Our book today is the kind of lavish surprise that occasionally rewards the faithful: a big, heavy, ornate new 75th-anniversary edition from Black Dog & Leventhal of Edith Hamilton’s rock-solid, endurably reprinted classic Mythology. Subtitled “Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes,” the book retails all the most famous stories from Greek and Roman mythology (with a sprinkling of Norse myths as a cool dessert at the end of the book). Everything is here, from biographical sketches of the Olympian gods to renditions of the quest for the Golden Fleece, the adventures of Jason and the Argonauts, the Trojan War, and of course the Labors of Hercules, which Hamilton guides readers through with her customary pithy clarity:
Story after story is told of his adventures He fought the river-god Achelous because Achelous was in love with the girl Hercules now wanted to marry. Like everyone else by this time, Achelous had no desire to fight him and he tried to reason with him. But that never worked with Hercules. It only made him more angry. He said, “My hand is better than my tongue. Let me win fighting and you may win talking.” Achelous took the form of a bull and attacked him fiercely, but Hercules was used to subduing bulls.
She introduces every story with a concise appraisal of where it comes from, which classical sources she’s using as the basis for her accounts. “This story is told only by Apuleius, a Latin writer of the second century A.D.,” she writes about the story of Cupid and Psyche, for example, “It is a prettily told tale, after the manner of Ovid. The writer is entertained by what he writes; he believes none of it.”
This lovely new anniversary edition features both half-tone spot-illustrations and full-page full-color pictures by Jim Tierney, and as delightful as many of this artwork is, the sight of it will flatly halt all long-time fans of Hamilton’s classic book – gone is the austere, glorious black-and-white illustrations of Steele Savage, illustrations that have fired the imaginations of generations of Hamilton’s readers. As for Hamilton herself, she sums up her own task: “After all, when one takes up a book like this, one does not ask how entertainingly the author has retold the stories, but how close he has brought the reader to the original.” As usual, she was being too strict; readers will indeed ask how entertainingly the author has retold these stories … and as this new hardcover reminds us, this author never fails, even after 75 years.
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