Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Reasoning/Appetitive: Mythology for the Masses

One of my weak-points in my background is general Greek mythology. Although I did work with mythology in 5th grade and again in 9th, as well as discussing mythology significantly in my classes on Pindar, the Agamemnon, Greek tragedy, and Latin love elegy, I still felt a little behind in my mythological background (partially because a few of my friends and classmates were so well informed). So I decided that during my year(s) off, I would work on my mythological background. Yesterday, I finished the first book to move toward becoming a "mythite" [1], Jean-Pierre Vernant's
The Universe, the Gods, and Men: Ancient Greek Myth.
The Universe, the Gods, and Men: Ancient Greek Myths Told by Jean-Pierre Vernant 
I found the collection of mythology told by Vernant to be extremely charming. Apparently, Vernant told these stories to his grandson when his grandson was young; he enjoyed recounting the mythology that he spent his academic life analyzing. Twenty-five years later, when on vacation on the same island where he told the stories to his grandson, he told the stories to some of his friends, who made him promise to write them down (Vernant xii). Thus, The Universe, the Gods, and Men: Ancient Greek Myths Told by Jean-Pierre Vernant, was born

I chose this to be my first mythology book of the year because I thought it would be enjoyable. I fell in love with Jean-Pierre Vernant's writing when I read his essay "Feminine Figures of Death" (JSTOR) my freshman year in college. The essay distinguishes between thanatos (θάνατος) (the clean, quick, masculine death) and ker (κήρ)(the disgusting, destructive, feminine death). Anyway, I enjoyed his writing and decided to read his retelling of the mythology.

Vernant has a distinctly Herodotean style. He tells the story in a meandering fashion and vaguely chronological order. He discusses each of the myths, indicating when there were alternative versions of the stories, and sometimes providing brief glimpses of analysis. Overall, the book is very charming and I recommend it as a very quick and enjoyable read [2].

  1. Mythite was the term my archaeology teacher in high school called the students who were interested in mythology and joined a mythology club for a short period of time. Tyring to clean my room, I found some of the old notes from this class and it seemed that back then I had a greater mythological background than I do now, but even then I did not have significant training in the obscure that is required for poetry such as that of Propertius.
  2. I almost think it would be a good set of stories for children, although Vernant mostly employs euphemism, there is a lot of sexual content in the stories. On the other hand, this is the nature of Greek mythology.

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