Edith Hamilton, Robert Graves, Nathaniel Hawthorne discussed on The Book Review

The Book Review


I mean, it's probably reverse engineered by Homer and later poets, obviously. But nonetheless, it has a shape, a beginning and an end, which other mythic structures don't seem to have. And they're so deep in the headset to use such a cliche, but I can't avoid it. The DNA of our own culture and art that it's kind of part of who we are. So they encourage me, really, and a lot of people said, you've got to retell those stories and at first I thought I'd do it as a stage show and then I started writing it and realized what pleasure it was to research and go back to some of the sources that I remember and find out and fill in the gaps that in my own knowledge that I studied writing. Did that mobile library play a part in your early reading of the Greek myths as well? Yes, it did. And funnily enough, it was American mythologists who were the biggest influence on me when I was young. Apart from Robert graves, who was hugely influential who wrote a magnificent two volume edition of the Greek myths. But when I was younger and two young for Robert graves, it was Edith Hamilton and bernadette slynn and a bullfinch. We had a copy of bullfinch, which is American, I think, isn't it? The bullfinch mythology. And Nathaniel Hawthorne, whom I remember well, reading those when I was very young. I had big illustrated version of Nathaniel Hawthorne's tanglewood tales. And these were all wonderful retellings for children, and there was a pretty sort of roger Lance little green whom I also read was a boy. And at school, because I loved classics at school from a very early age. We were taught that in from the age of 7 at my school and I did so well at it, only because I think I did so badly at everything else that I was put on to ancient Greek quite young too. I was 8 or 9 when I started learning ancient Greek, which I loved. And so those stories, of course, are the things you use for translations and so I grew up with a lot of them. You know, it's interesting that you mentioned Edith Hamilton because I brought home I was sent to your new book heroes and my 15 year old daughter was already a super fan of mythos, the first book, which came out a couple of years ago, and I asked her, well, what is it that you like that Stephen Fry does in these books? Because she's one of those kids that has read the Greek myths in many incarnations. And she said, well, it's very different from Edith Hamilton. And one of the differences and the things that I like best and this surprised me, she said, the footnotes, she said, normally, you don't want to read footnotes, but here you actually do. And it's funny because you had written, I think, in the introduction to heroes that plenty of readers enjoyed the first time around that you thought that they might be annoying. I just talk about the footnotes and your decision around that. There's such an interesting instrument footnotes. There are a way of having an intimate conversation with the reader, which is of a different order to the kind you have in the main body of the pros or the text. And I don't know why that is. I use them because one of the things I find so deeply fascinating about Greek myth is that you can start to tell the story and something in it just wakes you up to language, for example. So very early on, one of the great stories of the birth of Zeus is how Cronos, who is married to Rhea, his sister, he's a Titan, and he is defeated Uranus father. He's gelded him, but in gelding his father Uranus, he is cursed by his father, who grabbing his maimed genital says me. You be brought down by your children's just as I have been brought down by you. And so he's terrified of having children. But he makes love to his wife, ria, and each time she gives birth first to a girl hestia. He eats the child and then to a boy, Hades, he eats that baby, then to another girl to meet her eats that than to another boy Poseidon eats that. And then here are eats her. And then she's pregnant at the 6th time by this time she hates kronos and she devises this plan. She goes to a near mount oath where the Titans it's there Olympus as it were. It's a kingdom or a province of Greece called magnesia near near thessaly as we would say now. And she finds this stone and the stones in magnesia were quite special, the Greeks noticed that iron would be attracted to them. And so they gave this property of the stones from magnesia, the name of magnesia, which is magnetite stone of magnesia, from which we get our word magnet, of course. And not only that, but we get magnesium. The element and even manganese, the element through a spelling mistake. So all these kinds of things about that, interesting little sidelines, but you wouldn't want to disturb the story of her getting this stone because she uses the stone in a wonderful deceptive way. She drapes it in linen and puts it under her thighs and then makes the screams of childbirth and Cronos comes along. And she says, no, no, don't take this one, and he grabs the swaddled child as he thinks and swallows it down. And off he goes and then she goes to Crete still pregnant of course and gives birth to Zeus, who then gets his revenge on. His father, and so the Olympian order is born. And it's a wonderful story. But you want to stop off at things like magnesium, just because it's so interesting and how much of our language and science derives from Greek words and Greek places that we're not always familiar with. And I think a lot of people, especially curious children, find a thrill in linking words to stories and ideas that discovering the words aren't always just quite such arbitrary science. In the main text, you're addressing the reader directly very frequently, but it feels as if in the footnotes you're then kind of pulling them aside in a more intimate way. How do you deal with that when you're doing the audiobook? Good question. That's very good point. You have to chat with the producer and you say now I think this one we just won't bother with because it really does get in the way. Or this one we can do at the end of the story or maybe the end of that chapter or it may just be a natural paragraph rather than where I've embedded the footnote in the text in the book for the audio one will probably find another place for it. But one has to be constantly thinking of those things. I want to pause for just a moment and play for our listeners a sample from the audiobook. Mom, watch, Medusa. Perseus have you been drinking? Maybe. Just a couple two? A hiccup or two by the sound of it? No, but seriously, what's a Medusa? Why do you want to know? I heard the name and wondered, that's all. Well, if you stop pacing around like a caged lion and sit down, I'll tell you, said danae. Medusa, so they say, was a beautiful young woman who was taken and

Coming up next