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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Greek Mythology

Now, before I say anything I want it to be clear that I like Greek Mythology. I have enjoyed it on numerous occasions. I have even read the famous D'Aulaires book. (Once when I was young and
hated it and thought it was Pure Evil, a second time when I was a little bit older and understood its historically and literary value.) I've read re-tellings of Greek Myths. For example, Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books and Emily Whitman's Radiant Darkness.

But sometimes I think Greek Myths are Way Too Popular. I've been reading this Ancient, Ancient, school book called Myths and Their Meanings, by Max J. Herzberg which was published in 1928 and is So Old I cannot find and ISBN #for it. It's an interesting enough book, but what bothers me is that the first 353 pages is all about Greek Myths. Nordic Myth is lumped in with the Celts for the rest of the book which is under 100 pages long! And there is no mention of Egyptian Mythology at all, and by this time in history people were aware of the Rosetta Stone and there were Egyptologists running about. Suffice it to say, I found it just a little bit disturbing.

Fortunately, it's been a good amount of time since 1928. There have been re-tellings of the Swan Maiden folktale, which is thought to be North-Eurasian as far as I can find. RL LaFevers has used Egyptian Mythology, and so did Rick Riordan in his newer book series the Kane Chronicles. The Nordic Myths seem to be not quite as popular, though I believe a certain blogger is trying to rectify that. (Ohmygoodness. I know she exists. I feel terrible. I have looked for her on twitter, on Google Reader, I have Googled her. I even looked on CafePress and I cannot remember what her blog is and I'm not sure of her name and I don't want to say the wrong thing. I feel so Terrible. But she does exist. I know she does.) D'Aulaires even put out a Norse Myth book as well, which is Very Exciting.

Still, there are certain Mythologies that still tend to be skipped over. Like Sumerian. There is a vast amount of myths in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean culture that is not seen as often. I'm sure there are others that I'm completely forgetting about, but you get the point.

And I do understand that Greek Mythology was adopted by the Romans who ruled the so-called World. I do know that it was considered a normal part of a high education to learn Greek so people could read Homer and the like. Even know you can go to many colleges and be able to take Greek. Not so much Ancient Egyptian. I was blessed to go to a college where I could take a semester of Akkadian, but that doesn't happen very often. Greek Myths are still more widely accessible than most other stories. (I am excluding European folk tales for now, because there is a certain distinction between Myth and Folk tale, according to some.)

I'm hoping this changes, and continues to change. I think it would be fantastic if more colleges offered special classes in Akkadian, or Egyptian, or whatever. I do think that even with the Paranormal shift in YA literature, looked over myths will start to be tapped into. Maybe even because of the shift in YA. (Can Greek and paranormal inter-mix? That would be interesting. Or even a Greek steampunk? Ahem. Anyway. Moving on.)

How about you? Any thoughts on the subject? I'd love to hear what you think. :)

12 comments:

Falen (Sarah Ahiers) said...

omg. a greek steampunk would be AWESOME!!!

Cinette said...

Ever read 'Temping Fate' by Esther Friesner? (YA) Girl gets summer job as personal assistant to The Fates.

Hannah Kincade said...

oooh, I'm with Sarah. Greek steampunk sounds amazing! My next novel idea is a blend of genres. I hope I can pull it off sufficiently. Eek.

Jamie Gibbs (Mithril Wisdom) said...

I highly recommend Ancient Egyptian. I was lucky enough to be close enough to a University that offered Egyptology as a course, so I've done it for my Undergrad and my Postgrad courses. I've been taught Old, Middle and Late Egyptian in both Hieroglyphs and hieratic, which is pretty sweet. Egyptian mythology is awesome, and quite different from the Greek model (Egyptian myths never include heroes, since the demi god Pharaoh played that role in every day texts). Celtic mythology is another big interest to me, though not one I've studied much.

wolfie 402 said...

I have always (as far as I know) liked Greek mythology. Any mythology, really, but especially Greek.
I guess it was partially because I didn't know many other orgins and such.
And it would be interesting to see all that overlooked mythology somewhere.
Just a little bit of a hint, the book that I am writing might just have a Greek twist. 0_o

Blam said...


I suspect that Greek myth is so prevalent because of the so-called "Western" canon — Homer, of course, on through so many recognized philosophers and dramatists, but even Shakespearean references, and compounded allusions to all the writers who lived, studied, and wrote in a more parochial world than ours. "Western" still means "civilized" or otherwise something to aspire to among many cultures looking to emerge into global society, even as the wiser folk in the "Western" world realize the value of making sure that less familiar cultural traditions are both protected and integrated into popular awareness. Democracy, art, engineering, and language itself are so closely associated with Greco-Roman origins while Mesopotamia is like a vague prehistoric abyss, some permanently banished Brigadoon that once stood where we now station soldiers.

Like many kids, I developed a fascination with Greek myth from comic books, and then, after reading everything I could find but also because there was some of that in there too, moved on to Norse and Egyptian legends. I don't know much about Chinese or Korean myth, but I learned some Japanese lore in college; one highly recommended Japanese-history course got me studying Japanese language, which really shifted my perception in so many ways. I can only hope that kids reading manga or watching anime and generally living in a more cross-cultural world today will both intuitively and explicitly learn about other perspectives, languages, and traditions in a way that previous generations just didn't. They frankly didn't have to; English took from Greek and Latin, Asian languages have inevitably borrowed words and phrases from English as the modern lingua franca, and while the next step there might seem that aliens from the stars will incorporate words from various Terran languages into their native tongue (or whatever they use to speak with), I hope that before then we find ever more streaming of vocabulary and concepts from Japan, India, et al. back into English.

Which is now rather far afield from your original point, but I'm excused because I am tired and cute.

VW: phara — No kidding, my hand to Amon-Ra, that was the verification word. Yow.

Naomi Ruth said...

@Falen: I know! I am hoping that someone will stumble over that idea over here and write it, because although I couldn't write it, I most definitely would read it.

@Cinette: I haven't. I did reading Warrior Princess by her though.

@Hannah: I love blend of genre books when they're done well. I'm sure you'll do fine!

@Jamie Gibbs: I would Love to take Ancient Egyptian one day. I tried to teach myself once, but that didn't work very well. I got a translation of the Book of the Dead for my birthday and I'm excited to peruse it. I would love to learn more about their mythology.

Celtic is very interesting as well. I've been learning more about them recently. Thomas Keightley has written a very good book over-viewing Folklore. I recommend it if you're wanting to learn more about that kinda' stuff.

@Wolfie402: Greek mythology is a lot of fun. :) Ooh... Greek twists are fun. I wish you success in writing your book! :D

@Blam: I agree entirely, and I don't think that was too far afield from my original point. Either that or it went in the direction I would've gone if I had written more for this post.

phara... Ahahaha... That is Amazing.

Blam said...


I neglected to even mention African and Native American myth.

Here's the "funny" thing: Pretty much all of my exposure to any lore or mythology outside of Greco-Roman and, to a very small extent, Egyptian came not from school but from comics — mostly superheroes whose origins or other adventures had ties to Norse, Asian, Celtic, African, Native American, and even Colonial American legends — or from prose fiction and non-fiction that I read on my own prompted by the comics.

I can only hope that kids today get exposed to broader culture, historical, contemporary, and fantastic, than we did, and if not that their comics, movies, and videogames do that for them. 8^)

VW: iness — n. 1. [i ness] The being of me. 2. [in ess] Surrounded by sibilance.

Elena Solodow said...

I always loved the illustrations in D'Aulaires, but I agree that lately there's been too much focus on the Greek/Roman take and not much else.

Naomi Ruth said...

@Blam: One day I will read comics like I keep telling myself I need to...

@Elena: I do love the illustrations too! I was pleased when I saw that they wrote a book on Norse mythology too.

Blam said...


One day I will read comics like I keep telling myself I need to...

I think you might like this one. I'm always happy to make some recommendations, but most grown-ups (no offense — I'm talking purely chronological) don't suddenly take up the sorts of ongoing superhero sagas I was referring to as having introduced me to all sorts of mythology in my childhood. You'd probably enjoy Hellboy with its folkloric bent and stunning artwork (it's not much like the movies; I usually recommend Vol. 3 as a good start), or the delightful Scary Godmother (the main stories were just released in a gorgeous hardcover), or of course Sandman, or the Buffy Season Eight collections after you've finished the TV series, or maybe Fables, which mashes up fairy tales with today's real world (I should warn that what I've read is as horny and violent as the original "Red Riding Hood").

VW: doustur — What I did when my cat was on fire. ["OMG, Blam! Your cat was on fire?" For reals?" "No."]

Naomi Ruth said...

@Blam: I totally read Hereville! (I found it at my library. As I live in an area near many people of Jewish coulture, it was in our system. Also, I have the coolest library systerm in the WORLD! Ahem. Anyway.) It was very good. The sis may read it at a later date.

Rebecca has read Fables, but I haven't yet. And although most grown-ups (and no, I took no offense at the term) don't get hooked into the kind of comics you were referring to, I like to bend the rules surrounding ones age as often as possible.

Thank you for the recommendations. I will definitely put them on my list to read one day. :)