96 pages • 3 hours readBernard Evslin
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Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths by Bernard Evslin was first published in hardcover in 1967. A collection of stories from ancient Greek and Roman mythology retold for a young adult audience, it is considered a modern classic in the genre of ancient myth retellings.
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In a short introduction, Evslin shares his personal experience hearing stories from Greek mythology as a child and explains how he understands them. He notes that ancient Greek myths portray the gods bringing forth both good and evil, and that he believes the myths narrate scenes from an eternal struggle between “the powers of Light and the powers of Darkness” (10).
The book is divided into six additional parts. The first one, titled “The Gods,” contains thirteen chapters that describe the major Olympian gods and their domains. Evslin retells some of the most iconic and well-known stories about the gods and their children. These include tales about Athene’s contest with Arachne, Hades kidnapping Demeter’s daughter Persephone, Hera’s interference with the birth of Apollo and Artemis, Hermes stealing Apollo’s cattle as an infant, and Hephaestus’s marriage to Aphrodite.
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The second part, called “Nature Myths,” recounts foundational stories of Greek mythology featuring Prometheus, Pandora, Phaethon, Orpheus, Narcissus and Echo, Eros and Psyche, and Arion. Several of the figures in these myths have become memorialized in language, whether as concepts (such as a “Pandora’s box,” or source of trouble) or as proper names (like the narcissus flower, or daffodil). Other stories in this section explain aspects of the natural world (including where echoes come from) and explore how human nature struggles with curiosity, faith, and love.
“Demigods,” the collection’s third part, retells the adventures of Perseus, Daedalus, Theseus, and Atalanta. All four belong to an earlier generation of heroes than those who fought in the Trojan War—a battle between Greek soldiers and the city of Troy that formed the core of much ancient Greek storytelling and literature about heroism. Instead of demonstrating bravery and problem-solving in the context of war, Perseus, Theseus, and Atalanta all participate in quests that establish their remarkable physical skills, while Daedalus displays exceptional gifts with invention and crafts.
In Part 4, the final retellings are “Fables,” the stories of two mortals, Midas and Pygmalion. King Midas learns a lesson about greed and mercy from Apollo, while in Pygmalion’s story Aphrodite grants his wish to bring a beloved sculpture to life.
This guide does not summarize and analyze the final two parts of the book because they are reference works: a glossary and a recommended reading list. “Mythology Becomes Language” is a glossary of names, concepts, and terms that Evslin uses or alludes to in the stories he retells or that derive from Greek and Roman mythology more broadly. The reading lists contains ten secondary sources that also tell stories from the myths, including two classics of the myth retelling genre, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology (1940) and Thomas Bulfinch’s Bulfinch’s Mythology (1867).
By Bernard Evslin