[2019-12-30] “D'Aulaires' Book Of Greek Myths”

“D'Aulaires' Book Of Greek Myths” is ostensibly an illustrated introductory book to Greek mythology for children by the artist-writer couple Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire. However, it is a fine introductory book to this important subject for adults as well because of the breadth of its coverage and its nice artwork. For a more comprehensive coverage of this vast topic though, you would have to consult other books and even then it is quite unlikely that a single book would cover everything in a satisfactory manner.

Whether you like it or not, references to Greek mythology and characters from it are everywhere, some times in ways that are not quite obvious to the lay person. For example, the Rod of Asclepius can be seen in services related to medicine and healthcare. As another example, both Peter Pan and The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn reference Pan. Most characters in Roman mythology, which has itself been quite influential (e.g. in the names of the other planets in our solar system), are essentially “copy-pasted” from Greek mythology with the names changed. When you see masterpieces from classical western art and architecture, many of the subjects are references to stories from Greek mythology.

So it is imperative for an educated person to know a reasonable amount of Greek mythology. Notwithstanding its pervasive influence on our shared culture, the characters and their stories in this mythology are quite interesting in their own right and you should study it for that reason alone.

I have been meaning to “properly” read more about Greek mythology for quite a while now and have been collecting pointers to good reference material on this topic. I selected this book as a gentle introduction to the subject and I can say that I am very happy with my choice. It covers a lot of ground and has wonderful illustrations by the authors themselves to accompany the stories. After reading this book, I feel comfortable enough to “get” many of the references to the characters and stories from this mythology, though I am now even more interested than ever in digging deeper into it.

Even though it is meant for children, the authors do not shy away from broaching topics that others might either sugarcoat or completely elide. For example, the incest of Gaia, or among her children the Titans, or by Oedipus, is directly narrated without any beating around the bush or being made a big deal of. This is a refreshing change, but it might make some parents a bit uncomfortable about handing this book over to their children. However, many mythologies have such “uncomfortable bits” and this is not something unique to Greek mythology.

The book starts from the creation myths and goes on to cover both gods and heroes from Greek mythology. Due to its breadth, the book necessarily presents extremely abridged versions of many of the stories, albeit with some inconsistencies in the coverage. For example, while the labors of Heracles are narrated in a fair amount of detail, the epochal Trojan War is covered in a rather cursory manner, leaving me yearning for more. The prose is also a bit stultifying at places and seems to emphasize breadth of coverage more than entertainment.

These are minor complaints though. To be fair, it is extremely hard to do justice to this vast topic in a single book, which explains the steady stream of more and more books on it throughout the centuries, attempting to surpass their predecessors. This is thus a good first book on this topic for both children and adults and I would highly recommend it if you are interested in Greek mythology.

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