Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes

by Edith Hamilton

Paper Book, 1999




Grand Central Publishing (1999), Edition: Reissue, 352 pages


For over fifty years readers have chosen this book above all others to discover the thrilling, enchanting, and fascinating world of Western mythology. From Odysseus's adventure-filled journey to the Norse god Odin's effort to postpone the final day of doom, Edith Hamilton's classic collection not only retells these stories with brilliant clarity but shows us how the ancients saw their own place in the world and how their themes echo in our consciousness today. An essential part of every home library, Mythology is the definitive volume for anyone who wants to know the key dramas, the primary characters, the triumphs, failures, fears, and hopes first narrated thousands of years ago-and still spellbinding to this day. Monsters, mortals, gods, and warriors.… (more)

Original publication date




0446607258 / 9780446607254


½ (1563 ratings; 3.9)

User reviews

LibraryThing member aethercowboy
In what is quite possibly one of the best, or at least, most renowned book on Greco-Roman mythology, Hamilton has presented here in an easy-to-digest format the high points of what happened on Mt. Olympus (and why it didn't stay on Mt. Olympus).

It's by no means exhaustive, but is otherwise a very
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informative source to get your feet wet in the world of Greco-Roman mythology. Additionally, it's a place to get your feet ever-so-slightly damp in the world of Norse mythology, as the section covering such seems more an afterthought than an appendix than an actual resource on the complex system that is Norse mythology.

If you're looking into the Greco-Roman, this is a great book to at least start, and at most, to complete that collection. If you're looking into the Norse, I'd recommend this book only if you can't manage to find any others about the topic.
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LibraryThing member SherlockHomeboy
A classic, but hella dry
LibraryThing member edwardhenry
I was planning to use this book to help study for my GRE in English test, but found it not terribly good for that purpose. The book is well-written and easy to read, and covers and summarizes most of the pertinent myths and legends of Greek and Roman literature--but it's too long to be a summary.
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If I didn't want to read the original to get a particular story, I would go here--but I think I'd much rather read Ovid or Homer, even if it is more challenging.
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LibraryThing member elle-kay
A instant classic on my bookshelf!!
LibraryThing member bookworm12
I’ve always loved mythology and even took a Classical Mythology class in college, but it’s been years since I really studied it. Despite that many of the Greek gods’ names are ingrained in our collective minds: Zeus, Athena, Poseidon, Hades, but it’s easy to loose track of how they are
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connected. This 1942 publication is a simple but complete overview of mythology.

The book is broken down into the following seven sections:

1: The Gods, the Creation, and the Earliest Heroes (Both Greek and Roman names)
2: Stories of Love and Adventure (Cupid & Psyche and the Quest for the Golden Fleece)
3: The Great Heroes before the Trojan War (Perseus, Theseus, Hercules, and Atalanta
4: The Heroes of the Trojan War (Achilles, Odysseus and Aeneas)
5: The Great Families of Mythology (Atreus, Thebes, and Athens)
6: The Less Important Myths (Midas, etc)
7: The Mythology of the Norsemen (Odin, Thor, Loki, etc)

One reason mythology can be confusing is because all of the gods have at least two names: the Greek name and the Roman name. For example, Zeus is the Greek name for the ruler of Olympus and the same god is called Jupiter in Roman culture. There are also multiple versions of all of the myths. Different authors told their own interpretation and over the years the story begins to contradict itself. Hamilton removes this confusion, making the stories more accessible and breaking everything down by family tree and relationships. She also sights her sources at the beginning of each section. So if she compiled one version of the story from four different authors’ versions she explains what she did and what the differences are.

That’s the reason this book is so excellent. Hamilton collected dozens of authors’ works into one edition. She took pieces from plays, epic poems, etc. to create on cohesive narrative. She includes an important element from one author in the story written by another author so that everyone’s actions make sense. Then she put them in chronological order within the narrative of the story. For example, she includes the Judgment of Paris, which is assumed to be the real reason for the Trojan War, before Virgil and Homer’s story of the Trojan War itself

There are many themes that remain the same throughout the mythology. A major one is the attempt to beat fate and failing miserably. Heroes and rulers frequently heard prophesies about their lives. Then they would try to outsmart those predictions, like Oedipus’ father trying to kill his son when he was a baby or Cronus eating his children. They were trying to prevent their own deaths, but their actions inevitably led to the fulfillment of the prophesy.

“To attempt to act in such a way that the prophesy would be made void was as futile as to set oneself against the decrees of fate.”

Another common theme is the power and cruelty of the gods. There is example after example of their quick tempers and over reactions. They often cause madness in a person to extract their revenge. Then that person (Hercules, Agave, etc.) kills their own families. Other times a god would fall in love with a mortal and regardless of whether or not that love was returned, it usually meant death and destruction for that person.

The tale of Cupid and Psyche was won of my favorites. It’s all about true love and trust as opposed the stories of brute force where the gods just take what they want. They are a couple that truly love each other and work even harder to find each other once they are separated because they know real love is worth the pain.

The final section covers Norse mythology. There are many similarities with Greek mythology. Asgard is their equivalent to Greece’s Olympus, Thor is similar to Zeus, etc. The writing and proverbs is less poetic, but it’s still interesting.

"Brave men can live well anywhere. A coward dreads all things."

The book wraps up with a section of family trees. I flagged this break down early on and added notes as I went. It seems like every major family line is connected to the others and the trees helped me keep it all straight.

BOTTOM LINE: This book covers so much ground, compiling hundreds of years of Greek literature into one volume. The work is priceless and my copy is flagged and highlighted for future reference. I’d highly recommended it to anyone who loves Greek mythology. It might be a little dry for those who aren’t already interested. It would also be a valuable resource for anyone reading modern Greek literature, like The Song of Achilles or the Percy Jackson series.

"According to the most modern idea, a real myth has nothing to do with religion. It is an explanation of something in nature."

“They had learned that every sin causes fresh sin; every wrong brings another in its train.”
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LibraryThing member Hamburgerclan
I was into mythology for a spell way back in my grade school days. I read every mythology book we had in the school library, including this tome. I didn't recall anything specific about it save the name, which I have seen mentioned on and off through the years. Either Ms. Hamilton has a great press
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agent or she knows her stuff about mythology. Anyway, when I wanted to read a source book for The Argonaut Affair, it was a no brainer to pick this one up. I had really forgotten how good some of those stories are. And as an adult I could now also appreciate Ms. Hamilton's comments on mythology in general and the various sources she used to assemble her own book. While I couldn't quite share her enthusiasm for the subject, it was enjoyable to hear her lovingly present these tales from ancient Greece and Rome. (and a brief nod to Norse mythology) While my girls already have some great mythology books, written by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire, I'm going to keep this one on my shelf for them as well.
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LibraryThing member kushtaka9962
Edith Hamilton really knew how to put things into perspective and dig deep into the world's mythology.
LibraryThing member k8_not_kate
If only to cover your bases for Trivial Pursuit and/or Jeopardy, this book is worth reading and keeping as a reference. It's been awhile since I read it in 9th grade as a preface to The Odyssey and Julius Caesar, but I remember it being a very easy-to-read, almost Cliff's Notes version of the
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stories of the Greek Gods. Even if you don't think you'll ever use the trivia, the stories are interesting enough to read for the sake of reading.
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LibraryThing member benuathanasia
This is a very good launching point for any interest in mythology. It doesn't offer a whole lot of viewpoints and, in some cases, goes so far to state there aren't other sources available when there most certainly are. My biggest problem with it was the near total lack of citations. In many/most
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cases it tells you who the author was where she got her source, but rarely does she tell you the actual literary work (with the exception of the Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid). The language is also strangely archaic, despite the work's relative recency. Very good overview of mythology though. Just don't take everything it says as the gospel truth.
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LibraryThing member MickyFine
I have to talk about this book on two levels. On the first level is considering the book as a collection of paraphrases of Greek and Roman mythology. On this level, it's a perfectly adequate book and serves as a decent reference source for a reader that might run across allusions to Theseus,
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Ariadne, or Agamemnon in other readings. Hamilton covers a wide breadth of myths in relatively brief space and keeps the language at a level that makes comprehensible for a non-academic.

The second level is about the tone Hamilton uses when she talks about myths, writers, and Norse mythology as a whole. It is not good. She comes across as condescending, pretentious, and superior, and for reasons that escape me, includes "the important parts" of Norse mythology in just 10 pages or so. In talking about one Greek writer, she describes him as "boring, but less boring in this tale." A lot of this is likely the product of this book being originally published in 1942 but the lack of cultural relativism drove me a little crazy. My view of the book is particularly tainted by this as the Norse mythology section is at the end and this approach of Hamilton's is in strongest evidence there. If you're looking for a decent reference source on Greek mythology, this isn't bad to get the gist of the myths, but don't look at it for criticism of the literature.
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LibraryThing member MerryMary
For accuracy, deft comparisons, thoroughness of research, clarity of thought, and imaginative fluid writing, this is THE source for mythology. I have read and re-read this for years.
LibraryThing member wesh
The companion volume to my 6th grade Latin grammar. If you have to read only one book to get up to speed on Greek & Roman mythology, this is the one.
LibraryThing member janemarieprice
This is a standard reference of mythology and the Greek and Roman gods. It is great for younger people who are getting interested in the subject and covers everything well.
LibraryThing member endersreads
I first read this book in my highschool Latin class--long ago when I thought I might have made it through a 2nd year of Latin. The dumbed-down sheeple of my society don't put any value on myths, or much of anything but psychotropics and entertainment. Something priceless lays here. These stories
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are extremely important to understanding ourselves, our past, our planispheres, and the future. Without sounding too Sitchin-like, I will simply say that these are the rememberances of the b'nai Elohim, amongst other things. Ms. Hamilton provides us an excellent place to start to understand our (un)reality. Don't drink too much of the Eleusian blue potion, and enjoy the illustrations. The myths of other cultures, times, and places await you; all holding a golden thread of uniformity.
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LibraryThing member GoofyOcean110
Classic mythology told as stories. Consider reading this as basic education to be able to recognize the infinite references to the ancient stories used in everyday life and modern story telling (including movies, tvs, plays, music, etc.) - though I am probably stating the obvious. This gives a
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solid grounding in the mythos of western civilizations.
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LibraryThing member EbonyHaywood
Hmm. Wasn't really thrilled with this book. I found it to be a bit dry and boring. Hamilton has a way of cramming so much plot into each story. Consequently, something is lost in translation...
LibraryThing member vonagee
The classic work on mythology. Covers Greek and Roman gods and some of the Norse gods as well.
LibraryThing member keylawk
Authored by the great German-born head-mistress of a prep school, this is a retelling of stories from Greek, Roman and Norse mythology -- "the fountainhead of all literature".

She drew from many sources, but most are retold from Hesiod who is our only source for many of them. Hamilton does aim to
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maintain the distinctions of the different writers, keeping for example, Hesiod's simplicity and piety, and sharing Ovid's subtle, polished, self-conscious skeptical style. We learn not only the stories, but something of the writers.
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LibraryThing member Sandydog1
Dozens of famous and not-so-famous Greek myths. I'd already read Ovid, Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, etc.,so this was a fun and familiar review. Suddenly in the last few pages, the gears switch to an extremely broad overview of Norse mythology.

Sometimes dry and always merely a rehash of story
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plots. But I think this would be a great overview for anyone interested in the original works.
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LibraryThing member bookwoman247
This was the best book on mythology that I've read. Hamilton was so knowledgable, and such an impeccable researcher, yet her writing is so accessible that tweens would probably have no problem with this book.

I've added this to my list of favorites. This is a book that I will not be parting with.
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I'm sure I'll be referring to it, and re-reading it in the future.
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LibraryThing member donbuch1
Some students may find Edith Hamilton's writing style tough-going, but once getting through the appositive phrases and built-up clauses, the content is worthwhile. The author prefers clearly demarcated stories, so she cautions readers not to concern themselves with Ovid. Myths serve two primary
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tasks: to explain the nature of the universe in relation to humankind, and to provide pure entertainment for contributing to the zest of life. Hamilton does a decent job summarizing the more important ancient Greek myths, while sprinkling in some minor stories that still have redeeming qualities for edification. Although one can find more basic summaries with less verbiage (see Olivia Coolidge), the introductory essay gives a reliable interpretation that places the canon of myths in perspective to the birth of modern science. Hamilton respects these traditional stories, and addresses them within the wider sphere of understanding the human psyche. If anything for this latter reason, her book should be primary reading for all who seek a grounding in the world of Greek mythology.
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LibraryThing member publiusdb
I haven't finished this, but I got far enough through it that I knew that it was good enough as a reference book that I'll need to pick up off of Amazon for my shelves. Having recently (in the last three years) read the Percy Jackson series, this would have been a great companion to learn about the
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Greek gods and heroes and their connection to our modern culture.

I recommend you pick it up, even just for browsing.
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LibraryThing member rampaginglibrarian
Hamilton is really easy to read, she's the text we used in high school to introduce us to "Julius Ceasar" (?!) A great introductory text. I still refer to it.
LibraryThing member mykl-s
-the first reference book for classical mythology and the Norse myths
LibraryThing member ecuddy
Edith Hamilton is marvellous in her retelling of the ancient Classical myths. Great book.
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