Hesiod’s Theogony and more April reads

My April reads, in one handy place. *smiles, waves, blows kisses*

April reads: Ancient Greece

The Town Mouse and the The Spartan House by Terry Deary

I found this chapter book in the Athen’s airport in March. The concept intrigued me: It’s one in a series of children’s books based on Aesopic Fables and set in ancient Greece. I’ve mentioned before that Aesop’s Fables was one of my favorite books to be read to as a child. To fill out the narrative, Deary sets the story during the Peloponnesian War. An Athenian mouse ends up in Sparta and contrives how to stay alive and get home.

April reads
My Athens Airport book haul. Deary’s book is the slim one in the center.

I remember “The Town Mouse and The Country Mouse” as one of the more memorable tales of my childhood: In the fable, the big city’s wealth of options attracts a country mouse, but the mouse hadn’t factored for the added stressors and challenges. As a kid, the story inspired me. It reminded me of the Biblical commandment not to covet, but from another angle: What we think we want may not be everything we expect, so be happy with the life you have. I’d say it resonates with our times. What do you think?

The Hidden Oracle (Trials of Apollo #1) by Rick Riordan

I reread this in anticipation of book three’s May 2 release. The series follows the god Apollo, who Zeus has sent to earth as a mortal teen as punishment for Apollo’s role in the Titan war. Apollo does not take well to being mortalized. A 12-year-old demigod called Meg rescues him from a band of baddies in Manhattan. In the first installment, Apollo discovers that none of his Oracles are working. He trains with the demigods of Camp Half-Blood, including his children. He goes on a dangerous question to recover one of his Oracles. He grows in his understanding of humanity. He learns to question his godly behavior and tries to overcome his godly arrogance. It’s a fun, typical Riordan installment.

On the narrative side, Apollo serves as the series’ first person, often unreliable, narrator, which works well. It keeps the story brisk and clean. Each chapter begins with a haiku (Apollo is the god of poetry), some of which are laugh-out-loud silly. I reread the rest of the series at the beginning of May and must now wait 11.5 months for the next installment.

April reads
This is the Temple of Dionysus, where the plays were performed, at the foot of the Acropolis. You can just see it at the top center/left of the image. Too bad I didn’t think to read Euripides while seated in the theater where his plays would first have been performed. Maybe this summer!

The Trojan Women and Helen by Euripides, translated by Emily Wilson in The Greek Plays, edited by Mary Lefkowitz and James Romm

I reread these for a book club. This read, I noticed how political Euripides’ tragedies were. The play’s themes can resonate in any time, so it’s easy to miss how engaged they are with the issues of 5th century Athens. I’ve written more about the plays here.

Theogony and Works and Days by Hesiod, translated by Barry B. Powell

I have been meaning to read this for ages. With Homer, it’s the earliest extant source we have for Greek mythology. Theogony is a genealogy of the gods and goddesses. Initially, they were forces of nature: Sky, Ocean, Earth, Eros/Love, etc. They were overthrown by the Titans, who were overthrown by the Olympians (the big 12: Zeus, Athena, Poseidon, etc.). Works and Days is basically Hesiod explaining to his brother why he needs to get off his lazy butt and work.

It is exceedingly interesting to read how the early gods were conceptualized and how they evolved. For example, Athena is often referred to as the goddess who has no mother, but that is not quite accurate. Zeus swallowed her mother, Metis, while she was pregnant with Athena. He gestated Athena, but only because he absorbed her pregnant mother. That seems like an important detail, no?

On the other hand, Aphrodite does not seem to have had a mother. She is born from Sky’s severed genitals, which are chopped off by while Sky is having sex: Drops of Sky’s blood fall into the ocean (which, when it’s Ocean with a capital “O,” is male) and create a foam out of which Aphrodite emerges. The drops of Sky’s blood that fall on the earth spawn the Erinyes (aka Furies), linking sex and vengeance. On a related note, Eros is one of the original and, according to Hesiod,  most powerful gods. In later versions of the myth, he’s conceived as the naughty son of Aphrodite—quite a shift!

April readsThe Odyssey by Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu

This is a highly readable prose translation. It’s engaging. The language is not fussy. It’s not the most artful, especially as compared to Wilson’s, but if you want to get into the plot or are new to The Odyssey, this is a great place to start.

April reads: The rest

The Metropolitans by Carol Goodman

April readsI walked by this book at Barnes and Noble’s middle grade fiction table several times. Eventually, my resistance wore down, and it came home with me. It’s set during World War II and takes place inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Four children, each of whom is struggling for different reasons, come together to save the city. I gobbled it up in a day and a half.

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

I read this for a work project. It’s not a book I would have read had it not been assigned to me. It surprised me by being engaging, ha. As a native New Yorker, I appreciated seeing the city through Sotomayor’s eyes. And her experiences as a prosecutor in the DA’s Office make for gripping reading. One fun aside for me: As a child, she was given a book about Greeks myths, gods, and heroes and loved it.

What have you been reading lately? Have you started thinking about your summer reads?

2 Replies to “Hesiod’s Theogony and more April reads”

  1. Oh. my. gosh. “Th e Metropolitans” sounds AMAZING and like it may quench my thirst (at least temporarily) for another “From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler”! So excited – I am writing this and then going to see how I can get my hands on a copy!

    I loved reading your book summaries, as always, and was intrigued by these early tales of the Greek gods and how different some of them ended up becoming. I hadn’t really thought about our sources for Greek mythology – thanks for this eye-opener.

    The Riordan book sounds delightful. You love his books so much – I feel like I should give them a try at some point.

    As for my own reading, I recently finished “Sad Desk Salad,” which I had been looking forward to and ultimately found to be “meh” and kind of silly, although its behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to work for a website like Jezebel was pretty interesting. The other day, I wrapped up an overly long, but entertaining French romantic comedy book by Gilles Legardinier, a big name in the genre, and now I’m reading my first Rainbow Rowell book, “Attachments”, which I’ve developed less of an attachment so far than I’d expected. But that may at least partially be because I need to change genres for a while.

    Thanks as always for a great read – going to see about “The Metropolitans” now. Yesss!

    1. Oh, I do hope you find it and like it. It immediately suggested “Mixed-Up Files” for me. It had NYC, the Met, and a mystery, though “The Metropolitans” has more of a 21st century sensibility (despite the 20th century setting:). As for Riordan, those books might be fun to read with your son in a few years! I finished the third book in the Trials of Apollo series in May and, wow, 13 books in and he did the unthinkable (which I can’t say—spoiler, ha). That aside, I do think he’s a fun way to be introduced to the myths. Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the ways children’s literature tells mythical stories, and while his books clearly aren’t strictly retellings, I do think he does a great job of engaging not only the surface level stories but the deeper themes threaded through ancient Greek thought. And they’re fun and silly … usually.

      I read “Attachments” and am just now realizing I’ve been mixing it up in my head with “Landline,” another of her books. “Attachments” is the one with the emails, I think?

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