World Mythology: An Anthology of Great Myths and Epics

0844259667.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_World Mythology: An Anthology of Great Myths and Epics by Donna Rosenberg
My rating: 1.5 of 5 stars

Around the world numerous different peoples came up with explains about the natural world and their own cultural heritage, though separated by vast distances create obvious differences there is also many similarities. World Mythology: An Anthology of Great Myths and Epics by Donna Rosenberg brings together the stories of different cultures both well-known and hardly known together for a mass audience.

Rosenberg covers all corners of the world from such the well-known epics of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, Beowulf, King Arthur of the Middle East, Greece, Northern Europe and Britain while also covering from the Segu in African, Bakaridjan Kone, and from the Inuit, Sedna. Rosenberg also covered numerous creation and fertility myths from those same cultures or nearby neighboring cultures. Before each piece, Rosenberg would give an introduction and historical background giving the reader better context for what they are about to read.

This collection brings together well-known myths and epics that “Western” audiences know as well as those not known from the “Western” perspective, with a few exceptions like The Ramayana. From the standpoint of getting a large audience introduced to these myths, the book succeeds. However, Rosenberg literally sets off alarm bells to any discerning reader when she says that she will be retelling these myths for the modern world. While I didn’t expect the entirety of The Iliad or Beowulf to be republished in this collection, I expected a fairly authentic telling of these myths and the butchering of them made me appreciate less those myths and epics I hadn’t read before like The Aeneid or The Ramayana or that I hadn’t known of before like the aforementioned Bakaridjan Kone and Sedna because I knew it wasn’t a true representation of the myth. To add further insult were Rosenberg’s introductions and historical background that were wrong on history thus making her explanations of the myth questionable especially when she wants to push forward the Great Goddess theory on every myth that has an important female deity or heroine—I don’t deny that there was important Great Goddess religions but not every myth Rosenberg claims is a patriarchal takeover of a matriarchal religious system.

While World Mythology is an okay introduction to numerous cultural myths from around the globe, but do not get this for the classics nor consider those other myths you’ll read as the definitive versions.

Gilgamesh: A New English Version

GilgameshGilgamesh: A New English Version by Stephen Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Almost 4800 years after his reign in the city of Uruk, Gilgamesh is still remembered not only in his native land but now around the world even though his native language is long forgotten. In Stephen Mitchell’s English verse translation of Gilgamesh, the story of the demigod’s calming friendship with Enkidu and his quest to avoid his mortality.

The tale of Gilgamesh is not just about the king of Uruk, it is the tale of Enkidu and his civilizing by Shamhat, the friendship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh as well as their adventures, and finally the death of Enkidu that sends Gilgamesh in his vain search to stop death by asking the one man whom the gods made immortal. Yet while several aspects of Gilgamesh are similar to later tales of Greek and Germanic origin, there are clear differences as well especially when it comes to Gilgamesh expressing his fear in the face of very dangers and ends with accepting his own mortality in the end.

Unfortunately, the story of Gilgamesh that we have is not as complete as it was 4000 years ago. Several sections are fragmentary which Mitchell had to work around to make the book read well and keeping true to the narrative; in this he did a wonderful job. Yet, in a book that has around 300 pages only 123 covers the epic itself which while not dishonest is surprising about how short the tale is and how much analysis Mitchell provides the reader before and notes after.

Gilgamesh: A New English Version is a fantastic book both in the tale of the heroic demigod king and the translation done by Stephen Mitchell.

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Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes

0446574759.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Mythology by Edith Hamilton
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The stories of Greco-Roman gods and heroes permeate our culture in some form or another, in Edith Hamilton’s anthological collection Mythology all the original tales are presented in a concise and readable fashion for those discovering them for the first time.

Taking her material from poems and plays from Greek and Roman writers, Hamilton structures the books chronologically through the various ages detailed in Greco-Roman mythology and keeping everything linked together through family relationships.  At the beginning of every chapter Hamilton describes her process of choosing the source, or sources, of the tale giving the both the introductory reader and the knowledgeable one the basis for the next tale they are reading.  The mythology of the Greco-Roman world and it’s place in both Greek and Roman culture are described in general detail that gives the reader a sense of how each perceived the world around them.

The minor inclusion of the Norse mythology at the end of the book was the biggest failing of the book, Hamilton gave cultural reasons for including but it felt both incomplete and an afterthought.  Only Balder’s story was discussed and nothing of the adventures of Thor or others.

Edith Hamilton’s lifetime of research and teaching of Greek and Roman poetry and plays results in a very readable book of Greco-Roman mythology.  The book is definitely for casual readers along with those starting their journey into the overall world of Greco-Roman mythology and is not a substitute for reading The Iliad, The Odyssey, or The Aeneid.  If you fall into either of these two categories I wholeheartedly recommend this book, but I would look somewhere else if you’re interested in Norse mythology.