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Book Title: The Greek Myths Vol. 1|
The author of the book: Robert Graves
Date of issue: 1955
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Format files: PDF
The size of the: 696 KB
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Reader ratings: 6.3
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A myth is like a sponge for it soaks up centuries worth of material into it. The kernel of the story would be transformed into only a faint resemblance of its original as the years pass it by. If we were to imagine a character like Heracles to come alive today, he might listen to his own story in incredulity and say but that was not how it happened ! The factors of social, economic, environmental and demographic changes seep into the tales and make them more suited as moral fables with each succeeding societies and their norms. What Robert Graves has done here is to gather (in two volumes), a sweeping recollection of the myths of the Greeks. The collection is brilliant in its scope and breadth and a magisterial one.
The stories follow a logical pattern starting right from the creation myths and proceeding to the stories of the Titans. The Titans are eventually cast into Tartarus and the Olympians led by Zeus rise to take their place. The meat of the book is made up of the exploits of Zeus and his Olympians. We are then treated to the story of Prometheus and how fire came to the realm of the mortals, of Pandora and her opening the jar ( not a box, a jar !) and letting loose the evils into the world. The first of heroes in the form of Perseus then enters the fray and slays Meudsa and he is followed by Bellerophon who rides the Pegasus to slay the Chimera. Through the stories of a multitude of smaller yet well known characters ( Midas, Sisyphus and others) we finally reach Theseus and the first part of the collection ends with the life and times of Theseus. Following a short skeletal overview of each story, Graves gives a detailed break down of the symbolism behind the tales and his views on what the tales actually stand for. I could not but marvel at the amount of research and reading that Graves would have done for coming up with these inferences. This would undoubtedly be one reason why these books figure in the list of the best mythological references of all times.
Let's imagine the myths to be a beehive dripping with sweet and intoxicating nectar. Graves would pick this hive up and show it to us and we the readers would stare slack jawed and salivating at the honey that oozes down his hands. Graves then proceeds to take a good, clean jar and squeeze every bit of honey into it and keeps the husk aside. Once this is done, he takes and locks up the honey and gives us the husk for consumption. Like this analogy and in terms of this book, Graves is a master researcher but a horrible storyteller. His stories lack a heart and a soul and are treated only as dull and dreary research subjects. I love a good story when told in the right fashion but here the soul of the stories are missing. Greek myths are fantastic material for stories : violence, jealousy, greed, sex and high octane action abound in them but Graves discards them all for academic interest. I read a review on the site where a reader opined that his young son now thinks that all Greeks are drunkards who pick fights for the smallest of reasons after reading this book. He has a point there for in these stories, the Gods are almost all of them drunk most of the time, fornicate with anything that moves and start bloody wars for the smallest of reasons. In the hands of a better story teller, this could have taken a fairy tale sort of hue but Graves is determined to hold his interest only to the academic sphere of things and thereby reducing the stories to exploits of characters who behave like thugs.
Then again are Graves's theories of how a matriarchical society was later subjugated by a patriarchical one and thereby the cult of the goddess was overrun by a plethora of male gods. Almost 85% of the summations that Graves produces carry this result that the cult of the goddess was behind the origination of the myths. Most of these theories were later proved wrong by researchers. So it would also benefit any future reader to do some background reading prior to arriving at conclusions about these tales. Another part is that most of the assertions offered by Graves is against many a localized tribe or group which is next to unknown for a person who in unschooled about the terrain of Greece. This tended to throw my interest off big time. You need a map of Greece from the earlier times handy when you are reading this book.
If you are looking for an introduction into Greek myths, start with something lighter. If however, you are interested in a deep dive into how these myths came to fore then this is the book for you.
The content and material is worth four stars but the rating system is more a selfish one and I can only rate this against my interest level which is a solid three stars.
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Read information about the authorRobert Ranke Graves, born in Wimbledon, received his early education at King's College School and Copthorne Prep School, Wimbledon & Charterhouse School and won a scholarship to St John's College, Oxford. While at Charterhouse in 1912, he fell in love with G. H. Johnstone, a boy of fourteen ("Dick" in Goodbye to All That) When challenged by the headmaster he defended himself by citing Plato, Greek poets, Michelangelo & Shakespeare, "who had felt as I did".
At the outbreak of WWI, Graves enlisted almost immediately, taking a commission in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He published his first volume of poems, Over the Brazier, in 1916. He developed an early reputation as a war poet and was one of the first to write realistic poems about his experience of front line conflict. In later years he omitted war poems from his collections, on the grounds that they were too obviously "part of the war poetry boom". At the Battle of the Somme he was so badly wounded by a shell-fragment through the lung that he was expected to die, and indeed was officially reported as 'died of wounds'. He gradually recovered. Apart from a brief spell back in France, he spent the rest of the war in England.
One of Graves's closest friends at this time was the poet Siegfried Sassoon, who was also an officer in the RWF. In 1917 Sassoon tried to rebel against the war by making a public anti-war statement. Graves, who feared Sassoon could face a court martial, intervened with the military authorities and persuaded them that he was suffering from shell shock, and to treat him accordingly. Graves also suffered from shell shock, or neurasthenia as it is sometimes called, although he was never hospitalised for it.
Biographers document the story well. It is fictionalised in Pat Barker's novel Regeneration. The intensity of their early relationship is nowhere demonstrated more clearly than in Graves's collection Fairies & Fusiliers (1917), which contains a plethora of poems celebrating their friendship. Through Sassoon, he also became friends with Wilfred Owen, whose talent he recognised. Owen attended Graves's wedding to Nancy Nicholson in 1918, presenting him with, as Graves recalled, "a set of 12 Apostle spoons".
Following his marriage and the end of the war, Graves belatedly took up his place at St John's College, Oxford. He later attempted to make a living by running a small shop, but the business failed. In 1926 he took up a post at Cairo University, accompanied by his wife, their children and the poet Laura Riding. He returned to London briefly, where he split with his wife under highly emotional circumstances before leaving to live with Riding in Deià, Majorca. There they continued to publish letterpress books under the rubric of the Seizin Press, founded and edited the literary journal Epilogue, and wrote two successful academic books together: A Survey of Modernist Poetry (1927) and A Pamphlet Against Anthologies (1928).
In 1927, he published Lawrence and the Arabs, a commercially successful biography of T.E. Lawrence. Good-bye to All That (1929, revised and republished in 1957) proved a success but cost him many of his friends, notably Sassoon. In 1934 he published his most commercially successful work, I, Claudius. Using classical sources he constructed a complexly compelling tale of the life of the Roman emperor Claudius, a tale extended in Claudius the God (1935). Another historical novel by Graves, Count Belisarius (1938), recounts the career of the Byzantine general Belisarius.
During the early 1970s Graves began to suffer from increasingly severe memory loss, and by his eightieth birthday in 1975 he had come to the end of his working life. By 1975 he had published more than 140 works. He survived for ten more years in an increasingly dependent condition until he died from heart failure.
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