Books – Greek and Roman mythology

Earlier this year I completed a MOOC in Greek and Roman mythology. I cannot recommend this course highly enough. It was well presented and entertaining as well as informative. The course followed a weekly structure of reading, video lectures and assessment. (I scored really well – which was a delicious boost to start each week. I also passed the course “with distinction” – which is still keeping me warm weeks later).

The readings were the highlight of a great experience.

We began with the epic of all epics: Homer’s Odyssey. I’d read it before but this translation by Robert Fagles seemed to highlight elements I’d never noticed before – the predominance of female characters for one thing.

Women appear throughout the epic in various roles. From mighty goddesses, through various wives, mothers and daughters to household servants and slaves. They are clever, conniving, loving and hateful. There are noble and heroic women – like Penelope, faithful, clever wife of Odysseus or Athene, goddess of war and wisdom, daughter of Zeus and Odysseus’ protector – but they also have darker sides. From Persephone, terrible and glorious queen of the underworld or Circe the sorceress to Clytemnestra, murderous wife of Agamemnon, Homer’s women get to be bad too.

Another, surprising, highlight for me were the Greek Tragedies, vol 1 and vol 3. I’d only ever seen Greek tragedy depicted in movies and wasn’t looking forward to actually reading any. However, I found them enthralling. So much so that, though the course only called for me to read four plays from the 2 volumes, I actually read all 10.

That’s why I’m posting this in fact. When the course ended I went back and read all the bits that weren’t covered by the course. This included all the Tragedies and the complete Aeneid (not just the first 6 books). I still have Ovid’s Metamorphosis to enjoy but I’ve decided to drag my mind back out of the deep past… for a wee while at least.

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