Review by C.J. Bunce
Last week here at borg I reviewed the result of classicist Edith Hamilton’s research into the Greek amd Roman myths that became her book, Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, available in a 75th anniversary edition from publisher Black Dog and Leventhal. It’s been paired with a useful companion book that expands on Hamilton’s work, Classical Mythology A to Z: An Encyclopedia of Gods, Goddesses, Heroes, Heroines, Nymphs, Spirits, Monsters, and Places, by Annette Giesecke (now available at Amazon here). Both make an attractive desk set, combining new artwork by artist Jim Tierney with a matching binding, cover art, copper metallic accents, and page drawings. Pulling from Hamilton’s book, Giesecke compartmentalizes a world of ancient fantasy characters in easily searchable, encyclopedic form. Useful for anyone who is well-read or wants to be, it will quickly let you recall the relevance of a book or news article’s passing contrast between the Elysian Fields and Tartarus, or use it the next time you want to tell your kid why those constellations in the sky are named Orion and Pleiades.
Mythology A to Z is alphabetized and divided into four sections. The section on Gods, Goddesses, Spirits, and Nymphs includes characters and places from Achelous, father of nymphs and god of rivers, to Asclepius, the god of healing, to Glaucus, patron of sailors, the monstrous Harpies, to Nemesis, the god of retribution, to Zeus, the supreme god over them all.
The section on Heroes, Heroines, and Peoples covers Abas, the king of Argos, to Aeneas, Rome’s greatest hero, to the beautiful Cassandra, who warned the Trojans about that big wooden horse, to Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, to the Myrmidons, who were ants turned into people, to Triptolemus, who championed culture and civilization, to Zethus, one of Zeus’s several offspring.
Monsters, Prodigies, and Hybrid Creatures includes everything from Aegaeon, 100-handed and 50-headed creatures from Homer’s Iliad, to the Laestrygons, a group of cannibalistic giants, to the part-human, part-horse Satyrs, to Typhon, a monster who could produce the sounds of any animal and his eyes flashed fire.
While Places and Landmarks includes the city of Abydus to the oracle at Delphi, to the Fields of Mourning in the Underworld, to Gibraltar’s Pillars of Hercules, to the lost city of Troy, and the underworld itself.
As with the publisher’s edition of Hamilton’s Mythology, Classical Mythology A to Z attributes its contents to Hamilton’s work on Homer, Hesiod, Pindar, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, Aristophanes and Apollonius of Rhodes, Apuleus, Lucian and Ovid, Apollodorus, Plutarch and Virgil. It features family trees to aid in connecting the dots between characters, and also includes cross-references, useful appendices, a glossary, and index.
Classical Mythology A to Z is a great source for the names of the planets and constellations, the ocean itself and the seas, names from our calendar, and plants and flowers sprouting from the names for Greek and Roman mythological figures, and words we use every day that derive their meaning from their Greek and Latin roots–all are easily accessible here. Note: Unlike Hamilton’s work, this book does not include Norse mythology references.
The myths live on in pop culture, in Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts to Clash of the Titans, in names of the NASA missions to the Moon, from the comics Wonder Woman’s Amazons are sourced in Greek myths and Thor obviously from the Norse, popular TV shows like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys further romanticized these stories, and more oblique references can be found all over, like names for movies and ships in Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise.
Even for those who read Mythology years ago, it’s worthy of a revisit, and if your house is without a copy for reference, then this set including Classical Mythology A to Z: An Encyclopedia of Gods & Goddesses, Heroes & Heroines, Nymphs, Spirits, Monsters, and Places is for you. It’s available here at Amazon.