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The Greek Myths #2

The Greek Myths 2

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Robert Graves, classicist, poet, and unorthodox critic, retells the Greek legends of gods and heroes for a modern audience 

And, in the two volumes of The Greek Myths, he demonstrates with a dazzling display of relevant knowledge that Greek Mythology is “no more mysterious in content than are modern election cartoons.” His work covers, in nearly two hundred sections, the creation myths; the legends of the births and lives of the great Olympians; the Theseus, Oedipus, and Heracles cycles; the Argonaut voyage; the tale of Troy, and much more.
            All the scattered elements of each myth have been assembled into a harmonious narrative, and many variants are recorded which may help to determine its ritual or historical meaning, Full references to the classical sources, and copious indexes, make the book as valuable to the scholar as to the general reader; and a full commentary on each myth explains and interprets the classical version in the light of today’s archaeological and anthropological knowledge.

412 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1955

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About the author

Robert Graves

451 books1,550 followers
Robert von Ranke Graves (1895-1985), 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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Displaying 1 - 24 of 24 reviews
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,438 followers
March 24, 2018
In the early days of Goodreads, I initially chose a user name for myself that was long-lived, historical, distinctive, and not often chosen by others. I chose the name Clytemnestra. I didn’t really know anything about her; I vaguely remembered there was some violence attached to her name. When a couple of people mentioned that user name when they contacted me, I thought, you know, that I should really find out more about Clytemnestra before I couple her name with my own.

Years later, I have this lovely, dense paperback written by Robert Graves, poet, historian, novelist, memoirist. In it, Graves explains that the story of Clytemnestra—her death at least—is not fixed exactly, and is still disputed. Suffice it to say that she was killed, somehow, by her son Orestes, some say for good reason. However, I am more inclined than ever to couple her name with mine and may again one day, after learning what I have about her life in this book.

Unless I am missing something, it appears Clytemnestra was married to Tantalus, King of Pisa, when Agamemnon killed him in battle and forcibly married Clytemnestra as war spoils. Clytemnestra was Helen of Troy’s sister, and therefore, we deduce, not as lovely as the famed Helen but perhaps not so far behind in terms of beauty and skill. Clytemnestra’s brothers, The Dioscuri, came to rescue her from Agamemnon in Mycenae, but Clytemnestra’s father Tyndareus forgave Agamemnon and allowed him to keep Clytemnestra.

Clytemnestra bore Agamemnon one son, Orestes, and three daughters: Electra, Iphigeneia, and Chrysothemis. Iphigeneia may have been Clytemnestra’s niece, daughter of Helen and Theseus, whom she adopted. When Agamemnon set sail with Menelaus for Troy to bring Helen back after she left with Paris, winds whipped up by Artemis prevented them from getting to Troy, and so Agamemnon decided unilaterally to sacrifice—as in kill—Iphigeneia to appease Artemis.

Clytemnestra, who already hated Agamemnon for killing her first husband and forcing her into marriage against her will, was beside herself for Agamemnon’s killing an innocent teen she looked upon as her daughter. In the ten years Agamemnon was away, Clytemnestra had a sexual relationship with a man who also had a reason to hate Agamemnon, Aegisthus. When she learned from a provocateur wishing to inflame her feelings of vengeance that Agamemnon planned to bring back the King of Troy’s daughter Cassandra and the children she bore to Agamemnon, Clytemnestra’s thoughts turned bloody.

Up to this time, Clytemnestra is entirely blameless. She slept with a man not her husband, but her current husband had killed her first husband, forced her into marriage, and was spreading his seed far and wide. It is said she would have been happy had Agamemnon never returned, but he did, and she beheaded him in the bath after pretending to welcome him home. Clytemnestra was unafraid of divine retribution, thinking her own acts retribution in themselves.

So what of the children from the union of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon? Orestes was raised by his grandparents Tyndareus and Leda. He was ten years of age and not at his mother’s place when Agamemnon returned from Troy. When he learned Agamemnon had been killed and his body disrespected in burial, Orestes felt he had to avenge the death. Aegisthus, Clytemnestra’s lover, lived for seven years in Agamemnon’s place, but was subservient to the true ruler of Mycenae, Clytemnestra, who finally came into her own as a ruler and leader.

When Orestes had grown to manhood and consulted the Delphic Oracle, he learned Apollo’s answer, authorized by Zeus, that he must avenge the death of his father lest he become an outcast from society and stricken with leprosy. At the same time, the Furies would not look kindly on matricide, so Orestes must defend himself against the Furies with a special bow of horn, which Apollo gave to Orestes. Some twenty years later, he returned to his mother’s house. Clytemnestra did not recognize her son. After Orestes had killed Aegisthus, whom he had tricked into letting down his guard, Clytemnestra saw he was her son. Some versions say he beheaded her at her own home, some say he gave her over to a court of law and they convicted her to death. (Why do I mistrust this version?) Another version says that Electra entices Clytemnestra to visit her home with news that she bore a child to her peasant husband. Clytemnestra, eager to see a grandson, was killed by Orestes who was hiding in Electra's house. This one actually breaks my heart.

Electra, Clytemnestra’s first daughter, had been betrothed to Castor of Sparta, but Aegisthus was afraid she might bear a son to avenge his grandfather and wanted to kill her. Clytemnestra forbade this, but allowed Aegisthus to force Electra to marry a Mycenaean peasant who was then afraid to consummate the marriage. (It is said he feared Orestes' wrath.) Electra was thus powerless, kept in poverty, and threatened with imprisonment and banishment if she called Clytemnestra and Aegisthus ‘murderous adulterers.’

Her sister, Chrysothemis, unmentioned in this telling and despised by Electra for her subservience and disservice to her father’s memory, is a fascinating child of myth. In some viewpoints since this myth came into being, Chrysothemis was the pious and noble daughter according to the matrilineal law still golden in some parts of Greece at this time. (Who knew?) Ignorant as I am, I must have picked up in various places the notion that Clytemnestra was perfectly within her rights to kill the philandering, murdering husband who left her. Call it matrilineal if you must, but at some point you must call a spade a spade.

This is what the notes by Graves have to say:

1. This is a crucial myth with numerous variants. Olympianism had been formed as a religion of compromise between the pre-Hellenic matriarchal principle and the Hellenic patriarchal principle; the divine family consisting, at first of six gods and six goddesses. An uneasy balance of power was kept until Athene was reborn from Zeus’s head, and Dionysus, reborn from his thigh, took Hestia’s seat at the divine Council; thereafter male preponderance in any divine debate was assured—a situation reflected on earth—and the goddesses’ ancient prerogatives could now be successfully challenged.

2. Matrilinear inheritance was one of the axioms taken over from the pre-Hellenic religion. Since every king must necessarily be a foreigner, who ruled by virtue of his marriage to an heiress, royal princes learned to regard their mother as the main support of the kingdom, and matricide as an unthinkable crime. They were brought up on myths of the earlier religion, according to which the sacred king had always been betrayed by his goddess-wife, killed by his tanist, and avenged by his son; they knew the son never punished his adulterous mother, who had acted with the full authority of the goddess whom she served.
Is this relevant to the world we live in today? It could very well be relevant. I’d had no idea about matrilineal law in ancient Greece, and somewhere along the way this got superseded with a patrilineal system, a kind of law I like far less well. Matrilineal law has always made sense to me, not just because I am a woman.

Crucial myth, indeed. Graves tells us the Furies had always acted for the mother only: Aeschylus is “forcing language” when he speaks of The Furies avenging paternal blood. Moreover, the White Goddess Leprea inflicts or cures leprosy, not Apollo or Zeus. “In the sequel,” Graves tell us, not all the Furies accept Apollo’s Delphic ruling and Euripedes “appeases his female audience by allowing the Dioscuri to suggest Apollo’s injunctions had been most wise.”

I will read Euripedes’ plays. I may have, in ignorance, chosen the perfect avatar in Clytemnestra, situated as she in between a society who reveres and respects matrilineal rule and and the struggle with a patrilineal line. Clytemnestra was not especially kind to the children she bore with Agamemnon, and this is regrettable. I would have preferred she love her children regardless of where they were sourced, but since she is not the one who gets to tell the story, we’ll never know the truth of it. She intervened to prevent overt harm to her children several times; we must take this at least at face value.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,730 followers
February 18, 2017
Just finished with the kids. The second book (part 2) contains large segments of the Illiad and the Odyssey stories along with Hercules, Achilles and Ajax. The kids (13 & 11) were mainly interested in the sex, blood, and the strata of godhood (Gods, Demigods, Semidemi, etc). A poet's mythology for sure, and obviously influenced by Grave's own obscession with the White Goddess myth, etc. The most interesting survey of Greek Mythology I've come in contact with. I might have to revisit my Bulfinch and Hamilton again just to make sure I'm not clouded by some offbeat, proximity bias or elixer/aphrodisiakon that has attracted me to Graves from the egg.
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,064 reviews1,473 followers
March 10, 2023
As the title suggests, this is the second anthology of Greek Myths, retold by Robert Graves for a modern-day readership.

Just as in the first instalment, the stories here were numerous and characters and events occurred repeatedly throughout them. The stories were told in a straight-forward fashion but followed by lengthy footnotes, sometimes doubling the length of the original, and aiding in the reader's ability to piece together the whos, the wheres, the whens, and the whys.

These have definitely made Greek mythology more accessible for me and also the sheer abundance of tales, that both of these volumes contain, means I will definitely be returning here before each future retelling and as not all the information can be soaked up with just one reading. Thankfully, the contents pages and story titles make this task an easy one.
Profile Image for Inkspill.
410 reviews39 followers
July 1, 2019
This is the second of two volumes, listing 66 myths not covered in The Greek Myths and maps. The first story, numbered chapter 105, starts with Oedipus. This is followed by Pelops and House of Atreus, Heracles, Jason and Medea, background to the Trojan war and the war itself and finally ending with Odysseus. The format is the same as the first volume explained here in my review.

I was more familiar with the myths covered in this volume than the first one, so I found this to be an enthralling read. In reading this book, I came away with a better understanding of the families and background to the Trojan war, and I also discovered more about Odysseus and what would become of him after he returns home. It was also enlightening to encounter a Medea who is less driven by hysteria and jealousy, Graves explains (chapter 156) Euripides play is misleading, in the commentary to chapter 113 he says “Classical dramatist were not bound by tradition. Theirs was a new version of an ancient myth … ”.

Like the first volume, Graves showed each stories’ connections with other myths including Greek. Greek myths have been a part of my consciousness from an early age where, with all their magic and heroics, I would hear them no differently to fairy-tales. Last year I read The Iliad: A New Translation by Peter Green which made me review this. By the time I finished reading The Greek Myths my interest was already piqued to become better acquainted with myths and old stories around the world. Reading this second volume is another step closer for me to achieve this goal.

Having said this, I could see myself reading this one for the sheer pleasure and delight. This book did more than tell the stories I was familiar with, it filled in (many many) gaps and made me look at the Greek myths I thought I knew well in a refreshing new way.
Profile Image for Michael O'Brien.
313 reviews93 followers
January 21, 2018
Not surprisingly, this second volume is much like the first. I found it rather dull and plodding, notwithstanding the salacious, barbaric, and outright disgusting details in some of the tales. On the good side, it does give a good basis for understanding the myths underpinning Greco-Roman culture, and provides insights on how Greeks and Romans perceived the world and on their value system (or the lack thereof). On the other hand, I found myself as put off by the immorality and capriciousness of the gods and heroes as by the villains. Moreover, the writing in this is not all that great ---- pedantic, skips around a lot interrupting the flow of the stories, and gets bogged down in distracting or unnecessary details.
Profile Image for GoldGato.
1,158 reviews40 followers
April 13, 2014
The Great Graves continued his dissection of the the ancient Greek myths with this second volume and as with the first volume, it is a collection of detailed research. The majority of the tales in this book center around the Twelve Labours of Heracles. And it was quite a labour reading them. I have nothing in particular against the strongest of the strong ones, but there are only so many labours I can belabour myself through.

...he lifted Eryx high into the air, dashed him to the ground and killed him - which taught the Sicilians that not everyone born of a goddess is necessarily immortal.

As these are the Olympian Gods, there is quite a bit of gore and fighting and swords clashing all over the place. There is also Graves' contention that the Minoan and Mycenaean myths (matriarchal) were overtaken by the invading Dorian versions (patriarchal), which would explain the Amazons and the defeat of the Trojans and their female-centric culture.

...if Hector was the hand of the Trojans, Aeneas was their soul.

The slog through Heracles' adventures is countered by the last part of the book, which is the telling of the Trojan War and the Odyssey. This wouldn't be the publication I would turn to for storytelling, but it is a systematic reference of quotes and footnotes and justification for Graves' mythological reasonings. His thoughts on the legend of Homer are worth the last chapters.

Book Season = Year Round
Profile Image for Blue Caeruleus.
161 reviews34 followers
November 21, 2011
I got through the first 300 pages of the first volume (not counting the notes that explain the origins of the myths) and didn't bother with the second volume. It's my opinion that this work is better used for reference than as reading material. The myths are recounted flatly, as though the myths are being described for definitions in an encylopoedia. Graves may be something of a scholar, but he's a lowsy story-teller.
Profile Image for Mariana.
591 reviews2 followers
June 10, 2015
I really hope that Graves never think to write a volume 3. I hated the first volume and I only read this one just because I'm trying to finish every serie or I would never pick this book. Is true that he does a good job in terms of facts and gives a very complete informations but how he writes it is just dry, numb and boring. My school boks are more appealing than this two volumes.
Profile Image for Vircenguetorix.
111 reviews1 follower
May 13, 2021
Considero que el segundo volumen de "Los mitos griegos" de Robert Graves es superior al primero, las razones pueden ser intrínsecas del propio lector, y es que es posible que con el paso de las páginas uno vaya asimilando el formato, un tanto peculiar, con el que van desarrollándose los mitos y tomando gusto por el mismo, pero sobre todo extrínsecas, ya que en el contenido de esta segunda parte nos toparemos con los Edipo, Tebas, Trabajos de Heracles, Jason, Troya, Odiseo y mucho más, es decir mucho más atractivo que la obra anterior.

Además las explicaciones e interrelaciones con mitologías célticas aumentan, las anécdotas son más jugosas -cabe citar la del origen del zodiaco por ejemplo- y hasta el propio autor parece ir más suelto y disfrutar más de la redacción del texto. Aunque el final es algo abrupto y hubiera merecido una conclusión.

Un gran esfuerzo intelectual del poeta -como a él le gustaba ser reconocido- de Wimbledon que acaba siendo disfrutable.

Nota: 7,5.
Profile Image for Rima.
7 reviews
May 3, 2018
Grateful the author didn't write a tome 3. This series was mandatory in high-school whilst preparing for the French baccalaureate. Didn't enjoy reading it at all, and has nothing to do with the translation, because I had checked the original version as well and same result: very dry, pedantic and tedious and in some instances misleading- more to be used for cross-references than actual reading material. Lacks maps and pictures - crucial elements when studying Greek mythology, or any mythology as a teenager. The author is definitely not a story teller.
Profile Image for Igor Laterça.
67 reviews1 follower
February 11, 2021
Tanto aqui quanto no volume 1, o autor consegue expor os mitos gregos de forma didática, interessante, desenvolvendo-os muito bem e mostrando a ideia por trás deles. Há aqui um mito mais interessante que o outro, sendo esses mitos carregados de simbolismo.
Por meio desses mitos, podemos ver diversos aspectos da cultura da época, como a cultura do patriarcado sendo muito forte, o relacionamento entre pessoas do mesmo sexo mais normalizado, dentre outras coisas.
Ótimo livro para quem quiser estudar a fundo a mitologia grega.
Profile Image for Vanessa Riveros.
127 reviews1 follower
July 28, 2021
Los mitos están muy bien contados y las explicaciones de sus orígenes detalladas y muy documentadas. Algunos mitos son interesantes de leer y atrapan, pero las explicaciones pueden ser algo tediosas.

El libro es un gran material de referencia, pero, si no es un tema que te apasione como lector, no lo recomendaría como material de lectura.
Profile Image for Shanna.
370 reviews10 followers
March 5, 2020
The Greek myths have always been some of my favorites to visit over and over again. Robert Graves a fantastic job in telling them in a way modern readers. And the way he breaks down the myths also makes them easier to understand as well, which I highly appreciated.
Profile Image for Stephen Bedard.
422 reviews6 followers
June 27, 2023
An entertaining collection of myths but with some questionable interpretations.
Profile Image for Aaron.
222 reviews2 followers
January 6, 2021
The Folio edition of the Greek Myths was a very thoughtful gift I received from a friend some years ago but sadly the beauty ends at the front covers. I'm something of a Greek mythology fan, so was not expecting to be so disappointed by the contents. The problem is not the Greek myths themselves, which have obviously endured the test of the time, but the writer, Robert Graves. A quick search on the internet reassured me that it was not just myself who found his analyses of these ancient classics to be far off the mark. Graves suffers from a heavy obsession with Moon goddesses and pagan death cults, to the point where every single interpretation of the myths must be twisted to fit his theory. Indeed, some of the contortions he makes to prove his point are downright baffling and his monomania ruins the stories. I'd definitely recommend skipping all his scholarly notes.

For Graves, everything boils down to an old matriarchal king-killing religion that was succeeded by later patriarchy, as personified by the Olympian pantheon. When a myth doesn't contain elements of his beloved triple moon goddess cult, he dismisses it as having arisen from a mistaken image or icon that only he can correctly interpret. The repetition with which he belabours the same point over and over had me exasperated long before I finished reading the first volume. He also manages to achieve the singularly astounding feat of telling these exciting tales in the dullest possible manner, with far too much emphasis on which obscure personages founded which cities. Another far out theory of his is that The Odyssey was written by a woman. It's the first time I've encountered this idea, and whilst an interesting one, I don't buy into it. I would only recommend his work as a rough reference guide, since he does span quite a lot of lore.
Profile Image for Flint Johnson.
82 reviews3 followers
March 12, 2014
Robert Graves may have done the most thorough job possible in collecting all the Greek Myths, all the variants and local legends pertaining to it. As a source for raw information on the subject, this is an absolute treasure.

Having said that, he had one flaw. 'The Golden Bough' was a highly influential book at the time he was writing. Most of its premises have been largely disproven now and are mainly ignored in the academic community. Graves explains all the myths, however, using the ideas laid out there. This is a masterpiece, but not for its wild connections. It is a masterpiece of research only.
29 reviews
July 9, 2018
Concise if somewhat idiosyncratic tellings of the Greek myths, coupled with completely over-the-rainbow analysis that says a lot about Graves and his muse and very little about the myths he's supposed to be discussing. It seems to be an openly acknowledged fact that this fails as a discussion of Greek myths; so the question is, what's the book that does what this book is supposed to do?
Profile Image for Syl.
119 reviews
December 22, 2013
I love Greek Myths and this book, and part 1, bring me all the wonderful stories I want to read, and reread. It is true that the narrative is quite thick, what makes the reading slow paced, but it's worth the reading.
Profile Image for Richard Alan.
Author 2 books10 followers
July 31, 2012
Part 2 was as enjoyable as the Vol. 1. I return to it often to read snippits from time to time for pure enjoyment.
887 reviews15 followers
September 11, 2013
So glad I read this! It was so informative, and there is CRAZY STUFF in here. It got great when the Oddysey started happening near the end. Definitely a keeper.
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