THE GREEK MYTHS by Robert Graves versus BULFINCH’S MYTHOLOGY
To round out my self-education of Ancient Greek history, along with The Iliad and The Odyssey, several history and philosophy books on the period, I also obtained 2 books on mythology- Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths and Bulfinch’s Mythology written by Thomas Bulfinch.
Although Bulfinch’s work has been described as “one of the most popular books ever published in the United States and the standard work on classical mythology for nearly a century”, I found it lacking in my particular area of interest. Of the Modern Library edition’s 857 pages, approximately 285 are dedicated purely to Greek mythology. The book also includes a vast range of other myths including a section on Hindu myths and Beowulf, several hundred pages on the Age of Chivalry (King Arthur, Lancelot, Tristram and Isoude), plus the adventures of Robin Hood. Bullfinch also provides several hundred pages on the Legends of Charlemagne.
Bulfinch’s Mythology uses the Latin/Roman names for Gods and Goddesses rather than the traditional Greek names, hence: Venus rather than Aphrodite, Ulysses rather than Odysseus, and Jupiter rather than Zeus, etc., etc. And if the reader has little previous knowledge of mythology, it appears unorganized and confusing. Bulfinch writes brief descriptions of various Gods and Goddesses, moving through time at a brisk pace, sharing anecdotes of interest, but he makes little sense of how the stories tie together. Also somewhat confusing, there are so many immortals, it boggles the mind how they all relate to one another.
Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths is also a book of great length. There are 782 pages plus a lengthy introduction… all narrowly limited to the Greek myths. Here you will find a lot more detail about each of the Gods and Goddesses, and the nice thing about Grave’s approach is that the immortals are introduced as they are born. He begins with the 4 original mythical variations.. introducing each God and Goddess as they enter the immortal world, providing details about their birthright, their nature, and their deeds. 50 pages are dedicated to explaining how the signs of the Zodiac evolved from the 12 labors of Heracles. Over 100 pages relate to the lives of the participants of the Trojan War- it’s causes, the outcome, and finishing with Odysseus’s return home from Troy to his native land of Ithaca.
Differing from Bulfinch’s Latin version, Graves uses the traditional names for all Gods and Goddesses. This coincides nicely with my editions of The Iliad and The Odysseus translated by Robert Fitzgerald which- unlike many other popular translations- also uses the more familiar Greek names.
In conclusion, if you are looking for general data on all myths throughout the ages, you might prefer Bulfinch’s Mythology. Rated 3 Stars.
If you are strictly looking for information on Greek Mythology, go for Robert Graves‘ The Greek Myths. Rated 5 Stars.
All contents © 2015 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.