Robert Garland, Greek Mythology (Pen & Sword, 2020)
“The gods are jealous and they do cruel things, often with absolutely no justification.” So says Helen, of Troy fame, towards the end of Robert Garland’s spirited retelling of the Greek myths. If you get that far in Garland’s book without hiding under your bed, hoping none of the gods and heroes in this book ever visit you, then you will surely agree.
All the significant gods and heroes have their stories told by Garland in a structure whereby one story flows into another. Odysseus is the star of the show, featuring in numerous stories, and the siege of Troy is the most significant event, tantalising as it is on the verge of recorded history – I prefer the mythological version. The stories are faithfully told from the first person perspective and in modern parlance, the justification being that the Greeks themselves retold these stories for their ‘modern’ audience so why can’t we? We hear, therefore, from amongst others Apollo and Achilles, Hermes and Heracles, Orion and Oedipus, and of course Zeus, but not Poseidon though we meet him often enough in other stories. Garland accompanies all this with some lovely, simple illustrations, which to take nothing away from the text, might be the highlight of the book.
Being brought up on Robert Graves’ Greek Myths, I was not sure Garland’s modernization would work. Indeed, I wasn’t sure all the way through until I finished the Envoi that marks the conclusion! Garland treads a fine line in just swerving away from trite in his simplifications, and this could have tipped into Greek Myths for young adults very easily, but there are some x-rated stories among the Greek myths and Garland does not shy away from those. I would not look for any analysis here either, that is not Garland’s remit; these are just stories for your enjoyment. Garland’s gods and heroes come across as rude, boorish, crass, selfish, egotistical, sex-crazed, and sometimes just downright nasty. I did not like or sympathize with any of them, but I was entertained by their stories and that was enough.