Mythos by Stephen Fry — Reread Review

I don’t remember how I got interested in Greek myths. It might have been Disney’s Hercules, though I feel like I already knew a bit about them by then. Maybe it was just absorbed knowledge of satyrs and fauns and centaurs from The Chronicles of Narnia. Either way, I like Greek mythology and I like Stephen Fry, so Mythos was very much a sure bet!

Stephen Fry modernises the language of the myths, without quite going so far as to refer to Cadmus as a ‘homie’. He manages to link some sections of myth together into overarching narratives, but some pieces still feel disconnected. I don’t think that’s any fault of the writing; it’s just the way the source material is.

The name [Electra] is interesting; it is the female form of ELECTRON, the Greek word for ‘amber’. The greeks noticed that if you rub amber vigorously with a cloth it magically attracts dust and fluff. They called this strange property ‘amberiness’, from which all our words ‘electric’, ‘electricity’, ‘electron’, ‘electronic’, and so on, ultimately derive.

Mythos, Stephen Fry

There’s an emphasis on places where our modern English words and idioms come from the names of gods or heroes, or the punishments enacted by one on the other. So Stephen Fry highlights that we still use ‘Sisyphean‘ to describe a futile task. But he also relates bits of the Sisyphus myth that I wasn’t previously aware of. The reason Sisyphus needed to be punished was that he’d cheated death twice, and even managed a ‘happily ever after’ the second time around!

Hera grasped the bird by the beak so that he could hardly breathe and was about to punish him in some strange and dreadful way that would forever have altered our conception of chaffinches, when his mate fluttered about her ears and hair bravely calling out.

Mythos, Stephen Fry

My favourite myths are the ones that resemble ‘Just So’ stories – that explain how the world came to be the way it is. There are plenty of these – more than I was previously aware of – but my favourite is still Arachne, who boasted of her spinning so much that Athena came down to challenge her. Only I didn’t know that, after losing, Arachne was so distraught at the thought of never weaving again that she hung herself. And so Athena transforming her into a spider could actually be seen as a merciful act.

Mythos does a good job of making the Greek myths as narratively satisfying as possible, and even somewhat relatable.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.