. Nicolson focuses most heavily on the Iliad and the Homeric world’s warrior culture. He looks at contemporaneous stories from other cultures, showing how the Iliad‘s story might read from alternate perspectives of the same time. He touches on what can and cannot be known about Homer. He explores the oral tradition and its implications for the relationship between myth and history. For such a short book, the reader comes away with quite a lot. I’d especially recommend this for readers interested in thinking about masculinity. Nicholson does touch on the Odyssey and gender relations, but his book’s focus is primarily on exploring notions of masculinity and their consequences/implications.
Have you read any of these books? Do you have any recommendations?