Mythology: Summary Review

This is a summary review of Mythology containing key details about the book.

What is Mythology About?

"Mythology" by Edith Hamilton is a classic book that explores the myths and legends of ancient Greece and Rome.

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Mythology retells stories of Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology drawn from a variety of sources. The introduction includes commentary on the major classical poets used as sources, and on how changing cultures have led to changing characterizations of the deities and their myths. It is frequently used in high schools and colleges as an introductory text to ancient mythology and belief.

Summary Points & Takeaways from Mythology

Some key summary points and takeaways from the book include:

* The timeless appeal of mythology: The book demonstrates the enduring popularity and relevance of myths, which have captivated audiences for thousands of years and continue to inspire artists, writers, and thinkers today.

* The importance of storytelling: The myths and legends featured in the book are rich in symbolism and metaphor, showcasing the power of storytelling to convey important truths and values.

* The influence of mythology: The book highlights the impact that classical myths have had on Western culture and civilization, influencing art, literature, and philosophy for centuries.

* The complex characters of myth: The book showcases the complex and multifaceted characters of ancient myths, who are often depicted as both powerful and flawed, embodying the full range of human emotions and experiences.

* The exploration of universal themes: The myths featured in the book address a wide range of universal themes, including love, death, power, and the meaning of life, making them relevant and relatable to readers of all ages.

* The role of the gods: The book provides an in-depth exploration of the gods and goddesses of ancient myth, showcasing their powerful influence over the lives of mortals and the natural world.

* Overall, "Mythology" is a comprehensive and engaging introduction to the myths and legends of ancient Greece and Rome, offering readers a window into the rich cultural heritage of Western civilization. Whether you're a student of mythology or simply a lover of storytelling, this book is an essential read.

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Who is the author of Mythology?

Edith Hamilton was an American educator and internationally known author who was one of the most renowned classicists of her era in the United States. A graduate of Bryn Mawr College, she also studied in Germany at the University of Leipzig and the University of Munich.

Mythology Summary Notes

Summary Note: The creation of the world according to the Greeks

Greek mythology is a rich and fascinating topic that offers insights into the beliefs and values of the Ancient Greeks. The creation myth is one of the most intriguing stories of Greek mythology. According to the Greeks, the world came into being even before the gods. Chaos, a void, was the starting point, and from it, Night and Erebus emerged. Love was then born, bringing order to the chaos. Love then created Light and Day, which eventually led to the creation of the Earth and the emergence of the gods.

What's fascinating about this creation myth is the lack of rationale behind it. There was no divine architect or initiator, things just happened. The Greeks believed that Earth came to be and afterward gave birth to starry Heaven, equal to herself. This creation story also blurs the lines between objects and personified agents. Earth and Heaven operate as individuals and are often referred to as Gaea and Ouranos, respectively.

The Greek mythology creation story also includes monstrous children, including those born with 100 hands and 50 eyes and the Cyclops with one eye each. The Titans were the last of the monstrous children, and their youngest child, Cronos, eventually overthrew his father, Ouranos, and became the ruler. However, Cronos was an anxious parent and, fearing that one of his children would dethrone him, began devouring them. Only Zeus managed to escape, and with the help of the Titan Prometheus, he overthrew Cronos and became the sole ruler over the world.

The Greek mythology creation story is fascinating for its lack of explanation and the blurring of the lines between objects and personified agents. It's also a reminder that even in ancient times, people were grappling with the same questions about the origins of the world and the meaning of life that we still struggle with today.

Summary Note: The Humanization of Greek Gods and their Appropriation by the Romans

One of the main themes in the book is the humanization of Greek gods and their appropriation by the Romans. The Greeks depicted their gods in human-like forms and behaviors, which was a contrast to the Egyptian depiction of their gods with animal features. The Greek gods were a part of the human world and mythology was a way of explaining the unknown in a rational way. Zeus, for example, was the god of thunder, a rational explanation for a natural phenomenon. The Greeks also used mythological tourism as a way to visit places associated with their gods.

The Romans, a deeply religious people, adopted the Greek gods as their own. They had their native gods, including the Lar, who guarded the familial hearth, and the Numina, who were deities linked to the running of the household. The Roman gods, Saturn and Jupiter, merged with the Greek gods, Cronos and Zeus, respectively. Despite differences in the degree of reverence, the realms and characteristics of the merged gods remained broadly similar.

The humanization of the Greek gods and their rationalization in Greek mythology shows how ancient Greeks viewed the world. It also highlights the enduring fascination with the Greek gods in art and culture. The appropriation of these gods by the Romans demonstrates the spread of culture and religion across ancient civilizations.

Summary Note: The Greek Gods and Their Family Dynamics

The Greek gods were a powerful and complex pantheon, with their own unique personalities, abilities, and quirks. One of the key themes in Greek mythology is the idea that the gods were like a family, with their own internal politics, rivalries, and alliances.

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At the head of this family was Zeus, the king of the gods, who ruled over the other gods and goddesses from his throne on Mount Olympus. Zeus was often depicted as a powerful and imposing figure, with his thunderbolt in hand and his eyes fixed on the mortal world below.

Zeus had two brothers, Hades and Poseidon, who were equally powerful in their own domains. Hades ruled the underworld, where dead souls resided, while Poseidon had dominion over the oceans and waves. Despite their differences, the three brothers were often portrayed as a united front against any threat to their power.

Zeus was married to his sister Hera, the goddess of marriage, who was often depicted as a jealous and vengeful figure. Hera's jealousy was directed towards Zeus's many affairs with mortal women, and she often punished them in cruel and unusual ways.

Zeus had many children, both legitimate and illegitimate, who were also powerful in their own right. Athena, Zeus's favorite child, was the goddess of city life and civilization, and protected Athens fiercely. Apollo and Artemis were twin children of Zeus and the Titan Leto, and were associated with music, light, truth, and wild creatures.

Hermes, another son of Zeus, acted as the messenger of the gods, and was renowned for his speed and cunning. Ares, the god of war, was the son of Zeus and Hera, and was disliked by both his parents and the Greeks for his cowardice and ruthlessness.

Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, was possibly a child of Zeus, but her origins are unclear. She was married to Hephaestus, the god of fire and the smith of the gods, who was often depicted as the only ugly god on Mount Olympus.

Despite their power and status, the Greek gods were not immune to the rivalries and tensions that can arise in any family. Their stories serve as a reminder that even the most powerful beings can be flawed and human-like in their behavior and emotions.

Summary Note: The Earthly Gods of Greece and Rome

The ancient Greeks and Romans believed in numerous gods and goddesses, with the likes of Zeus and Apollo often taking center stage in their mythologies. However, two lesser-known deities held significant importance in their lives, namely Demeter and Dionysus.

Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, controlled the seasons and was believed to have lived on Earth. Her daughter Persephone's kidnapping by Hades, the god of the underworld, led to the story of how winter came to be. Demeter's grief caused the land to become barren and frozen, and it was only when Persephone returned to her mother in spring that life and spring also returned, allowing humans to feast on the bounty of the land.

Dionysus, the god of wine, was also an earthbound deity, and his dual nature exemplified how the Greeks recognized the power of wine for both good and ill. While capable of great kindness, he could also make people do terrible things. Dionysus was unique in that he was the only god with a mortal woman as a parent, making him a bridge between the divine and human worlds.

These myths illustrate how the Greeks and Romans sought to explain the world around them, including the changing seasons and the effects of indulging in wine. They also highlight the role of women in their cultures, with Demeter being a powerful goddess in her own right and Persephone's kidnapping leading to the creation of the seasons.

Summary Note: Hercules - The Greatest Hero of Greek Mythology

Greek mythology is filled with countless heroes, each with their own unique story and regional favorites. However, there was one hero who transcended all others and that was Hercules. Son of Zeus and a mortal woman, Hercules was gifted with superhuman strength, but his lack of rationality and calm often led him to commit horrific acts. Hercules was punished by Hera, and seeking atonement, he traveled to Athens for guidance, but was unwelcomed due to his brutal nature. He then consulted the oracle at Delphi, who advised him to seek King Eurystheus of Mycenae and follow his instructions. Thus, Hercules began his famous journey of completing the 12 Labors, which were deemed impossible for any man to complete.

Hercules faced numerous challenges during his journey, such as capturing the three-headed dog Cerberus and catching Artemis’s golden deer with his bare hands. The most famous of his labors was cleaning out the stables of Augeas, which was both humiliating and challenging. With his physical prowess, Hercules devised a shortcut by diverting two rivers to run through the stables and washing them in one fell swoop.

After completing his tasks, Hercules married Deianira, but it was through her that he met his end. Deianira was tricked by the dying centaur Nessus into giving him a magical robe, which he claimed was a love spell. Deianira gifted the robe to her husband, but it was poisoned, leading to his painful death.

The story of Hercules highlights the consequences of one's actions and the importance of seeking atonement for one's wrongdoings. Despite his flaws, Hercules was known for his strength, courage, and determination in completing impossible tasks. His story continues to inspire and captivate people around the world.

Summary Note: The Myth of Love and Loss: Orpheus and Eurydice

Greek mythology is full of stories that reveal the many facets of love and loss. The tale of Narcissus and Echo, with its themes of vanity and unrequited love, serves as an example of how love can be destructive. Meanwhile, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice is a testament to the power of love and the tragedy of loss.

Orpheus, a gifted musician, fell in love with Eurydice, and they were set to be married. However, tragedy struck on their wedding day when Eurydice was bitten by a snake and died. Overcome with grief, Orpheus decided to journey to the Underworld to bring Eurydice back to life.

With his enchanting music, Orpheus was able to convince the rulers of the Underworld to allow Eurydice to return to the land of the living. However, there was one condition: Orpheus must not turn back to look at Eurydice until they were both out of the Underworld.

As they were making their way back to the mortal world, Orpheus couldn't resist the urge to look back at Eurydice, breaking the condition that was set. As a result, Eurydice was taken back to the Underworld, and Orpheus was left with a lifetime of regret.

This myth of love and loss serves as a reminder that sometimes, the things we love most can be taken away from us. It also highlights the power of music and its ability to move and inspire people.

The story of Orpheus and Eurydice has been retold and adapted throughout the centuries, in literature, art, and music. It continues to captivate audiences and inspire new interpretations, proving that the themes of love and loss are timeless and universal.

Summary Note: The Mythic Adventure for the Golden Fleece

The search for the Golden Fleece is one of the most famous and thrilling mythic adventures in ancient Greek mythology. At its core, the story is about the hero Jason's quest to reclaim his rightful throne, which had been stolen by his cousin Pelias. In order to do so, Jason had to embark on a perilous journey to Colchis and retrieve the Golden Fleece, a task which seemed impossible to achieve.

However, Jason was determined to succeed, and he gathered a team of the greatest heroes of the age, known as the Argonauts. Among them was Orpheus, Hercules, Achilles’s father, Peleus, and the sons of Boreas, the north wind. Together, they encountered many challenges and adventures on their way to Colchis, including facing harpies, giants, and even the Amazons, a tribe of women warriors.

Once they reached Colchis, Jason explained his mission to King Aeetes, who instructed him to yoke two fire-breathing bulls, plow a field, sow it with dragon’s teeth and kill the warriors who would then spring from the field. However, unbeknownst to Aeetes, Hera had intervened and asked Aphrodite to make Aeetes's daughter Medea fall in love with Jason. Medea, who was also a sorceress, helped Jason to overcome each of the challenges he faced, including fighting the warriors who had sprouted from the field and sneaking past the giant snake guarding the Golden Fleece.

Medea's love for Jason and her powerful sorcery allowed them to succeed in their mission, and they were able to return to Iolcus with the Golden Fleece. The story of the Golden Fleece is not only a thrilling adventure but also a tale of love, cunning, and bravery. The story teaches us that even the most impossible tasks can be achieved with the right team, determination, and a little bit of luck. The hero's journey is never an easy one, but it is always worth the risk when you have something to fight for.

Summary Note: The Iliad and the Abduction of Women in Greek Mythology

One of the main themes in the book is the central role of the abduction of women in Greek mythology, as exemplified in the story of the Greek war against Troy, as told in Homer's epic poem, the Iliad. The conflict was sparked by the abduction of Helen, who was already married to Menelaus, by Prince Paris of Troy. This led to a ten-year siege of Troy by a coalition of Greek city-states, which included many heroic figures such as Achilles and Odysseus.

However, the involvement of the gods also played a crucial role in the war, with different deities taking sides and intervening in various ways. This highlights another important aspect of Greek mythology, which is the belief in a pantheon of gods who were thought to be actively involved in human affairs.

The abduction of women is a recurring theme in Greek mythology, and it reflects the patriarchal nature of ancient Greek society, where women were often treated as objects to be possessed by men. In many myths, women are portrayed as the cause of conflicts between men, or as prizes to be won through feats of bravery or strength.

The story of the Iliad is just one example of this pattern, but it is also notable for its complex portrayal of the characters involved. For instance, while Paris is often seen as the villain of the piece for abducting Helen, he is also depicted as a tragic figure who is torn between his love for Helen and his duty to his family and city. Similarly, Achilles, who is initially portrayed as a fierce warrior with a divine gift, also experiences moments of doubt and vulnerability, which humanize him and make him more relatable.

Summary Note: The End of the Trojan War: A Tale of Achilles and Odysseus

The Trojan War is one of the most famous conflicts in Greek mythology, and the deaths of some of its greatest heroes signaled its end. The story begins with Agamemnon, who felt hurt after losing his prize hostage bride and forced Achilles to hand over his own hostage bride. Achilles's great sulk began, and he refused to fight, which made his equally enraged mother, Thetis, side with him. She asked Achilles to desert the Greeks and sail home and then went to Olympus to ask Zeus to aid a Trojan victory.

Zeus knew that without Achilles, the Greeks stood little chance of defeating the Trojans. This meant that as long as Achilles remained shut up in his tent, refusing to let his men fight, the Trojans had a chance of victory. Zeus sent a dream to Agamemnon that convinced him to attack the Trojan walls, even without Achilles and his men at their side. The resulting fight was the hardest yet, and the gods fought alongside their favorites until Zeus declared that they should stop intervening. Without divine support, the Greeks were driven back to their beached ships.

The momentum was with the Greeks when Patroclus, Achilles's closest friend, disguised himself in Achilles's armor and led Achilles's troops into battle. But Hector killed Patroclus and claimed Achilles's armor for his own. The impenetrable armor made by Hephaestus made Hector all but invincible. Achilles was finally stirred to move from his slump and headed for his showdown with Hector. Consumed by wrath and incensed by Patroclus's death, Achilles slew Hector and lashed his dead body behind his chariot, dragging it around the city three times.

However, Achilles's mother had foreseen that Hector's death would lead to Achilles's own. In a later skirmish, Apollo guided an arrow loosed by Paris that struck Achilles on his unprotected heel, his one weak spot, and killed him. The siege came to an end, thanks to Odysseus's cunning scheme of building a giant wooden horse. The Greek soldiers hid inside it, and the horse was left as a supposed gift of surrender for the Trojans to take inside their city walls. The ruse worked, and the horse was brought in through the Scaean Gate. At nightfall, the Greeks descended from it, opening the gates to the rest of the Greek army outside the walls, and every Trojan man was put to death.

Summary Note: Odysseus’ Long and Treacherous Journey Home

One of the main themes in the book is the arduous journey home that Odysseus, the protagonist of Homer’s Odyssey, faced after the fall of Troy. Despite winning the greatest siege in history with the help of gods, the Greeks forgot to thank them, resulting in their punishment. This angered gods like Athena and Poseidon, who made the journey home as difficult as possible for the Greeks, particularly for Odysseus.

Odysseus and his crew encountered numerous obstacles along the way, including the Cyclops Polyphemus, the land of the Lotus-eaters, the witch Circe, and the Sirens. Odysseus’s wit and intelligence helped him overcome these obstacles, with the help of gods like Hermes, who provided him with an herb that made him immune to Circe’s charms. Eventually, after ten long years of wandering and a ten-year return trip, Odysseus reached his home island of Ithaca.

However, his troubles were not over yet, as most of his subjects presumed him dead, and his wife, Penelope, had to fend off suitors while waiting for his return. Odysseus returned in disguise to his palace, unsure of his welcome. But with the help of Athena, he reunited with his son Telemachus, and together they devised a plan to kill the suitors. Penelope also came up with her own cunning plan to test the suitors’ worthiness, which only Odysseus could pass. In the end, Odysseus revealed himself, and with the help of Telemachus and Athena, he defeated the suitors and reclaimed his kingdom.

The Odyssey is a classic tale of a hero’s journey, full of adventure, obstacles, and triumphs. Odysseus’s journey home was long and treacherous, but he never lost hope, and his determination and resourcefulness helped him overcome every obstacle in his path. The story also highlights the importance of showing gratitude towards the gods, as their anger and punishment can make even the greatest of heroes suffer.

Book details

  • Print length: 497 pages
  • Genre: Mythology, Classics, Nonfiction

What are the chapters in Mythology?

Chapter 1 Introduction to classical mythology
Chapter 2 Gods, the creation, and the earliest heroes
Chapter 3 Stories of love and adventure
Chapter 4 Great heroes before the Trojan War
Chapter 5 Heroes of the Trojan War
Chapter 6 Great families of mythology
Chapter 7 Less important myths
Chapter 8 Mythology of the Norsemen
Chapter 9 Genealogical tables

What is a good quote from Mythology?

Top Quote: “The mind knows only what lies near the heart.” (Meaning) - Mythology Quotes, Edith Hamilton

* The editor of this summary review made every effort to maintain information accuracy, including any published quotes, chapters, or takeaways. If you're interested in enhancing your personal growth, I suggest checking out my list of favorite self-development books. These books have been instrumental in my own personal development and I'm confident they can help you too.

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Chief Editor

Tal Gur is an author, founder, and impact-driven entrepreneur at heart. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey and most recent book, The Art of Fully Living, has led him to found Elevate Society.

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