The classic Greek tales retold as smoldering, campy romance.
Attempting to “visualize how legends were formed,” Spivey (Classics/Cambridge Univ.; The Ancient Olympics, 2004, etc.) offers a glimpse of the ancient Greek characters straight out of Central Casting. He eschews the decorous depictions of Homer and stately comeliness of Ovid’s shape-shifters in favor of a skirt-hitching Eurydice and cleavage-spilling Hera who jump off the page and into the reader’s lap. The author picks and chooses from the mythological repertoire. From myths of the “early childhood of the world,” marked by the chaos and violence of Kronos and Gaia’s family drama, he moves to Hades’ snatching of radiant Persephone while mother Demeter mourns. Then it’s on to the great deeds of cracking action-figures Herakles, Theseus, Perseus, Jason and the Argonauts, followed by the judgment of languorous shepherd Paris that precipitates the Trojan War. After an abbreviated account of the travels and hard-won homecoming of Odysseus, it all concludes spiffily with a wrap-up of the ghastly turn of the House of Atreus. Spivey takes tensely dramatic moments and renders them in laughable dialogue: When good-natured goon Herakles strides through the brambles on his way to tackling the Nemean lion, he notes, “I don’t want any scratches”; after the sacking of Troy, Helen remarks to her waylaid husband Menelaus, hammering away at her chains, “I didn’t know you cared—so much.” Considering the alluring outfit of each of the three goddesses who vie for his favor—Athena clad in high-heeled hunting boots and “little else except for a military-style corselet”—Paris enjoys a Harlequin moment: “Aphrodite let the tip of her tongue flicker over his earlobe. Paris shuddered. He knew what desire was.” Entertaining stuff, granted, but is it necessary to so raucously redraft the ancient tales rather than direct readers back to the reliable original singers?
A version better suited to young adult readers suckled on lots of telly.